Friday, November 12, 2010

Attacking Low Carb! Oh the Misconceptions!

I have been a member of Spark People for many years.  I love the support of my LC forum, the Thyroid Team and my Paleo Team (when it is active).  Unfortunately, I have some serious issues with their other aspects, especially their insistence on clinging to old ideas that have been refuted over and over again.  They refuse to acknowledge new research or other lifestyles that can be beneficial to people.

So, here is my response to the above linked article about carbohydrates, specifically the section about low carb diets.

To make this easier, let's adress each point individually.

What You Should Know About Low-Carbohydrate Diets
Following an extremely low-carbohydrate diet is disastrous, dangerous, and above all—boring! Carbohydrates are NOT the enemy. Including the appropriate amounts and types of carbohydrate-rich foods in your diet is essential for long-term health and weight loss/maintenance. 

I actually agree with part of this.  Carbohydrates are not the enemy, especially for people with a healthy metabolism.  I enjoy my veggies, fruits and nuts just like anyone else.  But, for some people over doing these foods can be disastrous and dangerous too!  My diet is considered by some to by very low carb (VLC) because I only get about 20% of my calories from carbohydrate. But, the way I eat is anything but boring!  I actually find my low carb way of life more exciting, and nutritionally dense than my eating was when I was following the SP recommendations!

The enemy is too many of the wrong types of carbs.  The SP diet is based on 50-70% of your calories coming from carbs, and still says 6-11 servings of grains, which even the USDA food pyramid has revamped to say only 6 servings of grains for the average person.  Still entirely too high, but better at any rate.

Note how there is no reference to proof that LC diets are dangerous, just the opinion on the author if there are no references.

There is plenty of literature out there to support a LC lifestyle, see the links I have provided at the end of this post.  See, I want to show this isn't just my opinion, but actually supported by medical research, with control groups, etc.  Not just observational studies like those that Spark People bases their guidelines on. (1), (2), (3)  Unfortunately, there are not studies on healthy individuals.  But you can go here to see some fantastic results of people that eliminate grains from their diets.

The Body’s Immediate Reaction to Very Low Carbohydrate Diets 
When there is a severe deficit of carbohydrates, the body has several immediate reactions: 
  • With no glucose available for energy, the body starts using protein from food for energy. Therefore this protein is no longer available for more important functions, such as making new cells, tissues, enzymes, hormones, and antibodies and the regulation of fluid balance.
  • When carbohydrates are lacking, the body cannot burn fat in the correct way. Normally carbs combine with fat fragments to be used as energy. When carbs are not available, there is an incomplete breakdown of fat that produces a by-product called ketones. These ketones accumulate in the blood and in the urine causing ketosis, which is an abnormal state. Ketosis does cause a decrease in appetite because it's one of the body's protection mechanisms. It's an advantage to someone in a famine (which the body thinks it's experiencing) to lack an appetite because the search for food would be a waste of time and additional energy.
  • Due to the lack of energy and the accumulation of ketones, low-carb diets are often accompanied by nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, bad breath, and dehydration.
  • Because of dehydration and a lack of fiber, constipation can result.
  • Exercise and fitness performance is reduced on a low-carb diet. Do not be surprised if your energy level is so low that you cannot make it through your normal workout routine.

    Okay, this is where the author goes off the deep end in my opinion.  I see some of these symptoms and I think to myself, "Those sound like the symptoms of withdrawal."  What do people complain of when they quit drinking coffee?  Headaches, fatigue. dizziness and nausea. (5) How about those going through nicotine withdrawal? SOur stomach or stomach pains, irritability, headaches and tiredness. (6)

    To me this speaks volumes.  If cutting something out of your diet causes you to experience symptoms of withdrawal, wouldn't that make you think twice about the effects that substance has on your body?  If you need to go through withdrawal, and then feel better once you allow your body to detox, doesn't that mean you should continue to avoid it?  Would you tell someone who was trying to quite smoking to just go ahead and light up so they feel better?  I sure wouldn't!

    LIke a smoker trying to quit there are ways to avoid this problem.  Smokers use patches and gums to help them taper off the nicotine and feel better about quitting.  You all know i am anti-grains.  But, you can have carbs in other versions.  Lots of vegetables, fruits, some tubers, nuts and seeds.  Eat enough of these healthy options to stay out of ketosis, or just barely in ketosis so you don't suffer from withdrawal.  It is as easy as that.  I have never had any of the problems listed above, yet I have reaped the benefits of eating low carb by having plenty of vegetables and some fruits.
The Long-Term Effects of Low Carbohydrate Diets 
When you severely restrict carbohydrates, your consumption of protein and fat increases, which has several long-term effects: 
  • The risk of many cancers increases when fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and beans are eliminated from the diet.
  • Protein foods are also high in purines, which are broken down into uric acid. Elevated levels of uric acid in the blood may lead to needle-like uric acid crystals in joints, causing gout.
  • Kidney stones are more likely to form on high protein, ketosis-producing diets.
  • Over time, high protein diets can cause a loss of calcium and lead to osteoporosis.
  • The risk of heart disease is greatly increased on a low-carb diet that is high in protein, cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat. A temporary reduction in cholesterol levels may be experienced, but this is common with any weight loss.

    Well, the first statement says it all, doesn't it?  There is not one low carb diet that I have studied that espouses complete restriction of fruits or veggies.  Yes, some have an induction phase that requires a strict initial carb restriction.  One is to 20 NET carbs a day.  Do you know what that means?  It means to take the number of carbs in the food and subtract the fiber.  This gives you the net carbs for that food.  Did you realize this would allow you to eat about 45 CUPS of fresh spinach? Heck even if you didn't go with net carbs, you could still eat 20 or so cups of fresh spinach.  Yeah, that is a lot of veggies.  I don't think I have ever seen any diet that says zero carbs.  I know people who chose to eat that way, but even Atkins allows for 20 carbs in phase one.  As you can see even a person like me that is considered VLC can easily eat the proper servings of veggies and fruits while remaining low carb.  Well, there goes my risk of cancer.  I don't need whole grains to stay healthy.

    Point number two.  Well, I don't eat a super high protein diet, although there is good reason to believe that the USDA recommended level of protein is too low. (4)  Yes, I eat high fat.  But, because I eat only a normal range of protein I am not at risk for the things mentioned in points 2-4.

    So that leaves us at fat.  Has this dietitian not been paying attention to the research over the past 5-10 years.  Fat has gotten a bad rap, but fat is not bad for you.  There has been research that proves we NEED saturated fat in out diets.  There is also no proof that dietary cholesterol causes high blood cholesterol.  (7) (8)  Since I switched to a high fat diet my cholesterol has gone down, I have lost weight and I have kept it off.  Where is the harm in that?  Oh, and the most amazing thing?  I have lost most of my abdominal fat, you know the bad kind that increases your risk for heart disease?  When I followed the sparkpeople diet, if I was lucky enough to drop a few pounds it would come from everywhere except my waist.  You can look at my photos and tell that was the only place that really mattered!  Now?  I can't seem to get the fat to move from my hips, but my waist is shrinking and shrinking!  Gotta love it!

    I see someone else is going against the low carb bias too:

    Oh, and a cardiologist that is on my side!  He actually prescribes a grain free diet for his patients, and they get better!  Imagine that!!!

    I need to address some of the things  mentioned in the long term section a little more in depth, but right now i need to get ready to take P to swimming.  I will save that for another day :)







Perfectly Primal said...

Really Great Post...interesting since I just made the choice NOT to go back on atkins and go on Paleo instead.

I added you to my blogroll...hope you dont mind :)

Have a great New Year!


Nutmeg1976 said...

Of course I don't mind. I am NOT an Atkins supporter specifically. But, I do believe even Atkins is FAR better than the SAD. I am primal all the way! Grok on!

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