Do low carb diets work?
Low carb diets have gained a lot of popularity in the last few decades and have even gotten support from some nutrition experts. A low carb diet advocates eating foods low in carbohydrates or no carbs at all. While it has worked to some people, the question is – can low carb work for you?
The popularity of this diet has also led some folks to believe that carbs are bad. I’m sure if you ask most people for diet advice they will suggest you cut on carbs, even when they don’t know anything about your meal plan. Well, there are situations when this advice works but not all the time.
You may know some folks who swear by low carb diet because it works for them. Surprisingly there are others who are able to lose weight and keep it off on high carb diets. Read on to find out why both extremes work.
It’s important to know that just because a diet works for someone else doesn’t guarantee it will work for you. There isn’t a single diet that fits all. We have different requirements and our bodies react differently to different foods. There are situations when eating low carb diets is good and has health benefits.
In this article you will learn all you need to know about low carb diets. And you will be able to make a choice whether low carb diets will work for you or not.
Why do carbs have a bad reputation?
Many folks have been led to believe that carbs are the devil in nutrition. Not long ago saturated fats were also believed to be bad, until it was established they are not bad for your health or heart. And now the attention has turned to carbs. Let’s see if the arguments made against carbs are valid.
Carbs cause weight gain
One of the things you might have heard is that carbs cause weight gain. This is based on the argument that carbs spike insulin and blood sugar levels. Is there any truth to this? Yes, its true carbs raise insulin levels. The question is – does increased insulin after meals lead to fat gain? No! Mind you, proteins like eggs, beef and cheese also spike insulin levels. So the insulin spike caused by carbs doesn’t lead weight gain.
Carbs cause inflammation
Carbs are also said to cause inflammation. This is true to some extend but it depends on the type of carbs. Carbs that are high in sugar like corn syrup cause inflammation but whole grains and vegetables don’t.
Carbs cause health problems
There is also this other big assumption that since low carb diets are a remedy for some health conditions, eating carbs is what caused the conditions. This is not true. There are many factors which contribute to these conditions like, lack of proper exercise and poor nutrition. Just because low carb diet is a remedy for a condition it doesn’t mean carbs caused the condition.
Not all carbs are bad but there are unhealthy carbs which cause some diseases. Carbs are an essential macronutrient. Low carb fanatics like to argue that carbs are not essential macros and if you don’t eat them the body will switch to ketone bodies instead of using glucose. This may work for people who live sedentary lifestyle but even then they still need some glucose for the brain.
What’s the problem of not eating enough carbs?
Low carb diets work for some folks without them experiencing any problems or health issues. And cutting carbs for a short period of time may not cause any to health issues. But prolonged deprivation of carbs can lead to some health problems.
Here are some of the problems that may arise from restricting carbs long term – especially for those who exercise regularly.
Cortisol will rise and testosterones go down
Research shows that a low carb diet can cause testosterone levels to go down and cortisol levels to rise, most commonly for those who exercise regularly. This will lead to loss of muscles and fat gain.
A research done on athletes showed that low carb diets led to reduced performance and fall in testosterone levels while cortisol levels went up.
Affects women’s hormones
Low carb diets seem to have an effect on hormones especially for women. When women don’t eat enough carbohydrates in their meals, they experience hypothalamic amenorrhea. This means that the hormones are disrupted or stopped, this can lead to delayed or missing periods, even infertility in some cases.
You may think we only need proteins to build muscles but carbs are important for building muscles.
A study done to compare high carb diet, medium carb diet and low carb diet found that low carb diets led to increased muscle breakdown. This is because low carb diet lowered insulin level. Note that this study maintained the same level of proteins
Insulin is good for building muscle. When you eat enough carbs to perform bodily functions, the body uses the rest to replenish glycogen and create an opportunity for developing muscles. But when your body doesn’t get enough carbs glycogen levels go down. This leads to more protein breakdown and less protein synthesis which equals muscle loss.
Low carb diets have been known to bring bad moods. In a study where protein was matched, participants who ate a moderate amount of carbs (40% of total calories) where in better mood compared to their counterparts who ate a low carb diet (5% of total calories) and at the end both groups lost almost the same amount of weight.
Do carbs cause weight gain?
It is one of the most common assumptions. As the argument goes, carbs raise blood sugar levels, spike insulin, damage our metabolism and make us to gain weight.
But research tells us otherwise – insulin produced after eating food does not affect the stored fat.
Unless you eat highly processed carbs which cause inflammation, eating healthy carbs won’t make you gain weight.
What are the best situations for low carb diets?
It is obvious that low carb diets work for some people; otherwise they wouldn’t be popular.
People who live sedentary lifestyles can benefit from low carb diets and it can help them transition to a healthier lifestyle. This mostly applies for people who are obese and overweight.
Low carb diets are also prescribed for people with epilepsy. They have been known to reduce the frequency of the seizures and the symptoms.
Here are some of the other conditions which may benefit from low carb diets.
High blood sugar, type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Traumatic brain injury
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
Other neurological conditions
This doesn’t mean these are the only people who can thrive on low carb diet. Low carb diets also work some people with healthy weight. I can’t forget to mention that there is a small percentage of athletes who thrive on low carb diets, Lebron James being one of them.
Can low carb diets help you lose weight?
Simple answer is yes, if you are on a calorie deficit. But there are other factors beside the low carb diet that may contribute to the weight loss without you knowing.
When someone starts a low carb diet, there is an instant drop of weight. But in reality what one loses is glycogen and water weight rather than body fat. When you eat less carbs the amount of glycogen in the liver and muscles reduces, this will lead to a decrease in water retention. So the instant weight loss at the start of a low carb diet has nothing to do with body fat and if you resume a high carb diet the weight will go up.
We should also consider the protein factor. A low carb diet will most probably lead to high protein intake. And protein is good for weight loss because it will keep you full for long, help retain lean mass and it has a high thermic effect. So a high protein intake is one of the things that make a low carb diet work.
At the end of the day you’ll need to maintain a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. The best thing is to follow the principles of a healthy diet.
Is a low carb diet better for fat loss?
There isn’t any evidence that shows low carb diet is superior when it comes to weight loss. The rapid weight loss at the beginning makes some people believe it is.
Let’s look into this research by the University of Pennsylvania. In this study, the 63 participants (obese adults) were assigned to low carb diet, high fat diet or high protein. Three months into the study, the low carb diet group had lost more weight but after 12 months there was no significant difference in their weight loss. This shows that diet composition has little to no effect on long term weight loss.
The problem with restrictive diets is that they are difficult to adhere to in the long term. If a meal plan is not working, the solution is never going on a restrictive diet. The only time you should go to extremes is when training for an event or when you have short term goals.
Low carb diets work for some people while others find them impossible to adhere to. Truth is there is no diet that fits all, so if you feel that a low carb diet will work for you go ahead and give it a shot. But this is not something you may want to do especially if you lead an active lifestyle or exercise regularly.
At the end of the day what matters most is eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and maintaining a calorie deficit (if you want to lose weight).
Is it possible to lose weight without going on a low carb diet? Absolutely yes!
I would like to hear from you. Have you tried a low carb diet before? How was it, what were your challenges or successes?[related_posts_by_tax posts_per_page="4"]