Why Low Carb Diets Might Not Be Guud For You
Morgane Leten - Nutrition & Fertility Coach
For the last several decades, diet culture has impacted how women relate to their bodies and food. These diets - some old and some new - often focus on false promises of fast weight loss and promote the idea that your weight automatically equals health. Low weight = good health. High weight = poor health. It also continues the myth that some foods are “good” and some are “bad.” This is simply not true.
The fact is, there are no clear definitions of “good” food and “bad” food or healthy and unhealthy diets. These words are subjective and being healthy means something different to everyone.
One diet that has risen in popularity in recent years is a low or no-carb diet. Gluten has also got caught up in this discussion and the rise in gluten-free diets is creeping into the mainstream, even for people without any intolerances or allergies.
So what’s happened to carbs? Are they actually bad for you?
While a low-carb diet can be helpful for some women, it’s important to understand the impact of carbs on your health because low and no-carb diets can sometimes have unexpected effects on your hormones and your cycle. And if you restrict yourself to the extreme, it will just make you unhappy. And if you’re unhappy, you’re a lot more likely to give up. We’re all about sustainable lifestyle choices here at Guud Woman!
Why Say Yes to Carbs!
First, a little science lesson. Let’s start by understanding what a carbohydrate actually is. A carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients that the body requires daily. The other two are fat and protein. There are three main types of carbs: starch, fibre and sugar. And the reality is that you’ll find most of these things in nearly all food we eat.
The Three Main Types of Carbohydrates
- Sugars. Also known as simple carbohydrates because they are in the most basic form. Sugars can be added to foods such as the sugar in candy, desserts, processed foods and fizzy drinks. However, these type of carbs are also found naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk
- Starches. Starches are complex carbohydrates. They are made of a bunch of simple sugars strung together. In order to use them for energy, your body needs to break starches down into sugar. Starches are things like bread, cereal and pasta but you can also find starch in some vegetables like potatoes and corn.
- Fiber. It is also a complex carbohydrate. But the thing is, your body actually can’t break down most fibers. This sounds like a bad thing but it’s actually a good thing. Eating foods with fiber help you feel more full after a meal and as a result, you’re less likely to overeat. According to this study, eating foods that have a lot of fiber in them has a positive impact on your gut microbiome. You can find fibre in most food that comes from plants like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.
Want to know more about how your gut impacts your hormones? Check out our blog post called Happy Gut, Happy Hormones
The Rise of Low-Carb Diets
A low-carb diet is one that limits carbohydrates such as those found in grains, fruit and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn. As a result, someone on a low-carb diet consumes mostly protein and fat.
The first “famous” low carb diet was the Atkins diet. It claimed to be the solution to weight loss and health. Today, the keto diet takes it a step further with a completely carb-free diet claiming a variety of health benefits including rapid weight loss and reducing inflammation.
It is sometimes surprising that these diets remain popular as they are not all that easy to follow. Removing all carbs can massively restrict your intake of most of the major food groups including fruits, beans/legumes, grains, starchy vegetables and dairy!
However, the marketing and claims behind these diets alongside huge numbers of success stories continue to convince people that carbs are the culprit behind poor health and obesity.
Can Going Gluten-Free Help With PMS?
There is quite a lot of credible research to show that giving up gluten, which is found in many carbs, can help with a variety of menstrual symptoms like acne, bloating, weight gain, mood swings and PMS. A study in 2014 showed that over half of people who gave up gluten-rich foods like bread and pasta reported improvements in their physical and mental health. The research also suggests that even people without obvious symptoms could experience some benefits when they give up gluten.
It’s important to know that giving up gluten won’t heal your hormones all on its own, but in combination with other lifestyle changes, it has been shown to make a difference.
Also remember: not all carbs contain gluten! Lots of healthy carbs like fruits, starchy veggies, beans, yogurt and even some grains like quinoa are gluten-free.
Possible Side Effects of a Low-Carb Diet
First, this blog post is not an attempt to stop you from trying a low carb diet if you think it’s right for you. But we do want you to know all the information so you can make an informed decision about what’s right for your body.
First of all, if carbohydrate restriction goes beyond added sugars and refined grains to the point of restricting vegetables, whole grains and beans/legumes, it can actually result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies if you’re not clued-up on supplements.
Also, emphasizing meat consumption as the main part of your diet can also lead to problems. The high amount of saturated fats found in meat like steak, bacon and processed meats can increase the risk of future heart disease and cancer!
As previously mentioned, a low carb diet can be helpful for reversing insulin resistance but it can also have unexpected effects on women’s health including anovulatory cycles (where you do not ovulate) and amenorrhea (when your period goes missing). A regular cycle where you ovulate monthly is a marker of good physical health. Maybe a skipped period here and there doesn’t seem like a big deal, but ovulation is not optional. And unfortunately, due to restrictive diets and undereating, some women are impacting their cycle in ways they may not realise.
Guud to know: What Your Period Says About Your Health
Why Carbs Can Be Guud For Women
A big part of diet culture portrays dieting and low appetite as desirable traits in women. We’re bombarded with pop culture scenes of women on dates picking at salads and an unstated rule that women are not supposed to have hearty appetites. But this is just not true! Hunger is normal, natural and healthy for everyone!
Dinner is especially important. Of course, having a healthy dinner satisfies your hunger but it also does other things too. Protein supports muscles and signals your circadian rhythm, which is important for sleep. Fat delivers fat-soluble nutrients and starch feeds healthy intestinal bacteria, activates thyroid hormones and promotes relaxation, sleep and ovulation. For the best possible dinner, try to make sure yours includes all three macronutrients: protein, fat and starch. Can anyone say…. Roast chicken dinner?
For some people, going on a low carb, no carb or gluten free diet can be beneficial for a variety of health reasons but it’s important that you listen to your body and do your research. When taken to extremes, some low carb diets can wreak havoc on your hormones and your cycle. If you’re not sure what to do, get in touch with one of our experts.
If you’re looking for more information on how to eat according to your cycle, read our blog post on How to Hack Your Cycle with Food.