Common Sense About Low Carb Diets
Copyright 2005 Ardmore Internet Marketing, Inc.
With all of the conflicting studies and fuzzy
interpretation of information, it's no wonder that
confusion reigns when it comes to the value and safety of
low-carb diets. It seems like heated debates are raging
Whether it's Atkins, the South Beach or some other low-carb
plan, as many as 30 million Americans are following a
Advocates contend that the high amount of carbohydrates in
our diet has led to increasing problems with obesity,
diabetes, and other health problems. Critics, on the other
hand, attribute obesity and related health problems to
over-consumption of calories from any source, and lack of
physical activity. Critics also express concern that the
lack of grains, fruits, and vegetables in low-carbohydrate
diets may lead to deficiencies of some key nutrients,
including fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and several
Any diet, weather low or high in carbohydrate, can produce
significant weight loss during the initial stages of the
diet. But remember, the key to successful dieting is in
being able to lose the weight permanently. Put another way,
what does the scale show a year after going off the diet?
Let's see if we can debunk some of the mystery about
low-carb diets. Below, is a listing of some relevant points
taken from recent studies and scientific literature. Please
note there may be insufficient information available to
answer all questions.
- Differences Between Low-Carb Diets
There are many popular diets designed to lower carbohydrate
consumption. Reducing total carbohydrate in the diet means
that protein and fat will represent a proportionately
greater amount of the total caloric intake.
Atkins and Protein Power diets restrict carbohydrate to a
point where the body becomes ketogenic. Other low-carb
diets like the Zone and Life Without Bread are less
restrictive. Some, like Sugar Busters claim to eliminate
only sugars and foods that elevate blood sugar levels
- What We Know about Low-Carb Diets
Almost all of the studies to date have been small with a
wide variety of research objectives. Carbohydrate, caloric
intake, diet duration and participant characteristics
Most of the studies to date have two things in common: None
of the studies had participants with a mean age over 53 and
none of the controlled studies lasted longer than 90 days.
Information on older adults and long-term results are
Many diet studies fail to monitor the amount of exercise,
and therefore caloric expenditure, while participants are
dieting. This helps to explain discrepancies between
The weight loss on low-carb diets is a function of caloric
restriction and diet duration, and not with reduced
carbohydrate intake. 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-carb
diets. Despite the medical community concerns, no
short-term adverse effects have been found on cholesterol,
glucose, insulin and blood-pressure levels among
participants on the diets. But, adverse effects may not
show up because of the short period of the studies.
Researchers note that losing weight typically leads to an
improvement in these levels anyway, and this may offset an
increase caused by a high fat diet. The long range weight
change for low-carb and other types of diets is similar.
Most low-carb diets cause ketosis. Some of the potential
consequences are nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and
confusion. During the initial phase of low-carb dieting
some fatigue and constipation may be encountered.
Generally, these symptoms dissipate quickly. Ketosis may
also give the breath a fruity odor, somewhat like
nail-polish remover (acetone).
Low-carb diets do not enable the consumption of more
calories than other kinds of diets, as has been often
reported. A calorie is a calorie and it doesn't matter
weather they come from carbohydrates or fat. Study
discrepancies are likely the result of uncontrolled
circumstances; i.e. diet participants that cheat on calorie
consumption, calories burned during exercise, or any number
of other factors. The drop-out rate for strict (i.e. less
than 40 grams of CHO/day) low-carb diets is relatively
What Should You Do? - There are 3 important points I would
like to re-emphasize:
- The long-range success rate for low-carb and other types
of diets is similar.
- Despite their popularity, little information exists on
the long-term efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate
- Strict low-carb diets are usually not sustainable as a
normal way of eating. Boredom usually overcomes willpower.
It is obvious after reviewing the topic, that more,
well-designed and controlled studies are needed. There just
isn't a lot of good information available, especially
concerning long-range effects. Strict low-carb diets
produce ketosis which is an abnormal and potentially
stressful metabolic state. Under some circumstances this
might cause health related complications.
The diet you choose should be a blueprint for a lifetime of
better eating, not just a quick weight loss plan to reach
your weight goal. If you can't see yourself eating the
prescribed foods longer than a few days or a week, then
chances are it's not the right diet. To this end, following
a moderately low fat diet with a healthy balance of fat,
protein, carbohydrate and other nutrients is beneficial.
If you do decide to follow a low-carb plan, remember that
certain dietary fats are associated with reduction of
disease. Foods high in unsaturated fats that are free of
trans-fatty acids such as olive oil, fish, flaxseeds, and
nuts are preferred to fats from animal origins.
Even promoters of the Atkins diet now say people on their
plan should limit the amount of red meat and saturated fat
they eat. Atkins representatives are telling health
professionals that only 20 percent of a dieter's calories
should come from saturated fat (i.e. meat, cheese, butter).
This change comes as Atkins faces competition from other
popular low-carb diets that call for less saturated fat,
such as the South Beach diet plan. Low-carb dieting should
not be considered as a license to gorge on red meat!
Another alternative to "strict" low-carb dieting would be
to give up some of the bad carbohydrate foods but not
"throw out the baby with the bath water". In other words,
foods high in processed sugar, snacks, and white bread
would be avoided, but foods high in complex carbohydrates
such as fruit, potatoes and whole grains, retained.
Paul Buckley is a professional pilot who provides articles,
tips and resources to his readers as a sideline. A native
of Boston, he presently resides in the southeastern US.