Are Low-Carb Diets Safe?
Most everyone has heard of the Atkins' diet by now - a diet where carbs are cut very low, while fat and protein is increased. And, while it might sound like the road to clogged arteries and weight gain, it has actually been proven to be a wildly successful diet plan. In several studies comparing low-fat diets to low-carb diets, those following low carb diets actually tend to lose more weight over the same period of time. Surprisingly, several 6- to 12-month studies also showed low carb diets successfully reducing cholesterol levels.
Across a multitude of studies, low-carb dieters demonstrated the ability to lose roughly twice as much weight as low-fat dieters in six to twelve month tests. There were examples of individuals regaining some of their weight during the progress, as well as a consistently high rate of drop outs due to the difficulty of maintaining such an extreme diet, but overall the low-carb diet was extremely successful for those who stuck to it. The low carb diet involves cutting out carbs that primarily come from grains and sugars, as well as all starches, and replacing them with an increase in protein and fat intake. A common myth about low-carb diets is that no vegetables are allowed, ever, which is untrue. In fact, the majority of carbs that low-carb dieters consume come strictly from vegetables, which are very strongly encouraged. Keep in mind this is a LOW carb diet, not a NO carb diet! Most low-carb dieters eat between 20 and 60 grams of carbs per day, almost all of which come from vegetables.
Despite the high protein and high fat allowed in the diet, low carb dieters actually tend to show lowered cholesterol levels after being on the diet for even just a few weeks. Cholesterol is a natural fatty substance that is produced by animals, including humans, and it is necessary for us to function. Since most of the cholesterol in our diets come from eating meat, you would think that consuming a lot of extra meat and other animal-fats would increase cholesterol, but quite the opposite seems to happen. This flies in the face of the common understanding that saturated fats will increase choloesterol, and has many scientists baffled. One current explanation is that, When your body ingests enough cholesterol from food sources, it cuts back on its own production, causing cholesterol levels to remain more balanced and normal. When cholesterol is cut out of the diet completely, however, the body tends to produce an over-abundance of its own cholesterol to make up the difference. Perhaps, in some bodies, this production of cholesterol is lacking proper regulation.
It is very important, however, to continue eating plenty of green, leafy vegetables while following a low-carb diet, as these are the primary source for many vital nutrients. Any low-carb diet that restricts these vegetables is not to be trusted. Atkins himself advised his patients to eat them freely, as much as desired in a day. Even low-carb dieters must get their carbohydrates from somewhere, and that somewhere is through an assortment of vegetables. In fact, when closely studied, many would agree that a low-carb diet is actually quite healthy, as it cuts out all refined carbohydrates (flour, sugar, starch) and replaces those with vegetable-based carbohydrates. So, yes, following a true low-carb diet is perfectly safe, if not superior to the amounts of refined and processed carbohydrates commonly found in the American diet.