The Science Behind Low Carbohydrate Diets
It seems these days, that whenever you look online for any kind of dietary advice, the words you hear over and over again are ‘low carb’ or ‘low carbohydrate’.
What Is A Low Carbohydrate Diet
Carbohydrates are groups of sugars, starch and certain fibers that are found in most of the everyday foods that we eat.
These carbohydrates are found in grains, root vegetables, sugar, and fruits.
All carbohydrates have one thing in common - they are complex sugars that are turned into a simpler sugar and used as energy in our bodies.
That’s great, but what happens when, say, on Western diet, we eat more calories than we need on a daily basis?
Through a complex signaling process, our body decides that it needs to store the excess energy that we ingest as fat.
All low carbohydrate diets aim to reduce the amount of carbohydrates, and therefore excess sugars, that we take in through our diet.
It’s important to note that ‘low carb’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no carb’
Types Of Low Carb Diet
Low carbohydrate diets reduce the calorific intake from carbohydrates, but all low carbohydrate diets are not created equally.
Some low carbohydrate diets stop there. Calorific intake is reduced and hopefully weight loss will follow.
Other low carbohydrate diets aim to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and to replace other food groups in the diet as well.
The Paleolithic Diet
The Paleolithic diet emulates the diet that our stone-aged ancestors may have been eating. This diet is a low carb diet.
Paleo diets also remove most modern strains of fruits and focuses on a few healthy vegetables, minimal amounts of nuts and berries and, crucially, only animal fats. The Paleo diet eschews most vegetable oils.
The Ketogenic Diet
The Ketogenic diet takes the science of low carbohydrate one step further. Exponents of the ketogenic diet say that our bodies do not need carbohydrates.
Usually, our bodies use glucose – a sugar – as fuel. This glucose is broken down in our cells and turned eventually into a substance called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.
However, scientists discovered in the early 19th century, that when we starve our bodies of carbohydrates, something amazing happens. Eventually, after using up all the stored reserves of glucose, our body ‘switches’ fuel, and starts to use fat for energy.
Your liver can turn fats into an alternative energy source called ketones. The body can use these ketones in a similar way to glucose.
Weight Loss And Low Carbohydrate Diets
Low carbohydrate diets, particularly paleo and ketogenic diets can lead to dramatic weight loss.
In the case of the ketogenic diet, the body will begin to use stored fats and metabolize these for energy.
You still need to be careful that you are not taking to many calories in your diet, and just reducing carbohydrate intake doesn’t necessarily mean that you are eating a healthy diet.
Both paleolithic and ketogenic diets, when properly used, either as a lifestyle choice or to lose weight, place a lot of emphasis on a healthy balance of vegetables, fresh fish and meats and animal fats.
Beware – there are many products marketed as ‘ketogenic’, or ‘paleolithic’ when in fact that is not the case.
Simply being low in carbohydrates does not mean that these products are associated with any particular diet.
You should consult your doctor before starting any significant dietary change such as a low carbohydrate diet.
You should also do your research, and be wary of product marketing.
There is a lot of good and bad advice regarding low carbohydrate diets on the web and you should be wary of anyone marketing products that make any health claims.