Low-carbohydrate diets have become extremely popular lately. But, if the diet isn’t quite right you might not lose weight, no matter how hard you try. Here, we examine how low- carb diets work, so you can get it right.
The real dieting enemy is carbs, not fat
Lots of us don’t understand why our bodies lose fat when we reduce our carbohydrate intake through a low-carb diet. We believe that we get fat by eating fatty foods – well, it’s in the name, surely! But carbohydrate is by far the greater enemy than fat.
Our bodies make efficient use of fats as an energy source to fuel our muscles and organs, and in, for example, building cell membranes and manufacturing vitamin D. Also, much of the fat we ingest passes straight through our digestive systems, as it is hard for the body to digest and absorb.
Carbohydrate, on the other hand, is converted into and stored as neutral fat through the action of the glucose regulating hormone insulin. Because it is easier for our bodies to store carbohydrate than fat, we are likely to gain more weight eating carbohydrate than the same quantity of fat.
We tend to think we need to reduce our calorie intake in order to lose weight, but it is more important for us to get the nutritional balance right. Rather than keeping a close eye on calories, we would do better to choose low-carb foods and foods that do not prompt a spike in insulin production. This is the mechanism by which we lose weight on low-carb diets.
PFC balance and lower insulin for a slim, healthy body
The difficult thing about low-carb diets is, perhaps, knowing what foods to choose. It is hard to avoid carbohydrates altogether. And, there is not a precisely determined daily requirement for carbohydrate.
We recommend looking at nutritional balance. Our bodies need protein, fat and carbohydrate. The Japan Diet Health Association refers to this as the PFC balance, with the P standing for protein, the F for fat and the C for carbohydrate.
Suppose, for example, you had a choice between a 500-calorie “nori bento” boxed lunch, comprising a variety of small fried items over a bed of rice and nori seaweed, and a 600-calorie “makunouchi bento” boxed lunch, containing fried fish and cooked vegetables with rice, which would you choose?
The nori bento is very carb-heavy, with a PFC balance of 16% protein, 14% fat and 70% carbohydrate, whereas the PFC balance for the makunouchi bento is less weighted towards carbohydrate, with 28% protein, 17% fat and 55% carbohydrate, because the greater amount of fish and vegetables leaves less room for rice.
As well as the PFC balance, we also need to watch out for excessive insulin production. This happens when your blood sugar level rises sharply. It is important not to eat carb-heavy foods at the beginning of a meal in order to prevent your blood sugar spiking. We should start with soup and vegetables, then eat the main dishes and finish with rice.
Low-carb recips our expert recommends
We tend to eat out more when we are busy at work, but restaurant menus tend to be heavy on the carbs. If you cook from scratch for yourself, you will always know exactly how much sugar you are eating, and you will learn how to choose wisely from a restaurant menu. We would all do well to use our weekends and holidays to foster our culinary skills.
Below, we introduce a of low-carb dish that is simple to prepare even for people who don’t usually cook. It would make good side dish or between-meal snack.
The key feature of the dish is that it contains green tea. Lightly frying the tea in oil before mixing it with cream cheese fully activates the fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidant phytochemicals in the tea, which our bodies needs to metabolise carbohydrate.
Green tea dip
Ingredients (serves two):
1 tbsp green tea
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp olive oil (or tea seed oil)
50g cream cheese
1 tbsp sugar (preferably unrefined sugar)
Crackers, to serve
Chop the lemon zest finely. Gently fry the green tea in the olive oil until fragrant, and cool slightly. Mix the lemon zest and fried green tea with the cream cheese and sugar gently with a spoon, and serve with crackers.
Recipe supplied by Ayako Sagitani, chef at sarAsa J-herb Dining & Bar and researcher in Japanese culinary herbs.
- Medical tourism in Singapore: Getting the most value out of your healthcare dollars
- 4 basic steps to leading a financially-healthy life in Singapore
- Singapore economic health check: a cold rather than the pneumonia?