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Low Carb Diets: Health Concerns and Possible Health Risks of Low Carb/High Protein Diets
Low Carb Diets Information

Low Carb Diets: Health Concerns

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Health Concerns Regarding Low Carb Diets

Here are a few health and nutrition concerns which have been highlighted in relation to possible adverse effects of a low-carbohydrate diet.

  • Depriving the body of carbohydrates can lead to a condition called ketosis; side effects of ketosis are weakness, nausea, dehydration and bad breath. The consequences could be serious for people with diabetes.
  • Much of the initial weight loss is down to loss of the body’s carbohydrate stores (glycogen) and fluid loss.
  • There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets have a metabolic advantage over more conventional diets for weight reduction. The bottom line is that if you eat fewer calories on this diet you will lose weight, just as you would with any diet that provides fewer calories than you would normally eat.
  • Cutting out carbohydrate could mean a low intake of vitamins and minerals. Scientists involved with the UK Diet Trials study advised subjects on the Atkins diet to take vitamin and mineral supplements as there was concern about the possibility of low intakes of some vitamins and minerals.
  • A high intake of fat and saturated fatty acids could lead to increased blood cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease although current evidence on cardiovascular risk for those on low-carbohydrate diets is equivocal and more research is needed. The authors of the recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine state:

    “it is… possible that the large amounts of saturated fats and small amounts of fruits, vegetables and fiber consumed during the low carbohydrate diet can independently increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Therefore at the present time, there is not enough information to determine whether the beneficial effects of the Atkins diet outweigh its potential adverse effects on the risk of coronary heart disease in obese persons.”

  • A low fiber intake can lead to constipation.
  • For those on a low carbohydrate diet, the excess protein intakes may cause calcium losses from the body, which could adversely affect bone health over the longer term.
  • In theory, a high protein diet could also put strain on the kidneys, which have to excrete the excess protein from the body. One study found, for example, that a high-protein, fat reduced intake, taken over six months, caused adaptive changes in renal size and function without indications of adverse effects. The UK Diet Trials study found no detrimental effects on kidney function over six months. More research is needed into the effects of the Atkins diet on long-term kidney function.
  • The American Heart Association (AHA) has highlighted concerns about the fact that this type of diet can “restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients and do not provide the variety of foods needed to adequately meet nutritional needs”. The AHA are also concerned about the potential risk of cardiac, kidney, bone and liver abnormalities as well.
  • Short-term studies to date have not highlighted any serious adverse effects, however the long term consequences on health are as yet unknown. Further, the safety of the Atkins diet for those with serious obesity-related diseases is also unknown. More research is certainly needed on this type of dietary regimen before firm recommendations can be made about its long-term safety and efficacy.
  • On the basis of current evidence, The British Dietetic Association would not recommend the Atkins diet as the best approach for healthy weight control.

Sources include: British Dietetic Association 2003

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