Low-carbohydrate diets are a way to lose weight popularised by plans such as the Atkins diet. These plans replace carbohydrates‚ a staple in most balanced diets, with other sources of nutrients, like proteins. Undertaking a low-carbohydrate diet requires dedication, as well as a nuanced understanding of what effect it will have on your body. Before starting this or any other diet plan, you should consult a doctor or dietitian.
What carbs do
Carbohydrates are found in many common foods, such as pasta, dairy products, fruits and grains. Your body converts these carbohydrates into sugar, which provides energy. Since excess sugar is stored as glycogen, the low-carb theory is that avoiding carbohydrates lowers insulin levels compelling your body to burn excess fat for energy. According to the Mayo Clinic in the USA, however, research shows that weight loss from a low-carb diet does not necessarily have to do with sugar or insulin levels. Nevertheless, low-carb diets generally lead to weight loss.
When you aren't consuming as many carbohydrates, you still need energy, so carbohydrates are replaced with other foods. Adherents of the low-carb diet turn to meats, beans and nuts, using protein and fat to replace grains. According to the National Health Service, this displacement of carbohydrates with fats can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, if the diet is not properly balanced.
Exactly how much of a reduction in carbohydrates a low-carb diet entails varies. While a high-carb diet consists of taking in 50 to 70 percent of calories from carbohydrates, a low-carb diet usually restricts carbohydrates to 25 to 39 percent of calories. Some people have a higher sensitivity to carbohydrates, so their intake may be even less, while for others, a low-carb diet may be any plan that consists of fewer than 50 percent of calories from carbohydrates.
According to a 2010 study in "Annals of Internal Medicine", the death rate among people on a low-carb diet was 12 percent higher over two decades than people on a higher-carb diet. While this may seem to condemn low-carb lifestyles, the study reveals that it actually depends on how you replace carbohydrates in your diet. For example, people who replaced carbohydrates with protein and fat from vegetable sources were 20 percent less likely to die over the two-decade period than high-carb eaters. Those who replaced carbohydrates with red meat and processed meats, however, were 28 percent more likely to die of cancer and 14 percent more likely to die of heart disease than people on high-carb diets.
Despite their popularity for rapid weight loss, low-carb diets are difficult to maintain for long periods of time. According to a 2010 article in "U.S. News & World Report", people eventually develop intense cravings for carbohydrates, making these plans—which don't encourage a balanced diet—hard to stick with.