Recently, a friend took up The Paleo Diet in an effort to lose weight. Her sole reasoning? “It’s low-carb!” Although we discussed how avoiding carbs can do more harm than good, she had her heart set on her interpretation of Paleo, which was apparently serving simply as her millennial upgrade to Atkins.
Well, the deal is that while the protein + fat- focused Paleo diet can be low-carb, it doesn’t necessarily have to be, particularly since it also centers around consuming high amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds–all natural carbohydrate sources.
When it comes to eating plans, there are a million in the Zeitgeist at any one time. The Blood Type Diet. Intermittent Fasting. The Mediterranean Diet. Low-Carb/High-Fat. High-Carb/Low-Fat. Sugarbusters. South Beach. Paleo.
And then there’s Atkins, the longtime All-American favorite. Being Southern, I can attest to the fact that most of non-coastal cycle dieting America relies heavily on the research of Dr. Robert Atkins to help shed pounds. And bless the said doctor, who hipped three generations to the potential detriments of carbohydrates. Before him, many of us didn’t realize the importance of protein or the fact that dietary fat was not necessarily the cause of body fat. He made us think about how we consumed and consequently used carbohydrates to fuel our lives and our workouts.
But just as with anything, some people took it–and continue to take it–way too far. Carbohydrates have become the devil on one shoulder, while protein remains the angel on the other. This isn’t only unfair, it’s unwise.
News Flash: Carbohydrates Are Necessary
Carbohydrates in their highest form are a decadent and necessary fuel for workouts, particularly ones heavy on strength training and weight lifting. Exerting tons of energy you haven’t properly stored by consuming an appropriate amount of food energy will eventually wear on your efforts and can cause fatigue, overexertion, and weight gain. Yes, protein is incredibly important to building and maintaining muscle, but what powers you is the vigor injected by whole food and fiber carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, oats, and quinoa or wild rice.
What we should all avoid and/or eat in moderation are sugar carbs, such as cake, cookies, and other processed sweets.
Extreme low carb diets are terrific for fast, initial weight loss, but they will not help maintain your figure or your health. “Good” carbs, also known as digestible carbs and complex carbs, are completely necessary for anyone’s basic nutrition, but are especially vital for the active individual.
“Carbohydrates have become the devil on one shoulder, while protein remains the angel on the other. This isn’t only unfair, it’s unwise…”
We’re All Designed Differently
We also have to learn to eat for our own bodies. In college, after I piled on the Freshman 20, I did Atkins and lost 35 pounds in a month. A friend tried it and actually gained weight. She found, and maintains to this day, that following a diet rich in protein and fats put more weight on her. She sticks to super lean meats in moderation, all kinds of produce and lots of carb-rich grains to maintain her weight.
Just as navigating any other part of life is a journey, so is learning our ever-changing bodies. Figuring out how our respective systems react to various foods and fitness efforts is part of the work, not a destination we reach. Following a respectably modest carbohydrate regimen might be the best way for you to maintain your weight–but then again, it might not.
As a general nutritional guideline, the optimal human carb-fat-protein ratio is best set at 40%-30%-30%, but depending on your goals and body type, this can vary. Take some time to learn what works best for your body and your lifestyle.
Just don’t skimp too much on the carbs.