Low-Carbohydrate diets have become increasingly popular over the last few years due to their association with weight loss, improved athletic performance and a variety of other health benefits. I’ve focused this post the Paleo Diet as it’s probably the most popular approach that falls into the low-carb category. Here is my introduction to the key principles.
The basic premise of the Paleo diet is that over the last few thousand years, our eating habits have changed much faster than our bodies have been able to evolve. As a result of this, we are unable to efficiently digest and absorb nutrients from many of the foods that make up a typical Western diet and this has lead us to develop a variety of health problems which were much less common in our ancestors. So, if we eliminate the foods that we are inefficient at digesting and go back-to-basics with simple, nutritious foods, our bodies will be under less stress and we will become healthier.
The originators of the approach spent time studying archaeological evidence to discover what our hunter-gatherer ancestors were eating before commercial farming, processed food and marketing started dictating our food choices – hence the term ‘paleo’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that our ancient relatives were surviving on foods that require a minimum amount of processing before consumption as these foods are the least likely to be toxic or be difficult to digest.
Whilst the archaeological stuff is interesting, the key to healthy eating is to consume simple, unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods that are easily digested. In a nutshell, the paleo diet encourages increased consumption of protein, healthy fats and fresh vegetables whilst processed food, grains, dairy products, legumes and refined carbohydrate are all excluded.
If like most people, you consume a diet that is high in carbohydrate, your body will become very well adapted at using it for energy as it can be burned easily. At the same time, it’s likely that you will become quite inefficient at using fat as an energy source as it burns much more slowly. If you keep feeding your body with a carbohydrate-heavy diet, the unused fat is stored and this can lead to obesity.
This is a bit like trying to light a fire by continually putting coal and paper on top of one-another. The paper burns in a few seconds so you have to keep throwing it on to keep the fire burning. Even though there is lots of coal, it doesn’t ignite because the conditions aren’t right and it starts to pile up.
If we reduce the amount of carbohydrate that we eat, we can teach our bodies to get better at burning fat and become less reliant on sugar. As well as promoting weight loss, this can improve our energy levels, and sleep, help prevent mood swings and reduce our chances of developing conditions like type-2 diabetes.
Acute inflammation is a complex physiological process that plays an important part in healing at the site of an injury or infection. Systemic inflammation happens throughout the body and when it becomes excessive, it is associated with health problems such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Consumption of grains, refined carbohydrate and certain fats and oils (see below) is thought to increase systemic inflammation where as eating the right type of fats has been shown to reduce it. Many sufferers of chronic inflammatory conditions report improvements in their symptoms after switching to a diet that is low in foods that are thought to promote inflammation.
Low carbohydrate and Paleo-type diets are becoming increasingly popular among athletes. Advocates claim it provides the following benefits in addition to those which I have mentioned above:
Take a look at The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain for more information on this.
In other words, you get to eat lots of delicious REAL food!
Sugar addiction is powerful and transitioning into a low-carb diet can be a tricky process. I thought this subject deserved a post of its own and you can find it by clicking on this link.
Notable resources on this subject include:
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig – It Starts with Food
Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint
Robb Wolf – The Paleo Solution
Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet for Athletes
The Weston A. Price Foundation – A not-for-profit organisation who promote paleo-type principals
Please note that the information in this post is not a substitute for a visit with a health-professional.
Do you have a question or a comment? Please leave your thoughts below!