Love them or hate them, low carb diets are going to be here for a long time. Just like intermittent fasting, they’ve phased in and out of the fitness industry over the past few decades.
Some people swear by them, some say they’re the reason people are getting fat. Then we have those that say they’re no better or worse than any other diet out there, so you might as well just ignore it.
“You going low carb? It’s cuttin’ season.”, “I’ll pass on the buns, I’m low carb-in”. Most of us have heard or maybe even said these ourselves at one point or another. An unlike the other diets I’ve talked about on this site, low carb gets the rep of being something temporary.
Just like bodybuilders on their cutting or bulking phase, the low carb diet is touted as something people do right before summer, just to look good when they go to the beach. Then they’re back to their “normal” eating routine.
But I’m here to tell you that’s not what a low carb diet is really about. A low carb diet, when implemented correctly, isn’t something just for bodybuilders weeks before a show, or models when they’re trying to get shredded. And to answer one of the questions a lot of people have in mind right now: Yes, a low carb diet IS sustainable, as long as it’s implemented properly.
So how come low carb gets so much criticism? Can eating low carb really help me lose weight? What about the people that say that the diet inevitably fails and we end up gaining more fat than before?
Before we can answer any of those questions, we should look at the history behind the infamous low carb diet.
History of Low Carb Diets
Where and when did the low carb diet come from?
Eating a low carbohydrate diet actually started a long time ago, way before anyone every thought of low carb as an actual diet.
Some suggests that low carb was the only way of eating before agriculture came along. Humans were hunting a lot more meat than they were eating carbohydrates. It’s also believed that even when plant food was abundant, the overall carbohydrate intake was relatively low, accounting for only 22% to 40% of total energy intake. This is due to the lower carb and higher fiber content of wild plants compared to domesticated crops we have today.
Back in the late 1700’s, John Rollo, a Scottish surgeon known for his work on treating diabetes, was the first in recent history to treat diabetes with a low carb diet. This led to the use of the low carb, ketogenic diet being used throughout the 19th century for diabetic treatment.
A few others throughout later years have been credited with implemented the low carb diet with lots of meat and reduced starches, which wasn’t very popular in their time.
Then we have a few that first made the low carb diet popular in the United States and other parts of the world around the early 60’s. The famous Atkin’s Diet, proposed by Dr. Robert Atkins, was a low carbohydrate, high protein and moderate to low fat diet.
Other dietitians and health professionals followed suit with diets like the Paleo Diet (also very popular today) and the Scarsdale diet. Both of which emphasized low consumption of carbs, especially refined carbs.
Here we are in the 21st century, and the low carb diet is still being debated on whether it’s effective or not, healthy or not, sustainable or not. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to find out among all this low carb craze, isn’t it?
Before we draw the conclusion about low carb in general, there are quite a few variations of how a low carb diet is implemented. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.
Variations of Low Carb
Although most low carb diets can be grouped together as just low carb, there are quite a few nuances with each that separates one from the other.
For example, the amount of carbs “allowed” to be considered low carb is different. The types of carbs allowed also vary from diet to diet. Then we have diets that allows a single carb-loading event or even a day of carb binging.
It’s important to set apart all these different types of low carb diets. Not only because of the effects they have on our health, but knowing how sustainable they are and if they really work the way their proponents claim they do.
So here’s a run-down of the 3 most popular low carb diets int he industry right now: Atkins Diet, Anabolic Diet/Carb-Backloading/Carb Nite, and the Ketogenic Diet.
At the top of the list is the infamous Atkins Diet. Most people know this to be the diet that made low carb diets popular. It has gained a lot of notoriety over the years.
As explained before, the Atkins Diet promotes a high protein, moderate to low fat, and low carb approach to eating. This diet also doesn’t discriminate on carbohydrates. Both complex and simple carbs are limited.
Because of the high protein intake of the diet, people usually go crazy on meat on this diet. Even though we can get protein from other sources, lean meats are the easiest source and it’s easy to overdo.
There’s a common misconception that the Atkins Diet is a high fat diet. It is low carb but it’s definitely not a high fat diet. Protein is what’s emphasized here.
It should come as no surprise that many end up binging on meats and cheeses and other high protein sources. The earliest version of the Atkins Diet allowed for unlimited eating of these foods as long as we stayed away from carbs. So of course, a lot people went HAM (pun intended) with no self-control and claim the diet doesn’t work when they gained weight.
The official diet was later revised saying to eat only until satiated and that it’s not an excuse to overeat.
This diet relies on low insulin and glucose levels to promote the usage of body fat for fuel, which lowers overall body fat levels and weight.
Anabolic Diet/Carb Backloading/Carb Nite
Now we have the diet that first got its name from Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale. He was a world champion powerlifter and bodybuilding author that wanted to gain the same strength and size as those using steroids but only naturally through food. Thus the Anabolic Diet was born.
The Carb Backloading and Carb Nite are basically reiterated versions of the Anabolic Diet. The diet got their names from John Kiefer, an author of books that go by the same name as the diets.
Since these diets are so closely related, I’ll be using the Anabolic Diet to describe all three.
The premise of the diet basically works like this: Eat a low carb, high fat or protein diet for most of the week. Then on 1 or 2 days out of the weekend, load up on carbs. I can get into the specifics like what kind of carbs and when to eat them and how much, but you get the basic idea.
The simple difference between Carb Backloading and Carb Nite is that the former is done every night after a hard workout, while the latter is done once a week during one meal.
These diets use the low insulin and glucose levels during the high fat, low carb phase to cut down on body fat. Then during the carb loading phase, the increase in glucose and insulin replenishes muscle glycogen and certain hormones vital to fat burning and overall health.
Last but not least on our list is the Ketogenic Diet or Keto Diet. Unlike the Atkins Diet, the Keto Diet is a high fat, moderate protein, and low carb diet. The amount of carbs allowed is limited to 30 grams of soluble carbs, meaning that any insoluble carbs like fiber or sugar alcohol that’s not digested and turned into glucose are excluded from the count.
So in a way, this diet does differentiate the intake between simple and complex carbs since simple carb foods rarely ever contain fiber.
The Standard Keto Diet, which is the one most people are familiar with, is basically following this low carb high fat approach all the time. Nutritious wholesome foods like eggs, bacon, grass-fed/pasture-raised meats cooked in organic butter, etc. All of the carbs should be coming from veggies like leafy greens.
Then we have the Targeted Keto Diet and the Cyclical Keto Diet, both of which led to the Carb Nite and Carb Backloading diets that John Kiefer came up with. The Targeted Keto Diet follows the same principle of carb-up times, where we’re saving all of the carb intake after an intense workout. Cyclical Keto is going low carb most of the week and having a day or two of carb fest.
The carb choice under these two variations of Keto is a bit more laxed. Some people have had success with ice cream, cheesecake, cookies, and all the junk carbs we can imagine.
I’m personally not an advocate for using any excuse possible to eat junk. I do however, think that this provides a good basis to have a treat once in a while. So simply carb up with the “good” carbs like sweet potatoes, beans, rice, etc. most of the time, and splurge with some treats.
More To Come
There is a lot more to this topic than just what I’ve laid out so far. We’re only scratching the tip of the iceberg here! I have still yet to get into the science behind it all, testimony from people that tried it, my own personal experience, effects on not only healthy but also athletic performance and physique, and last but not least, all the controversy surrounding these low carb diets!
I think it’s time we wrap it up here and let those topics be covered in the next article. I’m not trying to turn this post into a novel.
So stick around! Part 2 to this is coming very soon!