Respecting Your Uniqueness: Are Low-Carbohydrate Diets Right for You?


I’ve been reading quite a bit recently since my foray into the food as medicine world, and one of themes that keeps hitting home to me is how we are all biochemically unique.  Yet when many of us set out to clean up our eating, we often try to follow guidelines that may not work for us.

Take low carbohydrate diets.  There’s little debate about the type of carbohydrate that’s best for most of us — the more natural, less refined, the better.  But what about the amount?  What many women who struggle with weight don’t always realize is that the amount of carbohydrate that makes us feel best is very individual.  Carbs are almost always put in the “limit” column but is that always a wise idea?
A memory that really underscores this for me is when I was a dedicated dieter and decided to join the Sierra Club.  I’d show up for fairly strenuous hikes having eaten mostly protein and low-carb veggies because that was the diet of the day (and seems to be the diet of today, too).  I’d sometimes find myself feeling faint standing the parking lot before we even started walking.  Do I need to point out that I didn’t feel my best during the hikes either?

I recently tweeted a quote from Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN, from her excellent book Digestive Wellness, “The first principle of wellness is paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.”  That can be difficult for those of us who are so confused from our past efforts of trying to do what everyone else tells us to do, regardless of what our body says.

In her book, Liz says that about half the people she works with “do best on a high-complex-carbohydrate, high-fiber, natural-foods diet.  The other half seem to do best on a low-carbohydrate, relatively high-protein diet abundant in fruits and vegetables.”

I wanted to include a list of complex carb foods for your perusal but the link to our page listing them is down.  I’ll include it as soon as our web gods get it going again.   Our Plate Model for Healthy Eating link is working, and it can help you get started on finding out what’s right for you.  It shows how to put a balanced meal together that will support your body’s ability to accurately tell you what it needs.  The Plate Model doesn’t limit carbs as much as help you eat them in balance, and listen to your body to tell you if you need more or less.

Another good point to realize is that beans are a great source of protein as well as carbohydrate.  And the carbohydrate from them is absorbed more slowly so beans are a great choice for people who are insulin resistant, as in type 2 diabetes and PCOS.  So when we’re trying to balance meals but feel like we do better with more carbohydrate, beans are a great choice.

Do you feel better eating more or fewer whole carbohydrate-rich foods?  Do you know?

Here’s the link to Pinch My Salt’s Three Bean Vegetarian Chili.

4 responses to “Respecting Your Uniqueness: Are Low-Carbohydrate Diets Right for You?”

  1. Beth says:

    There was a small but interesting study done a while back that showed that whether or not you tolerated high carbs was related to how developed (or not) your insulin resistance was. Insulin sensitive people did better on the HC diet; insulin resistant people did better on the LC diet.


    Two other points though. I do think that there is a question of adjustment. This is one of the reasons that some LC diets have initial periods to make people better able to use body fat as a fuel source. I’m sure the paleo people would tell you that Grok didn’t have a high carb diet, but he was able to hike and run plenty :).

    Finally, I think people who do well on carbs should quite happily continue to eat them. But I myself find some of the arguments that the paleo/primal and Weston Price folks make about grains to be compelling. Because of anti-nutrients in grains (e.g., lectins, saponins, phytic acid), the former advocate no grains, while the latter advocate proper preparation. Anyone with any kind of auto-immunity issues might want to check these groups out.

    BTW, I thought this was a really nice article on the question of grains:

    Beth’s last blog post..A disturbing reason why BMI is predictive =-.

  2. Julie Trevor says:

    Good read, Marsha. One of the best things about my experience at Green Mountain was the opportunity to invest in… “The first principle of wellness is paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.”
    I discovered (confirmed actually) that I really need animal protein in the morning i.e. eggs. Without them, I am hungry and craving all day.
    And, I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see bananas; the perfect snack, dessert, comfort food – for me.
    Wish I could be there for the “Food as Medicine” week, but Florida is calling…

  3. Julie says:

    Great post Marsha. I think once we let go of the “dieting” mentality it’s quite a bit easier to eat mindfully. Obviously this is easier said than done for so many. You offer a great resource for those who need to get back in touch with their unique dietary needs in a healthy way.

  4. Marsha says:

    @Julie Trevor — So glad you’re finding what works for you! And with the temps what they were this weekend in Vermont, I’m with you on Food as Medicine in Florida! Although I do love snowshoeing….

    @ Beth — Great information! Appreciate the links. I personally am not so much a fan of grain carbohydrates as vegetable carbohydrates but I do think it’s a matter of people finding out for themselves what works for them. Once we all do, we may find we’re more alike than not, but with all the diet trauma we’ve experienced in this country in the past 50 years, we need the freedom to find this out for ourselves for it to “stick.”

    @ Julie — Guess I echo your comment in my note to Beth above. 🙂

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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