It's a new year, and many of us have vowed to get in shape and eat better. A lot of people try new diet plans around the beginning of the year, and one of those is a diet lower in carbohydrates. Maybe you've tried or are trying a low carb diet, or maybe you are wondering if you should start a low-carb diet plan? Here's what you should know!
Low-carb diets gained tremendous popularity after the famous Atkins Diet was introduced in the 1970s and are still popular today. To follow a low-carb diet, you must reduce or eliminate your intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate foods include sweets, grains, breads, cereals, pastas, starchy vegetables, dairy and fruit. There are varying levels of restriction with low-carb dieting with some being very strict (eliminating fruit completely) while others are more flexible (only eliminating pasta and bread). Typically, a low-carb dieter will mostly eat meat, cheese and vegetables as their fuel source. The idea behind a low-carb diet is that by decreasing the carbs in your diet, the body will be forced to burn stored fat for energy instead of sugar. This, in turn, will lead to faster weight loss.
So what does the research show? In most cases, a low-carb diet can lead to 2-3 times more weight loss than a standard low-fat or low-calorie diet; however, the weight loss is usually short lived. Some studies have shown that the majority of weight loss from a low-carb diet is actually from loss of water and muscle tissue, not fat. This means the majority of weight loss from a low-carb diet is gained back as soon as the diet is stopped. There also have been a few reports of people gaining weight on a low-carb diet, while others have reported long-term success with following a low-carb diet.
There is conflicting research around the health benefits of following a low-carb diet. Some studies have shown that low-carb dieting can improve your health, specifically by improving triglyceride levels and blood sugar; however, other studies have shown that low-carb dieting can cause more harm than good to your health.
So before you decide to follow a low-carb eating plan, it’s important for you to know the pros and cons.
First let’s summarize the Pros of a low-carb diet:
- It’s satisfying – you get to eat steak & cheese!
- No calorie counting – you’re focused on food type rather than the calorie amounts.
- May lose weight faster.
- Can improve blood sugar.
- Can improve triglycerides.
Now, for the Cons:
- Less energy, fatigue, lower exercise tolerance –Carbohydrates are our body’s primary source of fuel, so reducing your carb intake may cause you to feel sluggish.
- Reduced intake of healthy foods like fresh fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
- Too restrictive – many report the diet is too strict and hard to follow.
- Difficulty concentrating or irritability - many report a “foggy” feeling on a low-carb diet.
- Possible weight gain.
- Constipation – The diet can be low in fiber yet high in fat, which can contribute to GI issues.
- Hard on the kidneys – the diet is naturally higher in protein which can put strain on the kidneys.
- High in satured fat – This can raise your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
Most nutrition experts today recommend an overall healthy, balanced diet that promotes nutrient-rich foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Diet experts also recommend avoiding strict eating plans that eliminate or restrict particular food group, like a low-carb diet, unless recommended by your doctor. So the next time you are deciding which eating plan to choose, remember to look for an eating plan that promotes life-long healthy eating choices, rather than a short-lived solution.