Saturday, 18 June 2011

Nutritional Guidelines & low carb eating

Let's take a look at UK nutritional guidelines, from the back of a pack of ASDA Mackerel fillets :-

Guideline daily amounts
                          Women                  Men
Calories                   2000                 2500
Protein                     45g                  55g
Carbohydrate               230g                 300g
of which sugars             90g                 120g
Fat                         70g                  95g
of which saturates          20g                  30g
Fibre                       24g                  24g

In the early stages of my low carb diet I was limiting my carbohydrate intake to below 20g per day. This means I was eating 280g less than the guidelines, a saving of 1120 calories per day ! That is enough to drop my calories to 1380 per day if nothing else changes.

1120 calories per day is equivalent to about 124g of fat from my ample deposits, so a loss rate of 124g per day relative to the standard guidelines looked to be on offer. At 871g per week that's 1.9 pounds (lbs) per week and close to 50 lbs or 3.5 stones in 6 months. Perhaps a bit more if you include the water weight that is also stored with the fat on your body.

I did actually lose 3 stones in 6 months, from just over 16 stone in April 2010 to just under 13 stone in October 2010. So the reduction in carbohydrate compared to the standard food guidelines seems to equate to my weight loss, more or less.

In practice I eat more protein than the guidelines, probably 90-100g say 50g more which is 200 calories more. My fat intake is probably around the 95g mark, so my calories are approximately  :-

Carbohydrates   20g    80 calories
Protein        100g   400 calories
Fat             95g   855 calories

Total                1335 calories, 64% of which from fat.

Am I losing out by having a low carbohydrate intake ? Not in my opinion. There are essential minerals and vitamins we have to eat, and essential fatty acids. "Essential" means we have to have it and we can't make our own, so we have to eat it. There are no essential carbohydrates !

Low carb dieters adapt to use fat as a muscle and brain fuel, to replace the glucose that would otherwise be used. The whole blood stream only contains about 5g of glucose so it is continually being used and replaced with glucose from food or from previously stored glycogen. When the supply of glucose isn't enough then fat is broken down and ends up as ketones to fuel muscles and the brain. Some parts of the body can only use glucose, but there's enough for them from conversion of protein ie Gluconeogenesis.

Once adapted to low carb eating my blood sugar became stable, I didn't feel hungry and sugar highs and lows were a thing of the past. My metabolism has adapted to my diet which is no longer based around fast absorbed carbohydrates as recommended in the Guideline Daily Amounts.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Over the last year and a bit I have lost over three stones of weight, well fat actually, by adopting a low carbohydrate eating pattern. I was loosely following the works of Dr Atkins and his successors in their recently published book "New Atkins, New You" - NANY from now on - and in earlier texts.

Unfortunately NANY is published in the UK with some modifications that are supposed to make it easier for us to use, but have the opposite effect. These are :

  • Net carbs - in the US food labelling laws are different to here so we only need to consider the quantity of Carbohydrates on the labels, we do not need to subtract fiber (sic) to get to "net carbs".
  • Cups - apparently a lot of US recipes are volume based using cups, where a cup is about 240ml. These are unhelpfully transposed into grams in NANY using the assumption that 1g = 1ml so as a result a cup of shredded lettuce that should be about 72g becomes a massive helping of 240g.
So if you read the book or the information on Atkins UK site be prepared to mentally blank out references to "net carbs" and don't do any subtractions from the Carbohydrates number off the label or other UK sourced data including supermarket web sites.

If you want to follow any of the Atkins recipes then either equip yourself with a set of measuring cups from Lakeland Plastics or similar or do the homework to see what weight of the particular ingredient fits into a cup.

There are other "movements" in low carb eating, several of which benefit from having a live and active promoter. Atkins Inc is keeping the words and thinking of Dr A in the public mind but there's nothing quite like being able to interact online with the likes of Gary Taubes or Dr Eades. In Sweden the approach is known as LCHF - Low Carb High Fat - though I suspect they use different words !

In the UK we don't have many speciality low carb products in high street stores or supermarkets, although we do have active online retailers/importers like Low Carb Megastore and Avidlite for a wider range of choice. The lack of special diet products is not that big a deal, as you can eat plenty of real foods that are low in carbohydrate, but sometimes it helps to have a snack item to hand when otherwise you may be faced with a carb-fest in a service station or corner shop.