Low carb: the low carbohydrate diet.
Healthy and slim thanks to fewer carbohydrates. This is the promise of a low-carb diet. But what is actually behind it? We explain.
Low carb refers to a form of nutrition in which the intake of carbohydrates is restricted to a greater or lesser extent. The method aims to reduce body fat and define the body. In particular, sugar and starch products are avoided: bread, pasta, rice, or potatoes. The amount of carbohydrates still allowed differs depending on the low-carb diet.
Carbohydrates: the primary nutrient in our diet
Carbohydrates are the primary nutrient of our diet. They provide around 4 kcal per gram and are mainly found in sugars (mono- and disaccharides) and starches (polysaccharides). But they are also found in legumes, milk, yogurt, fruits, vegetables, honey, and all sugared foods.
The most important facts about carbohydrates
Low carb diet: sense or nonsense?
The idea behind low carb
Carbohydrates are primarily energy suppliers for our bodies. The Swiss Society for Nutrition recommends that carbohydrates cover 45 to 55% of the daily energy intake. In a low-carb diet, this proportion is reduced.
Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscle cells. When the storage is full, the body turns the carbohydrates into fat. An increase in fat is usually undesirable. That is why low carb seems to be a sensible diet. The idea behind low carb: too many carbohydrates lead to weight gain. A reduction in carbohydrates causes the body to change its metabolism – just like fasting. Instead of carbohydrates, it now breaks down fats and uses them as energy suppliers.
The different low carb diets
Various diets are based on the principle of low carb. The keto diet, the Atkins diet, and the Paleo diet are among the well-known ones.
The ketogenic diet
The keto diet stands for low carb and high fat. Therefore, carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, bread, or rice are taboo. Fruits are also rarely on the menu, as they contain a lot of fructose. On the other hand, Fats should cover more than half of the daily nutrient intake. Popular foods on the keto diet include fatty fish, meat, eggs, and low-carbohydrate vegetables such as zucchini or broccoli.
Good to know: Our body constantly needs energy. If it lacks sugar from carbohydrates, it likes to attack its fat reserves. So it produces a sugar substitute from the stored fat. These are called ketone bodies. Hence the name of the diet.
The Atkins diet
Fats and proteins are allowed in the Atkins diet without restrictions. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be eaten sparingly. Thus, low-carbohydrate foods such as salad and vegetables are allowed. Protein sources such as meat, fish, eggs, and full-fat dairy products complement the menu.
The Paleo diet
The Paleo diet is also known as the Stone Age diet. It is based on the dietary style of our ancestors. Allowed foods include nuts, berries, dried fruits without added sugar, meat, fish, vegetables, and fresh fruits. Processed convenience foods, classic sweets, fast food, and cereals are prohibited. Thus, the diet automatically contains few carbohydrates and many proteins.
The quantity and quality of carbohydrates are crucial
It makes sense to adjust the energy intake to individual needs. However, carbohydrates should not be completely dispensed with even with a low energy requirement. After all, they are indispensable for the body. Glucose, also known as dextrose, is the only source of energy for our brain and red blood cells.
A food rarely contains just one nutrient but always includes a whole spectrum of them. For example, starchy foods such as grains and legumes provide carbohydrates, essential vitamins, and minerals. Ideally, they also offer a significant amount of dietary fiber. The rule is the quantity and quality of carbohydrates that make the difference. Please don’t go overboard with pasta and the like, but don’t eliminate them from your plate. For example, make more use of whole grains. The dietary fibers in whole grains provide lasting satiety and also regulate digestion. And make sure that the carbohydrates are rich in dietary fiber and have been processed as little as possible. Here, the glycemic index and glycemic load provide guidance.
What the glycemic index and glycemic load mean
The Atkins diet is considered the forerunner of low-carb diets. It was developed in the 70s by cardiologist Robert Atkins and made a comeback in the 90s.
This diet is divided into four phases, in which the carbohydrate intake is precisely defined. For example, only 20 grams of carbohydrates are allowed per day during the two-week introductory phase. In the following, this amount is slowly increased. In the fourth phase, it concerns holding its weight – this phase can be understood as a lifelong nourishing way.
Fish, meat, eggs, and cheese are mainly on the menu in the Atkins diet. But vegetable fats and low-carbohydrate vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, or zucchini are also allowed. To ensure the intake of vitamins and minerals, dietary supplements are used. As Atkins emphasizes in his book, exercise and calorie counting are not required.
Evaluation of the Atkins diet
The diet is comparatively radical, entirely one-sided, and usually accompanied by a significant change in eating habits. In the process, fiber, vitamins, and minerals traditionally come short. Possible side effects are ravenous hunger and bad breath, but malnutrition is also a risk.
Regarding the effectiveness of this diet, studies have come to different conclusions. However, most experts agree that the Atkins diet is anything but healthy: too much protein and animal fats increase the risk of developing hypometabolic disorders or cardiovascular diseases. People with diabetes, in particular, should keep their hands off this diet: According to study results, the Atkins diet can lead to life-threatening ketoacidosis in them.
Also, a pioneer of the Low Carb parliamentary allowance is the South Beach Diät – and also goes back to a heart specialist. This diet involves eating three main meals, two snacks, and a dessert throughout the day. Losing weight is supposed to happen in three phases. While carbohydrates are almost completely avoided in the first phase, and the focus is on lean meat and fish, carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GLYX concept) are also allowed later. This index is intended to estimate how quickly a food causes the blood sugar level to rise.
In general, this is more about avoiding certain carbohydrates, such as potatoes, sugar, or products made from wholemeal flour (also known as white flour), such as bread and pasta. On the other hand, other carbohydrate-containing foods, such as whole-grain bread or fruits and vegetables, contain carbohydrates, are allowed. The type and amount of proteins and fats are also crucial in this diet. Thus, vegetable fats are preferred over animal fats. Light exercise is recommended with the South Beach diet, but it is not essential.
Evaluation of the South Beach diet
Unlike the Atkins diet, carbohydrates are not demonized across the board in the South Beach diet, but their quality is also emphasized. The selection of foods is more in line (though not completely) with common recommendations regarding healthy carbohydrates and fats and the proportion of vegetables in a healthy diet. A variety of recipes allows for a more varied diet, but all dishes must be freshly prepared, and some require advanced cooking skills.
Experts also complain about a lack of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in this low-carb diet, especially in the rather radical phases 1 and 2. Therefore, these phases should only be used for a short time. Phase 3, however, is predominantly viewed positively by experts, significantly since it can help to learn healthy eating habits. However, scientific evidence of its effectiveness is lacking, and the underlying GLYX concept is controversial.
The GLYX diet is a further development of the aforementioned low-carb diets. Here carbohydrates are not entirely forbidden but are divided into “good” and “bad.” This classification is made with the help of tables based on the so-called glycemic index (GLYX or GI). This value indicates how quickly the blood sugar level rises after consuming the respective food. When blood glucose levels rise quickly, a more significant amount of the hormone insulin is released, promoting cravings. In addition, insulin ensures that sugar from the food is transported away into the cells – proponents of the diet assume that insulin thus promotes the formation of fat deposits.
Therefore, preference is given to foods with a low glycemic index on the menu, for example, whole grain products, fruit, and legumes. Any quantity of these may be eaten, which should help you lose weight without starving. A high GI has, for example, lemonade or mashed potatoes.
Evaluation of the GLYX diet
The glycemic index is significant for people with diabetes. However, even more critical in this context is the glycemic load (GL) because this also includes the number of carbohydrates contained and thus allows a statement about the insulin requirement triggered – in contrast to the GI.
Scientists, therefore, consider the concept of the glycemic index to be oversimplified. They also believe that too much importance is attached to insulin for weight loss. Nevertheless, the study situation is contradictory, and thus some studies certify the GLYX Diät positive effects, particularly with diabetes type 2. Positively, it concerns a relatively moderate Diät, which promotes balanced nutrition. However, some valuable foods are also eliminated from the menu and the proportion of fat and protein is considered too high.
The LOGI method also initially focused on the glycemic index because LOGI initially stood for “Low Glycemic Index.” Originally, the LOGI method was not a short-term diet but a permanent form of nutrition, with the help of which the blood values should be improved. In the meantime, however, the concept has been further developed into the LOGI diet, and the abbreviation now stands for “Low Glycemic and Insulinemic Diet”, which on the one hand draws the focus away from the controversial glycemic index and at the same time places greater emphasis on the importance of insulin secretion. There are different variants of the LOGI diet, which can be combined with interval fasting or formula diets, among others.
Similarly, as with the GLYX diet, the selection of the permissible food also takes place based on tables and a pyramid. This shows which foods should be eaten and how often. Sugar and sweeteners are taboo. Processed cereals, whole grain products, and fiber-rich foods should be eaten only rarely – protein-rich foods and low-sugar fruit and starch-free vegetables, on the other hand, form the basis. In addition, sport also plays an important role.
Evaluation of the LOGI diet
The LOGI diet (as an improved form of the LOGI method) is neither strict nor radical but a moderately low-carb diet in which carbohydrates make up about 25 to 30 percent of the daily calorie intake. It indeed finds supporters in the medical field, especially in connection with diabetes or obesity, i.e., the therapy and prevention of insulin resistance. Nevertheless, people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes mellitus should consult their doctor before starting such a diet.
According to studies, this diet can help people lose weight. Despite low carbohydrate and calorie intake, the foods are selected so that they are nevertheless filling. Only the restriction of whole grain products is seen critically by nutritionists. The special: This low-carb diet is even suitable for vegetarians.
The Montignac method is similar to the GLYX diet and the LOGI method. Also, the concept of Michel Montignac evaluates carbohydrate-containing food after their glykämischen index, thus their effect on the blood sugar mirror.
According to this, white bread, rice, cooked carrots, and potatoes are not recommended, while dairy products, certain types of fruit, and even dark chocolate may be eaten. In addition, precise rules are defined as which foods may be combined with which amounts of fat and protein – the type of fats (multiple or monosaturated or unsaturated fatty acids) is also considered. The diet is divided into two phases: losing weight and a stabilization phase.
Evaluation of the Montignac method
Critics view the Montignac diet somewhat skeptically because it also provides for a lot of fat and protein, which in the long run can lead to damage to the kidneys. Similarly, as with the GLYX Diet it is besides criticized that the significance of the glycemic index in this diet is attached to high meaning. Because this changes by the combination of different food and cannot be regarded thus isolated or added. Also, the rules of this diet are considered quite complicated, which can make it difficult to follow.
A comparatively new variant of the low-carb diet is the keto diet or ketogenic diet. This involves almost entirely doing without carbohydrates and instead focusing on a high-fat diet. It is virtually a No-Carb-Diet because coal hydrates should make only five percent of the daily food. By the lack of coal hydrates, the body changes the energy metabolism over to the so-called Ketose and thus the increased burn of fat.
Instead of carbohydrates, proteins, and above all, fats land on the plate. Depending on the diet plan, fat should make up between 60 and 90 percent of the daily diet. The fat comes from meat, dairy products, fatty fish, vegetable oils, and avocados. Although fruit is otherwise taboo, only a few berries are allowed.
Evaluation of the keto diet
Studies suggest that the ketogenic diet can have therapeutic benefits in various diseases, for example, epilepsy. However, it should be carried out exclusively under medical supervision for this purpose.
Lousy breath, fatigue, or nausea are still among the minor side effects of this diet. A risk that should not be underestimated is, above all, ketoacidosis, an over-acidification of the blood. In addition, experts warn that this diet could promote the development of insulin resistance, gout, and cardiovascular disease. Finally, as with all omission diets, there is also a risk of deficiency.
So the keto diet may be suitable to support the treatment of certain diseases. But as long as it has not been sufficiently researched, it should only be used – if at all – under the supervision of a doctor. Other methods are better suited for losing weight because this diet is associated with significant health risks.
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