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March 21, 2019

Low carb diets work for weight loss - that's a scientifically proven fact.

Countless scientific studies have proven the efficacy of low carb diets - such as the ketogenic diet - on several health fronts (1, 2, 3, 4).

These studies have shown that low carb diets have better metabolic, cardiovascular, neuroprotective, and weight loss properties compared to low fat diets (1, 2, 3, 4).

But, what exactly is a low carb diet?

The term ‘low carb diet’ is difficult to define as there is no consistent definition.

For someone who is consuming 2,000 calories per day, a very low carb diet can be defined as a diet where carbs count for 4 - 14% of the total caloric intake (1).

Similarly, moderately low and moderate carb diets area those where carbs count for 30 - 40% and 40 - 65% of the total caloric intake respectively (1).

Amount of Carbohydrate

Definition

2,000 Calorie

1,500 Calories

1,200 Calories

Very Low

21 - 70 g/day

4 - 14% of energy

6 - 19%

7 - 23%

Moderately Low

30 - 39.9% of energy

150 - 200g/day

113 - 149g/day

90 - 120g/day

Moderate

40 - 65% of energy

200 - 325g/day

150 - 245g/day

120 - 195g/day

High

> 65% of energy

> 325 g/day

> 245g/day

> 195g/day

* Dietary classification of low carb diets (Source Rosett et al. 2013)

This article will walk you through the 4 most important reasons as to why low carb diets are effective for weight loss.

4 Reasons Why Low Carb Diets Work

  1. Low Carb Diets Give You a Metabolic Advantage

    Eating a diet low carb diet can give you a tremendous metabolic advantage.

    Here’s why.

    Eating a low carb diet means your diet is low in carbs but high in proteins and fats - as in the ketogenic diet.

    Sugars are the richest source of energy as they are readily broken down.

    When you are eating a diet rich in proteins and fats, you are basically depriving your body of sugars. In an attempt to keep your body sugar levels up, your body starts to break down fats and proteins.

    However, this conversion is not very efficient.

    When your body is breaking down proteins and fats, it produces energy intermediate called ketones. In this process, your body wastes away a lot of energy - which is something to your benefit (5).

    In simple words, what this means is that during the breakdown of fat and proteins, a lot of energy gets lost in the form of processes like heat dissipating out our body.

    ketogenic diet reduced carb intake and caused an increased liver production of ketone bodies

    * With reduced carb intake, your liver goes into a state of ketosis or ketogenesis where it starts producing ketone bodies for body tissues to utilize (Source Paoli et al. 2015).

    Another benefit of low carb diets is their higher Diet-Induced Thermogenesis (DIT) values.

    When you eat something, your body has to utilize calories to break down and digest the food. This is termed as Diet-Induced Thermogenesis.

    For a high carb diet, the DIT is ~5-10%. The DIT for a high protein diet is 15-30% (6).

    This means is that your body spends almost 3 times as many calories in an attempt to breakdown proteins than carbs.

    This increase in energy consumption also shows up as an increased Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

    BMR is the amount of energy your body spends while doing body day-to-day activities (excluding any major physical activity).

    Research suggests that individuals consuming a 29% protein diet had their BMR raised by 891 kJ/d (6).

    Bottom Line: A low carb diet gives you metabolic advantage by promoting ketogenesis and increasing BMR.

  2. Low Carb Diets Reduce Insulin Levels

    Insulin is a hormone that controls your body levels of glucose.

    An increased level of insulin causes several major issues.

    When you keep eating a high carb diet for far too long, your body initially copes with the increased sugar supply by increasing insulin levels.

    Initially, this works fine but after some time your body tissues stop responding to the effects of insulin, something termed as ‘insulin resistance’ (7).

    High insulin levels and insulin resistance can have some major consequences.

    This leads to an increased risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, higher risk of heart attacks and heart issues, hormonal problems, and even increased risk of cancers (7).

    When you are on a low carb diet, such as a ketogenic diet, your body is not overloaded with sugars.

    As a result, your pancreas does not have to overwork to release more and more insulin. Also, your body tissues become more responsive to the secreted insulin, that is, increased insulin sensitivity (5, 7).

    Blood levels

    Normal Diet

    Ketogenic Diet

    Glucose (mg/dL)

    80 – 120

    65 – 80

    Insulin (μU/L)

    6 – 23

    6.6 – 9.4

    * Table illustrating insulin levels following a normal and a ketogenic diet (Source Paoli et al. 2015)

    Bottom Line:A number of health benefits of a low carb diet can be explained by its ability to reduce insulin levels and promote insulin sensitivity.

  3. Low Carb Diet Promotes Satiety

    The ability of a low carb diet to promote satiety is perhaps the biggest reason for most of its health benefits.

    Satiety is the state of feeling full after eating a meal, with a supressed appetite.

    The satiety you get with a reduced intake of food leads to lower caloric intake as well.

    There are several explanations as to how low carb diets help control appetite.

    One possible explanation is that low carb diets generally have higher protein content.

    In one research, scientists noted that eating proteins before a meal can lead to a significant reduction in the total caloric intake (8).

    Low carb diets are more effective than low fat diets in suppressing cravings for sweets, fatty, and junk foods as shown in the graph below (9).

    caloric intake and protein consumption graph* Graph showing caloric intake following protein consumption (Source Samra et al. 2011)

     low carbohydrate and low fat diet graph

    * Graph showing that Low Carbohydrate Diet (LCD) is superior to Low Fat Diet (LFD) in reducing cravings for fast food, carbs, sweets, and fats (Source Martin et al. 2011)

    Also, low carb diets have a significant effect on your hunger hormones.

    A research conducted at the University of Melbourne found that weight loss leads to a considerable increase in hunger promoting hormones like ghrelin and subjective appetite scores.

    However, this changed if the subjects were on a ketogenic diet. Ketogenic diet leads to a significant reduction in subjective appetite and ghrelin levels (10).

    Bottom Line: Low carb diets have positive impact on appetite. These diets suppress hunger and ghrelin levels and promote the levels of satiety promoting hormones.

  4. Low Carb Diets are Less Addictive

    Low carb diets automatically cut out a lot of addictive foods.

    These include sugary treats, fizzy drinks, sodas, junk foods, candies, fast food, pizza, burgers, chips, and a lot of other unhealthy snacks.

    These food types are full of unhealthy ingredients like carbs. In addition, these foods are highly addictive as well.

    Researchers have concluded that sugar is a highly addictive substance. It triggers the same neuronal response in the brain as other addictive substances (11, 12).

    Researchers also noted in experiments that if given a choice between ordinary and sugary food, the rats would always prefer sugary food no matter how starved they are (11).

    Low carb diets do not have such properties.

    Since these diets are low on in sugar, you do not develop an addiction to these foods and you do not get a ‘sweet tooth’ or have a need for a ‘sugar rush’ anymore.

    Bottom Line: Low carb diets eliminate one of the biggest food addictions, that is, sugar addiction. This helps you eat healthier

Conclusion

Some people refuse to believe that low carb diets work.

They continue to believe that any diet is just as effective in promoting weight loss and in its overall health benefits as long as the calories you are burning are more than what you are getting in.

But, the research has proven that low carb diets, like a ketogenic diet, do have an upper hand over other diet types.

A low carb diets mean you are consuming fewer calories. In addition, the food constituents are healthier and lead to superior health benefits.


References

  1. Judith Wylie-Rosett, et al. Health Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Where Should New Research Go? Curr Diab Rep. 2013 Apr; 13(2): 271–278.
  2. Tian Hu, et al. Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials. Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Oct 1; 176(Suppl 7): S44–S54.
  3. Maciej Gasior, et al. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behav Pharmacol. 2006 Sep; 17(5-6): 431–439.
  4. Antonio Paoli. Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Feb; 11(2): 2092–2107.
  5. Antonio Paoli, et al. Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship. Front Psychol. 2015; 6: 27.
  6. Dominik H Pesta. et al. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014; 11: 53.
  7. Gisela Wilcox. Insulin and Insulin Resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005 May; 26(2): 19–39.
  8. Rania Abou-Samra, et al. Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter. Nutr J. 2011; 10: 139.
  9. K. Martin et al. Change in food cravings, food preferences, and appetite during a low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Oct; 19(10): 1963–1970.
  10. Sumithran P1, Prendergast LA, Delbridge E, et al. Ketosis and appetite-mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jul;67(7):759-64
  11. Nicole M. Avena, et al. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008; 32(1): 20–39.
  12. Margaret L. Westwater, et al. Sugar addiction: the state of the science. Eur J Nutr. 2016; 55(Suppl 2): 55–69.



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