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Low Carb Diets

Low carb diets

For awhile those of us with weight loss goals were on the lookout for fats and tried to reduce them in our diets. Today with the popularity of diets like the Atkins and South Beach diets, many of us are on the lookout for carbohydrates instead and are trying to reduce them.

This article explores low carbohydrate (Ketogenic) diets and tries to explain the theory behind them, their positive aspects and the possible dangers associated with maintaining extreme forms of them long-term.

Low carbohydrate diets and Ketosis

To understand how low carbohydrate diets work, we need to understand Ketosis.

Put very simply, Ketosis is a state where our body burns stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.

This state can be artificially induced by restricting the intake of carbohydrates in our diet which forces our body to utilize other energy sources to fuel normal bodily functions and activity.

When the body is in a state of Ketosis, it produces Ketones as a by-product of burning fat and these Ketones are expelled from our body in urine, where they can be detected and measured using Ketone dipsticks.

There are many diets and weight loss programs which take advantage of Ketosis, but these diets and programs can be very different from each other in terms of the amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats they recommend.

At one end of the spectrum are very low carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet and at the other end of the spectrum are programs like the Ultra Lite weight loss program which promotes a more balanced approach to carbohydrate restriction and fat intake.

The most popular and well known, low carb diets include:

  • Carbohydrate Addicts
  • Protein Power
  • South Beach
  • Sugar Busters
  • Ultimate Weight Loss Solution
  • Zone

Although the specifics of these diets and programs can differ considerably from each other, they all encourage Ketosis by restricting the amounts and types of carbohydrates consumed in order to force the body to burn fat.

Positive aspects of Ketogenic diets

According to their practitioners, like Ultra Lite practitioner Lyn Riedel, of South Australia, Ketosis based diets and programs can be very effective and safe ways to lose weight, particularly if they have been set up well and address some of the issues associated with extreme forms of low-carb diets.

Among their stated benefits, Ketogenic diets are said to:

  • Drastically reduce cravings for high carbohydrate foods
  • Encourage dieters to consume fewer total calories
  • Increase fat burning
  • Stabilize blood sugar levels
  • Discourage emotional eating
  • Increase dieters mental clarity throughout the day
  • Help dieters maintain consistent energy levels
  • Encourage better quality sleep
  • Achieve significant weight loss quickly
  • Encourage dieters to enjoy great tasting, high-fat foods, such as bacon, eggs, cheese, steaks, sausage, cream, mayonnaise, butter, etc (Atkins diet)
  • Keep dieters satisfied longer after eating, using protein, which is said to curb hunger better than carbohydrates or fat
  • Be safe for Diabetics IF they are closely monitored by their health care provider, and their blood sugar levels are kept low and stable

As an aside to their benefits in helping people to lose weight, it is also believed that Ketogenic diets can be beneficial in controlling epileptic seizures, specifically in children.

Potential problems with low carbohydrate diets

Although there is a growing body of research to suggest that lower carbohydrate diets and those that limit High GI (Glycemic Index) carbohydrates generally work well in helping followers to successfully lose weight, there is still some debate about the long term effects of following very restrictive low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet.

The most serious concerns of some dietitians and leading health organizations of severely restrictive carbohydrate diets are:

  • The apparent confusion by some dieters over which foods are carbohydrates
  • Diets that totally cut out some low carbohydrate foods, like fruit, bread, cereal and vegetables, may put dieters at serious risk of long-term health problems
  • Long-term restriction of carbohydrates can lead to serious complications such as osteoporosis, kidney damage, high cholesterol, cancer, heart rhythm disturbances and sudden death
  • In pregnancy, ketosis may cause fetal abnormality or death
  • Low carbohydrate diets encourage dieters to rely solely on diet to control their weight which may reduce their ability to successfully control their weight long-term and may result in dieters missing out on the beneficial aspects of exercise
  • Some low carbohydrate diets can cause muscle loss which results in a generally slower metabolism, which makes losing weight more difficult and gaining it back easy
  • Unhealthy levels of Ketones can lead to an increase of uric acid, raising our risk for gout and kidney stones and depleting our body's mineral reserves
  • An accumulation of Ketones is particularly dangerous for people who have uncontrolled diabetes, who have problems with alcohol, or who are on extended starvation diets
  • Some low carbohydrate diets can be lacking in fibre and antioxidants
  • Diets too high in protein can adversely affect our bone strength and place strain on our kidneys
  • Boredom with low carbohydrate diets can cause dieters to abandon their diet and gain back all the weight lost, plus more
  • The quick initial loss of weight from many low carbohydrate diets is deceptive because most of that loss typically comes from depleting glycogen stores in the muscle and liver which leads to dehydration and muscle loss which may be mistakenly interpreted by the dieter as fat loss
  • Low carbohydrate diets leading to a depletion of muscle glycogen causes dieters to fatigue easily, and makes exercise and movement uncomfortable for some
  • The effect of high glycemic foods is often exaggerated by promoters of low-carb diets and the total glycemic effect of foods which is influenced by the quantity and mix of foods that we eat is often ignored
  • Glycemic index values can be misleading because they are based on a standard (minimum) amount of carbohydrate consumed which may represent unrealistic amounts for some healthier foods which are otherwise categorized as High GI (such as carrots for example)
  • Regular exercisers and active people also are less effected by higher glycemic foods because much of the carbohydrate consumed is immediately used to replenish glycogen stores in the liver and muscle
  • Weight loss that is too rapid is undesirable because it has potential health hazards and is often regained because faulty habits remain in place
  • Low carbohydrate diets may not be compatible with some medications and other treatments for obesity
  • Many low carbohydrate diets have different phases that dieters move through to ultimately lose all the weight they want, however some people stay too long in the initial phases than they should because while these phases typically produce the most dramatic weight loss results, they are not safe to remain in over the long-term

In addition to these potential serious consequences, low carbohydrate diets generally also lead to some less serious, but still undesirable effects like:

  • Some low carbohydrate diets can leave dieters feeling run down and low on energy (particularly in the early stages)
  • Some low carbohydrate diets can cause gas, constipation, dehydration and bad breath
  • Excessive ketosis can result in crankiness and irritability
  • Good muscle and skin tone is hard to maintain on some low carbohydrate diets because glycogen stores in our muscles are depleted
  • Many diets that dieters follow by buying a book offer no ongoing support which is often critical to successful long-term weight loss

Are low carbohydrate diets right for you?

Low carbohydrate diets are currently very popular because some people are achieving great weight loss results using them.

And since the Atkins diet was first introduced in the 1970's, more balanced diets, like the Ultra Lite program for example, have taken the positive aspects of the low-carb diet philosophy (Ketosis for example) and merged them with a more common-sense approach to negate some of the possible long-term dangers and make the regimes much easier to live with and sustain long-term.

If you're thinking of trying any lower-carbohydrate diet to kick-start your weight loss efforts, regardless of the type, make sure you talk to your doctor first to make sure it's safe for you.

Also consider opting for a diet or weight loss program (like Ultra Lite for example) that:

  • encourages exercise
  • monitors the level of Ketosis
  • offers ongoing support
  • promotes a healthier, balanced consumption of lower-fat protein-rich foods and low-GI carbohydrates such as those found in lean meats, low-fat and natural diary products, and healthy fruits and vegetables
  • offers nutritional supplements where appropriate
  • has a maintenance element to their program

Alternately, make an appointment with a suitably qualified dietitian or nutritionist and have an eating plan tailored to your personal needs.

Another thing we can all do is become more aware of the carbohydrates contained in the foods we eat. To do this we should all start reading food labels more carefully and look up the carb content of foods we eat in the Nutritional Food Tables available free on this website.

And be sure to always include sensible levels of daily exercise in your weight loss efforts.


For awhile those of us with weight loss goals were on the lookout for fats and tried to reduce them in our diets. Today with the popularity of diets like the Atkins and South Beach diets, many of us are on the lookout for carbohydrates instead and are trying to reduce them in our diet. Many of us even think that we might be addicted to carbohydrates.

While low carbohydrate diets are successful at helping many people lose kilos of unwanted weight, most nutritionists still recommend that around 50 per cent of our diet come from carbohydrates and that most of these carbohydrates should be complex carbohydrates or low-GI and come from natural sources like vegetables, seeds, nuts, oats, whole-grain bread, wholemeal rice and cereal.

This article explored low carbohydrate (Ketogenic) diets and tried to explain the theory behind them, their positive aspects and the possible dangers associated with maintaining extreme forms of them long-term.

Good luck with your weight loss and thank you for visiting weightloss.com.au.

Copyright Ultimate Weightloss.

This article was written by Scott Haywood.

Scott is the editor of weightloss.com.au. Scott has developed an expertise in fitness and nutrition, and their roles in weight loss, which led him to launch weightloss.com.au in 2005. Today, weightloss.com.au provides weight loss and fitness information, including hundreds of healthy recipes, weight loss tools and tips, articles, and more, to millions of people around the world, helping them to lead happier, healthier, lives.

You can follow Scott on Google+ for more interesting articles.

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