Low Carb Diets and Diet Nutrition
Nutrition experts are now warning that the reason the high-protein low-carbohydrate regime sounds too good to be true is that it is.
Atkins Diet - Long Term Health Risk
Dr Susan Jebb, head of nutrition at the Medical Research Council's Human nutrition research unit in Cambridge (UK), told a summit in London that the Atkins diet is medically unsound and a major health risk.
She said: "We have no idea what will happen in the long term because no one is evaluating the results of the experiment."
Atkins Diet Advises Against Carbs
Millions around the world have taken up the Atkins diet, which advocates abandoning carbohydrates like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and cereal in favour of extra meat, fish, eggs and cheese.
But nutritionists believe that carbohydrates are such an essential part of a normal diet that dropping them could be positively dangerous for your health.
Dr Jebb says: "Carbohydrates provide around 50% of our energy requirements.
Why Carbs are Essential for Good Health
Dr Jebb explains they are made up of sugar molecules, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and when these are broken down in our cells, they provide the energy that keeps us warm and moving and living.
In theory, diet regimes like the Atkins diet work because restricting carbohydrate intake means the body taps its fat stores to fulfil its daily energy requirements. Through biochemistry, fats are converted into glucose (sugar).
Types of Dietary Carbs
Carbohydrates are divided in two types - simple and complex. Sugars like glucose, fructose and lactose link together like a chain to form complex sugars.
Fruits, milk and milk products, refined products such as sweets, table sugar and cakes contain simple sugars. Starchy vegetables, legumes, rice, pasta, cereals and bread contain complex sugars.
Not all carbohydrates provide the same amount of energy because the body absorbs and converts simple and complex carbohydrates into glucose at different rates.
Carbs and Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) measures the speed that a carbohydrate is turned into glucose over three hours after a meal. A value of 55 or less is low, 56 to 69 is medium and 70 and above is high. These rates are set against glucose that has a value of 100.
Dr Jebb says: "Simple sugars are absorbed very quickly and they give you a burst of energy, while other foods release energy more slowly and steadily.
"Not all complex carbohydrates have low GIs - it depends on the type of carbohydrate, the way it is processed, and the type of starch it contains.
"But, in general, the less refined a product is, and the more intact the grains, the lower the GI. For example, whole oats and wholegrain breads have lower GIs than cakes and biscuits."
Dr Jebb says that, although the research is still in its early days, diets with low GIs appear to be healthier.
"Foods with low GIs help you to feel fuller for longer, and so help to control weight. They certainly reduce fluctuations in blood glucose levels, which reduces the risk of diabetes."
Unrefined Carbs Best
She recommends choosing foods that are as unrefined as possible, such as whole oats, pasta, whole grain bread, and long grain rice, rather than sweetened cereal or pastry. Foods such as yoghurt should ideally be sweetened naturally with fruit rather than sugar.
And carbohydrates do not just provide energy. According to Dr Jebb's colleague, nutritionist Dr Toni Steer, they also contain vital nutrients.
"They have essential B vitamins like thiamine and folates. A lot of these vitamins have a role in energy metabolism in the body.
Carb Restriction May Cause Higher Risk of Heart Disease
"Research has also suggested that reducing the intake of folates may increase levels of plasma homocysteines, which have been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease."
Dr Steer says the best way to maintain weight loss is with a diet that is low-fat and high-carbohydrate.
"There is evidence spanning three, four, five and six years that such diets achieve and maintain weight loss.
Related Low Carb Diet Links
of Dr Atkins Diet
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