Don’t Be Confused About Low Carb Diets – 7 Key Points Explained

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 everywhere!

Whether it’s Atkins, 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 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 minerals.

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 excessively.

– 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 varied greatly.

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 scarce.

Many diet studies fail to monitor the amount of exercise, and

therefore caloric expenditure, while participants are dieting.

This helps to explain discrepancies between studies.

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 high.

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 diets.

– 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


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.

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.