The Science behind Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Low-Carbohydrate Diets or low carb diets as they are commonly known are weight loss programs or diet plans that limit carbohydrate intake for controlling weight or for treating obesity. Foods that are high in digestible carbohydrates (e.g. Bread) are taken in limited amounts or are replaced with foods containing high percentage of fats and proteins (these include shellfish, fish, meat , eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, etc.) and other foods that are low in carbohydrates like vegetables and most fruits . The amount of carbohydrate allowed to be eaten during a diet would vary greatly depending on the kind of low-carbohydrate diets one is following.

Low-carbohydrate diets are strongly linked with the Atkins Diet officially called Atkins Nutritional Approach. It is a widely publicized low-carbohydrate diet by the late Robert C. Atkins. His book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution within the first two years sold millions of copies.

The Atkins diet limits the intake of carbohydrates and is often used to swap the body’s metabolism from burning glucose to burning fat that is stored by the body. This process is called ketosis, which begins when insulin levels are low in the body. In humans the insulin level is low when the blood sugar level is low.

There are many other diets that have similar laws. Hence there is no single definition that can be found to explain these diets. The main scientific principle that these diets are based on is the relationship between the consumption of carbohydrates and the subsequent effect on blood sugar as well as the production of certain hormones.

Besides obesity, low-carbohydrate diets are used as treatments for medical conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Low carb diets may differ in the specific amount of carbohydrates allowed, if certain amounts of foods are preferred or if exceptions are allowed. One important common factor between these diets is that processed sugar should be eliminated or at least reduced. Heavily processed grains are also discouraged (e.g. White bread)

Criticism and controversies

Water-related weight loss

When this type of diet is started, in the first week or two, weight loss comes from eliminating water that is retained in the body. But this is a short term effect of such a diet and is not the same as that is produced by eliminating excess body fat.

Exercise

Some critiques had that opinion that this kind of diet can cause weakness and fatigue and that it can’t include an exercise regime.
Vegetables and fruits

A low carbohydrate diet requires minimizing the intake of fruits and vegetables, which does not give the body the required amount of nutrients
Macronutrients

These diets generally recommend multi-vitamin and mineral supplements to be included in the diet plan, due to which many believe that these diets are deficient in important nutrients that are needed for the body.

The effects of such a diet are part of an on-going debate. Some studies conclude that such low-carbohydrate diets can prevent cardiovascular diseases, reduce the lower density lipoprotein cholesterol and increase the amount of good cholesterol. On the other hand, other studies state that such a diet could lead to osteoporosis and kidney stones.

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