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The low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet

The Atkins diet and other low-carbohydrate diets are still popular. Understanding the concepts behind these diets will help you lose weight in a safe, responsible manner and avoid certain pitfalls. 

Force your body to burn fat

On a low-carbohydrate diet, your body is forced into burning its second choice for energy, fat. Normally, your body prefers to use carbohydrate for energy. Any time you eat carbohydrate-rich foods (starch, sweets, bread, etc.), your body first burns the carbohydrate for energy. Excess carbohydrates are then stored as glycogen (a form of sugar in the liver). Once your carbohydrate stores are full, extra carbohydrate is stored as fat. When carbohydrate calories are plentiful, your body never has to use its fat reserves for energy. Only when your carbohydrate intake is limited will your body reluctantly begin to burn fat.

The key to dieting success

Controlling your appetite is the key to controlling your calorie intake. When dieting, most people can't stand that "starving" feeling and quit after a very short time. Normally, foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, causing an increase in blood sugar, which triggers insulin secretion. Insulin pushes sugar from the bloodstream into your body's cells and liver and keeps the blood sugar stable. Simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, and most sweets get into the bloodstream too quickly, triggering a large release of insulin from the pancreas. This flood of insulin causes your blood sugar to drop quickly, triggering hunger and stress hormones to bring your sugar back up. If you try to lose weight with a high carbohydrate, low protein, low-fat diet, you will constantly be fighting insulin spikes and resulting hunger.

Low carbohydrate diet stops insulin spikes

A low carbohydrate diet helps you avoid unhealthy insulin spikes and that "starving" feeling. By eating more protein and even fat, you give your body calories that are digested more slowly. Protein and fat are not quickly converted into sugar in the body. As a result, insulin is secreted more slowly and your blood sugar and appetite remain more stable. Fat actually slows the emptying of food from the stomach into the intestine, helping you feel full longer. With a low carbohydrate diet, your chances of staying on the diet and successfully losing weight are much better than a high carbohydrate diet.

What are ketones?

Ketones are molecules that are left over in your body after burning fat. Normally, they are burned for energy as well. But when carbohydrate in your diet is scarce, they can build-up in your body as you burn more fat than usual. Ketosis is the medical term for a metabolic state where you have extra ketones in your body. Your degree of fat burning (or degree of ketosis) can be measured at home using a simple urine test. In pharmacies and drug stores, you can buy a paper strip that will change from pink to darker shades of purple with increasing amounts of ketones in the urine. No color change means you are not burning fat. By monitoring the amount of ketones in the urine, not only can you confirm that you are burning fat, but you can also make sure you are not overdoing it. Ketosis can be harmful if not controlled, especially for people with underlying medical conditions.

Is this diet for you?

Well, hundreds of thousands of people have already had great success on a low carbohydrate diet. This diet can be safe and very effective. It is easy to adhere to even when you are traveling or just eating out. Most importantly, people do not feel the constant craving for food that leads dieters to abandon their programs.

Be aware of these precautions

Although there are some potential problems with this type of diet, most can be avoided if you are warned ahead of time.

1.  Eating a high protein, high-fat diet without regard to the amounts of saturated or hydrogenated fat, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals is irresponsible. Although sometimes harder to find, foods without these harmful ingredients are widely available for healthy snacks and even complete meals.

2. This diet may not work for everyone. It's not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with severe kidney disease, gout, certain forms of kidney stones, or severe constipation. Also, if carbohydrate restriction is too severe, some people can easily become dehydrated, feel tired and even nauseated when in ketosis. If gradually increasing carbohydrate intake doesn't solve the problem, this may not be the diet for you

3.  If you take medications for almost any medical problem, you need to be monitored closely by your doctor. The substantial metabolic changes in your body could dramatically change your medication requirements.

4.  A low carbohydrate diet is a short-term solution to a lifelong problem. Most diets will allow for some carbohydrate, even up to 100 grams per day. Diets that recommend less than 10 grams of carbohydrate daily are unhealthy over the long term. Fruit, vegetables and whole grains provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that our bodies need. Short term, low carbohydrate diets may provide a good start to fat burning, but new patterns of eating and exercise must be established afterward or the fat will inevitably return.

The bottom line

A high protein, low carbohydrate, moderate fat diet, based on three small meals with 1 or 2 high protein snacks spread throughout the day, is an attractive option to burn fat in a healthy, muscle-sparing way.

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