Popular culture has seen many dietary trends and fads over the last few decades. One thing they all have in common is the recognition that there is something wrong with our eating habits. In this article, I would like to analyze and assess one of the main dietary trends, the low carb diet.
Low Carb Diet
This is one of the most established dietary fads. It started with the famous Atkins diet popularized by Dr. Atkins in the seventies. The essence of it is the elimination of all carbohydrates and instead eating just protein, fat and some vegetables. It has generated many incarnations, such as the currently popular keto diet, which has more emphasis on fats and less on protein intake.
- Elimination of a great deal of processed carbs such as poor-quality breads, baked goods and, most importantly, sugars, can only be a good thing.
- The other positive aspect of this diet is that it does not shy away from saturated animal fats and a super-lean diet. Our bodies benefit from ingestion of small and reasonable amounts of high-quality saturated fats in the form of butter, animal fats, high-fat dairy, coconut oil or avocados.
- People often notice that they lose some weight while on a low carb diet and have increased energy levels. This, however, may not necessarily be a sustainable long-term gain as more often than not, the overall approach is hard to maintain and dieters gradually veer off the strict nature of it. The weight loss, though, simply points to the build-up of stored fat due to over-consumption of sugars in the form of processed carbs.
- Complete elimination of all carbs which would include good healthy ones such as rice (including good quality white rice), barley, oats, millet, kamut, rye and other traditional mildly processed, non-genetically modified grains) is not a wise decision. Small amounts of these grains are absolutely healthy for the body as they have many functions and properties such as promoting peristalsis, soothing the gut lining, hydration of the body, and fortification with nutrients.
- The other issue with these low carb diets is the potential to over-consume saturated fats and protein. High protein consumption makes the body acidic and increases inflammation. This will force the body to neutralize inflammation and acidity by leaching minerals (alkalizing) from the bones, which then leads to osteoporosis and a host of other health issues. Excessive consumption of saturated fats can also lead to build-up of heat and inflammation in the body.
The main two issues with carbs are the choice and the amount. Refined sugar is considered a simple carbohydrate and creates inflammation in the body by giving the body a sugar spike, which is a form of stress. Refined, processed wheat is also highly inflammatory to the gut due to its high gluten content. Eliminating these two processed carbs alone will put you ahead by leaps and bounds, but long-term elimination of healthy grains can have adverse health issues as well.
More often than not, refined, processed carbs tend to be the cornerstone of the modern diet as it allows for quick and easy meals and snacks. Again, this is not an issue with all carbs – rice, barley, rye, oats, millet and others are wholesome and healthy. If an individual has an issue with digesting small amounts of unrefined, mildly processed carbs, the issue is with their weak digestion and not carbs. Digestive weakness is at the core of many chronic health issues from autoimmune disorders to diabetes and cancers.
The following is some general info on whole grains:
- White rice: There is a lot of bad rap about white rice. Not all white rice is created equally. If a white rice takes five minutes to cook, then it is highly processed and not good for consumption. Most white rice should take about 15-20 minutes to cook. It has a very moisturizing property and is great for reducing gut inflammation. White rice is great for people with weaker digestion as it breaks down easily and requires little energy for digestion.
- Brown rice: While this is a whole grain and in theory full of nutrients, it is not the easiest grain to digest. It needs to be well cooked so that it is soft and not chewy. It is best for people who tend to be constipated as it is full of fiber. Brown rice should not be consumed on a daily basis for those with weaker digestion as it requires more energy to digest and assimilate.
- Wheat: Although it is an ancient grain, modern wheat is highly hybridized, processed and generally should only be consumed in very small amounts, if at all, especially for those with gastrointestinal inflammatory conditions such as IBS, GERD, and other gut issues. Ancient forms of wheat such as kamut, spelt and freekeh are more tolerable and can be consumed by most people. Unprocessed and unhybridized wheat is a very strengthening grain, unlike its modern variety.
- Oats: This grain has a high fat content and is very soothing to the gut. Unprocessed steel cut oats need to be cooked until very soft, otherwise they can be hard to digest. Avoid quick oats as they tend to raise blood sugar too fast. Slow-cooked oats are the best.
- Barley: The power of barley is grossly underestimated. This grain is not very well known to most people, yet it is one of the best strengthening and nourishing grains. Pearl barley is more digestible than whole barley.
- Rye: This grain is usually only used in breads and crackers. It is another strengthening grain and, in the form of bread, is a staple in many European countries.
Each new dietary trend has some wisdom as well as some inherent biases. We need to be mindful of the fact that not every diet is good for everyone. Sometimes you have to try for yourself and find out. Grains have been consumed by humans for thousands of years without any issues but have recently been less than fashionable. Some of our attitudes towards grains need a reassessment.