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Are "Low Carb"  Diets Safe?

In most parts of the country, it's about 30 days 'til bathing suit season -- are you searching for the perfect diet to get ready?  Many people rave about the low-carbohydrate or "carbohydrate controlled" diets -- like the Atkins Diet -- but they're raving both pros and cons.  What should you believe?

These diets generally recommend  reducing your carbohydrate intake for two weeks to 20 grams for two weeks and then very slowly increasing that amount so long as weight loss is still achieved.  Foods that are strongly encouraged are generally proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, and cheese.  While vegetables can be eaten liberally, these diets are often low in grains and fruits.  As a result, they promote the breakdown of fat forming appetite-suppressing substances called ketones.  If you have a build-up of ketones, you go into a state called ketosis, which may cause dehydration, dizziness, weakness, or headaches in some people.  It is essential to drink ample amounts of water while on these diets and to take the recommended dietary supplements.  As with any diet, these diets "work" much better when accompanied by a regular exercise program.

While it is unclear whether these diets are truly "safe" for people with diabetes, heart or kidney problems (known or unknown), these diets are safe for young, healthy people in the short term. . .and are probably preferable to their previous "diet" (the "average American diet").  Small studies have also demonstrated that these diets may have a positive benefit in reducing cholesterol.  These diets are appealing because they often result in rapid weight loss, however, as with most diets, people tend to regain the weight quickly if they "go off" the diet and resume their former unhealthy eating habits.

The most successful diet is the one that works for you.  Generally, those formerly overweight individuals who have maintained long-term success are those who followed balanced and calorically appropriate diets combined with regular exercise.

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Created: 5/1/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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