As a Registered Dietitian, I want to guide you through the confusing world of dieting.  Let’s explore one of the most popular fad diets thousands of dietitians say isn’t going away any time soon.  The low carb diet, or Ketogenic, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, and Whole 30, gained popularity in the 90’s when the Atkins diet first emerged. Carbohydrates include breads, cereals, rice, pasta, starchy vegetables, fruit, milk, and yogurt.  As with all low-carb diets in which carbohydrates are restricted or eliminated, calories must come from an alternate source, i.e. fat and protein.   Your body uses carbohydrates as its preferred fuel for energy.  From carbohydrates, the body makes glucose, used for everyday activities, supporting appropriate blood sugar levels and providing a surge of energy in times of stress.  Carbohydrates provide the body with B vitamins, fiber, minerals, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and iron. B vitamins boost your immune system and protect babies from debilitating neural tube defects.  Fiber helps control weight by helping you feel fuller, longer.  Fiber maintains a healthy GI tract, controls blood sugar in diabetes and prevents diseases such as diverticulosis and cancer.  Calcium and vitamin D are necessary for strong teeth and bones.  Potassium controls muscles, including the heart and promotes new cell growth.  Iron prevents anemia and fatigue. If you restrict carbs, you miss out on a lot of important nutrients.  You can take a multi-vitamin but, when vitamins are isolated from their natural food sources, they aren’t absorbed as well.  Alternate foods contain often contain small amounts of these critical nutrients and are not considered good sources.  

What Happens To Your Body During One Year of Low-Carb Dieting

Initiating a low carb diet will jump-start weight loss in the beginning, but weight loss slows significantly after 6 months, as your brain begins to protect your body from what it interprets as starvation.  Remember, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel.  After six months of limiting carbohydrates, you’ll notice that all of a sudden, the scale isn’t budging! Your body is clinging on to everything you eat and won’t let go of its precious stores.  The following six months will result in very little weight loss, if any and likely even more restrictive eating from the frustrated dieter.   Aside from making yourself miserable, passing up the warm dinner roll and the side of pasta, you’re tired!  You’re finding it harder to peel yourself from the sheets in the mornings and you are starting to feel like you’d rather eat a bug than muster up the energy to get in 30-45 minutes of exercise.  You may start to avoid your friends and co-workers you’ve been bragging to, as you no longer have a good report.  Moreover, you’re in a really bad mood! These diets are overly restrictive of carbohydrates.  When you re-introduce carbs, your body will store them more efficiently and excess will become much harder to lose.  Your body is preparing itself for future starvation.  Incredible, right?  The innate and involuntary survival mechanisms of the human body leave me in awe of God’s creation!  Think back to the times when people actually had to hunt and forage for their food.  This same response helped people survive during times of famine.

If It is the Body’s Natural Response, It Can’t Be Bad, Right?

Aside from depriving your body of important nutrients as mentioned above, you’re causing unnecessary stress on your liver, kidneys, and heart.  In the last year, if you had spent your days watching portions, fast food intake, excess and empty calories such as sodas, cakes, cookies, candy, and fried foods you would have consistently and safely lost 1-2 lbs per week for the entire year!!  You’re fighting the inevitable.  You can’t avoid carbs forever and if you could would you want to?!  Remember how I told you that when you re-introduce carbs, your body will store them more efficiently and excess will become much harder to lose?  Your body is preparing itself for future starvation. 

The Take Away

Include at least 50% of your calories as carbs with at least half as whole grains and get moving!  You will lose the same amount of weight, cause no stress on your organs and been far happier! *Something you may not know:  Low carb diets are shown to increase fatigue, decrease motivation to exercise and cause general mood disturbances. 

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