I’ve written, not terribly tolerantly, about fad diets before. You may see low carb diets called a fad too, but if you look into them a bit further, that’s not accurate. Low carb diets aren’t fad diets – they’re a smart lifestyle change that allows you to lose weight and keep it off for life, without feeling deprived.
It’s certainly true that for some people, low-carb eating will be a big change. If you’ve been feeding yourself primarily on processed food, fast food, pizza and pop for years, you’re not only going to be unhealthy, poorly nourished and overweight, but your body is going to go through an adjustment to low carb. It’s been deprived of nutrients and fiber, and it is very likely experiencing insulin problems or metabolic syndrome.
Yet too many Americans do eat high carb diets with almost no fresh, unprocessed food. Some go months without eating a fresh vegetable. It’s not surprising that obesity is at epidemic levels.
Low Carb Has Helped Reduce Weight For Over A Century
For a century and a half, low carb diets have been used to treat obesity and heart disease. The world’s first known diet book, Letter on Corpulence, was published in 1863. It’s still available on Amazon. The author talks about how quickly he gains weight when eating sugar, and how his doctor taught him to control his carb consumption to get the weight off and keep it off. Eating four meals a day, while avoiding a short list of high-carb foods, allowed him to lose 50 pounds.
This method of weight control worked a century ago, and it does today too (perhaps without the alcohol consumption!). Of course, in my medical weight loss practice we know a few more things today than were known then, so the weight can come off even faster. We also have the benefit of being able to use prescription medications to prevent hunger, if necessary, but the basic concepts are similar.
Populations That Eat Low Carb Diets Are Healthy
Certain populations traditionally eat a very low carb diet, but when studied they’ve proven to be healthy. Examples are the Inuit of the northern arctic, and the Masai in Africa. Both of these populations ate diets primarily focused on protein and fat. Carb consumption was almost non-existent, yet both populations, when eating their traditional diet, were found to be in excellent health.
Diet plans such as the Paleolithic Diet explore these traditional food consumption patterns for ways to eat healthier today. These are diets that work for many people.
Studies Support The Effectiveness and Safety
When Dr. Atkins popularized low carb dieting in 1972, there were a lot of arguments that this type of diet hadn’t been proven to be safe or effective. Many health professionals believed strongly (some still do), that dropping fat consumption was the answer to obesity. However, it’s not fat that makes you fat. It’s carbs. Over 23 randomized and controlled trials have made it clear that low carb diets are safe and effective. An example is this one from the New England Journal of Medicine, comparing the results of a low carbohydrate, high protein, high fat diet to a low-calorie, high carbohydrate, low fat diet. Not surprisingly to me, the low-carb group lost weight faster.
“The low-carbohydrate diet was associated with a greater improvement in some risk factors for coronary heart disease.”
Low Carb Is An Easier Lifestyle Than Calorie-Restricted
When you eat higher amounts of protein and fat, and reduce carbs, you tend to be less hungry. Sugar, one of the largest sources of carb consumption, triggers hunger. With less sugar consumption, you’re just not as prone to snack. Fat on the other hand causes feelings of satiety. You’re just not hungry on a high fat diet. Therefore, diet plans that emphasise low carbs usually don’t restrict portions significantly, because they don’t need to. On a low-fat high-carb diet, portions usually must be strictly controlled and the drop-off rate of people who quit the diet due to hunger is higher. Low carb diets are simply more sustainable over time.