Many of you women out there know exactly what I’m talking about. You may have even uttered the phrases “I’m staying away from carbs” “Carbs are my weakness” or “That has too many carbs for me” LADIES!! WAKE UP! While I am not saying you are crazy for thinking this (I am guilty of thinking these exact same things myself) I am bringing to light the fact that we are CONDITIONED to think that carbs are what make us fat! It cannot be more WRONG! Yet most girls grow up hearing their moms or other women talk about the evils of carbs.
I want to tear my hair out at the amount of trainers or health professionals that put their clients on obscenely low calorie and low-carb diets assuring them it’s the best way to lose weight. Not to mention they leave their clients thinking that achieving KETOSIS is the key to all their health problems! (I may have vomited a little in my mouth at the word.)
In this post I will discuss low-carb diets and ketosis; what they are, their benefits, and their side-effects. In my next post I will detail just how you can begin to love carbs again, feel healthier, AND yes, still lose weight!
Alright so what’s the deal with low-carb diets anyway?
Let’s have a quick talk about metabolic pathways. The body has a process of taking the foods we eat and turning them into nutrients we can then use for energy. Our bodies derive glucose from carbohydrates, fatty acids from fat, and amino acids from protein. In normal fed circumstances our bodies either use these compounds for energy or they are stored as glycogen (carbs and protein) or fat (all 3 have potential to be stored as fat). When our body is starved of food for more than 3 days our glycogen stores have been depleted and our body starts to use fat stores for energy. The liver breaks down fatty acids and produces ketones to fuel the body when glycogen is absent. These ketones are also produced when our bodies are starved of carbohydrates, which lead us to the term ketosis. The state of ketosis is when our bodies, in the limitation or absence of carbs, begins to utilize ketones as fuel for the muscles, heart, brain, and all other organs instead of glucose.
Just to review, low carb diets induce ketosis, ketosis mimics the same metabolic breakdown as STARVATION. Ketosis is starvation without actually starving yourself.
Now, let’s take a step back from the science of low-carb and talk simply about how it makes you feel. A simple google search of “symptoms of ketosis” will yield information such as:
- Bad Breath
- Digestive Issues (main issue being constipation! Fun)
- Decreased Performance
- Keto-flu (flu-like symptoms)
- Leg Cramps
- Excess Thirst
- Heart Palpitations
The list goes on! But don’t worry if you find yourself on a webpage that advocates in favor of a low-carb diet they will assure you that in time these all will pass.
Ok, I’ll be real, I have done the low-carb thing before thinking it would be the key to achieving and maintaining weight loss. I felt like shit the whole time! I was tired, hungry ALL the time, dizzy, nauseous, and holy crap was I grumpy! This alone was enough to convince me that it wasn’t worth it, and then I started eating carbs again…. Anyone want to take a guess what happened? No, you don’t have to guess do you? Because you have either been there or seen a friend who has experienced it… chimpmunk-itis. Meaning the abnormal swelling of the entire body especially the face which makes one look like a chipmunk! (Taken straight from the Andrea Brogdon dictionary of health related words) We laugh now, but at the time it was not funny. At all. Lol. But Really.
Long-term effects of a low-carb diet
When it comes to looking at health information my inner biologist likes to go straight to the source (scholarly articles/studies) because quite honestly when you get info from a third, fourth, or fifth source the info often gets skewed. Not to mention the censorship of mainstream media and information which makes it difficult to sort through the crap, but that’s a whole other can of worms. So I’m going to give it to you straight and try to avoid the boring scientific mumbo-jumbo.
Benefits of low-carb:
Brain: After looking at tons of sources about how ketones affect the brain I found almost no significant effects on a healthy adult brain as compared to glucose. I have to be honest this was the first organ I wanted to know if function was impaired when running off ketones instead of glucose. I did however stumble upon studies examining the effects of a ketogenic diet on epileptic adults and children which found a low-carb diet to be effective in reducing the number of seizures patients experienced. (1)
Weight-loss: The reason most people submit to a low-carb diet is weight loss. Most people will experience weight loss but, there is always a threat of rebound (as mentioned above it is not pretty. Recall: chipmunk-itis). However, many people are happy with the weight loss they experience on a low-carb diet while getting to eat tons of savory, fatty foods.
There are also claims to energy benefits and appetite suppression with a low-carb diets.
Risks of low-carb:
Heart: Studies conducted on the effects of ketogenic diets on blood lipids found that levels of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and total cholesterol were elevated while levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL) were lowered. LDL- cholesterol is considered a major contributor to lipid accumulation in arteries. This suggests that long-term adherence to a low-carb diet can mean an increased risk of heart disease.(2) This increase in LDL can also be due to the higher consumption of animal protein which leads to the next two risks.
Bowel Cancer: We cannot ignore the link between colorectal cancer and diets high in animal protein. Most low-carb diets are high in meat and low in fiber (hello constipation!). Not only does this cause stagnation in your bowels but, high meat consumption is linked to bowel cancer. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables are shown to have protective effects against many cancers including bowel, breast, pancreatic, lung, and stomach. Low-carb diets highly limit fruits and veggies! Not to mention all the great fiber you get from other grains that are limited or eliminated altogether. (3-8)
Bone Health: A diet high in meat can also lead to acidity in the body which can affect bone health. Meat, which contains Sulphur amino acids, can cause a change in blood acidity causing increased calcium, potassium, sodium and ammonia loss in the urine. (9,10,11) You’re literally peeing out necessary nutrients!
Kidney Stones: low-carb diets raise blood cholesterol and free fatty acids increasing the risk of kidney stones. (12) Kidney stones are not only painful but they are dangerous! Patients with Kidney stones run the risk of rupturing a Kidney if the stone is dislodged or becomes too large.
Phew, that is a lot! Honestly, I started this blog post with the intention of a small discussion about low-carb diets and ketosis but the nerd inside me just couldn’t help going down the rabbit hole of scholarly articles and health studies. I originally thought I would write all my thoughts about ketogenic diets down in one day but this post ended up taking me over a week. Why? I am passionate about the subject, most of all I am passionate about women’s health. I’m so tired of women thinking that carbs are making them fat. This kind of thinking only leads to a deprivation/binge cycle and it’s just destructive. Weight loss aside this kind of diet can be downright dangerous to your health in the long run. There is a better way I promise.
I hope I was able to present all this information in a helpful way. If you’re inner nerd is also intrigued by periodicals feel free to check out the works cited below!
As mentioned previously keep a look out for my next blog post detailing how you can start loving carbs again and achieve your fitness goals on a carb-full diet!
Hope your week is absolutely amazing!
Andrea B Fit
- Kinsman, S. L., Vining, E. P. G., Quaskey, S. A., Mellits, D. and Freeman, J. M. (1992), Efficacy of the Ketogenic Diet for Intractable Seizure Disorders: Review of 58 Cases. Epilepsia, 33: 1132–1136. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1157.1992.tb01770.x
- Freedman MR, King J, Kennedy Popular diets: a scientific review. Obesity Research 2001;9 Suppl 1:1S- 40S.
- Bingham Meat, starch and non-starch polysaccharides and large bowel cancer. Am J Clin Nutr 1988; 48: 762-7.
- Sandhu M, White , McPherson K. Systematic review of the prospective cohort studies on meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk: a meta-analytical approach. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2001;10: 439-46.
- Norat T, Riboli Meat consumption and colorectal cancer: a review of epidemiologic evidence. Nutr Rev 2001; 59: 37-47.
- Truswell Meat consumption and cancer of the large bowel. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002; 56 Suppl 1: S19-S24.
- Hill M. Meat cancer and dietary advice to the public. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002; 56 Suppl 1: S36-S41.
- McIntosh Cereal foods, fibre and the prevention of cancers. Aust J Nutr Diet 2001; 58: S34-S48
- Barzel US, Massey Excess dietary protein can adversely affect bone. J Nutrition 1998; 128: 1051-3.
- Lemann Jr Relationship between urinary calcium and net acid excretion as determined by dietary protein and potassium: a review. Nephronology 1999; 81 Suppl 1: 18-25.
- Wang X, Zhao X. The effect of dietary sulphur–containing amino acids on calcium excretion. Adv Exp Med Biol 1998; 442: 495-9.
- Cotter DG, Schugar RC, Crawford PA. Ketone body metabolism and cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2013;304(8):H1060-H1076. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00646.2012.