Our world is filled with endless options, and diet plans are no exception. There are lots of low-carb diet ideas out there, and while they can produce weight-loss results upfront, experts are skeptical about certain aspects of them. Everyone has their own dietary needs, and if you have certain medical concerns, cutting significantly down on a whole food group might not be the best plan for you. It's also important to note that weight loss as a goal isn't necessarily for everyone. For anyone who has a history of disordered eating, even if you're in recovery, you should speak with a doctor before you change your eating habits or pursue any weight-loss goal.
Even if you don't have a history of disordered eating, it's really important to have realistic expectations and make sure you're approaching weight loss in a healthy way. Results can be incredibly difficult to come by, may take a very long time to achieve, and are also really hard to maintain. Many factors play into weight loss—like exercise, getting good sleep, managing stress levels, and genetics—so simply eating fewer calories may not bring the results you want.
The best way to lose weight boils down to these three things
With so many factors at play, it's no wonder weight loss varies so much person-to-person. These are the carbs believed to be responsible for an increased risk of metabolic syndrome—a collection of symptoms like high blood pressure, high blood sugar , and excess body fat, which contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Too much of this over time is connected to these markers of metabolic syndrome. So not only can cutting down on them help you lose weight, it can also be a boon for your health in the long run.
That said, simple carbs aren't the only carbs there are. Dietitians and nutritionists want us to eat fewer refined carbs, period. Think: white flour and bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, waffles, pies, bagels, and pastries. Smith, M. If you cut these out in an attempt to follow a low-carb diet, you may miss out on key nutrients, she explains. Lauri Wright, Ph. Atkins: For the first two weeks or so, you can only have 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, mainly from a limited list of vegetables. You can't have most fruits, sugary baked goods, breads, pastas, grains, nuts, or alcohol, but you can have as much oil and fat as you want.
Over the course of a few weeks, you slowly add back most veggies, nuts and seeds, and then starchy veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
Dukan: For the first 10 days, you can only eat lean protein, oat bran, and water. In the next phase, you add unlimited non-starchy veggies every other day, plus more oat bran. The next phases let you add more veggies, limited fruit, limited whole-grain bread and hard cheese, and some starches. Eventually, you can eat whatever you want, except for one day a week when you eat nothing but protein and oat bran. South Beach: The first two weeks involve cutting back on all carbs, including fruit and whole grains, and focusing on eating lean protein, non-starchy veggies, and healthy fats.
The next part of the diet adds these back in.
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In the last phase, you can enjoy all foods in moderation, focusing on lean proteins, fresh veggies, and healthy fats. Ketogenic: Following the standard ketogenic diet, a typical day of food consists of 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs. It is used to supply the body with glucose between meals.
Additionally, low-carb diets lead to a drastic reduction in insulin levels. When insulin goes down, the kidneys shed excess sodium and water out of the body 3 , 4. For these reasons, low-carb diets lead to a substantial and almost immediate reduction in water weight. This is often used as an argument against low-carb diets, and it is claimed that the only reason for their weight loss advantage is the reduction in water weight. However, this is false. Low-carb diets reduce water weight, but studies show that they also cause a greater reduction in body fat - especially from the liver and abdominal area where the harmful belly fat is located 5 , 6.
One 6-week long study on low-carb diets showed that the participants lost 7. Also, the reduction in water weight is a good thing.
Low-carb diets may help you lose weight
It makes no sense to use this as an argument against low-carb diets. Who would possibly want to carry around or more pounds of excess water that they don't need? Low-carb diets tend to be high in cholesterol and fat, including saturated fat. For this reason, many people claim that they should raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. However, new studies have shown that neither dietary cholesterol or saturated fat have any significant effect on the risk of heart disease 8 , 9 , 10 , Contrary to what is often claimed, low-carb diets actually improve many of the most important risk factors for heart disease 12 :.
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Levels of LDL cholesterol don't increase, on average. The particles also tend to change from small, dense bad to large LDL, a pattern that is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease 22 , That being said, the studies mostly look at averages. There are some individuals who experience major increases in LDL on a low-carb diet. These individuals should take some steps to get their levels down. Many people claim that the only reason people lose weight on low-carb is reduced calorie intake.
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The main weight loss advantage of low-carb diets is that weight loss occurs automatically. People feel so satiated that they end up eating less food without counting calories or controlling portions. This appetite-reducing effect is so powerful that studies comparing low-carb and low-fat diets need to actively restrict calories in the low-fat groups in order to make the results comparable.
Even when the low-fat groups are calorie restricted, the low-carb groups still usually end up losing more weight Also, people sometimes don't realize that low-carb diets are not just about losing weight. They are also very effective against certain health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and epilepsy 26 , 27 , That being said, low-carb diets may have a small metabolic advantage. They tend to be high in protein , which boosts metabolism 29 , You can actually eat a really large amount of vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds without exceeding 50 grams of carbs per day.
Also, eating grams of carbs per day is still considered low-carb. This provides room for several pieces of fruit per day, and maybe even small amounts of healthy starches like potatoes and oats. I personally never eat as many vegetables as I do when eating low-carb. This satisfies my body's need for vitamin C, potassium, fiber and other key nutrients that are found in large amounts in plants. Pretty much every book on low-carb recommends that people eat large amounts of healthy plant foods, especially vegetables.
There is a lot of confusion about ketosis. When we eat very little carbs such as less than 50 grams per day , insulin levels go down and a lot of fat is released from the fat cells.
How does the Atkins Diet work?
These are molecules that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, supplying energy for the brain during starvation or when we don't eat any carbs. The latter is a dangerous metabolic state that mainly happens in uncontrolled type 1 diabetes. It involves the bloodstream being flooded with massive amounts of ketones, enough to make the blood acidic. However, this has absolutely no relevance to the ketosis caused by a low-carb diet, which is a healthy metabolic state.
For example, it has been shown to have therapeutic effects in epilepsy, and is being studied for cancer treatment and against brain diseases like Alzheimer's 27 , 28 , It is claimed that carbs are the preferred fuel for the brain, and that it needs about grams of carbs per day. If carbs are reduced sufficiently to induce ketosis, then a large part of the brain stops using glucose and starts using ketones instead.
That being said, even with lots of ketones in the blood, some parts of the brain still needs glucose. This is where a metabolic pathway called gluconeogenesis becomes important.
What to know about low-carb, high-fat diets
When we don't eat carbs, the body mostly liver can produce glucose out of protein and by-products of fat metabolism. Because of ketosis and gluconeogenesis, we don't actually need to eat a single gram of carbohydrate - at least not for the purpose of fueling the brain. After the initial adaptation phase is over, many people report having even better brain function on a low-carb diet. Most athletes eat a high-carb diet, and many people believe that carbs are essential for physical performance.
However, this is usually only temporary.
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It can take a while for the body to adapt to burning fat instead of carbs.