Have you jumped on the low-carb bandwagon? I jumped on the cart behind the wagon. And so far, I like what I see from here.
Early last summer, I posted an article about carb reduction diets. Although the discussion has seemed to settle a bit, those diets are still the bees knees in terms of modern nutrition. Now that I’ve been on my own version of a low(er) carb diet for close to a year, I’d like to offer an update from my perspective in this on-going discussion. Is it just another fad? Or is the carb-heavy lifestyle truly a barrier to good health?
First, let me set the stage for where I fall in actual carb intake. Before last year, the majority of my diet was carb. On any given day, I was taking in about 300-400g per day (>200g is fairly standard for Americans). Over the course of about 3 months, I experimented with drastically lowering my carb intake. I quickly found that less than 80g was not only difficult to do, but that I actually didn’t feel very well, either. I eventually found a home at around 100-130g per day. This seems to be my personal sweet spot, which I’ll soon elaborate on. My point here is that it took careful planning, research, and experimentation to arrive at this juncture. And more importantly, it took time and persistence on my part.
Here are my “advantages” from last year when I was only 3 weeks in:
- Reduction in blood sugar spikes after meals
- Reduction in margin of error for carb counting
- Reduction in amount of insulin used
- Increased energy and better cognitive function
After 1 year, these “advantages” certainly still apply. And in fact, I’d like to add that there has also been a major reduction in blood-sugar roller coasters, which I recently wrote about here. And, of course, I am now privileged to be part of an elite group of humans who despise carbs. Hahaha……I joke, I joke!
The “disadvantages” are where I think I’ve made the most progress. Here’s what I didn’t like last year:
- Difficulty finding things to eat
- Requires much willpower
- Blood sugars may get worse before they get better
- Increased dietary fat and protein to account for
Finding things to eat and maintaining willpower have certainly gotten easier with time. My wife has been very helpful with adjusting our grocery habits with items such as protein drinks/bars, Greek yogurt, mixed nuts, olives, cheese, pallets of eggs 😉 etc. Sundays are free days, meaning I do not restrict carb intake. This has done 2 things for me. First, it’s allowed me the mindset that this is a long-term lifestyle solution, not simply a “miserable-diet-that-will-end-at-some-point-when-my-stamina-runs-out.” Second, it’s strengthened my ability to stay true to the diet on every day that’s not Sunday.
Fortunately, I wouldn’t say that blood sugars got worse before they got better. It certainly was a very gradual improvement. They did indeed, however, get better. I typically don’t share my A1c results; but in this particular instance, I would be remiss if I didn’t. I began the diet at 6.2%. My intention was not necessarily to lower A1c, but to reduce glycemic excursions (the blood-sugar-roller-coaster). For the first 6 months, I had no change in A1c at all (it remained 6.2%) and minimal improvement in glycemic excursions. However, if you recall, I mentioned that it took 3 months to find my sweet spot with carbs. From there, it took another 2-3 months to become adjusted to insulin needs regarding increased intake of fat and protein (overcoming my last “disadvantage”).
Consequently, I did not see any changes in A1c for 9 months after starting this diet! So what was the 9-month A1c, you ask?……..5.2%! We’re not talking about an incremental improvement here. One whole percentage point on an already-decent-A1c is a pretty huge game-changer. Couple that with a tightened range of blood sugars (less highs and lows), and I can’t justify turning back. It’s still far from perfect, but it’s the best “control” I’ve ever had.
Have I had increases in cholesterol?………slightly, yes. But not enough to concern myself or my doctor.
Have I lost or gained weight?………..I lost a little in the beginning, but I’m now back to normal weight.
Have I had any other negative symptoms to speak of?…………….no.
Again, there are cheerleaders on both sides of this carb debate. Currently, both sides are right. Although it seems on the surface that there are more advantages to lower carb diets, they are lacking in long-term research on effects and outcomes. I simply wanted to fill you in on my little experiment with a “moderate” carb approach.
I’d love to get your take. Share your thoughts in the comments below, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s be less than 7, greater than low.