Low-Carb Diets

To go along with the theme, I figured I would try to post about specific diets. I can’t guarantee that my subsequent posts will also be about diets, but they may be. My parents have returned to the South Beach Diet and just finished phase one on Mother’s Day. The Atkin’s Diet is similar to the South Beach diet, but from what I have read, the South Beach Diet is more focused on lean protein, whereas the Atkin’s Diet is more focused on any protein (including lots, and lots of bacon). Regardless, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to low-carb, high-protein diets.

As I said in my last post, diets don’t work – yes, they work at initial weight loss, but if the habits are not sustainable, they will not work to keep off weight long term. Calories are calories and excess calories are stored as fat, regardless of what kind they are.

While our country is obsessed with the number on the scale, there are many other better biomarkers that help us judge our health. Research has shown that diets high in saturated and trans-fat can increase “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and decrease “good” cholesterol (HDL).

  • Foods like bacon, sausage, brats, and ground beef are all high in saturated fat. These foods are the foods many people are excited to be able to eat when going on the Atkin’s diet, so while you may lose weight on the Atkin’s diet, you may actually be less healthy.
  • It is inconclusive as if whether eating cholesterol really affects our cholesterol levels – I do not think that it plays as large of a role as saturated and trans-fat do. However, where there is cholesterol, there is often saturated fat, so by cutting down on saturated fat you may be indirectly cutting down on cholesterol.

100-150 grams of carbohydrates are required daily to supply energy to the brain. Yes, you can survive for a few weeks on a limited carbohydrate diet, but your body will not be happy with you if you go any longer.

Protein is made up of two parts: an amino group that is used for protein synthesis and a carbon skeleton that is used for energy, fatty acid synthesis, and cholesterol synthesis.

  • Our bodies need a minimum of 30 grams per day for synthesis. When the protein is broken up, the amino group (N) is used by organs. When we consume more protein than we need, the excess N is sent to the kidneys to make urea, which is excreted in the urine. When there is a lot of urea, it can be difficult for our kidneys to handle and over time can actually cause damage.
  • After the N is removed and the carbon skeleton is left, the carbon skeleton is used for energy, or to make fatty acids, ketones (which some organs can use for energy), or cholesterol. Regardless, once our needs are met, the carbon skeleton will be stored as fat.

Not all carbs are created equal. There are complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates

  • Simple carbohydrates are sugar. Natural sugars (like what is in an apple) are actually very healthy. Yes, they are sugar, but they contain fiber which help decrease absorption and increase satiety.
  • Simple carbohydrates that should be consumed in moderation are those that are added to foods (i.e. fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, granulated sugar). These are quickly absorbed and can cause spikes in blood sugar followed by rapid crashes. When these are in high-fiber foods, the spike in blood sugar is not as pronounced as when they are in refined flour products (i.e. cakes and cookies).
  • Complex carbohydrates are those that have longer chains, which means they take longer to be absorbed. Fiber is an excellent complex carbohydrate that promotes weight loss. There are two kinds of fiber (soluble and insoluble) which I won’t get into now. Regardless,they are both good for you and when you eat them with a meal they create bulk that helps fill you up sooner. This can also decrease the absorption of sugars and food, helping your feel fuller sooner.

Remember, our bodies are smarter than we will ever be. If you are going to do a low-carb diet to get a jump-start on your new healthy lifestyle then I would suggest to meet with a dietitian. I personally do not agree with the first two weeks of these low-carb diets because they are restrictive and I do not think we should be restrictive with our eating. However, the emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats in the second and third phases of the South Beach Diet are positive messages. I believe the third and fourth phases of the Atkin’s diet also bring these into play, so this is also positive.

Remember, our health is what is important, not the number on the scale. Always think about the big picture and figure out how you can make a positive lifestyle change that is sustainable.

Here is the carb count of some common foods:

  • 1 baked potato: 43 grams
  • ¼ cup dry brown rice (½ c cooked): 35 grams
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread: 22 grams
  • Banana: 27 grams
  • 1 cup Reduced fat chocolate milk: 26 grams
  • 1 cup Corn, frozen: 25 grams
  • 1 apple: 19 grams
  • ¾ cup sweet potato: 18 grams
  • ½ cup red potatoes: 18 grams
  • 1 cup skim milk: 12 grams
  • ½ cup peas: 11 grams
  • ¼ cup cashews: 11 grams
  • 1 cup strawberries: 11 grams
  • 2/3 cup red onions: 7 grams
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter: 6 grams
  • ½ cup carrots: 6 grams
  • 2/3 cup green beans: 6 grams
  • ¼ cup peanuts: 5.5 grams
  • 1 ½ cup lettuce, romaine:
  • 2/3 cup zucchini:
  • ¼ cucumber:
  • 1 oz mozzarella cheese:

Addendum: I forgot to mention that it is not physically possible to lose 15 pounds of body mass in 2 weeks. You must burn 3500 calories to lose 1 pound, so you would need to burn 52,500 calories in 2 weeks to really lose 15 pounds. What is happening is your body is breaking into your glycogen stores for energy. Glycogen is the carb store in your body. When glycogen is broken down for energy, water is released. This is where most of the weight loss comes from. This would be detrimental for an endurance athlete, because glycogen as the energy source used during cardio exercise.

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