Recently there has been a lot of debate between two types of dieting: Low-carbohydrate high-fat (LCHF) and high-carbohydrate low-fat (HCLF). A previous article addressed high-fat diets. This article will focus on high-carbohydrate diets and who they work for.
But before we get started, there are two important things to remember when dieting. Firstly, everyone is different. A diet that works great for one person won’t necessarily work well for everyone. Secondly, not every diet is healthy. Just because a person weighs less doesn’t mean that they are healthy.
So what is a high-carbohydrate low-fat diet? In the simplest of definitions it is a way of eating in which 80% of the calorie intake is from carbohydrates, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat. (1) So if you ate 3000 calories in a day, 2400 of those calories would come from carbohydrates, 300 from protein and 300 from fat.
HCLF diets do work well for lots of people. For people who get hungry easily this diet is typically more satisfying because you can eat a greater volume of food for the same amount of calories. But it also tends to be less flavorful- most likely due to the fact that fat is a flavor enhancer. (2)
A HCLF diet also tends to work better for people with high cholesterol because replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates from grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit tends to lower cholesterol levels. (3) However, this diet tends not to be a good idea for people with pre-existing heart conditions because it has been shown to put people at cardiovascular risk. (4)
There are different ways to eat HCLF. One of the high-carbohydrate low-fat diets you’re probably the most familiar with is a vegan diet. This diet is plant based with typically fewer processed foods. Vegans tend to be thinner, eat more fiber, and not be at risk of heart disease. (5) Whichever way you decide to eat HCLF I would recommend trying to eat as much whole, minimally processed food as is reasonable for your lifestyle. It has been my personal experience that the more natural food is the more healthy it is.
What to watch out for
Another way people end up eating high-carbohydrate low-fat is to eat lots of grains and sugars. This way of eating can be unhealthy. Even though a person may have stopped eating fat completely and may even eat a vegetable every once in awhile, it is easy to overeat this way. Since sugar stimulates appetite.(6)
So although it’s true you can eat a greater volume of carbohydrates for every calorie of carbohydrates, you’re liable to feel less full since the sugary taste is simultaneously stimulating your appetite. This of course varies person to person based on their molecular makeup.
Normally your body can handle a few extra calories when you are eating a HCLF diet. However, when you overeat calories on an extreme level you can start gaining fat without eating fat. This process is called de novo lipogenesis which is just a fancy term for converting carbs to fat. (7)
The first thing that happens when you eat a lot of sugar is it goes into your bloodstream. From there some of it is converted to energy but we can rarely use all the energy we eat at once so it is also converted for long term use. But if you eat a lot of carbohydrates all that extra carbohydrate energy is turned into fat in the liver. (8) The liver plays a key role in lipid metabolism but it also can play a key role in lipid creation.(9) Once you’ve converted all that sugar into fat called glycogen it is mainly stored in skeletal muscles and the rest of it is distributed all over the body. (10)
De novo lipogenesis doesn’t occur under normal conditions, but when you stop eating fats and start overeating carbohydrates you stop eating under normal conditions. De novo lipogenesis can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is an up and coming health problem to look out for. It affects one-third of adults and an increasing amount of kids.(11)
In order to prevent de novo lipogenesis you can do a few things. You can alter your diet: i.e. cut out the sugars in your diet. Or you can stop overeating and continue eating the same basic foods. There is evidence that shows overeating can be controlled with behavioral conditioning (12)
If a high-carbohydrate diet doesn’t work for you, you have nothing to be ashamed about. Diet and exercise are not the only factors that regulate body fat.(13) There are lots of biological factors that doctors don’t even know about yet. The only way to know if your diet is the problem it to change it and see if it makes you feel better or worse. Experimentation is the godfather of truth.
*Disclaimer: When eating a vegan diet there are certain nutrients that are needed but are not in sufficient supply in plant foods. (14)*