To carb or not to carb?

The media is littered with different diets and methods to stay in shape for beach season which in itself should not be seen as a bad thing. I think it is a smart idea to think about what you have on your plate as long as your choices are not unfounded. (Just remember, if someone is trying to convince you of something revolutionary, they are probably just trying to sell their product or service.)

One of the most popular alternative diets is the low carbohydrate diet which aims to reduce calorie intake by eating more protein and fat to reduce the need for carbohydrates. This will surely raise some eyebrows since the basic knowledge of nutrition is that eating more meat and especially saturated fat will lead to a higher risk in certain types of cancers and heart diseases (1).  But let’s check this out the pros and cons.Traditional-diet-low-carbohydrate.png

Here comes the scientific bit

There are clear signs that a low carbohydrate diet can help you lose weight faster compared to a traditional plate model. However, studies show that after a while a low carbohydrate diet’s weight loss effect will plateau and your weight will stay at a certain average. On the other hand, the traditional plate model offers the same effect although at a slightly slower rate. One might see a benefit in faster weight loss in a low carbohydrate diet in a 6-month period but the results after 12 months would not be statistically significant (2,3,4). Basically it means ”that persons on the low-carbohydrate diet maintained most of their initial weight loss, whereas those on the conventional diet continued to lose weight” (2).

A low carbohydrate diet might be less sustainable than a traditional diet (2). However, three separate studies have found that a low carbohydrate diet showed more favorable results in triglycerides and HDL cholesterol (1,2,4). Both of which are important risk factors in heart diseases (1,4).

Not all carbs are created equal

Complex carbohydrates (green vegetables, starchy vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grain options) are considerably healthier and contain more fibers than simple carbohydrates (processed sugar, syrups, candy, juice and sodas).

So which one should you consider for a long-term option for a healthier lifestyle?

A low carbohydrate diet may be a drastic change for some if you severely cut back in carbohydrate consumption and it may result in sugar binges if you fall of the wagon. However, it might also provide a faster physical change which can bring an additional motivational boost. One thing to keep in mind is that severely cutting back on any element in a diet may not give you everything that the body needs.

Low-carbohydrate diet has been directly connected with feelings of fatigue and low desire to exercise (5). A traditional well balanced diet does not suffer from this. Plus, it brings the same weight-loss benefits than a low-carbohydrate diet but at a slightly slower rate. A traditional diet also seems to be more sustainable in terms of a long-term solution for a healthy lifestyle (2,4).

The effect of low-carbohydrate diets compared to conventional diets in coronary disease prevention are still uncertain (4). As I mentioned earlier, in some cases, low-carbohydrate diet has had a positive effect in triglycerides and HDL cholesterol (the good kind). However, how big of a factor this is in preventing life threatening diseases is still uncertain. Additionally, a low-carbohydrate diet did not statistically show any benefits in blood pressure, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and insulin sensitivity (4).

One thing to remember is that diet is not the only factor in personal wellness and healthy lifestyle. Proper exercise and an overall active lifestyle are equally as important in staying healthy physically, socially and mentally.

I personally don’t believe in shortcuts or fads when it comes to exercise or nutrition – I need proof. It also seems that food has become a very serious subject in people’s lives. Everyone seems to want to fit in a certain box for one reason or another. And in doing so, they restrict themselves from one of life’s great pleasures.




  1. Bonnie J. Brehm, Randy J. Seeley, Stephen R. Daniels, and David D’Alessio. (2003) A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular risk Factors in Healthy Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 88, Issue 4.
  2. Linda Stern, MD; Nayyar Iqbal, MD; Prakash Seshadri, MD; Kathryn L. Chicano, CRNP; Denise A. Daily, RD; Joyce McGrory, CRNP; Monica Williams, BS; Edward J. Gracely, PhD; and Frederick F. Samaha, MD. (2004) The Effects of Low-Carbohydrate versus Conventional Weight Loss Diets in Severely Obese Adults: One-Year Follow-up of a Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 140, Number 10, Pages 778-786.
  3. Prof Arne Astrup, Thomas Meinert Larsen, MSc, Angela Harper, PhD. (2004) Atkins and other low-carbohydrate diets: hoax or an effective tool for weight loss? The Lancet, Volume 364, Number 9437, Pages 897 – 899.
  4. Gary D. Foster, Ph.D., Holly R. Wyatt, M.D., James O. Hill, Ph.D., Brian G. McGuckin, Ed.M., Carrie Brill, B.S., B. Selma Mohammed, M.D., Ph.D., Philippe O. Szapary, M.D., Daniel J. Rader, M.D., Joel S. Edman, D.Sc., and Samuel Klein, M.D. (2003) A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet for Obesity, The New England Journal of Medicine. 2003;348:2082-90.
  5. Andrea M. White, PhD, RD, Carol S Johnston, PhD, RD, Pamela D. Swan, PhD, Sherrie L. Tjonn, MS, RD, Barry Sears, PhD. (2007) Blood Ketones Are Directly Related to Fatigue and Perceived Effort during Exercise in Overweight Adults Adhering to Low-Carbohydrate Diets for Weight Loss: A Pilot Study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Volume 107, Issue 10, Pages 1792 – 1796.
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