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Does a Low-Carb Diet Really Work?
Sonya Bryskine and Linda Ho
In the 1970s the low-carb diet was made famous by Dr. Robert Atkins, but at the time was rejected by most dieticians as dangerous nonsense. Now, 30 years later, millions are turning back to this effective, yet controversial, weight-loss program.
So what's the big deal? Known as the Atkins diet, the regime is simple—cut down the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods, but eat as much protein and fat as you want. This means that all those feel-good foods like white bread, rice, pasta, potato, ice cream, cakes, and even most fruits must go, to be replaced by meat, fish, dairy, and vegetables.
Carbs, usually found in the form of starches or sugars, if unused are stored in the body as fat. The Atkins philosophy is based on the idea that a body with little carbohydrate intake will resort to burning excess fat to meet energy needs, a process known as ketosis.
Although critics continue to question its effectiveness, recent studies have shown that the Atkins approach does indeed work. According to results published in the New England Journal of Medicine, obese subjects who stuck to the low-carb plan for six months lost three times the weight compared to the dieters on the conventional low-fat program. The study limited the daily intake of carbohydrates to just 30 grams, which equates to around two pieces of rye bread or one cup of sliced banana. On the other hand, one cup of white rice or a medium potato contains 50 grams of carbs. However, despite the initial effectiveness, "The Atkins Revolution" has long been accused of having short-lived effects. Researchers from Denmark's RVA University, for example, claimed in the Lancet Review: "Weight loss on the low-carbohydrate diet is probably caused by a combination of restriction of food choices and the enhanced satiety produced by the high-protein content." Some critics also insist that the weight is shed largely due to high water loss and not actual fat.
Others disagree. Dr. Guenther Boden from the Temple University School of Medicine, author of a study on the short-term effects of a low-carb diet that appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, confirmed that not only does the low-carb diet significantly reduce caloric intake, but it also helps diabetics lower their blood glucose levels, triglycerides and cholesterol.
"We proved that people lose weight on the Atkins diet because they eat less (consume fewer calories), not because they get bored with the diet or lose body water…" said Dr. Boden in a press statement. "All the weight loss was in fat."
The study, which consisted of allowing volunteers to have a usual diet for seven days, followed by restricting volunteers to 20 grams of carbs a day for two weeks, observed that all participants voluntarily ate 1,000 fewer calories per day despite readily available protein and fat foods.
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