Low-carb (and even no-carb) diets have been all the rage as of late, promising weight loss by essentially mimicking starvation. But a recent study found that it’s moderate consumers of carbs who are actually less likely to die an early death, rather than those who consume either low or high amounts of carbs, proving once again that everything in moderation holds true (yes, even for that).
The reasoning behind this trend, according to the authors, is that people who consume fewer carbs also tend to consume fewer vegetables and more animal products, which have been associated with a heightened risk of mortality. Meanwhile, those who consume lots of carbs tend to also consume lots of refined carbs (like white rice), which may contribute to rapid spikes in blood sugar that have been linked to overeating and an increased risk of various diseases.
In other words, it’s not necessarily the carbs that are killing you per se: It’s the way they reflect your diet as a whole.
The study also suggests that replacing carbs with proteins and fats from plant sources, rather than from animal sources, may lengthen your lifespan, meaning vegetarians win this round overall.
Because I’m somewhat interested in staying alive, I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help me figure out how to put this moderate-carb diet into action. “The diet that they’re describing is essentially the Mediterranean diet,” Hunnes explains. “It’s low in animal-based foods, high in plant-based proteins, high in plant-based monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and finally, moderate in carbohydrates (which means 50 to 55 percent of your calories should come from carbs), preferably whole-grain, low-refined carbohydrates.”
For women, this means consuming approximately 60 grams of carbs for breakfast, 75 grams for lunch and another 75 grams for dinner (examples will be provided momentarily, because we know that most people do not speak fluent food math). “This adds up to approximately 210 grams of carbohydrates per day, which would add up to about 50 percent of the total calories in an 1,800-calorie diet,” Hunnes says. For men, who need approximately 2,300 calories per day, Hunnes recommends increasing their carbohydrate intake to 75 grams for breakfast, 90 grams for lunch and another 90 grams for dinner.
Here’s what that might look like in practice:
- Example #1: One cup of whole-grain cereal with almond, soy or coconut milk, plus a side of fruit and peanuts.
- Example #2: A vegetable-egg scramble with one or two eggs and whole-grain, seeded toast with nut butter. For vegans: Substitute the eggs with tofu.
- Example #1: Black bean and vegetable tacos on whole-grain, corn tortillas with a salad, fruit and chia seed pudding.
- Example #2: Brown or black rice with up to two ounces of wild fish, grilled vegetables, fruit and an almond parfait (made with alternate-milk yogurt). For vegetarians and vegans: Substitute the fish with a veggie burger patty.
Hunnes says that your dinner should look somewhat similar to your lunch. “The main idea is to get whole-grains, plant-based proteins, unrefined carbohydrates and healthy fats into your diet,” she explains. All of which means no more eating half a dozen donuts for breakfast.
I take back the part about being interested in staying alive.