Low Carb Diets – How Safe is a Low Carbohydrate Lifestyle?

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Today there are many popular diets that people claim help them to lose weight. One diet that receives much press is the low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Many Americans swear by this diet and claim to have lost unbelievable amounts of weight on it.

This diet strictly limits the amount of carbohydrates to less than 100 grams daily, allows unlimited amounts of protein, and does not restrict the amount of dietary fat consumed.

Many people enjoy this because they can consume as much meat and fat as they desire. However, there is some evidence that this diet may have negative impacts on the body and may not be the most efficient way to lose weight.

Carbohydrates are a necessary part of a healthy diet because they give the body the energy it needs for physical activity and to keep the organs working correctly.

Disadvantages to the low-carbohydrate diet
Low-carbohydrate diets limit the amount of foods that one can consume. This can discourage dieters about losing weight because many must abstain from some of their favorite foods.

Limiting a food group, or several, as is the case with the low-carbohydrate diet, will also limit essential nutrients common to those foods.

Americans have developed a false notion that carbohydrates are the culprit behind weight gain and increases in body fat when actually carbohydrates are necessary and important. However portion sizes must be moderated or controlled for the diet to work.

In fact, the American Dietetic Association recommends the average adult consume approximately 45 to 65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent from fat, and 10 to 35 percent from protein. Carbohydrates are more readily available energy sources for the body than protein and fat.

Current research suggests low-carbohydrate diets cause weight loss because participants tend to consume fewer calories overall. Eating a high-protein and high-fat diet is associated with high satiety levels due to fat and protein taking longer to empty from the stomach.

The significance behind these findings is that similar weight loss can also be realized when following a low-calorie but more balanced diet including carbohydrates. Many people gain the weight back as soon as they resume eating larger portions of their normal foods. They are not losing a lot of body fat long-term.

Low-carbohydrate diet long-term effects
Long-term adverse effects on the heart are the greatest concerns with these diets. Low-carbohydrate diets rely heavily on protein foods, which are often high in saturated fat.

Saturated fat is associated with increased levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol in the body, which according to the American Heart Association increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Long-term effects of this diet may have greater implications for individuals with a family history of cardiovascular disease. In fact, both the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association recommend a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry and fish.

A diet extremely high in protein can also have harmful effects on the body by putting additional stress on the kidneys. These high-protein diets force the kidneys to rid the body of excess waste products of protein and fat called urea, ammonia and ketosis. If these waste products build up in the blood it can lead to a condition called gout or to kidney stones.

Gout is a painful swelling of the joints. A high-protein diet may also increase the risk for osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) in women and men.

Healthy method of weight loss
Unfortunately, there is no instant method for weight loss. The only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than one consumes.

Exercising more, reducing portion sizes or both can achieve this. Diets low in saturated fat and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help achieve a healthy weight and help lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.

The Food Guide Pyramid is a good reference to use if wanting to consume a more balanced diet. Healthy weight loss is characterized by losing about one-half to two pounds a week, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Before starting any weight-loss or exercise program, one should consult with a doctor to ensure safety, especially if any health problems are present.

Tips for weight loss

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Increase fiber intake (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.).
  • Drink soft drinks, alcohol and juices sparingly.
  • Analyze food labels for fat and calorie content.
  • Reduce the amount of butter, margarine and oil used in cooking.
  • Consume low-fat dairy products.
  • Reduce intake of simple sugars (candy, desserts, etc.).
  • Exercise.
  • While it is important to consume carbohydrates, it is also important not to eat them in excess. Consuming too much carbohydrate, protein or fat will cause an increase in weight and body fat.

The important point to remember is to balance the amount of physical activity with the amount of food consumed to achieve a healthy weight.

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