The low carbohydrate diet craze to lose weight fast: Adkin’s, The Zone and South Beach diet, do these diets really work? The answer is yes, but how healthy are they? That is still left up to debate. There are no long term statistics on how these diets affect our health years down the road. But there is some information about what happens to your body while on these diets today.

First of all, carbohydrates are natural organic substances such as sugar, starch and cellulose. They are a major source of quick energy for our bodies. Are there ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbs? Well, some foods offer no nutritional benefit beyond calories, for example, sugar. So those would be listed in the “bad” category. Other whole grains such as whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or oatmeal, offer many vitamins, minerals, and fiber that promote health. So these would be listed in the “good” category.

In theory, a carbohydrate raises the blood sugar, which then raises the insulin level to store that sugar in the fat cells to use later as energy. They say that a lower intake of carbohydrates at meals causes the body to use the already stored energy that is stored as fat. The initial weight loss from a low carbohydrate diet is: stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and fat. When your body burns glycogen, water is released and you lose weight. When you burn fat, you release byproducts called ketones. Your kidneys remove these byproducts through your urine. The build up of ketones can leave a person feeling fatigued and nauseated. There is new research that shows ketosis adversely affecting test performance that required higher mental processing. (Not good during finals or midterms!) Further research is needed to confirm this new information and the long term effects of putting your body into a ketotic state, even for a short time.

Ketosis can also interfere with the absorption of calcium, and deplete mineral stores, thus affecting the bone density, causing them to become more porous and brittle. It has even been linked with gout. While a patient is in ketosis and feeling sluggish, they may not exercise as much. This can cause the weight they just lost to return. On the plus side, when you are in ketosis it decreases your appetite, so you eat less and hence lose more weight.

Most low carbohydrate diets reduce your overall calorie intake because you limit a whole group of foods. It is not proven that the “low-carb” diet and high protein is what actually causes you to lose the weight versus the lower intake of overall calories. A calorie is a calorie no matter when or how it is consumed, or from what food group. And the basic principal has not changed that in order to lose weight you need to take in less calories and burn more through exercise.

The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine recommends adults eat a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. The Adkin’s diet initially has only 20 grams daily. This lower intake can have the calorie intake way below the minimum of 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,400 for men, which would then cause the body to start losing muscle tissue. This shows up on the scale as weight loss, but this is not a desirable kind of weight loss. You want to lose the fat, not the muscle.

You have to watch your portion sizes as well, because too much of any food, including whole grains, may provide excess calories, thus leading to weight gain. Cutting 250 calories from your daily diet can help you lose about a 1/2 pound a week. About 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of fat. If you add 30 minutes of brisk walking 4 days a week that can double your rate of weight loss. One of the best ways to lose body fat is with sustained aerobic exercise- such as walking- for more than 30 minutes a day most days of the week. This will also help you build muscle mass which can increase your resting metabolism. Known as the rate you can burn calories while sleeping, lying on the couch, etc. Weight lifting is a great benefit for your strength, bone mass, and to also increase the resting metabolism.

Any exercise program should be started slowly if you are just starting out. If you have never used equipment, make sure you get instructions on how to use the machines properly to avoid injuries.

In summary, low carb diets can help you lose weight fast through losing water weight and decreasing your appetite – causing you to eat less. The problems with these diets can be: loss of muscle mass, brittle bones, nausea, fatigue, and clouded mental thinking. The long term effect of the ketosis is not known. A healthy way to lose weight is to decrease your calorie intake, eat from all food groups to provide an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, cut out non-nutritive foods (candy, soda, etc.), increase your exercise, add a weight training program if you can, and stay well hydrated.

Staying successful at weight loss is a very difficult and dedicated task. You need to be committed to permanent lifestyle changes in eating and exercise habits. Set realistic goals, draw on support from others, learn to enjoy healthier foods, and stay active. You may lose the weight faster on fad diets, but they are not the way to live day to day for the rest of your life. Bon appetite!

Questions? Call
UIS Campus Health Service (217)206-6676