Health is one of the most common talks today and the biggest concern every common man have. Together with the changing culture of globalization, fast food culture is also growing that has resulted in serious health problems such as obesity, diabetics, cardiovascular diseases etc. Even though fast food restaurants provide a quick, cheap and filling meal, these are often items which are high in fat, calories and sugar. At the same time these are low in vitamins, minerals and fiber that are necessary to make the balanced nutrition.
It is a well known fact that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. However, it is also a fact that today most of the children, adults and elderly people lead a sedentary life that does not involve the burning of the accumulated energy. This results in the conversion of carbohydrates into fats that are responsible in increasing the body weight. A low carb diet or the low carbohydrate diet is a weight-loss diet that is mainly intended to restrict the intake of specific foods. For instance, a low carbohydrate diet restricts the intake of carbohydrate.
It is defined as follows: “A low carb diet restrict caloric intake by decreasing the consumption of food that is rich in carbohydrates. In general in such a diet carb is reduced to 20 to 60 g per day and increase the intake of protein and fat in order to balance the calorie intake (Last and Wilson 1942–8).
Importance of Low carb diet
This low carb diet was first used by William Banting in 1862 who is among the pioneer to successfully lost weight by developing a targeted diet. This diet is also sometimes known as the Atkins Diet. The basic principle behind this diet is the link between burning up of carbohydrates and blood sugar levels and hormone production. As it is a well known fact that maintenance of the blood sugar levels in the human body is of great significance for a healthy life (Groves n. pag). The two main hormones controling blood sugar levels are the insulin and the glucagons that are produced in the pancreas. Insulin lowers blood sugar levels and glucagon raises blood sugar levels. In a low carbohydrate diet program, the high carbohydrate foods are replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of proteins, fats, and/or fiber.
Even though it is a good idea to restrict the high intake of carbohydrate, it should not be totally avoided. Foods such as grain products, vegetables and fruit, milk and milk products, meat and alternatives such as legumes are all carbohydrate rich food. However these are also foods that have important vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, iron, calcium, folic acid, potassium, and magnesium that are vital for a healthy life. Hence, removing carbohydrates from diet can cause a deficiency for vitamin and mineral (Hall et al. n. pag). Additionally, foods such as whole grain breads and brown rice are a source of carbohydrate at the same time they are an important source of fibre. Fibres help in reducing cholesterol and also improve bowel function, and promote blood sugar control (The National Academy of Sciences).
Risks of low carb diet
Low carbohydrate diets allow very low amounts of carbohydrates – typically less than 20% of total calorie intake daily. Thus, individuals have a higher intake of fat and protein. However, there are other problems that are associated with it. For instance, a diet high in fat particularly more than 35% of total daily calories and especially higher in saturated and trans-fat, will increase the risk of heart disease and stroke (Sacks 13S-24S). A good diet to lower the risks of heart disease and stroke include eating a high-fibre, lower-fat diet, eating several servings of vegetables and fruit per day.
Today, there is a growing consciousness among people on weight gain. Obesity is a global epidemic. The long-term safety of carbohydrate-restricted diets is still a subject of controversy. A low carbohydrate diet tends to encourage increased consumption of animal products that often contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. This may result in unfavorable changes in serum lipid levels and increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
Several professional organizations including American Heart Association have cautioned against the use of low-carbohydrate diets (St Jeor et al 1869-1874). A low-carbohydrate diet tends to have a lower dietary glycemic index and glycemic load than a high-carbohydrate diet. In a 10-year prospective analysis of the Nurses’ Health Study, Liu et al. found a relative risk of coronary heart disease of 1.98 (95% CI, 1.41 to 2.77) for the comparison between the fifth and the first quintile of dietary glycemic load (Liu et al 1455-61).
In conclusion, it can be said that each and every person has a different need of diet. Even though weight gain or obesity is a cause of concern all over the world, it is mainly linked to the over consumption of high carbohydrates, high fat, high calorie foods. A low carbohydrate diet is not a complete answer for this problem. It may result in a short term gain for those individuals who wish to lose weight, but in a long run it may result in serious problems such as heart diseases, cancer, and even unhealthy bones. A healthy and safe way to lose weight or maintain a good body shape is by having a healthy balanced diet together with moderate physical activity. Dieting alone may cause serious deficiency in an individual which is an unhealthy practice.
Groves, B. William Banting: Father of the Low-Carbohydrate Diet Weston A. Price Foundation. 2003. Web.
Hall K., Martino R., Ratner S., Clarke C., Yong M., Whitham D. and Larrio C. Dietitians of Canada. Beyond the low-carb hype – Should I try a low-carbohydrate diet to lose weight? Created for the Canadian Health Network by Dietitians of Canada Diabetes, Obesity and Cardiovascular Network Executive. 2004.
Last, A.R. and Wilson, S.N. Low-carbohydrate diets. Am Fam Physician (2006) 73 (11): 1942–8.
Liu S., Willett W.C, Stampfer M.J, et al. A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women. Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 71:1455-1461.
Sacks F.M. and Katan M. Randomized clinical trials on the effects of dietary fat and carbohydrate on plasma lipoprotein and cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Medicine (2002);113 (Suppl 9B):13S-24S.
St Jeor S.T., Howard B.V., Prewitt T.E., Bovee V., Bazzarre T. and Eckel R.H. Dietary protein and weight reduction: a statement for healthcare professionals from the nutrition committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation 2001;104:1869-1874.
The National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). (2002).