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An average elementary school student knows that carbohydrates provide instant energy, stored fats provide energy over longer durations of time and proteins are for building the cells, organ systems and the body itself. In addition we also learnt about micronutrients like minerals and vitamins for essential functions like generation of blood and vision. In societies where food is in abundance obesity is both a cosmetic and a genuine health problem. Dieting is a key step for weight control. However, there is no single dieting technique. What is good for the goose may not be good enough for the gander. In the absence of standardized methods, there hundreds of proprietary dieting techniques in the market.


Low carb diet, once almost synonymous with the Atkins diet has both proponents who swear by it and bitter critic. In general, the scientific community has been skeptical and some scientific bodies are openly against the concept of low carbohydrate diets.


What do believers say?


Diets that are rich in carbohydrate levels cause sharp surges in the blood sugar levels. In response to this, the body releases hormones like insulin into the bloodstream, which then act to bring down the sugar level. The net effect of this mechanism is to store excess energy as fats and this leads to obesity.


Foods are classified according to the level of blood sugar surge after their consumption. High glycemic index (GI) foods raise blood sugars to very high levels. Low GI foods are opposite. Most fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, oils are low GI whereas processed sugar, sweets, white bread etc carry a high GI. Persons who consume excess simple sugars with high GI are at risk of developing obesity, diabetes, the metabolic syndrome, heart disease and strokes.



In addition to obesity, there are other dangers of carbohydrate-rich diets. Higher blood levels of insulin & insulin-like hormones can also lead to other problems. There are no simplistic explanations but there seems to be a cause-effect relationship between diet, GI index, insulin levels, genesis of diabetes and atherosclerosis.


Low carbohydrate diets contain very little carbohydrates and high content of proteins and fats. Consumption leads to lower glucose surge in the blood. Consequently there no extra energy to be converted to fats, thus leading to anti-obesity effect. In addition, the believers advocate this diet for combatig diabetes and high triglyceride levels.


What do the critics say?


Most medical experts believe low carb diets as non-physiologic. Two major arguments are put forward: one, lack of adequate instant energy and many micronutrients is a feature of many low carb diets and two, excess of proteins and fats in the low-carb diets are frowned upon. Though over a period of time, many professionals – especially those who treat diabetes have advised their patients to restrict carbohydrates to some extent. But in general experts have generally criticized low-carb, high protein & fat-unregulated diets.


What’s new?


A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine compares three types of diets: a low-carb (20 grams of carbohydrate per day), a low fat diet (1500-1800 calorie diet with less than 30% energy coming from fats) and a more balanced mediterranean diet. This study showed that the low-carb diet produced the biggest weight loss and enthusiasts will be encouraged to note that none of the purported side effects were seen during the study period.


Obviously most western diets and many urban Indian diets have excess calories. The rise of modern epidemics of diabetes and heart disease in urban India may have to do something with this caloric excess. Low-carb diets, if proven completely safe maybe a preventive step.


Though not universally accepted yet as a physiological diet, low-carb diets are on the verge of capturing the physicians’ fancy with this study. Clearly, more clinical work is required so as to earn an official status to low-carb diets, certainly their advocates will be more confident now.


Cutting out carbohydrates maybe not as easy, especially in households where meat is not eaten or eaten on select days of a week. If not a stringent less than 20 gram carb diet is unfeasible, a more realistic moderate calorie restriction maybe the answer for our generation.


One Comment

  1. hmmmm.true…

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