Low-carb diets have become the mainstream
and perhaps the logical choice of dieters recently. Why does it make sense to eat low carb? In the past two decades,
Americans following the US FDA recommendations of low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets have gained weight in epic proportions. In some states, obesity rates have increased by 100%.
With the amount of highly processed foods available on our store shelves, almost everyone eats way too many carbohydrates,
especially sugar and white flour. Everywhere you turn the pre-boxed, prepackaged and fast-food choices all contain way
too many carbs for the human body to use efficiently. Its no wonder so many people are experiencing obesity and having
trouble losing weight.
Today's interest and success
with low-carb diets has raised may questions of why and how it works, even in the medical field. Low-carb dieting consists
of eliminating most forms of carbohydrates. As you have read, carbs come in many forms such as sugars, breads, pastas,
fruit, vegetables and fruit juices. many people don't realize that fruit juices are mostly sugar. We are now learning
that by limiting our carbs, we can lose weight and eat enough food to satisfy our hunger. However, its important to
realize that as with any diet, in order to lose weight your calorie intake still has to be restricted. In the case of
Adkins dieters, a few believed they could eat as much sausage, bacon and high-fat sauces as possible, however, this is just
not true. Even in restricting carbs, you have to stay within certain guidelines of calorie and saturated fat intake
to continue a successful weight loss regimen.
If you're thinking of following a
low-carb diet for health or weight loss reasons, you should increase your good fat intake to make up for the elimination of
carbs. Why? Because, in short, the elimination of simple (sugar) carbs will likely send your cravings for sugar
out of control. Adding complex carbohydrates containing fiber and foods containing
monounsaturated (good) fats to your diet will help keep you feeling satisfied. The
good fats found in certain oils, fish and nuts are brain nourishing food and give you a two for one health boost, also lowering
your unhealthy cholesterol levels in the process.
A study was done by the Harvard School
of Public Health regarding this style of eating. Subjects were randomly divided into two groups. One group followed
diets containing low-fat/high-carb meals, the other ate low-carb/high-fat meals. Both groups ate moderate protein
and the same amount of calories. The findings showed that the group of low-carb/high-fat
dieters lost a higher percentage of weight than the high-carb/low-fat dieters. This was an amazing discovery that leads
experts to believe that as carb stores were lessened, it took the body added
energy to metabolize the protein because carb stores were not readily available to be processed. The decrease in carbohydrates caused the metabolism to work overtime to process this type of diet, burning
more calories in the process.
Why is keeping a low carb level so important?
The way the food is metabolized in
the body is pretty simple to understand. The body takes the least difficult approach when using fuel to energize
us. First it will use sugar (such as sugared drinks, table sugar, candy, etc.) because it doesn't use energy to break
these down into fuel. Then comes the simple carbs (such as white bread and pastas,
pretzels, starches, etc.) which uses little energy to break it down. Only then will it will use complex carbohydrates
(such as vegetables, brown rice, beans and whole grains) because it has to expend energy to process these foods back into
sugar in order to be used by the body as fuel. If no carbs are available to be converted, the body will turn to it's
protein and fat stores, fat always being burned last.
The reason the body uses fat last
is because it holds more than twice the amount of energy than carbs or protein do. The body is programmed to store fat
in the case of a famine, as in the early days of our ancestors, who could survive a day or two without food when it was not
readily available. The fat would be used by their body as an energy source also
providing warmth. In our day of readily available foods and access to heating
and cooling devises, we no longer have the same survival needs and therefore, the storage of fat continues to build.
Then why not eliminate fat from our
diets? Why doesn't this work? Our bodies create stores of fat molecules when we have excess sugar in our bodies,
not necessarily fat. Fat is essential to life and is a building block for our brains to function efficiently. Our body also needs some fat in the diet to keep the immune system healthy. So cutting out fat completely can negatively affect our health. The
real key to having our bodies burn fuel more efficiently is to eliminate the empty sugars and concentrate on consuming only
complex carbohydrates, proteins and unsaturated fats.
Why Low-Carb vs. No-Carb?
The Adkins diet, for example, fully
restricts carbs for the induction period. During this time, your body goes through many changes and this is where you
see the most progress in your weight loss. The process of restricting all carbs causes what's known as "ketosis".
Ketosis is actually what happens to your body when it is starving and it begins to break down muscle protein. This process
is what gives dieters the bad breath often experienced on high carb-restricted diets.
During ketosis, a significant amount of your initial weight loss is water, followed by loss of muscle and finally only
a pound or two of fat. Your body will quickly adapt to this eating regimen and become less efficient at losing weight.
This is an extreme process that experts complain puts your body and organs through unnecessary stress and slows your metabolism. Stressing your organs is what ages them. The
body needs some carbs, preferably complex (good) carbs in order to get the metabolism to function properly. Reducing,
not restricing carbs, is the key to keeping the body burning calories efficiently.
The Role of Insulin Levels in the Blood
The body produces insulin to keep
blood sugar levels in check. When there is too much sugar in your bloodstream, your body becomes overwhelmed and can't
do it's job properly...this is called insulin resistance, when you experience that sugar rush.
On a repeated basis, this condition can be a danger to your good health. High insulin levels have been linked
to many diseases such as diabetes, blocked arteries, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, strokes and obesity, not to mention
the fact that high insulin levels increase appetite and cause a decrease metabolism causing you to retain fat. Have you ever noticed that when eating something of little nutritious substance, like a donut or bagel,
you begin feeling hungry again within an hour or so? When you overeat carbs,
your blood sugar rises and if you don't use that energy immediately (say, for a 2-mile run), your liver extracts the excess
and turns it into triglycerides, or fat, leaving you with an empty feeling.
By eating a low simple carb (low-sugar)
diet that includes lean protein choices, your body can better metabolize the food that you eat and the insulin levels return
to normal, which in turn helps you to lose weight. Even if you are not overweight, the proper regulation of insulin
levels in the blood is the way to avoid these unhealthy ailments mentioned above.
To avoid excessive carb cravings,
its a good idea to begin this change by replacing about 50% of your simple or sugary carbs, such as sweetened sodas, fruit
drinks, ice cream and highly processed foods with complex carbs such as whole grains and high fiber vegetables and fruit. Follow this 50% plan for about a week, then up the replacement of simple carbs to
90% (10% is reserved for excessive cravingsif you fully deprive yourself of your favorite snack, your cravings may never subside
and may cause you to overeat attempting to eat around this craving).
In cutting carbs, for example, you
may want to replace a high carb snack such as potato chips or high sugared yogurt with a higher protein snack, such as a slice
of turkey and a slice of cheese rolled up in a leaf of romaine lettuce. Because
you saved on carbs and added protein to your diet, you can eat that cookie you have been craving without compromising your
sugar intake. Taking small steps such as this throughout your day will begin
your transformation to a healthier lifestyle and will contribute to guaranteed weight loss.
This approach will also keep you feeling full and should help stave off further sweet cravings.
Low-Carb Diets & Exercise
If you want to look lean and fit,
you can lose weight quite rapidly by combining a low-carb diet with a good cross-training exercise program. The basis of low-carb weight loss diets when mixed with exercise is that the body uses fats as fuel when
carbs are not readily available. Normally you use mainly carbohydrates as fuel,
however during exercise on a low-carb diet, your body will turn to its fat stores for fuel during and after
your work-outs. Its important to do weight-bearing exercises for muscle strengthening
as well as an aerobic calorie burning exercise for a healthy cardiovascular system.
Muscle resistance exercise assures that your body does not break down muscle for energy before it uses your fat stores. A combination of these two types of exercise is a great regimen for a well-rounded
health, fitness and weight loss program.
However, if your lifestyle does not
include a regimen of resistance and cardio exercise, a brisk walking program, which uses all the major muscle groups in your
body can increase your metabolism six to eight times more than no exercise at all. That
means that walking briskly for one hour a day while on a low-carb diet will give you incredible weight loss results. Walking uphill and climbing bleachers or stairs in the process of your walk
will burn even more calories and positively add to your overall weight loss results.
Its important to note that sports
nutritionists believe that a low-carb diet is not for committed athletes. Instead of taking off fat, athletes on low-carb
diets who train vigorously on a regular basis are most likely breaking down and shedding muscle mass. A low-carb diet
simply does not provide enough fuel for the body of those performing intense endurance exercise. But if you are performing at a normal fitness level, your body will burn fat efficiently when taking in
If you are just beginning an exercise
regimen, progress gradually. Exercise may feel difficult when carbohydrates are
not as readily available as your body is used to. Dont become an over-excessive
diet nut. If you do not have the energy to exercise perhaps you are cutting carbs
out of your diet too drastically. Simply include more complex carbs in your diet
to help restore energy. Sometimes eliminating too much too fast can be harmful
to your wellbeing. Listen to your body and adjust your diet and exercise according
to what makes you feel best.