The Low carb diet as put forward in the Dr Atkins diet revolution was given a rough ride back in the 1970s and 1980s. Was it really a fad diet or should we really consider it as a lifestyle.
I’ve been researching diets and weight management for a long time, it’s an on-going thing for me. From my self taught and self learnt point of view, carbs don’t do us much good but high fat was no better because it causes heart problems.
Recently I watched a TED talk presented by Dr Sarah Hallberg which really made me think again.
Dr Hallberg’s patients are obese and diabetic and she uses a low carb high fat diet to help them lose weight. That sounds reasonable but she also gets them off their insulin or at very least severely reduces it. She points out this isn’t a cure because if the patients start on carbs again then it will all go wrong again for them.
The really interesting thing is that there is such a lot of evidence to back up what she’s doing. She’s not a maverick and she’s following the science.
The body science is quite complex but here’s my potted understanding of it.
When we eat carbohydrates our body converts it to glucose and fructose and uses it for any energy that we need right now. It stores the excess glucose in our muscles. Any glucose in the blood that is left over is converted to fat by the insulin that is created to mop up all that potential energy for later.
The thing about carbs is that when the energy from the immediate carbs dips we crave more carbs and that causes the insulin to spike again and more fat to be produced. The body never gets the chance to burn fat.
In theory when there is no carbohydrate based fuel in our blood stream our bodies burn fat. In practice when we eat carbs a lot and the insulin actually stops our bodies from burning fat.
Going low carb and high fat makes our bodies work in a different way. Fat doesn’t make us fat but it does make us feel full. By restricting carbs we produce less insulin and our bodies actually start to burn fat to produce energy. That’s a process called ketosis. It produces glucose like substances that allow the body and mind to function as normal. Fat doesn’t cause insulin spikes.
From a diet point of view Atkins has been re-visited by three doctors Eric Westman, Stephen Phinney and Dr Jeff Volek who have improved it a lot. To the extent that it’s not a carnivore fest any more in fact they offer vegetarian and vegan versions of the Atkins diet. The use of vegetables has been revised a lot.
The bottom line is that the modified Atkins type of diet, generally know as ketogenic diets, have become acceptable to doctors in the face of scientific proof.
The low carb diet provides an option that allows weight loss and also provides planning for the future.
Dr Michael Moseley who often talks about these things on the BBC has also written articles that support the fat not being bad any more.
Atkins and other ketogenic diets like the south beach diet offer a realistic way of losing weight and being healthy at the same time.
In some ways one of the most interesting comments was from one of Dr Hallberg’s other diets where she talks briefly about a lot of doctors who refer to dementia and alzheimer’s as diabetes type 3.
If you’d like to find out more then you could try the following
Dr Sarah Hallberg’s TED talk
For more on this you could look in my self help for weight loss section.