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Is a Low-Carb Diet Good For You?

Is a Low-Carb Diet Good For You?

Two experts share the health benefits of a low-carb diet, and how it can help with weight loss. Plus, try their delicious low-carb dinner idea.

Is a Low-Carb Diet Good For You?

There are several reasons why the CSIRO Low-carb Diet approach is so effective in helping you lose excess weight, while also making you feel better and significantly improving your metabolic and cardiovascular health.

It reduces your glycaemic load

While selecting foods with a low glycaemic index reduces the glycaemic load of your meals, having a lower total amount of carbohydrate is what actually has the greatest effect on reducing the overall glycaemic load of your diet. A lower glycaemic load reduces your blood glucose response after a meal or snack, making it easier to achieve more stable blood glucose levels throughout the day.

The higher proportion of protein and healthy fats in the CSIRO Low-carb Diet helps to further blunt rises in blood glucose levels after carbohydrate is consumed. Again, this helps reduce blood glucose spikes and fluctuations, and improves blood glucose control through the day.

You don’t feel as hungry

The higher protein intake also helps you feel fuller for longer, suppressing your appetite. This reduces the desire to snack throughout the day, giving you better control of your energy intake, making it easier for you to maintain a lower body weight.

You burn more energy

Digesting and absorbing food accounts for about 10 per cent of our daily energy expenditure. It takes more energy to digest protein, compared to carbohydrate or fat — so having a higher proportion of protein in the diet actually helps you expend more energy throughout the day.

Also, on the CSIRO Low-carb Diet, the higher amounts of protein can increase the proportion of weight loss from fat reserves, allowing you to retain more fat-free mass and muscle. Even when we’re at rest, our muscles require fuel to keep working, which is what largely drives our individual resting metabolic rate — so by maintaining a higher muscle and fat-free mass on our higher-protein weight-loss diet, our bodies are expending more energy throughout the day and when we are sleeping. Having a higher resting metabolic rate can help us maintain a lower body weight over the long term.

This effect can be further magnified by combining a higher-protein diet with increased physical exercise, particularly resistance or strength-training exercise. An appropriate level of physical activity is an important factor in weight loss and weight maintenance, as well as improved overall health.

More muscle mass also means better glucose control

Muscle is one of the body’s major storage sites for glucose, so maintaining a larger muscle mass makes it easier for your body to transport and store glucose from the blood. This is helpful for fighting ‘insulin resistance’, and achieving good blood glucose control — which is particularly important for people with metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

It’s high in good fats to keep you healthy

The CSIRO diet has a higher proportion of unsaturated ‘healthy’ fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, producing a lower blood glucose response after meals. Unsaturated fats also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by:

  • increasing the ‘good’ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in your blood, which picks up excess cholesterol in your blood and takes it back to your liver, where it is broken down and removed from your body
  • reducing levels of ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol and triglycerides — the blood fats that can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries)
  • improving the functioning of the blood vessels in the heart.

Rich sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil and canola oil, lean fish and chicken, and olives. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include fish (particularly salmon and sardines), nuts and seeds, sunflower oil and sesame oil, and soybeans.

It has plenty of fibre 

Unlike some low-carb, high-protein diets, the CSIRO eating plan delivers the recommended daily fibre intake of 25–30 grams — mainly from generous quantities of low-carb vegetables, but also a small amount of high-fibre grains and legumes. An adequate daily fibre intake is important not only for gut and bowel health, but also helps us feel more satisfied and replete after meals so we are less likely to overeat.

It is nutritionally balanced and sustainable

Unlike some diets, which can leave you feeling washed out, tired and depleted, the CSIRO Low-carb Diet provides adequate intakes of all the essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements needed for good health. In fact, after two years we assessed people’s blood status levels of key vitamins and minerals including vitamin B12, folate, beta-carotene, vitamin D, vitamin E, copper, zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and iron. The results showed that the average levels of these nutrients were within the normal (laboratory-specific) reference ranges for both groups following either the CSIRO Low-carb Diet and the traditional high-carb, low-fat diet.

As well as significantly improving people’s physical health, our clinical trial found that following the CSIRO Low-carb Diet and exercise plan markedly improved people’s psychological mood and perceived quality of life, meaning they were more likely to stick with the program.

Offering a sustainable approach to weight management, the CSIRO Low-carb Diet and exercise plan can be maintained over the long term, as part of a healthy lifestyle. If you’re vegetarian, or have specific food preferences or a history of nutritional deficiencies, a dietitian can help tailor the diet to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Ginger cashew chicken with edamame zucchini noodles

11 Carbs per serve

UNITS PER SERVE:

Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu: 1

Low–moderate carb vegetables: 3.5

Healthy fats: 4

Serves 4

2 tablespoons rice bran oil 400 g lean chicken breast fillets, chopped
4 cm piece ginger, finely grated
80 g raw unsalted cashews, toasted and chopped

EDAMAME ZUCCHINI NOODLES

150 g frozen shelled edamame, thawed (see note)

600 g zucchini, spiralised into long thin noodles

1⁄4 cup (60 ml) salt-reduced soy sauce 2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 cup small basil leaves

To make the edamame zucchini noodles, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside until required.

Heat the rice bran oil in a large wok over high heat.

Add the chicken and ginger and stir-fry for 5 minutes or until cooked, crispy and deep golden.

Transfer to the zucchini mixture in the bowl and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Add the cashews and toss well to combine. Serve.

NOTE: You can buy frozen shelled edamame from Asian supermarkets or buy them in their pods and shell them once the pods have thawed. You will need approximately 250 g edamame pods to produce 150 g shelled edamame.

Recipe and text extracted from CSIRO LowCarb Every Day by Professor Grant Brinkworth and Pennie Taylor. Available now, Macmillan Australia, RRP $34.99. Professor Grant Brinkworth is a Principal Research Scientist in Clinical Nutrition and Exercise Science at CSIRO; Pennie Taylor is a Senior Research Dietitian at CSIRO.

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