Want to Lose Weight? You Need to Try a Low Carb Diet. Here’s Why

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

If you’re on the South Beach Diet, you probably already know that low carb diets work. If not, however—and you’ve heard mixed reviews—here’s the bottom line: Studies show that low carb diets are just as effective, if not more so, than low-fat diets when it comes to weight loss.

Here are few examples: In a 2014 Tulane University study, participants following a low carb diet not only lost more weight and fat mass than their peers on a low-fat diet, but they saw greater improvements to cholesterol in regards to HDL and triglyceride levels. Similar results were recorded in a 2015 study published in PLOS ONE.

The researchers concluded: “Low carbohydrate diets should be considered effective and safe intervention for weight management.” A Mediterranean diet, low carb diet, and low-fat diet were compared in a 2008 New England Journal of Medicine study. Greater weight loss and healthier cholesterol levels were observed for those following the low carb diet for two years compared to those following a low-fat diet.

So why are low carb diets so effective? To answer that, we have to understand what carbohydrates are, what foods contain them and how the body processes them.

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“Complex carbs include fiber and many important vitamins and minerals rather than added sugars,” explains Registered Dietitian Courtney McCormick. “Fiber helps to slow down the digestive process, which helps to prevent sharp spikes in blood sugar.” A half-cup serving of grains (whole grain pasta, brown rice or whole grain cereals) have 15-20 grams of carbs.

Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source and the body breaks down all carbohydrates—simple and complex—into a sugar called glucose (which is commonly referred to as blood sugar). When glucose enters our blood stream via the small intestine, our pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that helps to move the glucose from our blood into the cells of our body. Our cells then use the glucose for energy…energy to exercise, work, sleep, and breathe. “When we have more glucose than what we need for energy,” McCormick says, “our body stores this excess glucose in our liver and muscle and when we max out capacity, the excess glucose is converted to, and stored as, fat.”

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We gain weight when we eat more calories than we burn. However, when we drink soda or eat muffins loaded with sugar, our blood sugar spike quickly and crashes, which leaves us feeling hungry again. Therefore, we crave more sugar to bring our blood sugar back up to normal levels. In this vicious cycle, we end up eating more foods, consuming more calories, and gaining weight.

It takes much longer for our bodies to digest complex carbs, which means glucose enters the blood stream much more slowly. There are no spikes or crashes—just steady digestion we associate with feeling full. “Complex carbs also contain fiber which is not broken down by the body,” says McCormick. Fiber stays in tact as it travels through your intestines and also contributes to a “full” feeling.

On the South Beach Diet, only complex carbs and fruits—in restricted quantities—are recommended. In the beginning, lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and healthy fats like oils (olive, canola, and vegetable), which contain NO carbohydrates, are the foundation of every meal. Like complex carbs, it takes the body a longer time to digest proteins and fats keeping us fuller longer. (Once you’ve moved out of Phase 1, you’ll add in healthier complex carbohydrates from vegetables or whole-grains.)

When we restrict the amount of carbs we eat and out bodies use up all the stored glucose we have, our bodies then start to convert the stored fat into ketones, which are used for energy. The end result is weight loss combined with reduced cravings for the sugary and starchy carbs that once dominated our diets.