TweetIf you haven't heard of Atkins or the South Beach Diet, you've probably been living under a rock for quite some time. The low-carb diet craze has taken on gargantuan proportions in the media and in Americans' everyday lives over the past year.
Many snack food companies are even developing low-carb versions of their products, such as Frito-Lay's Doritos Edge and Coke's C2, which promises "half the sugar, calories and carbohydrates of a regular cola, with all the great taste of Coca-Cola."
Unfortunately, many claims made by low-carb diet gurus are simply not based on scientific evidence. But before I get into low-carb myths, here's a little crash course in nutrition.
All carbs are not created equal. Simple carbs, such as chips, pastries and white bread, are easily digested and make you feel hungry again in no time. Complex carbs like fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads, on the other hand, are "slow-burning" and make you feel fuller for longer. In this sense, complex carbs are "good" and simple carbs are "bad."
Low-carb diets claim, to varying degrees, that all carbs make you fat and that you can lose weight by eliminating them from your diet. The belief is that with no carbs available as energy, your body will turn to your fat stores and burn those instead.
These diets usually involve increasing your protein intake. For example, Dr. Atkins' diet dictates that you can eat all the protein you want, even fatty meats such as bacon, as long as you steer clear of carbs. The South Beach Diet, which claims not to be a low-carb diet, eliminates carbs completely for two weeks, and then slowly reintroduces a minimal amount of complex ones.
Now let's see why these claims are not scientifically sound.
Myth #1: Eliminating carbs helps you lose weight and keep it off
Although it's true that you will initially shed some pounds if you cut carbs from your diet, the bad news is that you'll gain them all back -- and more -- as soon as you start eating carbs again.
Proponents of the Atkins diet will argue that this shouldn't happen because it isn't a diet, but rather a way of eating (WOE) you must adopt for life. Unfortunately, this is practically impossible to do, since carbs are an essential component of human nutrition, most people will end up going back to carbs at some point. In fact, many will even go overboard and binge on them because they have been deprived for so long.
Plus, it has been shown that the longer someone is on a low carb diet, the more "carb sensitive" they become. In other words, when you start eating carbs again, your body will think: Whoa, what's this? Haven't seen these in a while, I better store them as fat since I may never see them again! That's when you start packing on the pounds.
Think increasing your protein intake will help you gain muscle and lose fat...
Myth #2: Reducing carbs and increasing protein helps weight loss
The main role of protein is to contribute to muscle and tissue growth, maintenance and repair; carbs act as your body's primary source of energy. However, if there are no carbs available, your body will convert protein into glucose for energy (gluconeogenesis), which reduces the body's protein stores.
This not only affects your muscle mass, but it also slows your metabolic rate, meaning that you will end up burning less calories and, ultimately, gain weight.
Myth #3: Carbs work with insulin to cause weight gain
Many low-carb diets focus on the relationship between carbs and insulin, a hormone that transforms fuel into fat. The belief is that carbs cause insulin to be less effective at transporting sugar to the cells and that the excess sugar is stored as fat.
Although insulin does play a role in fat storage, it also ships necessary glucose to the muscles. Thus, our diets should aim to maintain stable insulin levels, not try to suppress its release.
Myth #4: It's healthy to lose weight quickly at first
You will lose weight when you first stop eating carbs. However, if your body weight and fat levels drop too low, your T3 levels -- a molecule in your thyroid gland that helps to regulate your metabolic rate -- could be altered.
A low-carb diet can reduce T3 and thus slow metabolism, particularly in people who over-exercise and under-eat. Therefore, this type of diet combined with lots of exercise could have the opposite effect in the long run, as your body ends up burning fewer calories.
Myth #5: Protein is the best ingredient to build muscle and eliminate fat
Here's a fact that might surprise you: Muscle fullness depends largely on carbs. Low-carb diets tend to make muscles flatter and less dense, so if you're trying to increase your muscle mass, you definitely need carbs.
Low carb levels can also make your muscles feel softer and make you feel tired and lethargic.
Myth #6: You'll lose more than water weight
No matter what low-carb proponents claim, a lot of the weight you lose via these diets is water weight. About three to five grams of water accompany every gram of carbohydrate. So, when you stop ingesting carbs, it's normal to lose water weight.
The added downside is that when you start eating carbs again, you will retain excess water and feel bloated. Although your body will eventually eliminate it, you might feel like a beached whale for a while.
Myth #7: You can eat all the protein you want
Red meat and other sources of protein recommended by many low-carb diets are very high in fat, which increases your risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity.
A high-protein diet can have many other negative effects, such as irreversible kidney damage and an increase in your risk for osteoporosis.
hell no, we won't go (low-carb)
The bottom line is that you shouldn't be duped by every dieting trend that's thrown your way. Come on, what's next? Low-carb water? A diet that consists of eating only Brussels sprouts?
If you really want to lose those love handles, cut some calories, but stick to the American Heart Association's recommendations of a diet comprised of 50% to 60% carbs, 10% to 30% protein and 20% to 30% fat. And drop those chips and cheesecake!
Veritas Vos Liberabit