Do Low Carbohydrate Diets Have It Right?
Many of the popular low carbohydrate diets (like South Beach or Atkins) severely restrict carbohydrate foods because they claim that these foods make us fatter than the same amount of calories from protein or fat. Basically, the idea is that many people who are overweight have an increased resistance to insulin (so that their bodies don't use it efficiently, and it circulates, which reduces the release of fat and promotes fat storage, therefore creates more body fat). When carbohydrate is eaten, the body must produce more insulin to burn it as fuel and this just causes a cycle of greater fat storage. So, the low carbohydrate diets claim that greatly reducing carbohydrate is an effective way to lose weight and reduce risk of disease. But do they have it right?
The short answer is no. The glycemic index is a way of measuring which foods raise blood sugar the fastest - this is important for people with insulin resistance (such as those with diabetes). It compares foods to pure glucose which makes the greatest rise in blood sugar. So, the idea is that foods with a high glycemic index would be associated with greater rises in blood sugar, more risk for disease, and more storage of fat for those who are insulin resistance (overweight people). Now, low carbohydrate diets use this index to support the idea of restricting carbohydrate to very small amounts (or none at all in some cases) and replacing these foods with fats and/or protein. Here's a few reasons why this isn't the way to go:
1. The research on carbohydrate showed that lower risk of disease is associated with a lower glycemic index diet, NOT a lower carbohydrate diet. This means that the percentage of carbohydrate (low or high) isn't the issue - it's the kind of carbohydrate people choose that is the main problem, and the fact that too much food is eaten overall, not just carbohydrates. For more about the glycemic index diet, read The New Glucose Revolution Life Plan by Jennie Brand-Miller, Kaye Foster-Powell, and Johann Burani.
2. Weight loss happens when total calories are reduced, not by eliminating carbohydrate and replacing it with a high fat diet. There's no evidence to show that low carbohydrate diets work any better long term in supporting good weight control, and plenty of evidence to show that eating lots of animal fat and following a diet that restrict healthy foods increases risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
3. If you're going to lose body fat and build up your lean body mass for a healthier body, you need to increase physical activity as well as restrict food intake. Don't expect to get too far on an empty tank, which is what happens when you deprive your body of carbohydrate, the chief source of energy and fuel for your brain and muscles. Want to feel real tired? Try running, biking, hiking or swimming on a low carb diet!
In short, by choosing the right amount of total food for your needs with the proper amount and balance of lean protein, good fats and lower glycemic foods, you do not have to eliminate carbohydrates to lose weight and improve health. The PersonalDiets is based on these principles because they are well grounded and supported by years of nutritional research - it works! We have nothing to gain by recommending one diet over another because our program doesn't sell or promote supplements and isn't funded by any commercial venture, special interest, or diet company. We simply promote the healthiest way of losing weight and keeping it off - by building new eating behaviors, including a variety of healthy foods that match your personal health needs, and by providing a diet that is realistic to follow for weight loss and will help you stay there once you reach your personal weight goal.
Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD is chief dietitian of California based diet company, PersonalDiets.com. The PersonalDiets company she runs provides custom diets designed to your eating preferences, lifestyle, and health needs. Get FREE diet support from our expert and access to one of the largest online diet support programs online today.
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