I came across an interesting article on fad diets by Donald D. Hensrud, M.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program. The author speaks in particular about high-in-protein diets. It’s an older piece, but I feel it still has some interesting and relevant points.
High in protein or low in carbohydrate diets restrict carbohydrate consumption usually for weight control. Foods high in digestible carbohydrates (e.g. breads, pasta) are limited or replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of proteins and fats. Such diets are generally said to be ketogenic which means they restrict carbohydrate intake sufficiently to cause ketosis. Ketosis is a state in metabolism excessively converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies which can be used by the body for energy.
Some popular diets that share the principles of the low-carbohydrate diet are the popular Atkins diet which started it all plus a few others: the Zone Diet, the Protein Power Lifeplan, the Go Lower Diet and the South Beach Diet. The Low-carbohydrate diets have gained popularity in the 90’s following the publishing of the book “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution”. Other “doctors” soon jumped on the band-wagon and soon carbohydrates became the enemy.
But wait… Haven’t nutritionists been urging people to eat low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets for years? What gives?
Donald Hensrud offers:
Maybe some people took the low-fat, high-carb thing too far. After all, if you cut your fat intake but eat double portions of pasta, unlimited amounts of low-fat chips, and tons of low-fat-but-high-sugar yogurt, soda, and candy, you’re going to consume more calories. No matter what anyone says, calories still count. And if you haven’t lost weight on a “healthy” diet, it’s convenient to point to carbohydrates as the culprit.
Most of the current diets are based on a simple rational: Carbs increase blood sugar and insulin levels and insulin promotes weight gain. Therefore carbs are evil and you have to cut them down at all costs! Cutting back on carbs will drop your insulin levels and you’ll lose weight.
Trouble is, the reasoning is backward. Carbs do increase blood sugar and insulin levels, but only short-term. Donald’s theory is that the increase in total calories – not just the the carbohydrates are what leads to increased body weight and in turn higher blood sugar and insulin levels. Basically if you virtually eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, you’re almost certain to take in fewer calories.
So it seems calorie restriction is what it’s all about. If you eat less than you burn, your body will burn stored fat to make up the energy short-fall and you’ll lose weight.
In other words it’s the calories not the carbs
That is not to say that there is anything wrong with cutting back a few carbs, especially the simple carbohydrates such as sugar, sweets, potato chips, cakes etc. But the troubling fact is that if people can’t stick to their diet in the long run, they invariably end up regaining all the weight they lost (and often with interest). Even more worrying is the health aspect of some of the diets on the market. Some diets say no to fruits and vegetables which is just plain insanity given:
- An estimated one-third of all cancers are related to diet
- Fruits and vegetables are the good guys – science has proven we need to eat MORE of these types of food for maximum health
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and many other nutrients that researchers believe protect against cancer. It’s also pretty well agreed that other plant chemicals known as phytochemicals–lycopene in tomatoes, isothiocyanates in broccoli, genestein in soybeans, and allyl sulfides in garlic and onions, to name a few–also play a protective role.
Not all of the low-carb diets are so extreme mind you, but bear in mind that low-carb diets have been popularized without detailed evidence of their efficacy or safety. While they may help you lose weight in the short term, (most likely because the calorie deficit through eating fewer carbs), your long-term health may suffer.
Check out the full article here, it’s worth a read.