With all of the conflicting studies and fuzzy interpretation ofinformation, it’s no wonder that confusion reigns when it comesto the value and safety of low-carb diets. It seems like heateddebates are raging everywhere!
Whether it’s Atkins,Guest Posting the South Beach or some other low-carb plan,as many as 30 million Americans are following a low-carb diet.
Advocates contend that the high amount of carbohydrates in ourdiet has led to increasing problems with obesity, diabetes, andother health problems. Critics, on the other hand, attributeobesity and related health problems to over-consumption ofcalories from any source, and lack of physical activity. Criticsalso express concern that the lack of grains, fruits, andvegetables in low-carbohydrate diets may lead to deficiencies ofsome key nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, andseveral minerals.
Any diet, weather low or high in carbohydrate, can producesignificant weight loss during the initial stages of the diet.But remember, the key to successful dieting is in being able tolose the weight permanently. Put another way, what does the scaleshow a year after going off the diet?
Let’s see if we can debunk some of the mystery about low-carbdiets. Below, is a listing of some relevant points taken fromrecent studies and scientific literature. Please note there maybe insufficient information available to answer all questions.
- Differences Between Low-Carb Diets
There are many popular diets designed to lower carbohydrateconsumption. Reducing total carbohydrate in the diet means thatprotein and fat will represent a proportionately greater amountof the total caloric intake.
Atkins and Protein Power diets restrict carbohydrate to a pointwhere the body becomes ketogenic. Other low-carb diets like theZone and Life Without Bread are less restrictive. Some, likeSugar Busters claim to eliminate only sugars and foods thatelevate blood sugar levels excessively.
- What We Know about Low-Carb Diets
Almost all of the studies to date have been small with a widevariety of research objectives. Carbohydrate, caloric intake,diet duration and participant characteristics varied greatly. Most of the studies to date have two things in common: None ofthe studies had participants with a mean age over 53 and none ofthe controlled studies lasted longer than 90 days.
Information on older adults and long-term results are scarce. Many diet studies fail to monitor the amount of exercise, andtherefore caloric expenditure, while participants are dieting.This helps to explain discrepancies between studies.
The weight loss on low-carb diets is a function of caloricrestriction and diet duration, and not with reduced carbohydrateintake. This finding suggests that if you want to lose weight,you should eat fewer calories and do so over a long time period.
Little evidence exists on the long-range safety of low-carbdiets. Despite the medical community concerns, no short-termadverse effects have been found on cholesterol, glucose, insulinand blood-pressure levels among participants on the diets. But,adverse effects may not show up because of the short period ofthe studies. Researchers note that losing weight typically leadsto an improvement in these levels anyway, and this may offset anincrease caused by a high fat diet. The long range weight changefor low-carb and other types of diets is similar.
Most low-carb diets cause ketosis. Some of the potentialconsequences are nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and confusion.During the initial phase of low-carb dieting some fatigue andconstipation may be encountered. Generally, these symptomsdissipate quickly. Ketosis may also give the breath a fruityodor, somewhat like nail-polish remover (acetone).
Low-carb diets do not enable the consumption of more caloriesthan other kinds of diets, as has been often reported. A calorieis a calorie and it doesn’t matter weather they come fromcarbohydrates or fat. Study discrepancies are likely the resultof uncontrolled circumstances; i.e. diet participants that cheaton calorie consumption, calories burned during exercise, or anynumber of other factors. The drop-out rate for strict (i.e. lessthan 40 grams of CHO/day) low-carb diets is relatively high.
What Should You Do? – There are 3 important points I would liketo re-emphasize:
- The long-range success rate for low-carb and other types ofdiets is similar.
- Despite their popularity, little information exists on thelong-term efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets.
- Strict low-carb diets are usually not sustainable as a normalway of eating. Boredom usually overcomes willpower.
It is obvious after reviewing the topic, that more, well-designedand controlled studies are needed. There just isn’t a lot of goodinformation available, especially concerning long-range effects.Strict low-carb diets produce ketosis which is an abnormal andpotentially stressful metabolic state. Under some circumstancesthis might cause health related complications.
The diet you choose should be a blueprint for a lifetime ofbetter eating, not just a quick weight loss plan to reach yourweight goal. If you can’t see yourself eating the prescribedfoods longer than a few days or a week, then chances are it’s notthe right diet. To this end, following a moderately low fat dietwith a healthy balance of fat, protein, carbohydrate and othernutrients is beneficial.
If you do decide to follow a low-carb plan, remember that certaindietary fats are associated with reduction of disease. Foods highin unsaturated fats that are free of trans-fatty acids such asolive oil, fish, flaxseeds, and nuts are preferred to fats fromanimal origins.
Even promoters of the Atkins diet now say people on their planshould limit the amount of red meat and saturated fat they eat.Atkins representatives are telling health professionals that only20 percent of a dieter’s calories should come from saturated fat(i.e. meat, cheese, butter). This change comes as Atkins facescompetition from other popular low-carb diets that call for lesssaturated fat, such as the South Beach diet plan. Low-carbdieting should not be considered as a license to gorge on redmeat!
Another alternative to “strict” low-carb dieting would be to giveup some of the bad carbohydrate foods but not “throw out the babywith the bath water”. In other words, foods high in processedsugar, snacks, and white bread would be avoided, but foods highin complex carbohydrates such as fruit, potatoes and wholegrains, retained. The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to medically diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any health care program.