At last, the final part of the 3-part series on low carb diets. This article is going to wrap up everything we need to know about low carbing. Specifically, we’ll explore some of the controversies with low carb diets, testimonials from others, and my own personal experience.
Most of all, we’ll get into WHY it’s so important we learn the pros and cons of low carb diets. It’s goes beyond just the simple reasons of health.
- The 3 most popular low carb diets today
- The Atkins Diet
- The Anabolic Diet/Carb Backloading/Carb Nite
- The Ketogenic Diet
- The history of low carb diets
- The current stigma and opinions surrounding low-carb diets
- Low carb diet effects on weight loss
- Health effects of low carb diets
- Sustainability of a long-term low carb diet
Free feel to check back on Parts 1 and 2 to go over these points. It’s important to fully understand them before we get into the controversies surrounding low carb diets, which we’ll discuss next.
From the first 2 parts of this series, it may seem that I’m all for low carb diets. Although I’m personally not a fan of high carb diets in any way, I do think that low carb diets need to be implemented properly for it to work.
One of the controversies as we’ll see is due to the incorrect use of low carb diet principles. It doesn’t require rocket science, but going low carb does take a bit of evaluation of your current health, food choices, medical conditions, etc.
So let’s get into the meats and potatoes of the controversies with low carb. I plan to leave no stone unturned so please mention in the comments anything I may have missed!
Land Use Requirements
One of the big controversies with low carb diets actually stems from one of the arguments against meat consumption. Vegetarians and vegans claims that meat consumption in general is not sustainable due to the amount if land required to raise animals.
The amount of crops required to feed the animals can be used to feed humans instead. And those crops require even more land to grow just for the sake of feeding the animals.
While a diet with meats in general does use more land to sustain than a vegetarian and vegan diet, it’s important to realize that there are land unsuitable for growing crops of any kind.
These types of land include those being used to raise animals.
Note a recent study that looked into:
- if dietary composition affects the amount of land required for food; and,
- in terms of amount of land use, what the most sustainable type of diet would compose of
The findings from this study concluded that a plant-based diet with low to moderate meat consumption is actually the most sustainable diet when it comes to land usage¹.
Yes, the strict vegetarian and vegan diets do not match up to a diet with a bit of meat when it comes to the amount of food produced vs. amount of land used for that production.
With the way that land is distributed between agriculture and pasture for animals, the best and most efficient use of our land for food is mostly agriculture for vegetables, with a small to moderate portion of land used for raising cattle and other animals.
How does this apply to low carb diets?
Well, low carb diets have gotten the reputation of being meat heavy diets, with emphasis on fatty portions of meats and diary. Both of these require farmland for raising cattle.
This study shows that consuming moderate amounts of meats and dairy with mostly plants is the most sustainable way of eating.
Besides, there are plenty of ways to stay low carb even with a mostly plant based diet. Heck, there are vegetarians and vegans that does low carb. Although their food choices are relatively more limited, they can definitely work.
Short Term Effects
Another point typically brought up by critics of low carb diets is the effects they have on the brain, mainly short term.
One important thing to note is that short term negative effects are EXPECTED, especially if the person is taking on a low carb diet for the first time after many years of high carb eating.
A simple case of “carb withdrawal” will affect anyone that’s been on a high carb diet for any significant amount of time. Whether the new diet of choice is high fat or high protein, withdrawal symptoms are expected.
A study was performed on mice by weaning them onto a high fat diet. At the 3 week point, the mice displayed similar symptoms to that of obese children; high blood glucose, worsened object recognition and location, and increased anxiety.
At the 6 week point however, most of those symptoms were gone with only the object location being in a worsened state².
These symptoms are obvious signs of carb withdraw. This is so common that a lot of low carbers call this the Keto Flu, which describes flu-like symptoms when first taking on a ketogenic diet.
If you recall the best foods to lose weight article, you’ll see that avocados tops the list. That’s because it’s full of healthy fats and have barely any carbs. The satiety of fatty foods actually is very high.
The how come numerous studies claim that fatty foods increases appetite? Or that they trick the brain into thinking we’re still hungry when we’ve just eaten not too long ago?
We need to look at what is considered fatty foods in these studies.
Usually, it’s pizza, ice cream, fried anything, etc, that are used as fatty foods of choice. With those types of fats, it’s no wonder that appetite is never suppressed!
First, the types of fats in those foods are not the nutritious types recommended on low carb diets. Second, although those foods do contain high amounts of fats, they also contain lots of carbs.
And one of the most important points on a low carb diet is to keep the carbs low (duh) in the presence of high fat consumption. On carb refeed days, it is vital that fats are kept to a minimum.
HINT: Carbs and fats together are a BAD combination.
The EVIL Saturated Fats And Cholesterol
Another common aspect of low carb diets that gets criticism is the high amounts of saturated fats and resultant cholesterol reported by some of the dieters.
Those of you that keeps up with the nutrition and health industries might already know this, but saturated fats and cholesterol are in no way harmful, at least not in the way that society makes them out to be.
I’m not in anyway saying that years and years of medical research is wrong. This is more about assuming the wrong culprit when many different suspects are present.
Saturated fats and cholesterol has long been assumed to be the culprit of heart disease, heart attacks, cardiovascular problems, etc.
This was initially founded on that patients with these cardiovascular problems all exhibit a similar trait: plaque in their arteries.
Doctors and medical researchers then drilled down on what caused these plaques. After finding what these patients have in common and the differences between them and others without cardiovascular problems, they found saturated fat intake and cholesterol causes the plaque buildup.
Case closed right?
For decades that’s what happened. The public was admonished that saturated fats and cholesterol are the major cause of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for men in the US.
But saturated fats and cholesterol are NOT the actual causes for heart disease, or any other cardiovascular problem³.
Consider WHY plaque builds up in the arteries the first place.
How come there are people that eats plenty of saturated fats and cholesterol (think Mediterranean Diet) but are in perfect health? Where are their signs of heart trouble?
Apparently, plaque build up is a result of the body trying to repair itself. Why does it need repairing in the first place you may ask?
When the arteries get inflammed, they are in effect damaged. This damage signals the body to repair, which it does so in the way of cholesterol. Cholesterol forms the plaque in the arteries in an attempt to patch up the damaged areas.
So cholesterol is actually used by the body for a good cause!
But with no damage in the first place, cholesterol flows freely in our blood, no interference with any bodily processes. It carries on it’s regular functions and no plaque is formed.
So how does the damage in our arteries occur? What causes the inflammation?
A simple Google search will tell you that refined carbs, sodas, and the common fatty foods with more refined carbs and sugars tops the list of inflammatory foods.
Yes, another reason why it’s NEVER a good idea to mix high amounts of fat with carbs!
Are Plant-Based Diets Just Better?
For some, it’s not so much the criticisms against low carb diets that makes them shy away, but more because of the health benefits a plant based diet brings.
One study showed that by switching out just a bit of meat and dairy protein for plant protein can add years to our life. This study was taken from over 100,000 people for a period of 3 decades.
The death rates from heart disease AND from all-around causes all dropped significantly with replacement of animal-based protein with plant protein(4)(5).
There is no doubt that having plants in our diet is one of the, if not the healthiest eating style.
But as said before, animal proteins, when taken from unprocessed and healthy sources, does not contribute to cardiovascular diseases or problems in anyway.
This study did a great job showing the benefits of plant-based diets. But it does little to address that consumption of animal-based protein alone causes high death rates.
Researchers in the same study noted that those consuming more animal protein tend to exercise less, lead sedentary lifestyles, and eat more processed foods as well.
Vegetarians and vegans take on their diets for various reasons, whether it’s for animal rights, sustainability, food intolerance, etc. But health is usually at the top of the list.
Such ones are most likely more health conscious overall with the lifestyle choices they make beyond just diet. Exercising, sleep, stress management and other life choices play a big role in overall health.
To top it all off, one of the least important factors (or the most important depending on who you are) is the breath we get when we’re adapted to a low carb diet.
Once our body starts getting used to breaking down fatty acids and using the resultant ketones for energy, the smell of ketones can be released from our breath6.
This is more than just your run-of-the-mill forgot-to-brush or post-chili-dog-with-garlic-bread breath. I’m talking about some acetone-like-room-clearing-car-window-lowering stench emanating from your face hole.
This isn’t something that affects everyone that goes low carb. Some have no breath problems and have been low carbing for years.
But it is a concern to many (including myself) if I have to be self-conscious while talking to people.
And because the smell is from the ketones being released in our body, no extra brushing, flossing, or mouthwash will help (although we should be doing those things anyway).
For a temporary fix, gum with mint or mint leaves can help. But out of all the criticisms against low carb diets, this one actually holds the most water in my opinion, and can be a real issue if it affects you.
This wraps up our 3-part series about low carb diets. But before we close this out, I want to stress the importance of this subject.
Diets in themselves are something that comes and goes. As said before, I call it low carb diet because that’s what most people associate them as.
But in reality, it should be a way of eating, a way of life.
It’s not something that we try and give up when it gets tough, which is what happens to almost all diets that have come and gone.
Not only does it leave people frustrated, it makes it seem like there;s no way to eat healthy or actually lose those stubborn pounds.
Dr. Imani Walker states that some simple changes to a diet can drastically improve our brain health.
Some recommendations include limiting meat intake, minimizing or eliminating sugars and refined carbs, and adding more plants to our diets7.
Interestingly, switching to a Mediterranean Diet is also on the list of recommendations as well.
In addition, these changes can lead to better moods and sense of well-being.
Wrong Perception Of Health
Society today has a twisted version of what’s considered healthy. While everyone can agree that excess fat around the waist is detrimental to health, many consider a skinny figure to represent a healthy body.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
Many that possess the slender, small waist figure can very well have major metabolic derangement going on inside. This is represented by cases of extremely high insulin8.
Instead of storing fat around the midsection, some will store fat in and around their organs. As discussed in the article about whole grains, visceral fat around the organs is a much more potent indicator of poor health and metabolic disease.
It’s important to not only know the difference, but also what diets work in paving the way for us to walk the path to great health.
In Need Of A New Approach
Scientists, nutritionists, doctors and medical researchers have been trying to figure out the “best” diet for decades.
But now, there’s more focus being given to not just the individual nutrients or minerals in the various food groups, but more so the overall effect with the combination of foods.
This is in an effort to define a new balanced diet.
I personally cannot wait for new findings to come out from the resultant studies from this initiative. It should provide a much more comprehensive picture showing the relationship between diet and health.
Of course, low carb diets address this already to a certain degree.
All low carb diets advocate getting fats and proteins from healthy, natural, unprocessed sources. Most of the time, for those with carb refeed days, healthy foods are chosen over that of junk food.
Low carbers already know that fats and carbs do not mix well. And the overall effects of stay too low in carbs for too long is detrimental to our health.
Being able to enjoy carbs once in a while as a treat is one of the “icings on the cake” so to speak of a low carb diet (pun intended).
Personally, I eat low carb most of the time. And when I feel like it or my activity level calls for it, I’ll have some sweet potatoes, beans, rice, or grain-free pasta.
To me, this approach has worked really well. I plan on getting a blood test soon of various biomarkers. That way you guys get to see the results of low carbing with a healthy dose of carbs.
What are your thoughts on low carb diets? Have you tried it before? What was your experience like?