Ask a nutritionist - shall I quit the carbs?

Our team of dietitians run both group and 1-1 nutritional advice services across the city. We frequently get asked questions about weight loss by our clients which may have been picked up in the media or passed on from friends. This is the second in a series of Q&A blogs to provide you with accurate and informed answers to some of your nutritional queries.

Are low carb diets best for weight loss?

Cutting out carbohydrates can lead to significant weight loss in the short term. Popular drastic diets such as the Atkins have been shown to result in weight loss but this is unlikely to be due to the exclusion of carbohydrates per se. Omitting any major food group from your diet will lead to reducing calorie intake, which in turn leads to weight loss. But in the long term, those following a low carbohydrate diet do not lose or maintain any more weight loss than those following a well-balanced diet containing all food groups.

Another consideration is that cutting out carbohydrates can lead to reduced intake of B-vitamins and fibre and to cause headaches, low energy levels and constipation.

When choosing carbohydrates it's best to include high-fibre, low-sugar options such as wholegrain bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and oats. It is also important to consider portion sizes - aim to fill no more than a third of your plate with carbohydrates if you are trying to lose weight.

Most people can benefit from reducing intake of refined carbohydrates which can be heavily processed and include lots of added sugar, such as sugary breakfast cereals, pastries, cereal bars and chips.

How about low fat?

Fat is an essential nutrient so you do need some in your diet but you don't need huge amounts of fat to stay healthy. Eating a varied diet is likely to meet your needs. While eating large amounts of saturated fat and trans fats have been linked to heart disease, this does not mean you need to exclude these all together. One problem with low-fat products is that they can contain lots of added sugar, which can be harmful to health and can hinder weight loss attempts.

Some research has found that those who choose low-fat products often eat twice as much, therefore providing no benefit if you are trying to lose weight.  Don't be fooled by misleading marketing, if a product is being promoted as low fat don't assume this means it will be a healthy choice. Read food labels carefully and refer to these guidelines in order to make an informed choice.