Popularized in the early 1970s, the Atkins Diet and other low-carb diet plans offer dieters a plan to shed pounds by radically restricting what they eat. These diets have proven to be successful for many, allowing them to shed pounds no other diet plan would take off. However, using a low-carb diet requires careful monitoring because the effects on the body can be severe.
Under normal circumstances, you consume protein, carbohydrates and fats together in the food you eat, and your body uses these nutrients to power its internal processes. The American diet has become loaded with carbohydrates, however, and Dr. Atkins believed that this imbalance was behind the increase in obesity rates. A low-carb diet radically reduces the amount of carbohydrates consumed, often starting dieters on pure protein and fats.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for the body. When digested, they break down into glucose and other simple sugars and fuel cells, muscles and organs. Depriving the body of carbohydrates forces it into a state called ketosis, in which the digestive system converts protein and fat into glucose instead. If not carefully controlled, this can lead to muscle wastage. Low-carb diet followers must eat plenty of protein to prevent the weakening of their own muscle tissue.
One danger of the low-carb diet is that unless carefully monitored, it can lead to a major nutritional imbalance. Many restaurants and corporations promote products as being good for low-carb diets when in fact they may be extremely high in calories, fat and cholesterol. In addition, focusing on one type of food can lead to vitamin deficiency, requiring you to take supplements to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to remain healthy.
Another concern is that long-term studies of low-carb diets suggest they may increase health risks. Low-carb diets often lead to higher saturated fat and cholesterol consumption, and over long periods of time this can lead to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. According to a study by Dr. Frank Hu in the "Annals of Internal Medicine," people who followed a low-carb diet high in animal products had a 23 percent greater risk of death, 14 percent higher risk of heart disease and 28 percent higher risk of cancer over a 20-year period.
You can reduce the health risks of a low-carb diet somewhat by consulting with a doctor before making any lifestyle changes. A physician can help you choose the healthiest foods to include in your meal plan and help you avoid unhealthy pitfalls. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends sticking to heart-friendly fats and proteins, and supplementing with low glycemic index carbohydrates like beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables for complete nutrition.
- EurekAlert: High-Fat Low-Carb Diets Could Mean Significant Health Risk
- EurekAlert: Low Carb Diets Linked to Artherosclerosis and Impaired Blood Vessel Growth
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Low Carb Diets — The Right Way to Go?
- Women'sHealth.gov: Low Carb Diets Heavy on Meat May Raise Health Risks
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.