Is Reducing Your Carb Intake Really Good For You?

If you’ve been living in the 21st Century with the rest of us, you’ll be acutely aware that the nutrition world is a mess.

One ‘expert’ says something, only for the next ‘expert’ to say the complete opposite. It’s easy to rationalise almost anything; paleo, veganism, low carb, low fat, IIFYM (If it fits your macros), calorie restriction… as I type this I’m almost tempted to self harm…We can quite easily buy in to one dogma or the next, or we can simply be left confused and stagnant. With all of these options, how do we cut through the noise?

For years there were a couple of predominant theories/approaches; remove fat and with that reduce overall calories. The basis being that if we eat less (especially including fat) and exercise more, we’ll lose weight.

Now I’m all for simplifying, in fact I’m obsessed with it. This, however, is too simplistic. First off ‘weight’ is too generic. What we really mean is lose excess fat. This is vital. ‘Weight’ is likely to include precious muscle, losing this is not good. Traditional ‘dieting’ tends to reduce this by drastic amounts, leading to initial weight loss, then causing eventual stagnation and very importantly detrimental effects on the body due to lack of fuel and resources.

When it comes to dropping excess body fat (or maintaining healthy levels) we must respect calorie intake, however, we must also give attention to content and how we’re eating.This is where the myriad choices often take over, so let’s set the record straight:

Fat is not ‘bad’. Fat is vital for many aspects of health, including testosterone levels. It is calorie dense, so we use it to ensure satiety (fullness). Use your thumb as a measure guide for a serving.
Carbs aren’t the devil. Some carb options like bread, pasta and sugars can be an issue for some people. However, blanket statements are misleading. Prioritise vegetables, including root vegetables, then rice and some grains (if you handle them).
Animal protein (meats, eggs, dairy, broths) are a vital part of health and human evolution. You needn’t eat a tonne of it, but ensure a mixture of fresh fish, red and white meats are notable parts of your diet.

From here we want to ensure that we can work out your ‘calorie ceiling’ – the amount of intake at which you don’t gain nor lose fat. This is vital – from here we can simply reduce it by around 500 calories per day to encourage fat loss, or vice versa, we can increase to gain muscle.

Enter the concept of ‘clean eating’ – the idea that everything you eat should be ‘clean’; naturally grown and raised, without obvious or harsh processing. Sounds as it is, it’s also misleading. A better option here is to aim for mostly ‘clean’, i.e. 80-90% wholefoods; vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and dairy (minimally processed, if you handle it).

Now that we have your amounts and rough content, we can introduce the idea of ‘flexible dieting’, or as we’ll call it; relaxed. As opposed to IIFYM, which can lead people to thinking indiscriminate eating of anything is fine -it’s not. Aim to include 2 fist sized portions of carbs (mostly veggies), 1 palm of protein and 1 thumb of fats per meal. This would suffice for 3 meals a day. You might differ from that, which is something for you to work out yourself.

Hit this 80-90% of the time (depending on your goals and requirements) and then the rest of the time is for some rope, as it were, to relax.

At the end of the day, calories matter, however, to indiscriminately reduce them is foolish, as is ignoring them and just ‘eating clean’. Find your ceiling, include mostly wholefoods and work your wriggle room. There is no one answer, one diet that works, it requires some attention to the basics (above) for you.

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