The Lowdown on Low-Carb Diets
The Standard American Diet has added more and more carbohydrates to the food pyramid within the last 30 years. Because of this, our bodies have adjusted to preferring carbohydrates for energy instead of fat. The unfortunate fact of human physiology is that you can't eat high amounts of carbohydrates and fat at the same time without gaining weight. That's why low-carb diets are so popular these days; by getting rid of your carbohydrate intake, you can force your body to eat it's own stored fat and get leaner, faster. But where do low-carbohydrate diets come from? And how effective are they? Let's take a look at some of the more popular low-carb diets and their effect on the human body.
Wait, There's More Than One Type of Low Carb Diet?!?
Yes, there are many different types of low carbohydrate diets, contrary to what Jillian Michaels would have you believe. All low carbohydrate diets start with the same basic concept: to lower the amount of carbohydrates you eat from foods like wheat, rice, oatmeal, bread, fruit, and starchy vegetables. From there, different low-carbohydrate diets branch off into different philosophies about which macronutrients you should prioritize. The two major contenders are the Atkins diet (which prioritizes high protein, moderate fat) and the ketogenic diet (which prioritizes high fat and moderate protein). Both suggest that you consume 10% or fewer of your daily calories from carbohydrates. But just because they both advocate low carbohydrate consumption doesn't mean that these diets are identical.
The Atkins Diet
With the Atkins diet, your number one macronutrient is protein, followed by some fat. The most important goal is still to keep your carbohydrates low. Healthier versions of the diet emphasize consumption of leafy greens and other nutrient-dense, low carb fruits and vegetables. But how effective is the Atkins diet at helping you burn body fat and keeping weight off?
With the Atkins diet, you're depriving your body of its preferred fuel by restricting carbohydrates. On top of that, you're restricting fuel again by not eating enough fat to replace those carbohydrates. From there, all that's left for your body to do is to break down the protein you eat when it wants energy. But here's the kicker: replacing carbohydrates with protein isn't going to undo the metabolic damage and insulin resistance which rides shotgun next to excess carbohydrate consumption.
When your body breaks down protein for fuel, it does so using a process called gluconeogenesis. It's basically latin for "making new glucose". But if the point of a low-carb diet is to lower your glucose so that your body burns fat for fuel, how can the Atkins diet help someone lose weight when they're still making glucose fear protein? The answer is simple: calorie restriction. Eating more calories from protein and fat makes you feel fuller for longer. It helps curb your appetite so that you eat less than you normally would on a high-carbohydrate diet. The only problem that it is also hard on your kidneys, especially if you don't hydrate properly. So if the Atkins diet is your low-carb diet of choice, just make sure you keep a very close eye on that.
The Ketogenic Diet
In some ways, the ketogenic diet is the opposite of the Atkins diet. The ketogenic diet emphasizes getting the vast majority of your daily calories from fat while keeping carbs at 10% or less of your caloric consumption. The ketogenic diet is also very particular about keeping your protein below a certain level. Obviously, you need protein for proper skin and muscle maintenance. But, as we stated above, eating too much protein will trigger gluconeogenesis, which will kick you out of ketosis.
Getting into ketosis is the number one goal on any ketogenic diet. Many people who do even try to track their ketone levels with urine strips or blood test trackers (similar to the devices that diabetics use to track their blood sugar). When you cut out your carbohydrates, mitigate your protein, and feed your body more dietary fat, your body begins to switch gears and burn fat for fuel instead of carbs. Once this happens, your body will go into fat burning mode more quickly and more easily whenever it is want for calories. This is called fat adaptation, and it's an important part of losing weight and body fat on a ketogenic diet.
When you go into a calorie deficit on a high-carbohydrate diet, instead of immediately switching gears and burning fat for fuel, your body sets off a cascade of hormonal responses in order to trick you into eating more carbohydrates. You'll get hungry, you'll feel tired, you might get headaches, and you'll generally just feel like crap. But once your body learns how to prefer fat for fuel, any calorie deficits you achieve will result in the consumption of your own body fat, making you healthier and leaner over time.
Weight Loss on a Low-carb Diet
When following a low carbohydrate diet, if you are very strict about what you eat, you will lose a great deal of weight very quickly. A portion of this weight is from your muscles depleting their glycogen stores and flushing the water out that was helping it store that glycogen molecule for energy. Eventually, though, your muscles will start burning fat for energy which won't require as much stored glycogen. When people start heading weight loss plateaus on a low-carb diet, this is usually the reason why.
Many people also struggle to have enough energy to workout when they start a low-carb diet. If your body can't transition into becoming fat adapted quickly enough, you may feel discouraged and switch back to a Standard American Diet out of frustration. But most people who slip back into their old bad habits tend to gain that bad weight back and then some. It's important to stay the course if you're going to try a low-carb diet - otherwise, you can end up going backward instead of making any real progress.
Transitioning to a Low-carb Diet the Safe, Easy Way
Transitioning from a high carbohydrate to a low carbohydrate diet - whether you're going high-fat, moderate protein or high protein, moderate fat - will come with some challenges and side effects. But you can make things much easier on yourself with a ketogenic dietary supplement. Exogenous ketones are a popular item because they help keep your electrolytes balanced and curb your hunger cravings whenever you start to really crave those carbs. They can also give you extra energy if the keto flu is leaving you feeling lethargic. Whatever diet you decide to follow, we hope you find the one that works best for your body and that you see fantastic results!