Lowdown on Low Carbs
Smith, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
May 17, 2004
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe
Newswire) -- Last October, I reconnected with my best friend Chantel
Hall who lost several pounds on the Atkins diet. She explained
how carb counting works and what she could and couldn't eat. It
sounded simple enough, I didn't have to give up cheese, and some
of the restaurants I frequent, including Ruby Tuesday's and TGI
Friday's, had low-carb menus. Four months later, after following
the Atkins plan I read online, I was 21 pounds lighter.
Stories of weight loss
success like mine have propelled Atkins and other low carbohydrate
diets such as the South Beach and Zone diets into the national
spotlight. Research giant ACNielsen found more than 17 percent
of the 10,000 U.S. households surveyed reported that someone in
their home is currently on a low-carb diet. Opinion Dynamics Corp.,
another research company, surveyed 1,800 people and found 11 percent
of U.S. adults follow a low-carb diet, 20 percent have tried one
and 19 percent (about 24 million Americans) may try one in the
next two years. Low-carb popularity continues to soar amid a growing
debate on whether low-carb diets are healthy long term and for
whom they are healthy.
One in 12 Americans
has diabetes, a common complication of weight problems. In addition,
two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, and a third are clinically
obese. Though there's a large need for effective weight loss plans,
low-carb diets may not be best for particular groups.
Low-carb regimes may
trigger birth defects and childhood cancers, according to Gideon
Koren, director of the Motherisk program at the Toronto Hospital
for Sick Children. Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and orange
juice, restricted on low-carb diets, are key sources of folic
acid essential to the development of fetuses.
Researchers at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology say complex carbs, such
as potatoes, rice, whole grain breads, lentils, beans and pasta,
are best for stabilizing mood. So if you are already prone to
mood changes, a low-carb diet may make you cranky. Judith Wurtman,
Ph.D., a research scientist in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive
Science, says low-carb diets can inhibit the synthesis of brain
serotonin, which is made after the consumption of carbohydrate
foods. "Many people eat carbs as a form of self medication
because, as we discovered years ago, the resulting increase in
brain serotonin improves mood. We call these people carbohydrate
cravers and without carbs, they tend to feel very grumpy, angry
and even anxious. They experience symptoms similar to PMS,"
she says. This means double the trouble for women especially because
they generally have lower serotonin levels than men.
The growing number
of overweight U.S. children has especially thrust their weight
loss into the debate. The American Dietetic Association does not
recommend low-carb diets for children at all. Julie Upton, R.D.,
an ADA spokesperson, says, "Children should be getting half
of the daily calories from carbohydrates." Several scientists
caution that low-carb diets lack critical nutrients children need
for their physical and intellectual development, which comes from
fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
In contrast, Mary Vernon,
M.D., a member of the Atkins Physicians Council, says children
can successfully go on low-carb diets under supervision. "There
are many more nutrients in chicken and salad than in fries and
coke," she adds. Jonny Bowden, C.N., C.N.S., author of "Living
the Low Carb Life: Choosing the Diet that's Right for You: from
Atkins to the Zone," says, "Children eat way, way too
many processed foods and high sugar junk: fruit juice drinks,
sodas, fries, snack foods, cereals, pastas, breads, cakes, etc.
A lower carb diet, one rich in vegetables, fruits, protein fat
and fiber and lighter on the processed carbs, is a huge improvement
over their usual diet."
Some thin adults who
want to lose a few pounds may want to proceed with caution, too.
Marion Nestle, chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies,
and Public Health at New York University, says, "Low carb
diets work if -- and only if -- they reduce calorie intake. Diets
are about calories. Skinny people are best off eating a balanced
diet." On the contrary, Dr. Vernon says skinny people can
tailor their low-carb diet to their individual needs. She adds,
"Everybody needs different levels of carbs. If you follow
the Atkins Nutritional Approach, you will find your body's nutritional
balance." The American Dietetic Association recommends thin
people steer clear of low-carb diets altogether.
Many experts agree
that the most effective weight loss occurs with an individualized
diet plan tailored for you by a health professional. In a recent
study led by Dena Bravata, M.D., from Stanford University, researchers
found no evidence that low-carb diets were more effective than
others. The only factors they found that led to success were less
calories overall and a long-term commitment. Back-to-back studies
in the New England Journal of Medicine show participants on the
Atkins-style low-carb diets lost the most weight out of others
on traditional low-fat diets but investigators conclude more research
needs to be done before giving low-carb diets the thumbs up. Studies
released continue to make a case for both sides of the debate.
was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail
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