Low Carb Diets

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Diets which reduce the intake of carbohydrates to less than ten per cent of the daily calorific intake are called Low Carbohydrate Diets. These diets are based on the theory that the consumption of easily digestible carbohydrates like sugar and starch may cause an insulin surge which in turn could lead to obesity and diabetes. As a general rule, carbohydrates in these diets are replaced by foods that contain a higher percentage of proteins, fats, and/or fiber.

Low Carb weight loss strategies have been around for many years, long before low fat diets. When people in our grandparents’ generation wanted to lose weight, they gave up biscuits, dessert and potatoes. Low Carb proponents say pretty much the same thing now. However, the difference is that today, there are many variations of the Low Carb Diet, and each has a scientific theory to explain how it works.


How Low Carb Diets Work

When we eat simple carbohydrates like those found in sugary desserts and refined flour, sugar levels in the blood spike, which stimulate the body’s insulin production. Insulin causes fat to be deposited in the body, leading to weight gain. That is why proponents of Low Carb Diets say that a decrease of carbohydrates in our diets would have the opposite effect -- lower blood sugar and insulin levels and weight loss. Further, they argue, that since by eating fewer carbohydrate, you are not providing your body with a ready energy source, it is compelled to break down stored body fat for energy. Thus, in a Low Carb diet, the rate and extent of weight loss is generally proportional to the exclusion of carbohydrates.

Guidelines to Follow on a Low Carb Diet

Here are some basic guidelines to follow on a Low Carb Diet.

  • Limit carbohydrates to no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake
  • Eat NO foods that contain sugar or white flour.
  • Be aware of "hidden" sugars and carbohydrates. Beans, carrots and peas, for instance, are healthy vegetables that many people don’t know contain sugars.
  • Cut out caffeine.
  • Take fiber supplements like psyllium husk.
  • It is important also to take vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Make sure to consult a doctor or a health care professional before starting any Low Carb Diet, especially if you have any chronic ailment.

Benefits Of Low Carb Diets

Low Carb Diet proponents believe that such a diet leads to more rapid weight loss than the more orthodox Low-Fat diet programs. In the long term, sticking to such diets also reduces appetite, burns fat and raises the metabolic rate (which makes it easier to lose weight).

There are three clinical benefits that proponents of Low Carb diets claim --

  • More stable blood-sugar levels, which help reduce hunger by eliminating sugar 'spikes' and maintaining satiety.
  • Better insulin sensitivity. According to researchers, people who reduced their intake of carbohydrates with a high glycemic load and exercised regularly, lost weight. In one study, diabetic participants on a low-carbohydrate diet reduced their fasting blood-sugar levels by about 9 percent, versus only 2 percent for low-fat dieters. Seven of these diabetics were able to reduce their dose of insulin or other medication to control blood sugar.
  • Reduction in the levels of `bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides, when the intake of saturated fats is kept within limits.

Variations of Low Carb Diets

Here is a brief analysis of the two most popular Low Carb Diets.

The best known proponent of the Low Carb Diet was Dr Robert Atkins (see [1]). The Atkin’s Diet is radically low in carbohydrates and high in protein, including protein from animal sources. Low carbohydrate intake, Dr Atkins theorized, would lead to 'ketosis' (the production of ketone bodies that replace glucose in the blood to maintain sugar levels when carbohydrate intake is low). Since ketones are derived from the body's fat stores, ketosis would result in weight loss. Also, Atkins believed that while eating carbohydrates results in the increase in body fat, consuming fats causes the body to metabolise it for energy rather than store it as more body fat.

Pros and Cons – Nutritionists argue that, any diet which so strictly proscribes carbohydrate consumption in the early stages could cause a huge drop in glycogen (source of energy for body muscles) levels, which leads to fatigue. Also, like all diets very low in carbohydrate-rich foods like fruit, whole grain and vegetables, it could cause constipation.

Further, the weight lost whilst on the Atkin’s diet, has been shown to be nothing but temporary water loss. The diet is so skewed in favour of animal proteins, that it is very inappropriate for vegetarians. Most importantly, nutritionists do not recommend this diet, because it is rich in saturated fats and proteins and correspondingly low in minerals and dietary fibre.

(Go to [2] for a scathing critique of the Atkins diet)

South Beach Diet was created by Dr Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist. This diet emphasizes on a very low carbohydrate intake only in phase one, the first two weeks of the diet. In phase one, you may eat normal portion sizes of low glycemic foods like chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, green vegetables, low-fat cheese, nuts and eggs. In Phase 2, some of the banned food are slowly introduced, and this phase continues until the desired weight loss is achieved. (For more on the glycemic index, go to [3] ) Phase 3 is to be followed for life to maintain one’s ideal weight.

A key concept in the South Beach diet is the Glycemic Index. This is the raise in blood sugar levels after a meal. Ranked on a scale of 1-100, foods with a high glycemic load are said to result in the biggest sugar surge in the body. Based upon his experiences with his cardiac patients, Dr Agatston made a distinction between good carbs and bad carbs, and between good fats and bad fats. Bad carbohydrates, or high glycemic carbs that are rapidly absorbed by the body, may create an insulin resistance syndrome — an impairment of the hormone insulin's ability to properly process fat or sugar. Bad Fats like saturated fat and trans fats, contribute to an increase in cardiovascular disease.

Pros and Cons – on the face of it, the South Beach Diet sounds more balanced than the Atkins Diet. Except for the first phase, `good’ carbohydrates are allowed in the other phases. Also, it educates dieters about the two types of carbohydrates, enabling them to make informed food choices. Many people lose weight in the first phase, as this strictly controls both carbohydrates and fats. However, people in this phase have sometimes reported feeling bloated, constipated or lethargic, since the foods allowed on this diet do not contain a lot of fibre.

The problem starts with phase two. Many nutritionists believe that the weight loss on phase one is merely temporary – the moment carbs are re-introduced in the diet, the lost weight is, alas, found again. This problem is further exacerbated in phase three, when even more carbs are introduced. For this, Dr Agatston advocates going back to phase one. However, when you lose and gain, lose and gain weight, changing the way you eat, it promotes the deposition of atherosclerosis (heart attack causing plaque), bringing you closer to a premature death each time. While the dangers of ketogenic diets have been long accepted, the dangers of following such diets again and again are worse. If you follow the phase one of the South Beach Diet again and again to lose regained weight, remember – you are doing so at the expense of your heart.

(Read a doctor’s review of the South Beach Diet here -- [4] )

Who Should Try the Low Carb Diet?

Anyone can follow the Low Carb Diet successfully. However, there are certain medical conditions that are best tackled by consuming a Low Carb Diet, for example, obesity and diabetes. Physicians have now identified a syndrome, Syndrome X or insulin resistance syndrome, which may be successfully managed by patients who follow a low carb diet. This syndrome has the following symptoms – hypoglycemia; high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, anxiety/panic disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, binge eating, digestive disorders, obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Who Should Avoid Low Carb Diets?

There are some people who can not follow Low Carb Diets. Vegetarians have a distinctly hard time on such diets, as their diets become severely restricted. So do people who do not, or can not eat a lot of meat, eggs, and cheese. People whose blood sugar fluctuates a lot also may find this diet difficult, as would people who suffer from chronic constipation. These diets are contraindicated for people with impaired kidney functions and those who are pregnant.

Low Carb Super Foods

While all natural foods contain some amounts of nutrients, there are some which are packed with more antioxidants and vitamins than ordinary foods. Super Foods, thus offer health benefits that go way beyond regular foods. Here are some Super Foods with very few carbohydrates, which may be eaten in Low Carb Diets.

Blueberries contain anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, flavonols and tannins, which are known to slow cancer cell growth and alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and other conditions of aging.

Broccoli contains diindolylmethane and selenium – phyto nutrients with proven anti-cancer properties. In addition, it also contains high levels of Vitamin C and soluble fibre.

Pumpkins are loaded with phytonutrients like beta carotene, which helps keep the skin young and prevent sun damage.

Green Tea is packed with powerful antioxidants that help alleviate vomiting and diarrhea, and reduce the incidence of tooth decay, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the incidence of heart attacks.

Dark chocolate contains flavenoids, which slow the processing of bad LDL cholesterol into material that clogs the arteries. It also contains Tryptophan, which hastens the feel-good mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin.

Spinach is considered to be the best food to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Wild salmon contains lots of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids but has very low levels of fat.

For Low carb recipes, go to [5] ; [www.low-carb-diet-recipes.com] and [6]


  1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/low-carb-diet/NU00279
  2. www.weightlossresources.co.uk/logout/news_features/lowcarbdiet.htm
  3. http://www.low-carb-diet-recipes.com/comparison.htm