Low carb diet regimes have increased in popularity in recent years thanks to eating plans, such as Atkins and the ketogenic diet.
While cutting carbs can help you shift the pounds quickly and bring about other health benefits, you may also feel the nasty side effects of eliminating a whole food group from your diet.
Low carb diets
The ketogenic diet
The ‘ultimate,’ low carb diet involves far more than simply cutting out processed carbs, such as bread, rice and pasta. Popular low carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, require the banishment of nearly all carbs, including fruit and certain vegetables, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.
The science behind the ketogenic diet, which has been around for over 100 years, is based on low carbs and high fats, which adapt the body’s metabolism, forcing it into a ketogenic state that mimics starvation and helps shift fat. This diet is at the extreme end of low carb diets and shouldn’t be undertaken without speaking to your doctor first.
The science behind the ketogenic low carb diet
Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy, so it prefers this over other types of energy. Insulin is also produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it around the body. The trouble is that when your body uses glucose as its primary energy source, your fats are not needed, so they’re stored, which isn’t helpful if you want to lose weight and shift fat.
By lowering the intake of carbs your body is induced into ketosis, which is the natural state that your body adapts to help survive when food intake is low. Here you produce ketones, emerging from the breakdown of fats in the liver. When you overload your body with fats and take away carbohydrates, it burns ketones as the primary energy source.
The benefits of the ketogenic low carb diet
This type of low carb diet flies in the face of traditional nutritional advice thanks to its lack of carbs and abundance of fats. It has, however, been shown to encourage weight loss, sometimes very quickly but the longer-term results are still unclear, particularly in relation to cholesterol and diabetes.
For many years it’s been used as a medical intervention to help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy that don’t respond well to medication, and it’s been shown to have some success. While there’s evidence that the diet can help improve blood sugar control for people with type 2 diabetes and help general brain function.
The disadvantages of the ketogenic low carb diet
There are no ‘cheat days,’ on the ketogenic diet as it works by keeping your body in a state of ketosis, meaning that naughty slice of pizza could derail your whole eating plan. A long-term ketogenic diet is not associated with significant side effects, but bad breath, constipation, dehydration and electrolyte and micronutrient deficiencies are common complaints.
The lack of carbs could also lead to fatigue during exercise and longer recovery as muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel. More serious complications could include increased the chance of kidney stones, gallbladder problems and bone fractures, especially in children.
Menstrual irregularities can occur in women, with potential impact on fertility.
There are no studies directly monitoring the side effects of ketosis yet, so it’s too early to conclude that the diet is completely safe for everyone.
A balanced way to cut carbs
The NHS argues that an easier and more sustainable way to lose weight and reduce fat is through enjoying a healthy balanced diet. This could include carbs but see you opting for wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of starchy foods, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta and brown, wholemeal or higher fibre white bread.
These foods contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins and minerals than white varieties, helping to boost nutrients and encourage slower energy release.