It's been said recently that low carb diets are no different that low fat diets when it comes to weight loss. But, is it true?
Human beings have eaten varied diets around the world ever since the dawn of man and while all have had their nay-sayers, it doesn't seem like any has been so under assault recently as the low carb diet. As we'll see in this article, it doesn't deserve the grief that's being directed at it nor does it deserve to be relegated to being “just as ineffective” as low fat diets.
First Thing's First: What Is A Carbohydrate?
There are 3 types of foods that we eat: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Of the 3, there are only 2 that are necessary to life and those are proteins (more appropriately, the building blocks that make up proteins, amino acids) and fats.
There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate food; the body can make its own carbohydrates from other foods like protein through gluconeogenesis.
The body needs essential fatty acids, which are: alpha-lineolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and lineoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).
It also needs essential amino acids, which are:
There are other amino acids, but they aren't considered “essential”.
The body cannot create any of the essential things listed above; they all have to come from foods.
Carbohydrate foodstuffs are not necessary for human being to survive. The Inuit diet in the northern reaches of Alaska includes primarily meat. When the body has an excess of protein, it is converted into the carbohydrates the body needs to produce glucose.
So, when a 609 person study that divided people into a low carb diet group and a low fat diet group didn't see much difference in the weight loss results, it's due to this fact: one diet had 30% carbohydrates and the other had 48% carbohydrates. This is not low carb at all!
Those who had greater resistance to insulin didn't do better on a low-carb diet plan that was laid out precisely because the diet was still 30% carbohydrates. The low fat diet didn't help with insulin resistance, either, because it was a whopping 48% carbohydrates. Of course it didn't work!
So, What Qualifies As A Low Carb Diet?
DietDoctor.com defines a truly low carb diet as having less than 4% carbohydrates; a moderate low carb diet is 4-10% carbohydrates and a liberal low carb diet maxes out at 20% carbohydrates. The highest end of low carb, according to DietDoctor, is a full 10% less than the low carb diet the study mentioned above used. The lowest carb diet they classify is often called a ketogenic low carb diet, because it helps the body enter into a state of ketosis where it begins the process of running on fats instead of sugars.
The cool thing about the human body is that while the brain only operates on 2 things, glucose and ketones, the body is capable of producing both. When the body has excess protein, it's converted into carbohydrates, which is converted into glucose. This process is called gluconeogenesis. When the body doesn't have an excess of protein and there isn't much glucose available, the liver produces ketones from fat so the brain stays operational.
So all of the “whole grains” that we're being told are so great for us really aren't necessary to maintain a healthy diet. Neither are potatoes, rice, corn, beans, and other starchy vegetables. Bread and pasta aren't necessary, either. They may taste good and have vitamin content, but it's not necessary to eat them; there are healthier options that are just as nutritious.
What About Low Fat Diets?
Low fat diets are high in carbohydrates and are bad in general because the body requires fats from food; it cannot produce fats on its own.
But, why so much hate on carbohydrates? Well, they spike insulin more than any other food by far... and fat spikes insulin less than any other food by far.
How Does Insulin Affect Weight Gain?
It's a known fact: insulin is a hormone that makes a person gain weight. The more insulin a person has, the more weight they will gain. This is why almost all people who are type 2 diabetic and have to take insulin are overweight, often severely so.
When the pancreas produces insulin, it's a signal to the body that it has plenty of energy and so any extra energy in the form of glucose should be stored as fat. When we don't have enough insulin, such as in the case of type 1 diabetics, we don't gain weight. Both types of diabetes are a disease of insulin, not a disease of the blood sugar, so it's the insulin levels that have to be addressed in order to produce the desired effect, whether that's weight gain or weight loss.
To put it bluntly, according to Dr. Jason Fung above, insulin being given to type 2 diabetes patients is like giving an alcoholic more alcohol. It just doesn't make any sense. The body cannot lose weight as long as there is an excess of insulin being produced or being taken into the body artificially through medications.
Very Low Carb Diets Are Better Than Low Fat Diets Hands Down
The evidence that low fat diets are better than or even on the same level as low carbohydrate diets is simply not there, whether it has to do with weight loss or health benefits in general.
The simple truth is that if someone wants to lose weight, they have to keep their insulin down. To do that, keeping to a very low carb diet can help.