Wednesday 29th January 2020

Low Carb

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What's wrong with low-carb?

Most diets have been rejected as unhealthy and nonsensical by medical experts and authorities, but the type of diet that has been treated with most scorn by health professionals is the high protein, low-carb diet.

Pioneered by English undertaker William Banting in the mid-19th century, it has since had many reincarnations, the most famous of which is the Atkins Diet.

Robert Atkins' book Dr. Atkin's Diet Revolution (Amazon USA) Weight Loss Diet Books) became a bestseller in 1972 and then again in later years; it's then been reprinted as Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution (Amazon UK) .

Before him, in 1961 Herman Taller's book Calories Don't Count (Amazon USA) or Amazon UK sold 2 million copies. It recommended a diet very high in unsaturated fats and attacked both carbohydrates and refined sugars. In 1967 Taller was found guilty of mail fraud for selling a bogus diet supplement, safflower oil pills, the consumption of which he advocated in his book. The US Food and Drug Administration charged that his book was only a marketing tool for the safflower oil capsules, which were not effective in the doses he recommended, and in which he had some form of investment. The court that convicted him called the whole thing a "worthless scheme foisted on a gullible public".

Still in 1967 the book The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet (The Stillman Diet) (Amazon USA) or Amazon UK , written by Irwin Stillman, sold 20 million copies in American. His is another low-carbohydrate high-protein diet, differing from Atkins' for being low-fat. The Stillman Plan includes almost exclusively lean meat, fish, eggs and low-fat cheese. Eight years later Irwin Stillman died of a heart attack.

Interestingly enough, Robert Atkins also died in circumstances not yet totally clarified, after suffering from heart problems for several years, and he died obese.

It's not hard to see why this type of diet meets with such popularity. The so-called Low-Carb Diets encourage people to do what they would like to do, without even having to feel guilty for it.

Another variation in the "low-carb diet" craze is The South Beach Diet. Its creator, Dr Arthur Agatston, revealed in an interview with The New York Times that he regularly takes statins, drugs that lower cholesterol and reduce heart attack and death risk: that does not sound reassuring.

The American Heart Association, the American Kidney Fund, and the American Dietetic Association have all published statements warning about the many dangers related to high-protein low-carbohydrate diets.
Similarly, the American Cancer Society says high protein low carbs diets "can be a high-risk option".

Other popular high protein, low carb diets are Protein Power, Zone, Sugar Busters.

The expression "low carb" can comprise diets which vary a lot in the amount of carbohydrates they allow. Diets like the Zone prescribe 40% carbs. At the other end of the spectrum are ketogenic diets, that generally permit 40-70 grams of carbohydrates a day or less. The induction, i.e. the initial, phase of the Atkins diet only allows 20 grams of carbs per day.

That so many people follow celebrity-endorsed diets like The Atkins Diet and other low-carbs diets, popular with movie stars and featured in the media, has been a cause for concern.

Over 97 percent of British state-registered dieticians in a survey stated that the Atkins diet should, but it does not, recommend that people get medical advice before trying it. In addition, they say that this diet is in direct opposition with all government recommemdations for a healthy diet. UK nutrition experts have given several warnings: that low-carb diets like Atkins, too high in meat proteins, can overload the kidneys; that women of childbearing age following low carb high protein diets risk the health of their future babies; that any apparent short-term gain can lead to long-term health damaging effects; and that eating great quantities of meat, fish, seafood and eggs while eliminating other important food groups from the diet is unbalanced and will inevitably make the body suffer.

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Not effective, not sustainable, not healthy

The initial rapid weight loss in Atkins diet is mainly due to a large reduction in water weight and glycogen, i.e. stored carbohydrate, and not necessarily due to reduction in fat. Weight loss per se is the wrong objective: your real goal is permanent fat loss. You should regularly measure your body fat and lean body mass percentages. Weight loss might just mean losing water, muscle or lean tissue, and glycogen.

The observed fact that limiting foods rich in carbohydrates may be conducive to temporary weight loss has been misinterpreted as indicating that high-carbohydrate foods make people overweight or obese. The opposite has been shown to be true in both clinical trials and epidemiological studies.

Studies have shown that in Asia people eat great quantities of carbohydrates, mostly rice, vegetables and noodles, and generally weigh less than Americans, including Asian Americans, who consume great quantities of meat, fried foods and dairy products. Analogously, vegetarians, whose diets tend to be high in carbohydrates, generally weigh much less than people who eat meat.

A physician at Stanford University in California, Dena Bravata, along with her twin sister Dawn at Yale University and other colleagues, searched the scientific literature from 1966 onwards on low-carbohydrate diets' effectiveness and safety. The results of this systematic study should make the followers of the Atkins food fad think. They did not find any evidence that low-carbohydrates diets were more effective. The only important causes for weight loss success were eating less calories generally and maintaining this eating regime long term.

Faddy diets are popular but they can only be temporary, because they are not sustainable in the long run. Any diet that restricts what you eat will make you lose weight. If you follow the cabbage soup diet, for example, that will obviously reduce your calories intake and make you slim down, but how long can you maintain such a diet? You'll have to stop it and when you do, your weight will be back at the same level again with a vengeance.

Many dieters are interested in a fast diet, and diets like Atkins and other low-carbs diets appeal in particular to women due to their promise of initial quick weight loss, but this is really the wrong approach: you should not just think of losing weight, but also think of maintaining the weight loss.

Many faddy diets, moreover, eliminate entire food groups. The Atkins diet, in particular, eliminates a lot of fruits, vegetables and carbohydrate foods, i.e. major sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals, nutrients playing a key role in preventing and reducing the incidence of cancer and heart disease.

The Atkins and South Beach diets rest on the assumption that eating much fat is good because the more fat you eat the more fat you burn up. But there is no evidence that this is true. It is just the number of calories you eat that determines how much weight you will lose.

What happens generally to Atkins and South Beach dieters is that they initially restrict their calories intake to 1,000 calories per day, or even fewer. This has the effect of rapidly burning the body's carbohydrate stores, which in turn leads to the use of fat to provide energy. This, however, is not a healthy metabolic state: when you restrict your calories intake severely you enter into ketosis, a condition in which you starve yourself and feel nauseous and weak, as well as having bad breath.

This is what a person who was on a low carb diet said about her personal experience of it:

"When you limit or rid of your carb intake, your body goes into some called 'ketosis.' Normally, after eating, your blood first breaks down carbs, then moves onto fats. When in ketosis, your blood breaks down fats only because there is no carbs for you to break down. But this is how the weight is lost.
"Aesthetically speaking, your breath smells like ass. Literally like ass. You begin to breathe (sweat, shit) out fats since its that only thing your blood is breaking down. Obviously not that fun. Also, our bodies need carbs, for energy, strength etc. I never went on the atkins diet persay, but I did begin to eat such a low amnt of carbs I witnessed how it changes your body and emotions.
"Vertigo is another problem that I've experienced, I think it is due to low blood sugar levels. Vertigo is like that horrible feeling you get when you stand up fast, and all the blood rushes out of your head giving you a light-headed feeling, except worse. Your equilibrium gets so fucked in your brain that you constantly feel as if you will pass out when moving too fast. "

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms this. In it 63 obese women and men were randomly put on either an Atkins type diet (low carb, high protein, high fat) or a more conventional diet of low fat, high carb, low calorie. After 6 months the Atkins group had lost 4 per cent more weight on average, but after a year this difference had disappeared, which the researchers attributed to greater weight regain in the low-carbohydrate group and the small sample size. These data suggest that long-term adherence to the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet may be difficult. The weight loss was overall just 4 kg (about 8 pounds).

Physicians and researchers in the majority agree that the impact that low-carb diets have had on obesity is practically zero.

In short: as much as we'd like to, there is no shortcut, we can't have our cake and eat it. There is no manipulation of food that can make us slimmer, we just have to reduce calories.

Leaving aside low-carb diets, food-combining diets, like the New Beverly Hills Diet, saying that protein and carbohydrates should not be eaten together because the body can't digest them both and so the food ends up stored as fat, are also based on scientifically incorrect theories of the mechanics of digestion.

Lecturer in Dietetics and Obesity Barry Groves states:

"The first two weeks they [people on low-carbs diets] can only eat 20g of carbohydrate a day, around one-and-a-half slices of bread, so they lose weight quickly. But there is a survival advantage in storing fat; in the past those who survived had fat stored for the hard times, so our metabolism slows down if you lose fat too quickly and your weight loss levels out while you may still be overweight. It's called stalling. The body gets frightened, so you need to lose weight more slowly." [Emphasis added]

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, finally, since its founding in 1985 has been denouncing the dangers of high protein low carb diets. Research shows that protracted high-protein nutrition patterns heavy on meat and animal products are associated with heart disease, osteoporosis, renal (kidney) disease and colon cancer, and present a particular risk for people with diabetes. All these health dangers are serious, and the scientific evidence currently available supporting this fact is strong.



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