Just like slim-fit jeans, animal prints or flashy nails, dieting is a trend! Every type of program has its 15 minutes of fame. And every advisor becomes a guru for a limited period of time. Atkins, Dukan, Zone diet,… are all part of the low-carbohydrates diets “à la mode”! Here’s the true story behind them!
What exactly is a low-carb diet?
A low-carb diet is a dietary program that restricts carbohydrate intake in order to induce weight loss. Foods that contain digestible carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta etc.) are limited. They are replaced with those that contain a higher percentage of protein and fat (meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, fats and oils). Sugars and sweets are definitely out of the question.
The nature of the diet depends largely on the diet advisor. Some allow fruits and vegetables; others limit them until you reach a certain phase in the diet (this is the case of the Dukan Diet).
Why does it make me lose weight?
As you may have heard from your cousin, your neighbor or your friend, low carb diets are the fastest route towards weight loss. They can make you lose 30 kilos in 3 months (depending on your initial weight of course)! How?!
Normally, the energy your body needs is provided by 3 nutrients: carbohydrates, lipids and proteins. Glucose from carbohydrates is the body’s main source of energy. However, to the brain, the nervous system and red blood cells, it is the only one. It is stored as glycogen in the liver.
When glucose intake is low, your body starts using the glycogen stores. 24 hours later, when they become depleted, it turns to fat which will become the main energy provider. Since the latter cannot regenerate enough glucose to feed the brain, the organism will have to transform proteins into glucose for that purpose. Thus, you will be burning fat and using proteins as a source of energy.
Besides, you will be consuming protein-rich foods which have shown to be very filling. Add to that a limited range of choices in foods which decreases both your appetite and your energy intake!
It’s a great way to lose weight… so, why not?
There are many drawbacks to low-carb diets.
Accumulation of Ketone Bodies in the blood: The breakdown of fat produces a by-product called Ketone Bodies. Some of those by-products are used as a source of energy by certain parts of the brain; the rest stays in the blood. This will lead to a vitamin/mineral deficiency, loss of bone minerals, increased blood cholesterol, increased risk for kidney stones and impaired mood as well as bad breath, lightheadedness, headache and nausea.
Muscle loss: Your body does not store proteins even if you’re consuming a lot! So in order for them to be used as a source of energy, muscles will be broken down. Your metabolism will become slower which means you will be burning fewer calories during the day and the probability to regain the weight lost will go higher!
Nutritional deficiencies: Most of these diets do not allow consumption of fruits and vegetables. This will make it difficult for you to get adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, disease-fighting anti-oxidants as well fibers that protect from cardiovascular diseases, cancer of the digestive tract and constipation.
Fatigue: Usually, when glycogen stores are depleted, you start feeling tired. So imagine yourself having that feeling every moment of every day! Working out will become very difficult except for low intensity cardio trainings which already depend on fat as fuel.
Dehydration: Most of the initial weight loss is due to water being flushed out of your system. Therefore, when going back to a normal diet, you will witness a weight gain because of the restoration of normal water balance.
Same outcome as low calorie diets: Studies have shown that low carb diets induced a better weight loss after 6 months. However, no significant difference was noted after 12 months. In fact, it was proven that all weight loss programs led to the same weight on the long run. It seems weight loss success depends on the adherence to the diet and not the percentage of nutrients!
High risk of weight gain upon reintroduction of carbohydrates: Going back to a normal diet after reaching your ideal weight could be very critical. The introduction of carbohydrates should be done carefully and by a professional because you might gain back all the weight you lost and sometimes even more!
To be completely fair, I have to admit that a low carb diet can be considered as a diet therapy to some conditions such as epilepsy. But regarding weight loss I think that if those diets were entirely effective, the obesity problem would have been solved long ago!
The ideal diet is the one that provides all nutrients essential to your body’s well functioning. It is tailored to fit your own lifestyle and your own needs! After all, that’s what I’m here for! J