The truth about low-carb diets

Zahra Hassanali
23 January 2012

With fad diets floating around the Internet, crowding bookstore shelves, and invading supermarket aisles people trying to lose weight have a seemingly endless number of options. Many have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon with the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, and other similar approaches. While these have been around for some time, people continue to ask: do low-carb diets actually work?

Did You Know?
Carbohydrates are sugar molecules that are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

Low-carb diets limit the intake of carbohydrate-containing foods such as breads, grains, rice, starchy vegetables and fruits, and instead encourage the consumption of protein and fat. This is contrary to Canada’s Food Guide, which recommends a higher intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains compared to proteins.

Dr. Robert Coleman Atkins was the first develop the low-carb diet in the 1970s and in the mid to late 1990s it received increased media attention when celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (then still a couple) raved about its benefits. Since then, low-carb diets have been considered the answer to weight loss. But how exactly do these diets work?

Your body would prefer to use carbohydrates as an energy source rather than fat, and spare your protein. The premise of a low-carb diet is that it tricks your body into thinking that it’s starving so that it starts using fat and protein for energy instead, leading to weight loss. It is important to note however, that these fats and proteins make up critical components of your body, including muscles and organs.

Did You Know?
In the short-term, low carbohydrate diets have been shown to result in weight loss. However, the sustainability and long-term effects of the diet are controversial.

Now, the real question should be, are low-carb diets safe? Low-carb diets don’t come without risks. First, an increase in the intake of fats can be harmful to the heart. Second, carbohydrate sources likes fruits, vegetables and whole grains provide the body with vitamins, minerals and fiber–components involved in keeping the skin beautiful, the bones strong and the body full of energy. Without these nutrients the body will eventually become frail. In addition, low-carb diets have been criticized for causing fatigue and weakness.

In short, it is extremely important to do extensive research before starting any diet in earnest. Be sure to investigate the pros and cons and remember to always consult a professional such as your family doctor or a nutritionist to obtain information.

Learn More!

Mayo Clinic: Low-carb diet

WebMD: The Atkins Diet

Canada’sFood Guide: Health Canada

Article first published May 17, 2011

Zahra Hassanali

I have my MSc in Nutritional Sciences and am currently working towards becoming a registered dietitian. Aside from the world of science, another passion of mine is painting. 

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