Carbohydrates are the mainstay of your body's source of fuel for your everyday activities. These nutrients provide your cells with the energy they need to continue to work and to keep your muscles and brain functioning properly. However, like most things in a Western culture, we have a tendency to overdo and overeat.
Not all carbohydrates are healthy. For instance, those that come from processed foods are less likely to have the nutrients your body needs, while those from fresh fruits and vegetables may contain the same number of measured grams of carbs but also have the vitamins and minerals the body needs to function.
Sources of bad carbs come from pastas, breads and sugar and desserts. These are calorie dense, or have more calories in a smaller serving than more natural foods. Good carbs come from foods that are closer to their natural state, like raw nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits.
The amount of carbohydrates that are recommended varies according to the source. The federal government may recommend 50% of your calories from carbs while low carb afficionados recommend 10%. The American Diabetic Association recommends that the amount of carbs is based on your activity level and you start with between 45 and 60 grams per meal. (1) This equate to between 135 to 180 grams per day, based on eating 3 meals per day and without snacks.
So, as you can see, the amount of carbohydrates you eat in a day will vary, as will the answer to the question of whether eating a low carb diet is healthy. This is because you must first define exactly what low-carb means to you and what you'll be substituting for the lack of carbs in your diet. You may decide to increase your protein or spread those calories equally between healthy fats and protein.
That decision, where the extra calories will come from, will also determine exactly how healthy a low carb diet will be.
The reason many people start using a low-carb diet is to lose weight but the reason others will stick with it for a long period of time is because it reduces the blood sugar spikes and reduces the potential to develop diabetes and other illnesses that are the result of the inflammatory response in the body to consistently spiking blood sugar.
The reality is that your body requires carbohydrates to function and dropping the percentage of your diet from carbs below 15% can be dangerous over a long period of time.
And the reality is that you'll find research that supports the idea that low carb diets are healthy for your body and those researchers that support the theory that long-term use of a diet that forces the body to use protein and fat as the primary source of fuel will ultimately cause other problems in the body.
The answer lies in moderation, as it does with most things. Fifty percent of your caloric intake of carbohydrates will only increase your risk of heart attack, obesity and diabetes. A percentage lower than 15% will lead to kidney damage. A 20 year prospective study of over 82,000 women found that those who at a lower carb percentage in their diets had 20% lower risk of type 2 diabetes as long as their fat and protein were from vegetable sources and low in animal fats. (2)
Keep your eye on the ball. Eat healthy foods, steer clear of processed foods and white flour and watch your carbohydrate intake. It won't be long before you reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.