5 Myths About Low Carb Diets You Have to Stop BelievingArticle posted in: Diet & Nutrition
There’s no shortage of diets out there. Yet finding a diet that works can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Numerous studies show low carb diets are safe, effective and easy to maintain. Yet critics are everywhere—and they’re often more vocal than the experts. So we found said studies, checked them twice, and also asked Registered Dietitian Courtney McCormick to help dispel five of the most common myths surrounding low carb diets.
Here are the five most common myths about low carb diets… and why they’re wrong:
1. “Low Carb” is a Fad Diet
Fad diets come and go. They’re popular until enough people try them, hate them and spread the word. “Most fad diets promise quick results—usually through an unhealthy, unbalanced diet,” says McCormick. “But that’s just not the case for low carb diets.” Over the last 45 years, many randomized, controlled trials have demonstrated that low carbohydrate diets are a safe and effective way to lose weight.
One such study conducted in 2015 found that overweight and obese participants following a low carb diet lost more weight than subjects following a low fat diet and, as a result, significantly reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers concluded: “Low carbohydrate diets should be considered effective and safe intervention for weight management.”
2. Your Brain Needs Carbs
It’s true that carbs are the most sufficient source of energy for the brain. But, they’re not the only source. When we don’t consume enough carbs in our diet and we deplete all the glycogen (fuel, which the body stores in the live and muscles), the body starts to burn fat for energy. This process is called ketosis and results in ketones in the blood. “Ketones can cross into our brain and can be used for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates,” McCormick says.
The body is also capable of converting protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. That’s helpful for the areas of the brain that absolutely require glucose. Bottom line? The body adapts to its environment. It will find a way produce the fuel it needs to function efficiently and does so when you eat a low carb diet.
3. You Only Lose Water Weight
Yes, but that’s only half of it, says McCormick. The body stores carbohydrates (which it converts to glycogen) in the liver and muscles. Glycogen binds with water. When the body uses up stored glycogen (which is what happens when you follow a low carb diet), the body also eliminates the water on which it’s bound. Because of this, McCormick says it’s important to drink 64 ounces of water a day to replenish the lost supply.
In addition to losing water, people following a low carb diet also reduce body fat and shrink their waistlines. “They even improve their metabolic health, improving cholesterol levels, glucose and insulin levels, blood pressure, and markers of inflammation,” says McCormick. A 2010 University of Florida study shows weight loss happens very quickly on low carb diets, which is a good thing long-term. Participants who saw fast initial weight loss in the study obtained greater weight reduction, long-term maintenance and were not more susceptible to weight regain.
4. Low Carb Diets Are Bad For Your Heart
Low carb diets are typically high in fat—think bacon and butter! “But they don’t necessarily have to be high in cholesterol or saturated fats,” says McCormick. In fact, the foundation foods on which the South Beach Diet® are built include those proven to improve cardiovascular health like olive oil, avocados, and nuts; lean proteins like skinless chicken breast and fish; and healthy, fiber-rich vegetables.
Researchers tested the cardiovascular health of participants on a low carb (and low-fat) diet in 2010 study. Results showed participants on a low carb diet had greater reductions in blood pressure and triglyceride levels as well as very low LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the first six months. The same participants had greater increases in HDL (good) cholesterol levels throughout the length of the study.
5. Low Carb Diets Are Hard to Stick To
There are lots of reasons diets fail. They don’t provide enough food or nutrients. They aren’t realistic for everyday life. They’re expensive. Any diet can be hard to maintain, but low carb diets may be one of the “easiest ones to stick to because the high protein, high (healthy) fat content keeps you feeling full longer,” says McCormick. Reduced calorie diets, in contrast, still allow you to eat refined carbs, which cause blood sugar to spike, crash, and then make you hungry for more sugar (and fat) to stabilize insulin levels. This never-ending hunger cycle is what causes weight gain.
“It’s also important to remember that low carb doesn’t mean no-carb,” says McCormick. “You can still enjoy a variety of carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, dairy products, starchy vegetables and fresh fruit while living a low carb lifestyle.”