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The pros and cons of a low carbohydrate diet

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The pros and cons of a low carbohydrate diet

According to its advocates, a low-carb diet helps you lose weight and avoid the unwelcome side effects of a diet with too much carbohydrates, i.e. fluctuations in blood sugar they excesses of insulin produced by the pancreas. The low-carbohydrate diet can therefore help diabetic people to keep blood sugar and the disease itself under control. But it is not necessarily recommended for all people, in general. In fact, what is wrongly done today is to contrast and compare the effects on health of two completely opposite models of nutrition, and therefore extreme: the one with a low carbohydrate intake (hypocarbohydrate diet, in fact, or low in carbohydrates) and that excessive intake of carbohydrates (hypercarbohydrate diet), always forgetting that there is also a more balanced and correct dietary approach, that of a normocarbohydrate diet, that is based on the correct use, in quantity, of foods containing carbohydrates. Normocarbohydrate diet means that the person consumes carbohydrates and sugars only in quantities correct for his real needs, neither in excess nor in defect. The same goes for low-calorie diets (used for slimming purposes) and high-calorie (fattening) diets, forgetting that the norm-calorie approach exists, and the same for high-protein and low-protein diets, ignoring the norm-protein approach that is actually that healthier and more physiological.

What it is and how it works

A low-carbohydrate diet is a dietary model in which low carbohydrates and sugars are deliberately eaten. The adjective “few” is to be understood as “reduced” but it does not mean the total exclusion of carbohydrates, as is often seen in some slimming proposals. The Italian food style is usually based on a consistent consumption of carbohydrates and sugars, because we are the country with the culture of bread, pasta, pizza, sweet breakfast based on brioche or biscuits. And we don’t even skimp on real sweets, often eaten at the end of a meal as a dessert (instead of the healthiest fruit) or as an after-dinner meal in the form of chocolates and other sweets. There low carbohydrate diet aims precisely to reduce to the bone this constant and excessive consumption of foods typical of the Italian food culture (not to be confused with the Mediterranean culture or diet, as we have explained in a previous article). These foods can certainly be eaten, but they are no longer present in every meal of the day or their portions are significantly reduced. Lipids (fat) e proteins they are the main source of calories and energy in this diet, rather than carbohydrates. By keeping blood sugar and insulin low, the body is induced to burn fat stores. Furthermore, being richer in protein, which gives a sense of satiety for longer, the diet allows you to eat smaller portions, reduce snacking between meals and decrease your total food intake.

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What to eat?

Reducing a major food group requires a strategy to compensate for it. Foods rich in proteins and natural fats can replace carbohydrates as energy sources, but care must be taken that the diet does not become high-protein and too rich in fatty foods, since these foods are deficient in fiber, essential for healthy digestion and for the health of our intestinal microbiota, which in turn is linked to the correct functioning of the immune system. With generous portions of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce, you can increase the intake of fibers and micronutrients as valuable as antioxidants and vitamins, and give more volume to the meals of a low-carbohydrate diet. Vegetables and vegetables therefore become a food of primary importance at every meal, and not a skimpy side dish. By combining protein-rich and fat-rich foods with bulky vegetables, it becomes relatively easy to cut down on carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, bread, rice and sugary foods at each meal (and in some meals completely eliminate).

Foods to limit (but not completely exclude)

Some low-carbohydrate diets are very restrictive and in addition to excluding foods that are richer in it, such as pasta and bread, at least initially they also limit the intake of many others, including all sweet-tasting fruits and vegetables such as peas, potatoes and corn, pumpkin. Cereal-like foods, such as quinoa and legumes, are also eliminated. This dietary approach is specifically called ketogenic diet and it is an extreme model of a low carbohydrate diet. However, many of these foods that are eliminated are fundamental sources of fiber, vitamins and mineral salts (think of oats, spelled grains, or brown rice), essential for a healthy diet.

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Personally, I am of the opinion that such foods should only be limited and reduced in frequency of consumption and quantity, but not excluded, not even for short periods. Instead, they can be excluded in single meals, precisely to limit the overall quantity of use. No to diets completely free of carbohydrates for days or weeks then, yes to single meals without bread and pasta within a day in which these foods are then present in the other meals. In any case, this helps the body not to be habitual and not always settle down in foods richer in carbohydrates, often more greedy and sought after because they increase serotonin (the wellness hormone that gives relaxation and sleepiness) more than proteins and fats. .

Example of a food day with a low carbohydrate diet

The following is just one of many possible, by way of example.

Breakfast: omelettes, spinach or mushrooms or other vegetables such as sautéed zucchini. Omelette is an egg-based dish with a high protein content and very filling.

Lunch: salad made with tuna, lettuce or radicchio, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and chickpeas or beans. For those who like it, the addition of red onion or shallot is also recommended. Low-calorie, low-carb salad makes for a bulky, filling meal.

Snack: cheese or dried fruit. Foods based on fats and proteins are consumed instead of carbohydrates such as bread and crackers.

Cena: chicken breast, broccoli or cauliflower, two slices of wholemeal bread or rye bread. As an alternative to bread, you can eat potatoes (up to 200 grams without problems) or a small portion of rice or pasta (60 grams raw).

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What is the prevailing opinion on these diets?

Many doctors recognize the effectiveness of low-carb diets for weight loss, but almost no one recommends them as a long-term strategy. Some categories of individuals must absolutely avoid the low-carbohydrate diet, otherwise their health will drop and even serious problems. This type of diet is never recommended for example in pregnant or lactating women, in growing children (unless they are already obese), in athletes and in people who do heavy physical work, in the elderly (except in cases rare of obese elderly and too dependent on food or sweets, for whom this dietary approach can improve the state of health) and to people with a chronic disease.

[di Gianpaolo Usai]

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