From friends and family to colleagues and associates, most people you know would surely love to lose a few kilograms to look good and reach a healthy weight. And as you may have heard or even tried, one of the ways to do this is through a low carbohydrate diet. And although this diet may promise significant weight loss in a short period of time, have you ever wondered if this is a healthy way to lose those extra kilograms?
But before we tell you about the myths and facts of such a diet, let us first describe what a low carb diet is and the foods that fall into this category.
What is a low carb diet?
A low carb diet is basically one that reduces the amount of carbohydrates you consume everyday. It is high in protein and fats and can contain anything between almost zero to 35% carbs, which is approximately about 175 grams per day.
What foods does a low carb diet consist of?
Allowed foods: Meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cream, cheese plus a limited amount of green vegetables.
Forbidden foods: Bread, rice, potatoes, pastas, legumes, grains, dairy products and fruits.
How does this diet work?
Basically, this diet drastically reduces the amount of carbohydrates you consume, creating a state of “Ketosis” in your body. This is a natural process that occurs when fats and proteins in the body are converted to the energy required for normal body functions and daily activity. But contrary to what you may think, “Ketosis” only results in you losing a large amount of water from your body, leading you to think that significant weight reduction is taking place. And eventually, most of the water will be regained when normal eating is resumed.
The potential health risks of the popular low carb diet when followed repeatedly or for a prolonged period of time include:
- Fainting: Due to a loss of fluids, electrolytes and lack of sugar
- Keto-Breath: A result of ketones which can lead to nausea and increase the risk of organ failure
- Load on the kidneys: Due to the high protein intake
- Increase in cholesterol levels: A high intake of meat and dairy products can increase cholesterol levels which in turn escalate the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Osteoporosis and kidney stones: By causing the body to excrete more calcium than normal through urine which leads to calcium oxalate stones and increases the risk of developing osteoporosis
- Uric acid stones: Protein foods are also high in purines, which are broken down into uric acid. Elevated levels of uric acid in the blood may lead to uric acid stones in the kidneys and uric acid crystals in joints, causing gout
- Increased cancer risk: Avoiding carbohydrates implies avoiding fibre, vitamin and minerals which are known to be antioxidants that help decrease the risk of cancer
- Infertility: Studies have shown that high amounts of protein, exceeding 30% of the calories in the diet will affect ammonium levels within the female reproductive tract and increase difficulty in conceiving.
So how come this diet is recommended by doctors sometimes?
Even though low carb diets have a range of side effects, it is initially recommended by doctors to encourage rapid weight loss in people who are severely or morbidly obese with health problems such as sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension and high lipid profile. However this diet should be limited to 2 weeks only.
What percentage of carbs should we include in our diet?
Carbohydrates are vital for proper body function as it’s the main source of energy for the body, and carbohydrate-rich foods also provide vitamins, minerals and fiber.Carbohydrates are vital for proper body functioning, as it’s the main source of energy. Additionally, carbohydrate-rich foods also provide vitamins, minerals and fibre. A standard balanced diet contains about 2,000 calories with about 40% to 60% of these coming from carbohydrates – amounting to 300 grams of carbohydrates per day. The following foods, for example, contain between 5 to 15 grams of carbohydrates in 1 serving:
15 grams: 1/3 cup of cooked rice / 1 brown toast / ¼ Arabic bread / ½ cup of cooked pasta / 1 medium apple, orange or banana / ½ cup of juice
- 12 grams: 1 cup of milk / 1 cup of Yoghurt
- 5 grams: 1 cup of raw vegetable / ½ cup of cooked vegetables
How to do we choose the right type of carbohydrates?
Not all carbohydrates are equal in nutritive value, so what are the different types of carb-rich foods and which ones are better choices:
Complex carbohydrates such as whole meal bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats and burghul are higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber which keep you feeling fuller for a longer time. These are a better choice than white bread, pasta products made from white flour.
Simple carbohydrates such as fruits should be chosen over sugar or candy. Not to forget plenty of vegetables to keep a body balanced and healthy.
The right formula for long term weight loss
It is only natural to aspire for rapid weight loss and instant results on your weighing scale. However, these quick changes don’t last for long. This is mainly due to the fact that low carb diets are known to be difficult to stick to and encourage yo-yo dieting cycles that make you lose then gain weight, which is also shown to have health risks. Always remember that the best way to safely and effectively lose weight in the long term is by combining a balanced healthy diet with exercise. And although this may not too exciting it is time-tested, proven and actually works.