Looking at Low-Carbohydrate Diets and How They Really Work

3 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Considering Different Diet and Weight Loss Plans

Proponents of low-carbohydrate diets claim that many people are “allergic” to carbohydrates or are insulin resistant and gain weight when they eat them. They say a diet that restricts carbohydrates forces your body to use stored fat for energy. The following diets are based on the low-carbohydrate premise.

  • The South Beach Diet by Agatston, MD: Weight-loss depends on eating good carbohydrates and fats. In the first two weeks of the diet, you eliminate bread, potatoes, pasta, fruit, and alcohol.

    The truth: You’ll lose plenty of water weight on the first phase of this diet. Water loss from restricting carbohydrate equalizes after about 10 to 14 days, when most low-carb diets transition you to phase two.

  • The Carbohydrate Addict’s LifeSpan Program by Rachael Heller, PhD, and Richard Heller, PhD: You can break your carbohydrate cravings by limiting the carbohydrates you eat. Two daily meals consist mainly of high-protein foods. You can eat high-carbohydrate foods at the third meal if you balance them with more high-protein foods.

    The truth: Experts agree that giving into cravings prevents you from eating too many calories trying to avoid one food. If you follow this diet, you must eat a second serving of protein if you eat a second serving of carbohydrates, increasing your calorie intake.

  • Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution by Robert C. Atkins, MD: Eat as many calories from fat and protein as you want, but few carbohydrates.

    The truth: The body can’t burn fat efficiently without the carbohydrates that starch foods provide so it produces compounds called ketones, which strain the kidneys. Dieters often experience constipation, nausea, headache, fatigue, and bad breath. This diet increases your risk of heart disease and cancer.

  • Protein Power and the 30-day Low-Carbohydrate Diet Solution by Michael R. Eades, MD, and Mary Dan Eades, MD: If a lot of insulin is released, it can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, fluid retention, and weight gain. When you restrict carbohydrates, your body burns its fat stores.

    The Truth: Being overweight isn’t the result of insulin being out of whack; it often causes problems with insulin. On a 1,700-calorie diet, which is low enough for most people to lose weight, daily carbohydrate intake is only 234 to 255 grams. Also, this diet minimizes the importance of reducing fat intake.

  • Sugar Busters! by H. Leighton Steward, editor: Sugar, not fat, is the cause of extra weight. Calories from foods that cause a spike in insulin will be stored as fat. Restricted foods, such as white bread and pasta, refined grains, carrots, beets, and bananas, have a high glycemic index.

    The Truth: High insulin levels increase the risk of heart disease, but no evidence shows that they cause people to store fat. And although some foods cause a more rapid glycemic response than others, the entire meal influences how quickly the foods enter the bloodstream. For most people who do not have diabetes, if bread or pasta is eaten alone, the insulin response is temporary.

  • The Zone by Barry Sears, PhD: To stay within the healthy zone for maximum calorie burn, every meal and snack must be 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. The diet is based on hormones, not on calories.

    The Truth: The pseudoscience on which this diet is based is unsubstantiated, and disputed by the scientific community. The few people who are insulin resistant have some other health problem that causes the condition. Any weight loss that you achieve on this diet is due to the 700- to 1,200-calorie plan. And with a focus on eating protein, more than 30 percent of your calories may come from fat.

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The Essentials of Considering Different Diet and Weight Loss Plans

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