By Isadora Baum
Eating “low carb” is having a big, giant moment. And though ditching white bread and pasta, cookies, doughnuts and other highly processed carbs is a good idea, saying “no” to all carbs can be a problem.
WAIT, WHAT’S A CARB AGAIN?
Though the word “carb” brings up images of bread, pasta and cookies, the fact is that vegetables, fruit and legumes are all carbs. Though proponents of different eating styles may advocate for more or less fruit or beans, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks a balanced diet shouldn’t include plenty of vegetables.
Along with landing you short of essential nutrients, avoiding carbs too much also can lead to a slew of unpleasant symptoms, warns nutritionist Lola Berry. Here are 7 warning signs.
Eating healthy, complex carbs throughout the day can help keep blood sugar levels steady, Berry says. “When your blood sugar levels drop, you can get dizzy and even feel nausea,” she cautions.
Berry recommends including plenty of green vegetables into your diet, along with starchier items such as sweet potato and pumpkin, plus bananas and other fruits. The exact amount depends on how active you are and other factors, so try experimenting to see what makes you feel your best.
Unless your body gets its carb fix, you might find yourself getting edgier than usual. “Carbohydrates are essential to the body’s production of serotonin, a feel-good chemical that’s produced in the brain. And when people cut down carbs, especially at first, it can make them irritable and crabby,” says registered dietician Lauren Blake of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Occasional headaches are normal, but if you have them every day, you may have taken your low-carb diet too far. “Carbs don’t require any additional processing to make glucose, so they effectively keep blood sugar levels steady. However, when you don’t eat enough carbs–or food in general–blood sugar levels can dip and cause headaches,” Blake says.
Heading out on a date? You may want to rethink the no-carbs-all-day strategy.
“When you don’t eat enough carbs, the body burns fat and protein for fuel. It does so by a process called ketosis,” Blake says. Though the ketogenic diet is buzzy and has advantages for some, it causes the body to generate different byproducts than a more typical eating style, which can lead to bad breath. Eating too much protein, a potential pitfall on the ketgenic diet, also can leave your breath less than fresh.
Adding some more healthy carbs to your diet should clear things up. Doubling the amount of water your drink may also help, Blake says.
Along with tons of vitamins and minerals, vegetables and fruit are loaded with fiber, which is crucial to keeping your digestion moving along.
There are two types of fiber: Soluble and insoluble. Soluble will dissolve in water and help slow digestion to keep you full, Blake says. You’ll find soluble fiber in peas, nuts, seeds, beans, some fruits, and legumes. Insoluble passes through the digestive tract and keeps digestion moving along; rich sources include whole grains and the seeds and skins of fruit (so don’t peel that apple before eating).
So if you’re stopped up, reach for carbs containing both types of fiber, and, once again, drink plenty of water.
Feeling less than energetic during a workout can be a real drag. Carbs can be helpful, depending on what type of workout you’re doing and how your body responds to different carb levels.
“Carbohydrates are the first line of use for energy for the body, so when muscle stores of carbohydrates are low, it can make some people feel lethargic and less able to sustain a high-intensity workout,” Blake says.
Some people perform better using fat for fuel, while others need more carbs. Since there isn’t one formula that’s optimal for everyone, it’s a good idea to experiment and see what gives you the most energy for your workouts. But even devoted low-carbers should keep an open mind about adding more carbs to fuel workouts, especially longer, more endurance-based activities.