7 things that happen when you ditch carbs

Whether you are cutting out refined grains, whole grains, or carbs in general, the effects can vary widely

UMNIA SHAHID July 03, 2015
Whether you are cutting out refined grains, whole grains, or carbs in general, the effects can vary widely. Photo: Authority nutrition

The low-carb obsession continues to wreak havoc in dieters lives. Even with Ramazan in place, people fasting too are experimenting with how low their carb intake can go. Suddenly, bread is the enemy and pasta is overrated. But grains are anything but all the same. So whether you are cutting out refined grains, whole grains, or carbs in general, the effects can vary widely.

As compiled from Women’s Health magazine and Rodale News, here’s a look at the things that happen when you ditch more than just the bread basket:

1. You lose water weight

When you reduce your carb intake, the first thing you notice is how quickly the weight falls off. But don’t be too happy because it’s not fat you’re losing. It’s water. “When carbs are stored in the body in the form of glycogen, each gram of carbohydrate stores three to four times its weight in water,” says dietitian and strength coach Marie Spano. So as soon as you cut carbs and start using your glycogen stores, you’ll lose a good amount of water weight, which will creep back on quicker than ever next time you fall weak to the dessert menu.  Best thing about consuming carbs in moderation is that the occasional cheat meals won’t affect you as much since your body is used to metabolising carbs.

2. You catch the ‘low-carb flu’

“Carbs are the brain’s main source of energy,” says Spano. “When a person cuts down on carbs, the brain is running on fumes, especially as glycogen stores get low and become depleted.” Eventually, once all that glycogen is gone, your body breaks down fat and runs off of little carbon fragments called ketones. The result: bad breath, dry mouth, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, and brain fog. Basically, you feel like you have the flu. Eventually, your body adapts to running on ketones so you don’t feel so bad, but they are still aren’t your body’s preferred fuel source, says Spano, which in turn can give you dizzy spells and black outs if you exert yourself too hard at work or otherwise.

3. Your cravings subside

Refined carbohydrates are infamous for sending your blood-sugar levels through the roof, only for them to crash back down again. And recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the rollercoaster ride activates addiction centres in the brain, leading to subsequent cravings that can lead to over-eating and weight gain. Choosing fibre-rich whole grains, such as whole grain bread, or lentils though, can keep blood-sugar levels from plummeting abnormally to prevent cravings, says nutritionist Alex Caspero — another great reason to load up on hummus and daal this Ramazan.

4. Risk of heart disease and diabetes goes up—or down

The class and type of grains you cut makes a big difference here. For instance, a 2014 study published in PLOS ONE found that refined carbohydrates drive up the body’s levels of a fatty acid called palmitoleic acid to raise the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, according to the American Heart Association, whole grains and healthy carbs like beans and chickpeas or cholay can improve blood-cholesterol levels and lower risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The choice is clear —  avoid doughnuts and opt for a lobia salad with guacamole instead.

5. Your energy levels drop

Carbs that come from whole grains are a great source of iron, magnesium, and B vitamins, all of which are critical in maintaining energy levels, says Spano, who notes that many people are already deficient in magnesium. Plus, since carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source, all of your cells slow down without a healthy supply, says Caspero. This could make you less productive at work and lazy with regular home chores. Make it a habit to consume good-carbs at every meal —  be it from a banana or a handful of almonds and cashews.

6. You get really moody

And not just because you’re eating all of your sandwiches as lettuce wraps. Carbs—whether they are whole or refined—increase the brain’s levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, says Caspero. So when you cut down healthy carbs, such as whole grains or mangos for example, your mental health goes right along with it. Feeling cranky while on a diet? Ditch your cabbage soup diet for a roti made of whole wheat flour with gobi ki sabzi. Not only will this meal fill you up, it’ll keep you in high spirits and a chirpy mood with family and friends.

7. Your workouts suffer

“Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy for fuelling all exercise, including both endurance and resistance training,” says Spano. “Cut carbs, and your energy will drop. Decrease your levels of your body’s stored carbohydrates, and your ability to produce force and power will decrease.” And the weaker your workouts, the worse your results. To enhance your level of fitness or the size of your biceps (for the boys), you have to load up on good carbs. Make sure to indulge in cardio, a core routine and weights, followed by a hearty protein shake with a banana or muscle-rejuvenating foods, such as eggs, whole wheat toast, porridge, oats, lentils, low fat dairy and fruits.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th,  2015.

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