Eat a high-protein, low-carb diet to lose fat and improve your health. Research shows that restricting carbohydrate intake in favor of a diet of whole food protein and fat is one of the most effective and easy dietary lifestyles for fat loss and optimal health.
The use of low-carb, high-protein diets is one of the most hotly contested issues in nutrition today. For example, according to a misguided massive review of diets conducted by U.S. News and World Report, we know the following things about nutrition:
- carbohydrates are an essential nutrient in food
- restricting carbs from your diet may be dangerous to health
- low-carb diets are hard to stick to
U.S. News does a great job representing mainstream America’s approach to health and weight loss. Whether this approach should be called conservative, blind to reality, or absurd is your call. But the use of scare tactics to keep people from adopting a low-carb lifestyle that supports body composition and health is wrong! This article will provide information to assist you in making your way through the maze of nutrition fallacies.
The following is a debunking of facts presented by U.S. News:
Not Fact #1: Carbs are essential nutrients in food and the body’s favored energy source. Eating them ensures that “everything from your muscles to brain function properly.”
Truth: Carbs are NOT essential. You do not need to eat them for the body to produce glucose or have a reliable energy source. According to Dr. Carlon Colker, “your body can make all the carbohydrates it needs in the form of glucose from the fat and protein you take in. Your body requires no orally ingested carbohydrates for this function. This is a medical fact that countless professional and non-professionals continually ignore.”
Not Fact #2: Low-carb diets can be notoriously difficult to stick to, given their often lengthy lists of off-limits foods. Clinical trial participants who know they're being studied have trouble adhering to low-carb diet plans.
Truth: Call it a lie, call it a misperception, call it whatever you want, this is not true. Kris Gunnars did a comparison of compliance in 19 randomized control trials that tested low-carb and low-fat diets. The average completion rate for low-carb diets was 79.51 percent compared to 77.72 percent for low-fat diets.
Gunnars writes “The difference isn’t huge, but it is very clear that low-carb diets are at least NOT harder to stick to than low-fat diets.” As you will see below when we get into the nitty gritty of macronutrient manipulation, the overwhelming benefit of true low-carb diets is that they optimally manage blood sugar and insulin, producing a satiating effect that leads to reduction in appetite and less feelings of hunger.
Not Fact #3: Low-carb diets carry some risks: It’s hard to get the recommended amounts of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and if they are high in saturated fat, they “may also hurt your heart.”
Truth: First, a robust body of research shows that low-carb diets are effective for improving cardiovascular health markers and pose no threat to the heart. However, a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of 347,747 subjects “showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.”
Second, whole food low-carb diets present no difficulty in getting recommended amounts of vegetables. It is true that depending on your carb intake, fruits may be restricted, however, this is not necessary.
Third, whole grains are not a dietary imperative. Studies show no health benefit when comparing whole grain versus refined grain intake, and eating a diet high in grains is associated with a greater risk of having a heart attack than eating a diet high in fat!
Not Fact #4: The side effects of low-carb diets include weakness, nausea, dizziness, constipation, irritability—and bad breath.
Truth: There are some side effects during the initial weeks on a low-carb diet. The process of shifting the body's energy source from glucose made from carbs to burning ketonesfrom body fat requires a transition period in which you might experience mental fogginess or a drop in physical performance.
However, research and personal reports show the initial disadvantages pass after the first few weeks. Extremely low-carb diets have been used by elite strength and endurance athletes without any lasting performance decrement. A study of Italian national team gymnasts showed that a 4-week low-carb diet of no more than 28 grams of carbs allowed the gymnasts to decrease body fat by 2.6 percent with no drop in strength or power ability.
In regards to the other side effects mentioned, these vary by the individual and can be generally avoided on a well-planned whole foods diet. Consider that low-carb diets overcome hunger and food cravings--easily the most difficult side effect of fat loss. And, according to a 2005 review, “dropout rates from controlled studies would suggest that minor side-effects from a low-carbohydrate diet are not a major issue for participants when compared against similar dropout rates for a low-fat dietary approach.”
You can experience numerous benefits from low-carb diets, including fat loss, a reduction in inflammation, and better cardiovascular health, all without constant hunger cravings.
Why Low-Carb Works
Wouldn't you rather eat to the point where you feel satisfied than have to count calories and be hungry most of the time? This is what smart low-carb eating allows.
By restricting carbs in favor of whole protein and fat, you won't be hungry and you won't have to count calories. It works like this: When you eliminate sugars, grains, and starchy carbs from your diet, you will experience a drop in insulin. When insulin goes down, it is easier for your body to burn fat instead of storing fat.
Another awesome effect of low-carb eating is that it leads to an automatic reduction in appetite. In a 6-month study that compared the effect of having women eat a low-carb, high-protein diet that did not restrict calories or a low-fat, low-calorie (1245 calories daily) diet, the low-carb group lost significantly more fat in the absence of hunger. The low-carb group lost an average of 4 kg by 3 months and 4.5 kg at 6 months, whereas the low-fat group lost 2.5 kg at 3 months, but regained half a kilo for final fat loss of 2 kg at the end of the study.
An 85 percent completion rate in the low-carb group compared to a 74 percent completion rate in the low-fat diet group shows the ease of low-carb eating for fat loss.
Mainstream concerns that low-carb diets are not safe in the long run are absurd when we remember that we evolved on low-carb diets high in animal protein and saturated fats. For example, a two-year study published in 2008 compared the effect of carb restriction on health and body composition.
Researchers tested the effect of three diets: A low-fat calorie-restricted diet (30 percent fat, men ate 1,800 calories and women 1,500 calories a day), a Mediterranean calorie-restricted diet (same calorie allowances with no more than 35 percent of the calories from fat), or a low-carb, non-restricted-calorie diet (no more than 20 grams of carbs daily for 2 weeks, then increasing to 120 grams).
Results showed nothing but positive effects from the low-carb diet:
The low-carb group lost an average of 5.5 kg, 3.8 cm in waist circumference, and decreased systolic blood pressure by 3.9 mmHg. They had the greatest improvement in cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein (a marker of cardiovascular inflammation). Insulin and glucose markers were comparable between all groups.
The low-fat group lost an average 3.3 kg, 2.8 cm in waist circumference, and decreased systolic blood pressure by 4.3 mmHg.
The Mediterranean group lost an average of 4.6 kg, 3.8 cm in waist circumference, and decreased systolic blood pressure by 5.5 mmHg.
What should you take away from this evidence and the U.S. News report?
- Consider adopting a low-carb, high-protein, smart fat diet for health and body composition. A Paleo-style diet is one model that has proven to be highly effective for many people committed to living the best life.
- Always favor whole foods over packaged or processed foods.
- Carbohydrate restriction can take on many forms, however, to eliminate hunger and cravings, refined grains, sugars, and starch-based carbs may need to be removed from your diet.
- If you are trying to lose fat and are not getting results, two common issues are that you have not cut carbs enough, or you are not eating enough fat:
- A review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a useful definition of low-carb is below 50 grams a day from vegetables and select fruits such as berries.
- When you restrict carbs, you need to increase protein and fat. Protein should make up 25 to 50 percent of the diet. Depending on your body composition goals, carbs might be as low as 5 to 10 percent with the rest being made up of "smart" fats.
5. Eat protein for your first meal of the day. Study after study shows the benefit of high-protein breakfast for avoiding hunger and optimizing brain function. For example, in normal-weight, college-age men, those who ate eggs for breakfast had increased satiety, less hunger, and a lower desire to eat after breakfast than participants who were given either cornflakes or a croissant and orange juice.