Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is a Low Carb Diet Right for You?

An introduction to low carbohydrate dieting

If you’ve considered weight loss dieting, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz about low carbohydrate dieting, also known as low carb dieting.  Here are some answers to common questions about low carb diets that may help you decide if it’s the right kind of diet for you.

What is a low-carb diet?


A low carb diet is one in which you avoid foods with carbohydrates, maintaining a much lower than average low carbohydrate count – maxing out at between 20 and 60 carbs a day, depending on which low-carb author or which low-carb diet. By comparison, the average American consumes closer to 500 carbohydrates daily in their diet.

How do low carb diets work?


Counting calories
Example of a meal for a low-carbohydrate diet.
Your body needs energy. The two primary sources of dietary energy in the human diet are carbohydrates and fats. On a standard diet, your body will always opt for the easiest source of energy – carbohydrates. However, if you significantly limit your intake of carbohydrates, the body has no choice but to burn fat. Therefore, your body burns fat calories and, consequently, body weight.

In fact, most low-carb diets encourage you to consume more fat, healthy fats like peanut butter, lean meats, and nuts, since fat becomes your primary energy source. Even while consuming higher amounts of healthy dietary fat (such as olive oil or coconut oil), low-carb dieters have experienced weight loss. WebMd contains information about how low carb dieting works.

Why has low-carbohydrate dieting gained so much attention? 


There are four primary reasons for the recent high level of interest in the low-carb diet.
  • For weight loss, low carb dieting works.
  • Low carb dieting is different from traditional dieting and weight loss.
  • Low carb dieting challenges common beliefs about dietary fat.
  • The higher levels of protein that many consume while trying to reduce their carbohydrates has potentially serious health risks.
For many, low carb dieting works as an effective means of weight loss. Although low carbohydrate dieting is somewhat controversial, there is some evidence that indicates that a properly administered low carbohydrate diet can result in weight loss.
  • A study by Ontario’s University of Guelph concluded that carbohydrate restriction to 70 grams or less promotes weight loss and improves body composition, blood pressure, and blood lipids without compromising glucose tolerance in moderately overweight women. 
  • A study conducted by the Naval Hospital Oakland used a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and discovered that, over a ten-day period, subjects on the diet lost more body fat than a control group who fasted from all foods during that same 10-day period. 
I speak from personal experience, having lost (and kept off) 30 pounds in the previous six months while maintaining a relatively low-carb, high-fat diet.

But aren't all calories the same?


Carbohydrate count
Low carb dieting means cutting
out unhealthy carbs and adding
healthy fats.
Most of us have always been told that if we consume fewer calories than we burn, we will lose weight. But low carbohydrate dieting has challenged the idea that all calories are the same, even going so far as to say that you don't need to be counting calories at all – that simply by significantly reducing your carb intake without increasing your calorie intake, you will lose more weight.

And there is scientific evidence to support this. According to USA Today, some recent research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicated that those who consumed the same amount of calories on a diet that was low in carbohydrates lost more weight than those whose calories came from a low-fat diet. Specifically, participants in this study burned roughly 300 more daily calories on a low-carbohydrate diet than they did on a low-fat diet.

Is it safe? 


The answer to this question is one you should answer after doing some thorough research and consulting your doctor. The Livestrong website has some great links that answer questions about the safety of low carb dieting and things to consider if you have other medical conditions. Again, it is always wise to review this information with your health care professional before making changes to your diet.

While little evidence directly indicates that restricting carbohydrates is dangerous, or even that consuming more-than-average amounts of healthy dietary fats is dangerous, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that large amounts of protein can be dangerous. Too much of the unhealthy fats can also be dangerous. Some low-carb diet plans actively encourage high protein consumption, so it is important to be aware of the risks of high protein in the diet. It is also important to check with your doctor to see what your own health status is before undertaking any diet plan.

Some risks that are associated with high protein diets occur because the dieters are not following a medically or scientifically defined low-carb plan. If you decide to use a low-carb diet to lose weight, it is important that you follow it correctly. Some of the risks, such as kidney failure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and kidney stone, are outlined in this high-protein, low-carb diet article. As you can see, these risks can be quite serious.

The high-protein risks may be avoided by following a low carb diet that encourages eating a moderate amount of protein, balanced with green vegetables (most of which are low-carb) and small amounts of low-carb fruits, such as berries, avocado, lemons and limes.

Is a low-carb diet right for me?


Many experts agree that there is no one diet that is right for everyone. Whether it is right for you depends on your health, your body and your lifestyle. Talk with your doctor before starting any new diet. Don’t just “wing it” by changing to a low-carb diet without doing your homework; study and follow the dietary programs created by respected doctors or scientists.

What’s next?


In a follow-up article, we will look at other low-carb dieting information, such as how to do a low carb diet, the risks associated with attempting a low fat/low carb diet, how many carbs in a low carb diet and what to eat on low carb diet, including some recipes to help you get started.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer



  1. Each pound of body fat is maintained by less than one extra calorie per hour. In general, obesity is not a condition maintained by overeating obesity is a condition brought about and maintained by eating more calories than the body uses, consistently. Thanks.

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