Propelled into the spotlight by celebrity advocates who testify to their results, low carb diets have received enormous attention and are fast becoming the most popular type of diet. Low carb diets such as the Atkins Diet and the Zone Diet work on the rationale that eating a diet that is low in carbohydrates will assist in weight loss. However, as low carb diets are becoming a fast growing trend, it is also quickly becoming the subject of contentious debate amongst health experts and dieticians who can’t seem to agree on whether low-carb diets are actually a breakthrough in weight loss or a detriment to our health.
Carbohydrates are a vital part of our diet and provide essential vitamins and minerals. They are one of the six nutrients and are a great source of energy. Our body converts carbohydrates to calories, which the body uses as energy. 1 gram of carbohydrate will transform itself to 4 grams of calories. Carbohydrates are a readily available source of energy. Most carbohydrates are quickly and easily used by the body for energy and can be stored in the muscles for exercise. Carbohydrates are important because they help the organs in the body function properly and can assist in regulating sugar levels in the bloodstream. However, too many carbohydrates in the body can cause weight gain. Low-carb diets are working on the underlying assumption that too many carbohydrates in the body will cause the body to accumulate fat.
The body converts carbohydrates during digestion into sugar form. Carbohydrates can be categorised as ‘simple’ or ‘complex’. Simple carbohydrates are quickly digested and release sugar quickly into the bloodstream, whereas complex carbohydrates are harder to break down and gradually release sugar into the bloodstream. Examples of simple carbohydrates are lollies, soft drinks and juice. Examples of complex carbohydrates are whole grain bread, vegetables and fruit. Low carb diets focus on reducing carbohydrates drastically. However, some dieticians state that eating a diet consisting of both simple and complex carbohydrates is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Low carb diets like the Atkins diet and Zone diet have yielded impressive results including significant weight loss. Although there are many varieties of low-carb diets, they do have one main thing in common – they demand a reduced carbohydrate intake. Eating large amounts of carbohydrates causes an overproduction of insulin in the bloodstream which may lead to weight gain. If there is too much sugar in the bloodstream, the body will respond by turning this sugar into fat. On the low carb diet, individuals are consuming less than the recommended carbohydrate intake of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS recommends no less than 120 grams of carbohydrates per day. However, most low carb diets actually consist of a ratio of carbohydrates which fall well below the set guidelines. Advocates of the low carb diet argue that there have been numerous studies which prove that low carb diets raises HDL (the so called ‘good’ cholesterol’) and links low carb diets to the prevention of heart disease and diabetes. However, presently the benefits of low carb diets have not been sufficiently validated by the health community.
Critics argue that there are no proven long term benefits of low-carb diets. Although many individuals have had successes with low-carb diets, critics argue that these results are short lived, with many gaining one third of the weight they’d lost. This group argues that it is not the high consumption of carbohydrates which is making us fat but rather the over consumption of high calorie foods (which can include carbohydrates). They purport that low carb diets feature foods which are high in fat and protein (such as steak, ham, bacon and dairy), and can potentially be harmful to our bodies. Food high in saturated fat can have negative effects and may be linked to heart disease and various cancers. Moreover, having too much protein in body can cause kidney damage and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Only further research will tell whether low carb diets are a health risk or a breakthrough in weight management. Until then, health experts have cautiously neither rejected nor endorsed low car diets. They recommend that individual maintain a healthy and balanced diet which consists mainly of vegetables, fruits and grain.
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