Though there are many different low carbohydrate diet plans, they are based on the same principles. When carbohydrates (such as starches and sugars) are consumed, the body’s blood sugar level rises. To counteract high blood sugar levels, the body releases insulin, which in turn increases fat storage and decreases the body’s ability to burn fat.
When a low carb dieter restricts carbohydrates, his or her blood sugar is only slightly raised, thus preventing excess insulin production. But many low carbohydrate dieters’ hopes are ruined by uncontrollable sweet cravings, hypoglycaemic mood swings, hunger urges and lethargy.
The truth about carbohydrate is that too much carbohydrate provides too many Calories and probably also has certain negative effects on blood glucose and insulin levels. Despite this however, the body must still have a minimum amount of carbohydrate (as glucose) to stay alive.
Although the brain and nervous system normally want the most glucose, these organs can get along without it in a pinch. But that’s not true for certain blood cells and other types of cells. They must have a steady supply of glucose, because without it they’ll quickly die.
For this reason, glucose is so important that your body will begin to make the glucose it needs for these cells out of muscle protein if it doesn’t get enough carbohydrate from food. But, although possible, this is a stressful emergency reaction (called ketosis), which also makes you miserable with hunger, cravings, and many other unpleasant sensations. Obviously, dieting would be much more successful if we could avoid all that.
When your body runs low on any nutrient it needs to stay healthy, it naturally triggers hunger to make you go get it some more of that thing. But if you habitually eat foods that have too little of whatever it’s running low on and too many Calories, you’re going to get fat from this reaction.
Fortunately you can lose the weight again by simply reversing the process. To do so, you learn to eat things that have lots of what your body needs but not many Calories. When you succeed at this your body has no reason to trigger hunger and food cravings even when you’re eating very few Calories and it’s burning excess fat (stored Calories) to make up for this.
This reaction is as true for carbohydrate as it is for each of the other nutrients. If you eat too little carbohydrate, your body will trigger hunger because it needs a minimum amount of glucose every day to supply the cells that can’t use anything else.
If you eat too much carbohydrate, you’ll get fat because too much carbohydrate has both too many Calories and the aforementioned negative effects on blood glucose and insulin levels. So how much is “enough but not too much”? That amount is probably highly variable depending on your lifestyle. A stressful “go-go” day can require a lot of carbohydrate while a relaxed day probably won’t. However, most scientists put the minimum amount of carbohydrate that most people will need in the range of 50-100 grams per day (which is 200-400 Calories from carbohydrate). This is the amount that prevents your body from starting to make glucose out of muscle protein.
Since most food labels list the amount of carbohydrate in the food you eat, tracking and controlling amounts is not difficult. Try to eat in the range of 400 Calories from carbohydrate per day. This will usually prevent the hunger and cravings that are triggered by too little glucose.
There are several other nutrients that also trigger hunger and cravings when you get too little of them – and which must therefore also be managed similarly.