*[Image Goes Here]* As a Registered Dietitian I am in a position to offer people educated advice on weight loss and healthier eating. Often people say to me, “I’m trying to lose weight so I cut out bagels and pasta from my diet.” This causes me to cringe.
The latest fad diet is the low carbohydrate, high protein diet. Popular diet books such as “The Atkins Diet Revolution”, “Enter the Zone”, “Protein Power”, and “Sugar Busters” all advise people to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods. Their theory is that diets rich in carbohydrates may cause the pancreas to produce “excessive insulin” which increases fat storage. They claim high protein foods will not increase insulin release, resulting in weight loss. Unfortunately this theory cannot be supported by basic science and is actually more like “science fiction!”
Insulin is a normal body hormone responsible for the transport and storage of glucose (also known as sugar) in your body. Both carbohydrates AND protein cause the pancreas to release insulin. Eating the recommended number of servings of carbohydrate (as suggested by Canada’s Food Guide) does not mean your pancreas will produce “excessive insulin.” Carbohydrate is naturally broken down into glucose, which is used in your body as fuel. Glucose is not the evil toxin the diet books claim; in fact our body and brain rely on a constant supply throughout the day.
Low carbohydrate, high protein diets are designed to induce ketosis, an undesirable state that also occurs in uncontrolled Diabetes Mellitus and starvation (emphasis on starvation here). Our body makes ketones when the amount of glucose in the body is too low. Ketones build up and can lead to a potentially dangerous condition that can increase the risk for osteoporosis and development of kidney stones over time.
To make matters worse, typical low carbohydrate, high protein diets tend to emphasize higher-than-recommended amounts of dietary cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat; the foods proven to increase your risk of Heart Disease. As a double whammy, this diet suggests you eat low levels of foods known to protect against Heart Disease, Stroke and some types of Cancer, mainly high fibre foods.
Also keep in mind, avoiding or decreasing your consumption of entire food groups means you are not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need on a daily basis. It is no wonder that common complaints with this diet include fatigue, exhaustion, nausea, and constipation. Furthermore, your body will eventually crave carbohydrates making the diet difficult to maintain.
People who have tried the diet still ask, “well then, why did I lose weight?” Strictly following the recommendations of a low carbohydrate, high protein diet means you will lose weight partly because you are restricting calories (900-1700 kcal/day) and partly from dehydration. Ordinarily, 3 grams of water is stored with every gram of carbohydrate stored in the body. When carbohydrates are very limited, it can appear that up to a pound of “water weight” is lost each day. The weight loss is rarely long-lasting as once you eat carbohydrates again your body will store the vital water it needs (also giving you the false impression that eating carbohydrates made you gain back the weight!)
If you are trying to lose weight, speak to your Physician or a Registered Dietitian. In the meantime, try the method proven to work – make healthier dietary choices for life combined with regular exercise. For some healthy food ideas, take a look at Canada’s Food Guide and take note, it does not have a deep fried/beer/potato chip/chocolate food group.
Back to Nutrition Articles