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Nutrition Resource

The Lowdown on Low Carbohydrate Diets
by Elisa S. Zied, MS, RD, CDN

It seems that all the popular diet books these days, from Sugar Busters! and Protein Power to Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution ask dieters to forego carbohydrate-rich foods, especially breads, bagels, pasta, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and fruits and instead feast on protein-rich foods (many which are also high in fat) including bacon and eggs (without the hashbrowns or toast), and cheeseburgers (without the bun or french fries). Sounds good?

Before you join the millions of people who have given in to the low carb craze, please read the low down below on why it would be in your best interest to avoid these diets altogether if your goals are to 1) lose weight, 2) maintain your weight loss, and 3) be healthy.

These diets are a quick, temporary fix. Initially, you'll lose a lot of water weight (which can dehydrate you and make you feel lethargic and weak). You'll also lose your body's protein- muscle tissue- which is undesirable since your muscle is what keeps your metabolism revved up. And while you will lose some body fat on this diet, it's because you cut back on calories. The bottom line is that when you're dieting, you want to preserve as much muscle and lose as much body fat as you can. You can do this by modestly cutting back on calories and doing strength training and other muscle building exercises, not by adding protein and subtracting carb from the diet.

These diets don't provide you with adequate fuel for your body.
Carbohydrates are the preferred energy (calorie) source for the central nervous system (which includes the brain.) While not all carbohydrates are the same, whole grains, fruits and veggies give your body loads of nutrients including vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals. They also supply your body with fiber, which can help cut your cholesterol level and help keep your GI tract in good shape. Fiber can also help you manage your weight since it's filling. Many carbohydrate-rich foods are also great sources of phytochemicals, substances in food that can protect you against chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

How long are you willing to go without a bowl of pasta, a handful or two of popcorn or a bagel?
If you stick to one of these diets, you will lose weight. But when you add back foods, especially high carbohydrate ones (that attract water), you will regain weight (some water weight, some fat). If the diet seems unrealistic for you to follow for a lifetime, why not simply cut back on the foods you tend to overeat? If you just have a little less pasta, a smaller piece of high fat meat, and less dressing on your salad, you will lose weight. But at the very least, you'll still be enjoying your food. Food is here to nourish us, but it's also for us to savor. Moderation can go a long way if you just try!

I'm not selling a book, only common sense. My best weight loss/management advice is to eat a sensible diet and get off the couch! In the diet, emphasize whole grains, fruits and veggies, eat small amounts of protein-rich foods (especially lean meats, chicken, fish, and low fat dairy foods), small amounts of fat (canola or olive oil, for example), and even some candy (1/2 small bag) or a soda (sugar and all) each day. Do formal exercise a few days a week and walk/be as active as possible as often as possible (without getting hurt). This information is not new or exciting or glamorous, but it will work if improved health and long-term weight management are your goals.


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