High fat low carb? Low fat high carb?

Determining Macronutrient Profiles.

In the last 20 years or so there has been a boom in interest in macronutrient ratios, or the proportions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in our diet. We have seen the low fat diet, the Atkins diet, the food combining diet and many others. All of these diets are an attempt to manipulate body chemistry in such as way that the dieter loses body weight. And to a degree, they all work. Unfortunately they are all also detrimental to your health both in the long and short term. Most of these diets will produce weight loss, but the weight loss will be composed of a mixture of muscle tissue, water and some body fat. For more information about dieting for fat loss, ask about our Dietary Analysis Package. What follows is a description of some of the more commonly utilized nutrient ratios.

High Carb, Moderate Protein, Low Fat.

This is typically the dietary approach followed by athletes and active people. The benefits are that a large intake of carbohydrates gives plenty of energy, sufficient protein provides the building blocks for recovering from training and low fat provides a variety of health benefits including lowered risk of heart disease etc. The disadvantages of such an approach are that some individuals are insulin sensitive, which means that there body tends to deposit carbohydrate calories as body fat more readily than in others. Secondly, most of our carbohydrates come from heavily processed sources like white flour, which are almost devoid of fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you follow a high carb diet you must ensure that you eat whole grains and unprocessed foods as often as possible. Also, when taken to extremes the low levels of fat in this diet can cause numerous health problems from hormone imbalances to insufficient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Bear in mind that this only occurs at extremely low fat intakes.

High Fat, Low Carb, Moderate to High Protein.

This nutrient ratio has been called many things, The Atkins Diet, The Ketogenic Diet etc. Most people who utilize this nutrient ratio have all the physical capabilities of a malnourished fly. Sad but true. While this dietary approach can be effective for short term fat loss it can not be recommended in the long term for the following reasons. Firstly, it is very hard to get the majority of your calories from fats without taking in a lot of saturated fats and cholesterol. The people marketing this dietary approach may tell you otherwise, but in almost every study undertaken regarding heart disease a high intake of saturated fats was shown to be a risk factor. In my opinion, the situation is somewhat more complex than that as evidenced by the fact that there are populations in the world who eat a very high fat diet and show a very low incidence of heart disease. I believe the reason for this is genetic predisposition, use of natural unprocessed fat sources and a lack of overly processed carbohydrates that cause an insulin releasing response. The combination of a large insulin response and a high processed fat intake is the reason for American's being the fattest nation in the history of the world. Many peoples diets consist almost exclusively of highly processed carbohydrates and processed fats like margarine and trans-fats in most "convenience" foods, which leaves us overweight and carrying too much body fat. Combine this with our typically sedentary lives and you have a recipe for cardiovascular disease. These simple facts are perverted by the low carb diet industry in to a basis for the elimination of all carbs from the diet. There is no need.

The second major problem with low carbohydrate diets is that they rely on fat by products called Ketones for energy. Ketones are not a particularly efficient source of energy and their inefficiency forces your body to undergo a process called glucogenesis.

Glucogenesis is the production of glucose, your preferred body fuel, within the body. It is accomplished by the breaking down of tissue proteins and that is where the trouble lies. Your body will cannibalize its own muscle tissue in order to provide glucose to fuel the brain. This is a simple survival mechanism and in times of starvation you would be very grateful for it. However, as you lose muscle your BMR (the amount of calories you use while at rest) drops dramatically. You no longer have as much active tissue to sustain so you don't burn as many calories as you once did. At the same time you are taking in a huge amount of calories from fat. Can you guess the outcome? You are using fewer calories but still taking in the same amount, which equates to a calorie surplus, which means you are going to put on weight, or at the very least slow down the rate at which you lose weight. This is why many people report great results from this nutrient ratio for a few weeks and then the results suddenly stop coming. They have lost muscle tissue and slowed their BMR. You can avoid this situation by including a number of higher carb days per week while following this diet, but really there is no need to follow the ketogenic diet in the first place. There is a better way.

Sufficient Carbs, Sufficient Protein, Sufficient Fat.

This sounds good from the start doesn't it? The idea is to determine how much of each macronutrient you need, based on your own individual metabolism, your own individual activity level, and your own individual insulin sensitivity. This can only be achieved by slow and careful experimentation with nutrient profiles and careful tracking of the results. That means it is a lot of work. But once you find what works for you, you have a dietary plan you can follow for life. There are some simple guidelines to follow when designing your diet. Firstly, know where you are now. That means tracking your entire food intake and doing the math. If you'd rather I did it for you, ask about our Dietary Analysis Pack.

Once you know what you are taking in now, adjust your food intake till it falls within the following boundaries. 15 to 35% of calories from protein, 10 to 30% of calories from fat, and 35 to 75% of calories from carbohydrates. These are the ranges within which I believe good health can be maintained. Within these ranges you will find a dietary plan that fits your needs and allows you accomplish your goals. The analysis of whether a diet is working is both objective and subjective. You must keep track of objective measures like weight, percentage body fat and measurements of girths etc, but you can also analyse a diet by how you feel. If you find yourself accomplishing your goals with regard to your appearance or physical ability, while at the same time feeling great, then you have found the macronutrient ratio most suited to yourself. Bearing in mind what has gone before, you should already have an accurate estimate of your protein and total calorie needs, so all you need do now is decide how much of your total intake is going to come from fats and begin the experimentation. If you have any questions or comments about this article, just send me an Email.


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