In case you didn't know, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez have started a 10-day no sugar and no carbohydrates challenge that is going viral. The couple also challenged a few of their celebrity friends like Michael Strahan, Leah Remini, and Hoda Kotb to join in on the, err, uhhh . . . fun? We love a good challenge, but we wanted to know the pros and cons of eliminating carbs and sugars from our diet. POPSUGAR spoke to Despina Hyde Gandhi, MS, RD at NYU Langone's Weight Management Program, to find out if their challenge is worth following.
Is It OK to Eliminate Carbs From Our Diet?
"Our body preferentially burns carbohydrates for energy; it's our preferred fuel source," Despina told POPSUGAR. "So what happens when people restrict carbs to a really low amount, and that number is usually around 40 to 50 grams per day, the body has to shift gears so it needs to find another fuel source." Instead of burning carbs for energy, your body will begin to burn fat for energy, which is a metabolic state called ketosis, she explained.
If you're trying to burn fat, this may sound great, but Despina said when going low-carb, "Not everyone feels well. It may make you feel tired, lethargic, have headaches, and dizziness." People cut out obvious sources of carbs like bread, pasta, and rice, but according to Despina, it's hard to completely cut out carbs because foods like vegetables still contain carbs.
Despina doesn't promote eliminating carbs because, "When you cut out carbs, you're saying no to fruit, you're saying no to legumes and lentils, sweet potatoes, and all these wonderful foods that provide fiber for us. It's really hard to get fiber from protein . . . so carbohydrates provide a good source of fiber and also vitamins and minerals," she explained. Despina said people may overeat carbs, but "I don't think we need to cut them out completely." Instead, she recommends incorporating "a reasonable amount at each meal" in order to stay balanced.
In a previous interview with POPSUGAR, Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, said, "45 to 65 percent of the average person's daily caloric intake should be made up of carbohydrates." The USDA recommends that people 1 year and older consume a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Is It OK to Eliminate Sugar From Our Diets?
Eliminating carbs may make you feel lackluster, but cutting out added and processed sugars won't do you any harm. "If you cut out sugar from added sources, it's going to be a good thing. In the American diet, we probably get too much of that," she said. A benefit of eliminating added sugars is that you'll more than likely begin to eat more whole foods as opposed to foods that have been processed, Despina said. You may also experience a boost in your mood as added sugars disrupt our insulin levels and tend to make us feel unwell and tired.
But when you cut out complex carbohydrates (the "good carbs") like sweet potatoes and lentils, which are technically a form of sugar, you miss out on fiber, which promotes digestion and can actually help you lose weight. According to Despina, naturally occurring sugars like fructose, which occurs in fruits, and lactose, which naturally occurs in milk and yogurt, provide nutrients in the form of minerals and protein for us. "If you say goodbye to all of those things just because they have sugar, you're going to miss out on nutrients that your body needs."
Despina's final verdict on the no carbs and sugar challenge: "Instead of taking the approach of cutting [them] out completely . . . make sure that you're eating healthy, high-fiber complex carbohydrates and eliminating refined sugars and added sugars and processed carbs."