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Are low carb diets safe to follow? There is a lot of conflicting information, so let’s examine some of available research to answer this question.
Walk into any supermarket, not just Whole Foods, and you’ll see in the racks at the checkout aisle more than a couple of low-carb-geared magazines. These range from from Paleo publications to other natural health titles.
More and more people are starting to realize that fat isn’t the enemy. Dietary fat is not why heart disease and strokes and obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise. Nope. The macronutrient culprit responsible for many diseases is carbohydrates, especially high-glycemic carbohydrates.
High glycemic carbohydrates quickly convert into sugar. They do so almost immediately upon making contact with saliva. Even a piece of wheat bread gets broken down into simple sugar quite quickly. How this metabolic process is responsible for a wide range of inflammatory-rooted diseases is a topic for another article. But here’s a brief primer….
Your cells receive sugar via the hormone, insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas. When the cells are full of sugar, and cannot accept any more, the excess sugar gets stored as body fat. Excess body fat can cause inflammatory disorders.
It’s easy to see why low carb diets have become more popular. All it takes is the initial consciousness about the danger of eating excess high-glycemic carbohydrates, some willpower, as well as satisfying recipes.
So are low carb diets safe to follow? That really shouldn’t be the question …. The question should be is it safe NOT to follow a low carb diet?
There are a lot of misconceptions about low carb diets. But consider that a search on the U.S. National Library of Medicine (under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health) website, aka Pubmed.com for ‘low carbohydrate diets’ yields over 6000 studies.
Before reviewing what a few of those studies say about the safety of low carb diets. Let’s get back to the question: Is it safe to follow a low carb diet? To answer, we need to get a few things out of the way first….
Low carb diets can indeed be unhealthy. But so can any diet. A low carb diet can be unhealthy if the fats and proteins eaten in the carbohydrates place are toxic. Eating unspoiled, all-natural fats and lean, high-quality protein is essential to eating a safe low-carb diet.
That means that you can’t eat anything with trans fats. That means no packaged pastries that have hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils. These are used to extend the shelf-life of cakes, cookies, pastries and the like. Trans fats can lead to heart disease. Other examples of spoiled fats include cooking with seed- and vegetable oil, such as corn, most Canola oils, sunflower, cottonseed, soybean, etc. These fats are highly inflammatory and can easily spoil once exposed to cooking heat.
Eating a lot of factory-farmed meat is another example of not eating a safe low-carb diet. Factory farmed meat can also cause a smorgasbord of inflammatory diseases. The pork industry still has a long way to go until most pork products can be deemed safe to eat for a low-carb diet. Opt for wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken and eggs and wild game and organ meats.
And now, let’s talk about carbs….
One may argue when looking at the question, “Are low carb diets safe?” is that it depends on the amount of restriction on carbohydrates. Is it safe to follow a low carb diet if you eat just a tiny bit of pasta, a portion of rice, a sliver of cake, a shot glass worth of orange juice, a kernel of corn, and a handful of chips?
No. Even if the examples of carbs, above, totalled just 50 grams of carbs, which is towards the low-end of a low-carb diet, the type of carbs matters very much. The healthiest carbs to eat on a low-carb diet are the same type of carbs everyone should be eating. And those are low-starch vegetables and a small amount of fruit. Think spinach, broccoli, kale, chard and other nutrient-dense veggies. Limit fruit intake to a handful of organic berries and one whole piece of other low-sugar fruit such as a green apple.
But let’s now take a look at some of those studies proving that low-carb diets are beneficial for health….
A study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology concluded that a variation of a low-carb diet (a specific type of ketone diet) improved physical performance and cognitive function in rats, and its energy-sparing properties suggest that it may help to treat a range of human conditions with metabolic abnormalities.
This study, published in Nutrients concluded “A diet that is reduced in carbohydrates may optimize improvements in other type 2 diabetes risk factors, including insulin resistance and hyperglycemia.“ The researchers also said, “However, these findings are in contrast to current guidelines for the prevention of type 2 diabetes in adults which recommends a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.”
Does the research answer the question, “Are low carb diets safe?”
One might say that the above study was several years old, before the recent surge in popularity of low-carb diets began in earnest. However, this study was published in August of 2016.
Another study, this one published in Digestion, concluded, “Diets low in … carbohydrates favor a healthy gut microbiome and improve glucose tolerance,” in people with type 2 diabetes.
So not only are low-carb diets good for your external belly, they’re also good for your gut.
Conclusion: Are low carb diets safe to follow?
These are just a few of the hundreds of studies proving that low-carb diets are safe. Perhaps one day, federal government guidelines will encourage low-carbohydrate diets as a way to defeat the ever-rising obesity and diabetes epidemic.