Low-carb diets have been hugely popular for a number of decades now, with many people believing that a certain Dr Atkins, to be responsible for our understanding of how and why these diets are so effective when it comes to burning fat. Losing weight, or rather, losing fat, is most certainly not an easy task, and it is definitely not something that happens overnight. If we're truly serious about losing fat and getting into shape, we need to find a diet plan that not only works, but one that is also sustainable so that it allows us to stick with it for the foreseeable future, and to possibly even incorporate it as part of a healthy lifestyle. This is why low carbohydrate diets are considered so beneficial.
But, low carb diets are bad, aren't they? – In the past, before we truly understood how they worked, we were quick to point out that, surely any diet that allowed you to eat foods like sausage, egg, bacon, and cheese, as frequently as you liked, couldn't possibly allow you to lose weight. Some people ignored these sceptics and tried the diet anyways, only to find the fat literally melting off of their frames. Up next, the sceptics admitted that, although the diet did appear to burn fat, that it would instead come at a price, as surely those moderate/high fat foods, and protein rich foods couldn't possibly be good for us and would lead to conditions such as: hypertension, high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and possibly even heart disease and heart attacks. Low and behold however, individuals following these diets, had their bloods and other vitals tested before and after the diet, only to find that blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels had actually reduced, whereas HDL healthy cholesterol, had increased. Here's a look at everything you need to know about low-carb diets.
What are carbohydrates, and are they all the same? – Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, with the other two being fat and protein, that the human body relies on ordinarily for its energy production. They are made up of starches, fibres, and sugars, and are commonly found in fruits, some vegetables, milk-based products, as well as cereals and grains. Just to make matters a little more complicated, not all carbohydrates are the same. You've probably heard people talking about complex carbs, in the past, as well as, simple carbs. The main difference between these carbs, is nothing more than their chemical structures. Their chemical structures basically influence how quickly the body is able to break them down and absorb them. Simple carbs contain one or two sugar molecules, where as complex carbs contain three or more.
How do carbohydrates function within the body – Ordinarily, when carbs are consumed, the body utilizes a certain amount of them as energy, converting them into glucose molecules, whilst the remaining carbs are stored as body fat, to be used as an emergency energy source for a later date. Once these carbohydrates make their way into our bloodstreams however, our blood sugar levels increase, which then requires a hormone known as insulin, to be secreted via the pancreas. Insulin is basically there to help shuttle energy, sugar, and nutrients out of our bloodstreams and into our cells, as quickly as possible. Simple carbs are absorbed much quicker than complex carbs, which means that the insulin secreted will often not have chance to do its job correctly, which can result in insulin sensitivity, or even diabetes. The body uses carbohydrates as energy, due to the fact that carb molecules are much easier to break down and convert into glucose energy sources for the body. If we look at things from an evolutionary standpoint however, fat is actually the body's preferred energy source, which is why low carb diets are so effective.
How do low carb diets work? – Low carb diets require individuals to greatly restrict their daily carbohydrate consumption, with the main objective being fat loss. On average, we need around 250 – 350 grams of carbohydrates a day for our bodies to function correctly. By following a low carb diet however, we restrict our daily carb consumption to around 20 – 50 grams per day, which is obviously considerably less than the body is used to. By removing the body's preferred energy source however, the body panics and thinks that it is starving. For the first two or three days, you will feel awful – your head will hurt, you will feel tired, you will feel sluggish, and you will crave carbs like there is no tomorrow. If you get through this period however, something miraculous happens to you. Your body enters what is known as a ketogenic state, and falls into a state of ketosis. Special enzymes are secreted by the liver, which are known as ketones. These ketones then allow the body to use its body fat as a natural energy supply instead, just as nature intended. Once you enter ketosis, as long as you keep your carb consumption low, aiming for around 20 – 40 grams per day, you will remain in ketosis, which means that every second, your body will be burning fat for energy, instead of carbohydrates from foods and drinks that you consume.
What are the main benefits of low-carb diets? – There are many, many benefits associated with low carb diets, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Increased fat loss
- Increased visceral fat loss
- Enhanced muscle growth and repair
- More energy
- Less hungry
- Increased satiety
- Reduced harmful LDL cholesterol levels
- Improved healthy HDL cholesterol levels
- Stable blood sugar levels
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved major organ health and function
- Increased metabolism
- And more…