What you are missing out on
It’s not just that you’ll feel deprived because you’ve had to give up bread, fruit, and all the rest. Your body will also be deprived of foods and nutrients that are essential for good health, including the following.
- Whole grains: These protect against metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
- Fruits and vegetables: Produce helps prevent heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Most fruits and vegetables are very filling while providing few calories, so they can help you cut calories without deprivation. Indeed, the more fruits and vegetables people eat, studies show, the thinner they tend to be.
- Beans: Rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and B vitamins, beans have no saturated fat and lots of soluble fibre. They also contain plant chemicals that protect against heart disease and cancer.
- Low-fat dairy foods: Sure, you can have butter and cream on a carb-restricted diet, but you won’t get much calcium or protein from them. Fat-free and low-fat versions of milk and yogurt are excellent sources of those nutrients.
- Fibre: Getting fibre from these foods (except dairy) helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Beans and many fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in soluble fibre, which helps lower blood sugar, curbs hunger, and lowers LDL cholesterol.
- Vitamins, minerals, and health-protective plant chemicals: Whole grains, for example, are rich in components such as lignans, which may protect against diabetes independently of their effects on blood sugar. And without fruits and vegetables, you’d be awfully hard-pressed to get enough vitamin C or other disease-fighting antioxidants.
You’ll eat too much “bad” fat
The original Atkins diet became popular largely because it allowed people to eat foods forbidden on most other diets, such as cheeseburgers (without buns, of course).
More recently, the diet has been revised to include sources of healthier fats, such as fish and olive oil, and other low-carb diets have shied away from saturated fats as well. But in practice, once you stop eating bread, fruit, and beans, it’s all too easy to eat too many fatty animal foods. After all, how many foods can you take out of your diet?
If you load up on saturated fats—the original Atkins diet got as much as 26 per cent of its calories from saturated fat versus the 10 per cent or less that experts recommend—it’s bad for your health. Saturated fats are still the major culprits behind elevated LDL cholesterol. The latest revisions to the diet, to be fair, do emphasize lean poultry and seafood, but in practice, many people are attracted to this diet for the bacon and butter.
What’s more, saturated fats also directly impair the body’s ability to react to insulin, so following a low-carb, high-saturated-fat diet may help you lose weight in the short term, but it may also speed the development of insulin resistance. Eventually, that can lead to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease.
The weight will come back
Two major studies of low-carb diets, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at obese men and women who stuck with either a low-carb, high-fat diet or a low-fat, high-carb diet. Both diets were low in calories.
In one study, which lasted six months, the low-carb diet seemed to win hands down. The people on it lost nearly 13 pounds (six kilograms); the low-fat dieters shed just four pounds (two kilograms). But the second study lasted six months longer, revealing a truth about low-carb diets: The results don’t last.
This study too found that the low-carb dieters lost more weight in the first six months, but in the second half of the year, the weight came roaring back. By the end of a year, there was no significant difference in weight loss between the two groups. This weight “snapback” may be one reason that extremely low-carb diets have fallen out of favor.