Low Carb / High Protein Diets
These diets are based on the theory that if you're overweight you eat too many carbohydrates. By dramatically cutting carbs and increasing protein and fat your body will begin to shed those unwanted pounds.
Steak and eggs. Cheese omelets and creamy sauces. These are all allowed foods on the low-carb diet plan. Meat lovers rejoice. According to the low-carb diets you can eat red meat, fish and fowl. Cooking with butter is even considered a good thing.
There aren't many limits on how much food you can eat, you're just supposed to limit the types. No refined sugar, milk, white rice, white flour and minimal breads. Your total daily carbohydrate intake (according to Dr. Atkins) should be no more than 40 grams a day, or the amount of carbs you would get in about 3 slices of bread.
How it Works
The medical claim Dr. Atkins makes is that by restricting carbohydrates your body will go into a state of ketosis. That's when your body is getting it's energy from ketones, or carbon fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. Without carbohydrates for energy your body begins burning fat and you loose weight.
Pros and Cons
The American Heart Association and United States Department of Agriculture both state that no more than 30 percent of your total calories should come from fat, with the goal to decrease that amount over time. The leading low-carb diets make no such recommendations. Health officials from organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) worry about the amount of fats and cholesterol people take in when they go on low-carb diets especially for the numerous people who are already at risk for heart disease.
Fruit and vegetables are another point of contention. Most health authorities recommend at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Dr. Atkins recommends against this and suggests that dieters in the first two weeks should consume no more than three cups of loosely packed salad or two cups of salad with two-thirds of a cup of some types of cooked vegetables each day. It seems that the low-carb diets regard nearly all carbs as the enemy.
In 2004 there was a report that made headlines was regarding a study of 120 people over 6 months, and of those 60 participated in the low-carb diet. This study was far too short and had far too few people in it to be considered definitive.
On March 7, 2007 the Journal of the American Medical Association released the results of a study conducted at Stanford University and underwritten by the National Institutes of Health. The goal was to compare 4 weight-loss diets representing a spectrum of low to high carbohydrate intake for effects on weight loss and related metabolic variables.
The diets it was compared against were the Zone diet, Ornish diet and a conventional eating plan based on the food-pyramid. Not surprisingly Atkins showed the greatest benefits, because the only real consideration was for CARBOHYDRATE levels.
A more balanced study would have compared it to calorie counting diets (like weight watchers), high protein diets (for example Protein Power) and low carb diets that encourage eating healthy/complex carbs (such as South Beach).
In contrast, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute funded a Harvard study of 74,000 women over 12 years to determine the health effects of consuming more fruits and vegetables. The results showed those who ate more fruits and vegetables (and their associated carbs) were 26 percent LESS likely to become obese than the women who ate fewer fruits and vegetables.
The Bottom Line
These books are sprinkled with studies from medical journals but the diets remain very controversial. They have been denounced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. We find it hard to disagree with these leading research organizations and cannot recommend these low-carb diets.
Special Note: If you DO decide to embark on a low-carb diet, you should make sure you're taking in enough fiber. Americans (on average) should take in no less than 32 grams of fiber per day, but most people take in less than half that much. People who are on a low-carb diet (and it's associated fiber) generally take in even less. If you're following a low-carb diet you might need to consider a fiber supplement of some kind. See your doctor or nutritionist for specific recommendations.
Low-carb diets are currently being studied by the National Institutes of Health and as with any diet should NEVER be attempted without the supervision of a Medical Doctor or licensed Nutritionist.
General Reference Links
American Heart Association
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institutes of Health
United States Department of Agriculture