What do low-carb diets and bell-bottom pants have in common? Answer: they both go in and out of fashion.
Food fashion is as fickle as clothing fashion, but it can take longer to change. For example, the low-fat dieting fashion lasted about 20 years before the style changed and carbs became the villain.
Caught inside food fashion, it can be hard to see the truth. Vilifying fat was wrong in the 1980s and ’90s—we know that now. But that doesn’t mean that the very fashionable low-carb diet is right.
Despite many diets and dieting experts saying otherwise, there’s nothing inherently wrong with carbs in general. Nothing. Yes, refined sugar and flour can cause problems in the body, but so can refined fat and refined protein.
In other words…your body likes whole, unprocessed protein, fat, and carbs. It’s the refining of these macros that’s the problem. And, 20 years into the low-carb world, I’m regularly seeing carb deficiencies in my clients: hormone imbalances, low cortisol, many nutrient deficiencies, and more.
The body needs all whole-food macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbs. Reducing any of these macronutrients can cause problems in the body and trigger mega cravings. Cravings are a signal that your body is trying to fix the problem.
For those of you who remember the 1980s in all its fluorescent leg-warmer glory, let’s dive a bit deeper into that low-fat diet trend. Like the current low-carb diet, it was seen as true. Fat = weight gain and the only way to lose weight is to banish fat from your diet.
And what happened? Well, it worked for some but caused big blood sugar issues and weight gain in others. But, more than anything, everyone dreamed of ice cream, cheese, and guacamole…all the foods that were banished.
For those of you who’ve never used half a bottle of hairspray to keep your 3″ high bangs from moving during a windstorm (like me…), let me tell you about what was considered a healthy low-fat diet back then.
A very healthy breakfast consisted of a dry, low-fat bagel, topped with egg whites (frequently from a handy carton instead of an actual egg) and a tomato. Or a bowl of Special K™ cereal with a splash of skim milk. Picture dry, flavourless food that tended to leave you hungry. Carbs were king—it didn’t matter if they were refined, processed, or full of sugar. As long as the food was fat-free it was considered healthy.
And then in 2002, Dr. Atkins published his twelfth update to his fairly unpopular line of diet books entitled, Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution. But this time it met with a very open and very fat-starved audience.
Dr. Atkins was telling us the unthinkable—you can eat fat and lose weight! How could this be possible? Well, it’s simple; you have to cut carbs. You see, according to Atkins, fat is very satiating (true) and it’s carbs that are the problem (untrue).
This ushered in the last 20 years of carbs-are-bad fandom. Every iteration of a low-carb diet has come into fashion, all the way to full-on keto. But what seemed revolutionary wasn’t all that new. When we remove any macronutrient, it cuts our ability to mindlessly eat. Instead, we have to think about every morsel; does this fit into this new food paradigm? This is why some people lose weight (in the short term) when one macro is removed.
Has it worked? Are we healthier than we were in 2000? Or in 1985 when we slid into our bright pink leotard for our Jane Fonda workout? Nope, not really.
Why? Because your body needs all three macronutrients. Carbs are an important energy source; they help balance hormones (especially in women) and they’re super nutrient-dense.
But, like all macros, your body doesn’t like it when they’re refined. Your body wants whole foods…but whole foods aren’t very profitable in a profit-driven and politically corrupt food system.
Yes, I firmly believe that each macro will get vilified one at a time. This is so food manufacturers can create food products to fit into whatever paradigm is popular…all at a sweet, sweet profit.
So, what’s next? Well, if history tells us anything, sooner than later a big name in the health world will proclaim that carbs are healthy and they’ll vilify the reigning macro king, protein.
In 20 years, we might be talking about protein powders and how crazy it was that we added them to everything from smoothies to pancakes.
This is one of the many reasons why I don’t recommend following any of these diets. They tend to make healthy eating confusing and there’s a decent chance that your body would rather you ate a different blend of those beautiful macros.
When you focus on whole food and listen to your body’s needs and wants (like cravings and symptoms) then you can find your body’s perfect balance. My body loves whole-food starchy carbs slathered in healthy fat, which means my body is totally out of style right now and I don’t really care.
Eat whole foods that feel good to your body, and that’s the simplest answer there is.
Lisa Kilgour, RHN is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ nutritionists a sought after speaker and educator who helps people heal from diverse and complex health issues. She has spoken at TEDxKelowna and is the author of Undieting: Freedom from the Bewildering World of Fad Diets. Check out the nutritionist schedule on page four and book your free appointment today at naturesfare.com.
Learn more: lisakilgour.com
This article was published in The Good Life.