Low-Carb Diets: How Safe Are They?
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 ketoses. 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.).
- 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.