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Low Carb Diets: Fabulous or Fad?

low carb diet

Low Carb Diets: Fabulous or Fad?

I’ve always been sceptical of any diet that deletes entire food groups, especially when it is being bandied about by celebrities. However, as a biological scientist I am acutely aware of the process of ’cause and effect’ and ‘action and reaction’. So, when I saw Thursday’s episode of Catalyst (Low Carb Diets: Fat or Fiction? ABC1), I was keen to see what new fad diet was going to be ushered upon us.

The episode featured research by exercise physiologist and Professor Tim Noakes, into how low carb diets can aid the treatment of Type II diabetes and obesity. But, could there also be benefits to the ordinary person?

South African Professor Tim Noakes believes that our overconsumption of carbohydrate has significantly contributed to the obesity we see now. The reason being that carbohydrates stimulate a hormone called insulin, which increases the body’s fat stores.

“The role of insulin in the body is to build fat. So if you’re consistently eating every three hours carbohydrates, what happens is you consistently have an elevated insulin concentration in your blood. What that does is it drives the excess carbohydrate into the fat cells and the fat cells now cannot release the fat. The brain somehow interprets this as that you’re starving. So three hours later you have to go and eat again. And that is why you get this repetitive eating behaviour in people who are eating carbohydrates.”

That makes sense to me.

Here’s some basics:

– Carbohydrates break down in your body to sugar
– There are sugars in natural and healthy foods as well as processed foods e.g. fruit, rice, pasta, fruit juices.
– Low fat alternatives often means high sugar!

What the ‘diet’ is:

– Don’t shy away from high fat dairy, meat and vegetables.
– Protein is essential, but not too much! Just enough to keep muscle mass.
– Don’t eat low-fat if it therefore has high sugar
– Avoid processed carbohydrates e.g. breads and cereals.
– Cook with butter, olive olis, coconut oils and animal fats.

Does this mean getting rid of carbs altogether? Not according to Associate Professor Tim Crowe of Deakin University. “A very extreme low-carb diet can be quite restrictive. So it cuts out a lot of foods, particularly a lot of wholegrain foods. And even fruit, that has to be cut out as well. These are really good healthy foods that we know reduce the long-term risk of chronic disease.”

Dr Steve Phinney, an advocate of a low-carb, Atkins-style diet says, “For many people, wholegrains are an excellent source of energy and a healthful food. But when people become more insulin resistant, they have a difficult time disposing off those carbohydrates. We’re not saying get rid of wholegrains in the diet, we’re just saying reducing them in the most vulnerable fraction of the population that can’t tolerate them.”

So, maybe low-GI is the answer? Professor Samaras points out too that low GI alternatives refer to how quickly the glucose is released into the bloodstream. But the load, the total amount of carbohydrates, is still the same.

Confused? A new diet craze seems to come along daily. There’s the lemon detox diet, the banana diet, the 5and2 diet, Paleo diet… the options are endless. It’s no wonder we’re confused.

One thing I am certain of though… If you’re considering removing entire food groups from your diet make sure you know the consequences. Talk with your doctor. Many of these diets are designed for people with medical conditions and may not be suitable for everyone.

Now, I love pasta and bread as much as anyone, but maybe it’s worth a rethink of exactly what I eat in general. It doesn’t sound like I’d be hungry and heck, I love bacon and eggs for breakfast. Sounds like the perfect excuse for a fry up tomorrow!

Have you tried this low carb diet? What do think of the latest diet? Fabulous or Fad?

Related Links:

Read the full transcript and watch the episode here

Dr Steve Phinney: Art and Science of Low Carb

Toxic Sugar: Is sugar in the diet driving the obesity crisis? Watch it here

Restricting carbs as first approach to treating T2 Diabetes Feinman et al

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