Low-carb diets seem like all the rage these days. Many “health food companies” boast that these diets are a cure to any ailment that may befall you. But what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to companies trying to market their newest product to you? Well as it turns out with most things, the truth is a bit more complicated that what’s advertised.
First, it’s important to understand what carbohydrates are and their function within the body. Carbohydrates are a group of molecules that consist of chains of glucose. This can include simple sugars as well as more complex carbohydrates like whole grains and vegetables. Low-carb diets aim to reduce these types of food and replace them with foods high in fat, protein, or indigestible carbohydrates like fiber.
This shift in diet has many immediate and long term effects on the body. To start with, our body uses glucose as a fuel source for creating energy. So what happens then if we severely reduce our intake of glucose? Well, as one may expect, this causes immediate fatigue as the body struggles to create the amount of energy needed.
After a few days of low carb in-take our body starts using other sources of energy to fuel ourselves – most notably are ketones and ketoacids. These molecules may sound familiar, as a common low-carb diet is the “keto” diet, named for the fatty acids that replace glucose as an energy source during low-carb intake.
This shift into ketogenesis is not immediate, however, and takes time for our body to fully adjust to. Some sources suggest that it can take up to three weeks for the body to fully switch over and for positive effects to kick in. This is further supported by research which shows that calories burned per day is actually lower during the first two weeks than during a high-carb diet.
This may be due to the initial fatigue that ketogenesis causes as the body shifts from using glucose to using fatty acids for fuel. Additionally, other symptoms that are common during this time frame include lean mass loss, increased hunger, and decreased exercise endurance, all of which may further contribute to the lack of calories burned.
So why are low-carb diets touted as the diet to end all diets? It’s undeniable that the first 2-3 weeks or even month of ketogenesis has mostly adverse effects on the body, but research shows that after the body has fully adjusted to the diet, the metabolic effects tend to be mostly beneficial.
To start with, after this initial period has ended, calories burned per day is significantly higher than high-carb diets, making it easier to lose weight even in cases of obesity. Long-term low-carb diets also have been shown to aid in insulin resistance and reverse symptoms of diabetes.
So what’s the verdict then? Many people jump into fad diets without understanding the true positive or negative effects on their body. This research shows us that the both exist when shifting to a new pattern of eating, with more negative effects in the beginning weeks. For those who yo-yo diet, meaning their diet often only lasting a few weeks, this means that they are predominately experiencing negative metabolic effects.
Every person, their needs, and their abilities are different. For some, the low-carb diet may be a way to stay in shape, while others may find incredibly difficult to maintain with very little benefit to gain. Because of this it’s important to consult with your doctor before going on any sort of restrictive diet.
Here at Empowered Health we take a personalized and scientific approach to medicine in order to find the best treatments and meal plans for you.