Low Carbohydrate - How Do Low Carb Diets Work?
Reviewed by Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Low carb diets, like the Atkin's diet have been around for a long time. Do they work? Are they safe? Read dietitian, Juliette Kellow's verdict on low carbohydrate diets.
Well Known Low Carb Diets
As well as the Atkin's diet, low carbohydrate is the basis for a number of diet plans, the list below shows some of the more well-known versions. The different types do have minor variations but all are basically low carb diets.
- The Atkin's Diet - probably the most famous, by Dr Robert Atkins
- High Protein Diet
- Stillman Diet
- Scarsdale Diet
- Hollywood Diet
- Ketogenic Diet
- Zone Diet
- Dukan Diet
- Go Lower
- Back to Basics
- Paleo Diet
What Are Low Carb Diets?
Low carb diets are based on the premise that a diet very low in carbohydrate leads to a reduction in the body's insulin production, resulting in fat and protein (muscle) stores being used as its main energy source.
The aim of low carbohydrate diets is to force the body to use fat as its main energy source, when this happens a person produces 'ketone bodies' to fuel parts of the body that can not use fat as an energy source - the brain, and red blood cells, in particular. When this happens a person is said to be in a state of ketosis - characterised by smelly breath (an acetone smell like nail varnish) and side effects such as nausea and fatigue.
Basically you cut out virtually all carbohydrate from your diet and increase your protein and fat intake. So you cut out things like pasta, bread, rice and alcohol, yet you eat unlimited amounts of meat, cheese and butter. That's why the Atkin's diet claims to be so luxurious.
Do Low Carbohydrate Diets Work?
In the short term, most people who go on low carb diets do lose weight and they lose it very quickly. However, the majority of weight loss comes from loss of water and muscle tissue, not fat which is what you need to lose to keep the weight off. Also, if you're trying to lose weight permanently, losing precious lean muscle tissue is like sabotaging your own body. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, and burns calories even when you are at rest. A decrease in the amount of muscle tissue you have will lead to a decrease in the number of calories you need each day to maintain your weight, making it much harder to keep your weight under control when you stop following the low carb diet.
So Why Do It?
People are attracted to low carb diets as weight loss is very rapid, and we like to see instant results on the scales! Lots of Hollywood stars go on low carb diets because they need to drop a dress size for a film - they don't do it for permanent weight loss or good health.
Is Low Carb A Healthy Diet?
"Not all low carb diets are the same"
"They can be depending on the approach used"
"There is still a question mark over the long term healthiness of true low carb diets"
"A low carb dietary approach is only effective if it is nutritionally sound"
Using the food diary and food database in Weight Loss Resources will help you to decide which is the best dieting method for you. Most people find it a real "eye opener" - you can try it free for 24 hours.
The Food Standards Agency has an informative article about low carbohydrate diets and possible health risks.