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Low to No Carb Diets

Low to No Carb Diets

In case you haven’t noticed, low-carb diets have become the rage. Fat is fine!

Unless, of course, you bought low-carb pasta at one of those new low-carb food stores. Entire stores full of “carb alternatives” and “smart-carb” foods have arisen. We have seen the enemy, and it is the carbohydrate.

But do people make healthy food choices by focusing solely on cutting carbs? I recently had lunch with a friend who is watching his weight. His order? “Double cheeseburger, hold the bun.”  A double cheeseburger is conservatively 1,000 kcal, whereas a single cheeseburger with a bun is perhaps 600.

Over the past three decades, before the low-carb craze, the data are pretty clear that we, as a population, gained weight.  

The average caloric intake for men rose from 2,450 to 2,618 kcal/day. The percentage of calories from carbohydrates also increased by almost 7% in men and 6% in women (a 68- and 62-g increase, respectively). The percentage calories from saturated fat decreased from 13 to 11% for both men and women.

 So, clearly, we were eating more calories, and more calories from carbohydrates.  Is it possible that, having been advised to eat more low-fat foods, we ate larger quantities of them and got fatter as a result?

A recent public opinion poll of 1,017 Americans aged 18 or older showed the reality of how the American public views carbohydrates and how the frenzy over low-carb diets is affecting how we eat.

 Today, 89% of adults are either trying to maintain their current weight or to lose weight. People on low-carb diets believe that carbohydrates-not calories-cause weight gain. Forty-seven percent believe that people can lose weight by cutting back on carbohydrates without cutting back on calories. Of those Americans on low-carb diets, 50% are eating more steak, 30% more bacon, and 21% more ham.  

The scientific literature is not clear about the effect of low-carb diets. In a recent trial of a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet compared with a low-calorie, high-carb, low-fat diet, initial weight loss was greater on the low-carb diet, but by 1 year, there were no differences in weight loss between the two diet groups. In the Steno-2 trial investigating benefits of multifactorial risk reduction interventions in people with type 2 diabetes, the more aggressively treated group had significantly fewer cardiovascular events despite consuming a high-carb, low-fat diet over the 8 years of the study. Parenthetically, in that study neither group lost significant weight.

Although the exact roles of dietary fat and carbohydrate as contributors to the current obesity epidemic aren’t clear, it is clear that the American diet contains excessive amounts of processed, high-fat, calorie-dense foods, such as those served in fast-food restaurants.

There is no clear evidence to support severe restriction of dietary carbohydrate as promoting either long-term health or weight reduction. Choosing fiber-rich carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as foods low in saturated, and preferably high in monounsaturated, fats seems a sane course to follow.

 

I lost 30 pounds in three months. I’m not an expert, but I do speak from experience. Most of this, I learned on my own or through close friends and family members.
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