Why are low carb diets bad for you?

Why are low carb diets bad for you?

I suffered headaches, nausea, severe tiredness and a real lack of energy, and it affected my mood and motivation. These are usually the symptoms of drastic diet changes, so any action to change your diet should be done slowly, and you should take thoroughly researched steps to plan for it (including speaking to a GP). We are also very much in a carb and sugar cutting phase in modern nutritional beliefs, where as before we were in a fat cutting phase, and of course the salt reduction phase and MSG cutting phase (and others). To be honest we should just stop listening to the clever marketers who trigger these phases and who work them to their advantage, selling us more low fat this and low sugar that. Let’s just have an ‘eat less bad food altogether’ phase! 

Last week I wrote about how there is no “fat burning zone” but how we can use the ratios in which our bodies use fuel to our advantage. After about 20 minutes of exercise our bodies will start using fat as the primary source of fuel BUT our bodies will still use carbs (just less of them). Why doesn’t the body switch off the need for carbs altogether? Why does the body seemingly want to preserve our carb stores? 

The simple answer is that our bodies use carbs to function. Our brains use glucose as a primary fuel, as do our other organs. Our bodies are naturally engineered to ensure the brain functions efficiently, and our bodies take drastic measures to protect the brain and ensure it has the fuel to function. For example, when our brains are not receiving enough oxygen and blood flow is restricted then we can become dizzy and even faint. Why? To lower the head and increase the blood flow back to what the brain needs it to be. This is a pretty drastic but entirely necessary survival function our bodies perform to protect our brains. 

The brain does not use fats as a source of energy because fatty acids cannot cross the blood brain barrier. Therefore our brains need a supply of glucose to function effectively. If the brain is not receiving glucose then our bodies will begin to break down fat into ketones. Ketones are what is used as fuel when glucose is not available. Firstly, understand that using ketones as fuel is not bad. Low carb diets increase ketone levels in the blood and this is perfectly fine (our ketone levels increase when we sleep, and sleep doesn’t harm us). Ketones are not the primary fuel source though, and a high level of ketones in the blood causes an increase in acidity which causes a number of health problems (for the sake of preventing this blog from becoming a text book I won’t go into it, but if you’re interested then research the terms acidosis and Ketoacidosis).

Just quickly though, acidosis is not a good thing. It is an increase in blood acidity and therefore in other body tissues such as muscles, organs, and bones, impairs their function. For example, increased acidity in the blood can lead to weakened bones because your bones will release calcium carbonate to help buffer against the acidity levels in the blood. This happens because your body will always try to maintain a pH level of 7.4, and anything either side of this (acidosis or alkalosis) has side effects. This is why a balanced diet should be a priority over a high carb or low carb or no carb diet. Too much or too little carbs cause shifts in our bodies pH levels which is simply not good for us.

As I mentioned, ketones themselves are not bad for us. In fact there is plenty of research which suggests that a ketogenic diet is perfectly healthy (note that I wrote ketogenic diet NOT ketoacidosis – two very different things!) But to keep your pH levels neutral in a ketogenic diet, you would need to plan a more alkaline based diet and seek out foods which will help buffer against the increases in acidity. Leafy greens, edible algae (spirulina, chlorella), lemons, and other fruit and veg (Google Alkaline Foods) will increase your blood alkaline levels. Since many of the foods we eat (meat, dairy, eggs, chocolate, cakes, alcohol) and the by products of bodily processes causes increase in acidity, a diet plan which aims to balance out the pH levels can only be a good thing. Though you can go the other way and become too alkaline so amongst all this biomedical jargon, if you haven’t come to this conclusion already, it is always best to have a balanced highly nutritious diet!

It’s pretty clear that there isn’t actually a definitive answer as to whether having a glucose fueled diet is better than a ketone diet. Both have their benefits and both have their pitfalls. 
What you have to ask yourself is this – do you want to live on a ketone based diet? Do you really want to take on a diet that, although may induce weight loss, can actually lead you down a slippery slope towards other health problems? 

Also bear in mind that a ketone based diet will have very little grains, legumes, fruits and many vegetables, fibre, or dairy, and certainly no pasta or rice. So that means you are cutting out an awful lot of nutrients. Minerals and vitamins are very restricted in a ketogenic diet, as is fibre. You also get a lot of fluids from these foods so you are cutting down on your water intake by removing these foods. You’re pretty much left with foods that are predominantly fat and protein, which is a highly acidic diet. You’ll still have leafy greens of course too, and you can balance out the acidity with low/no carb alkaline foods. Personally, I go for a low sugar diet and keep the carbs because I do not believe that reducing my healthy sources of carbs (I LOVE fruit!) is of any benefit to me. I don’t over indulge and I don’t eat too much fruit either. I keep it balanced. 

My blog this week may not have given you a definitive answer into which diet is better, carb or ketone, but I hope I have given you enough info to make your own choices and start you on a journey into researching what is right for you. One thing I do want you to take away is this. The ketone diet is often criticised as being a diet low in vitamins and minerals. Funny enough, all companies which sell multivitamins and similar supplements are fully aware of this. They will most likely blog about the benefits of ketogenic diets (in fact I challenge you to find me an article written by a supplement company, or by a company which endorses supplements, that writes about the pitfalls of Ketogenic Diets). 
They’re also very aware that we have an innate fear of ill health which causes us to self-medicate our diets through supplementation. This is why we buy their products as we believe, due to their clever marketing, that we need them to be healthier. Now with the Ketogenic diet they have a real excuse to pump us with their marketing nonsense and convince us to buy their £10 bottle of 30 multivitamin pills, which coincides nicely with one pill for every day of the month, practically making us monthly subscribers. But no matter what we will always fall for this because, well hey, more vitamins and more nutrients taken quickly without the hassle of shopping or preparing vegetables is beneficial for us right?

The supplement companies are the same clever marketers who know how our brains work, and why we do things such as comfort eating, or create addictions for ourselves to foods high in sugar or salt or even coffee. 

What can you do about it? Can you break away from comfort eating or daily food addictions? 
Find out in next weeks blog!