As evident from its name, the low carb diet is a dietary pattern that has been designed to facilitate weight loss by restricting the consumption of carbohydrates. Thus, it limits the consumption of foods that are high in carbohydrates such as grains, starchy vegetables and fruits and lays emphasis on the consumption of dietary protein and fat. It basically involves eating natural, unprocessed foods with low carbohydrate content.
This diet is considered suitable for losing weight quickly, optimizing health and lowering the risk of diseases. There are several types of low carb diets with varying restrictions on the types and amounts of carbohydrates.
How does the Low Carb Diet Work?
Carbohydrates are used by the body as its main source of fuel for the functioning of brain, heart and many other organs. During digestion, sugar and starches are broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the blood stream in the form of blood sugar or glucose. This glucose enters the body’s cells with the help of insulin and is used by the body for providing energy. Extra glucose is stored in the muscles, liver and other cells for future requirement and is converted into fat.
The rationale behind low carb diet is that by restricting carbohydrates drastically, it causes the body to go into a different metabolic state called ketosis, where it burns fat for providing fuel. Reduction in carbs results in lower insulin levels as the person is getting energy from ketones, little carbon fragments which are created by the breakdown of fat stores. This causes you to feel less hungry and shed excess weight since the body, instead of burning carbohydrates, burns fat.
Since the carbs are stripped from your diet, the body uses the stored carbs for fuel, not just burning them but also releasing the fluid around them that adds extra inches to your middle, hips and thighs. Moreover, in a typical low carb diet, the carbs are replaced with protein which is the ultimate fat burning food. Protein based food increases the metabolism by 25 percent, thereby causing a rise in the levels of fat burning hormone called FG21, thus maximizing the calories lost. This combination of low carb and high protein leads to rapid weight loss.
[Read: Stillman Diet ]
Low Carb Diet Menu:
Carbohydrates are macronutrients found in many foods and beverages and a typical low carb diet restricts the consumption of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found naturally in plant based foods, such as grains. Besides, they are also found in processed foods in the form of starch or added sugar. The chart given below shows the foods that should be eaten and foods that should be avoided in a low carb diet.
|Foods to be Eaten||Foods to be Avoided|
|Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, chicken and others. Grass-fed is best.||Sugar: Soft drinks, fruit juices, agave, candy, ice cream and many others.|
|Fish: Salmon, trout, haddock and many others. Wild-caught fish is best.||Gluten Grains: Wheat, spelt, barley and rye. Includes breads and pastas.|
|Eggs: Omega-3 enriched or pastured eggs are best.||Trans Fats: “Hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.|
|Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and many others.||·High Omega-6 Seed- and Vegetable Oils: Cottonseed-, soybean-, sunflower-, grapeseed-, corn-, safflower and canola oils.|
|Fruits: Apples, oranges, pears, blueberries, strawberries.||·Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Cyclamates and|
|Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.||“Diet” and “Low Fat” Products: Many dairy products, cereals, crackers, etc.|
|High Fat Dairy: Cheese, butter, heavy cream, yogurt.||Highly Processed Foods: If it looks like it was made in a factory, don’t eat it.|
|Fats and Oils: Coconut oil, butter, lard, olive oil and cod fish liver oil.||—|
As you can see, a low carb diet basically focuses on proteins comprising of meat, poultry, eggs and certain non- starchy vegetables. It places a limit on the consumption of most grains, beans, fruits, breads, sweets, pastas and starchy vegetables, sometimes even nuts and seeds. A daily intake of 50 to 150 grams of carbohydrates is recommended in a typical low carb diet. Certain low carb diets restrict carbs initially and then gradually increase the intake of carbs. An example of a typical low carb diet menu is given below.
[ Read: Indian Healthy Food List ]
Sample Low Card Diet Menu For One Week:
|Sunday||Bacon and Eggs||Smoothie with coconut milk, a bit of heavy cream, chocolate-flavoured protein powder and berries||Grilled chicken wings with some raw spinach on the side.|
|Monday||Omelette with various vegetables, fried in butter or coconut oil.||Grass-fed yogurt with blueberries and a handful of almonds||Cheeseburger (no bun), served with vegetables and salsa sauce|
|Tuesday||Bacon and eggs||Leftover burgers and veggies from the night before||Salmon with butter and vegetables|
|Wednesday||Eggs and vegetables, fried in butter or coconut oil.||Shrimp salad with some olive oil.||Grilled chicken with vegetables.|
|Thursday||Omelette with various vegetables, fried in butter or coconut oil||Smoothie with coconut milk, berries, almonds and protein powder.||Steak and veggies.|
|Friday||Bacon and Eggs.||Chicken salad with some olive oil||Pork chops with vegetables|
|Saturday||Omelette with various veggies||Grass-fed yogurt with berries, coconut flakes and a handful of walnuts||Meatballs with vegetables.|
Benefits of Low Carb Diet:
The major purpose of low carb diet is the treatment of obesity resulting in weight loss. However certain low carb diets have other benefits like reducing the risk of heart diseases, certain cancers, diabetes and metabolic syndromes. The benefits of low carb diets are:
1. Weight Loss: People tend to lose weight on any diet that restricts calories but that weight loss is on short term basis. Studies have reported that those who followed low carb diet for 2 weeks lost approximately 4.1 kilograms. This weight loss is similar to that experienced in higher carbohydrate diets. The reason behind the weight loss is not only the limited consumption of carbs but also the consumption of extra protein that keeps you feeling full for a longer time.
2. Other Benefits: Apart from weight loss, several other benefits have also been reported from low carb diets. Some of these benefits include prevention or improvement of serious health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Besides, low carb diets may improve HDL cholesterol and triglyceride values more than moderate carb diets.
- Increased energy
- Reduced cravings for sweets
- Improved dental condition
- Better mental concentration
- Improvement in joint or muscle pain
- Improvement in skin complextion
- Reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms and headaches
These benefits vary from person to person.
Dangers of Low Carb Diet:
In spite of being effective in weight loss, low carb diet suffers from certain hidden dangers like:
1. Prone to Risks: The sudden and drastic reduction in carbs results in a variety of adverse health effects such as dizziness, headaches, weakness, fatigue and constipation. Being low in carbohydrates, this diet may result in nutritional deficiencies or insufficiency of fibre and thus cause health problems like constipation, diarrhoea and nausea. This is the reason why it is recommended to eat carbs with high fibre, whole grain and nutrients.
2. Unhealthy Metabolic State (Ketosis): Low carb diets can cause your body to go into ketosis which is a dangerous metabolic state. During ketosis, the body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. The substances called ketones formed during ketosis can cause organs to fail, resulting in gout, kidney stones and kidney failure. Ketones can also have negative effects on a person’s appetite and cause nausea, fatigue and bad breath. Hence, at least 100 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed in a day to prevent ketosis.
3. Digestive Cancers and Cardiovascular Disease: Due to a sharp reduction in plant based food consumption, low carb diets result in low fibre intake, thereby increasing the risk of digestive cancers and cardiovascular disease. A drastic reduction in fruits vegetables, legume and grain consumption leads to inadequacy of phyto nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre intake. Thus, it is recommended to obtain protein from a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
4. High Cholesterol: Taking high proteins at the cost of carbohydrates can lead to high cholesterol. These diets include red meat, whole dairy products and other high fat foods. High cholesterol levels increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and cancer.
5. Osteoporosis and Kidney Disease: A diet involving low intake of carbohydrates and high consumption of proteins puts a strain on kidneys, making a person prone to kidney diseases.
6. Long Term Health Issues: Since your body is chronically depleted of carbohydrates, it is susceptible to long term health issues. Besides exposing the liver to extra stress to assist in manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins, potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced during conversion of proteins into glucose. Hence, it becomes difficult for the body to produce mucus and the risk of pathogenic infection also increases, thereby impairing the immune system and the ability of the body to produce compounds called glyco proteins, which are vital to cell functions.
7. Chances of Dehydration: Low carb diets are not suitable for athletes or physically active individuals because of the limitation on utilizing fat as a fuel for energy. Beta-oxidation is the process through which fats can provide tens of thousands of calories of utilizable fuel but it burns far more slowly than carbohydrates.
Effectiveness of Low Carb Diet Plan:
Some people find the low carb diet effective as it results in rapid weight loss. However, it is not at all a good option for permanent weight loss. The theories governing low carb diets are yet to be proven and experts have found out that they can cause a host of problems. A low carb diet is not a balanced diet and therefore, lacking in essential vitamins and nutrients. Low carbohydrate diets allow very little amount of fruits and vegetables which are a source of essential vitamins and nutrients.
Hence, it is advisable to achieve permanent weight loss by adopting a healthy lifestyle which includes consumption of low calorie foods like grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables in conjunction with regular physical activity.