Why Low-Carb Hurts Rather Than Helps

By: proctor - September 29, 2006
It has been a very popular craze over the past few years to consume a low-carb diet. Just because it is popular does NOT mean it is right. In fact, unless your doctor has placed you on a low-carb diet to accelerate weight loss to get you out of the obese catagory, you should never restrict your carbohydrate intake to less than 40% of your daily caloric intake. Athletes should add extra carbohydrate to their diet so that it comprises up to 65% of their daily calories. Why? Read on...

What is a carbohydrate?

A carbohydrate is a source of energy that your body breaks down into sugars to provide energy for your body's systems to operate as well as provides fuel for workouts. It has 4 calories per gram, just like a protein gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram, therefore has a more dense supply of energy per gram. Fat gets digested in your body just like carbohydrate and protein, in that your body breaks it down to be used as energy. Only if you eat too many calories at once and your body does not need that amount of calories at that moment will those calories actually be stored as fat.

Aren't carbs fattening?

Carbs, short for carbohydrate, themselves are not fattening. Eating more calories than your body needs is fattening. When you eat too many calories at one sitting, your body sends the food, converted into energy by your digestive system, off to fat cells for storage until your body needs the extra energy. In today's society, we often have no trouble eating 2-3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks, so excess fat storage is not necessary. Only if you are going on a long trip and are not going to have adaquate food available to you, or if your area experiences a famine and there is no food available, is extra bodyfat an okay idea. Otherwise, sticking to eating the right amount of calories and staying active so your body can use the energy you eat instead of store it will keep your weight at a reasonable level.

What happens when you use a low-carb diet?

After a few days of either drastically restricting your caloric intake, or not eating at all, body fats and proteins are metabolized to produce energy since sugars, produced from the food you eat, are not available. The fats are broken down into fatty acids that can be used as fuel. In the absence of adequate carbohydrate intake, the fatty acids may be incompletely metabolized, yielding ketone bodies and thus ketosis (and bad breath!). Prolonged fasting is unsafe because it causes the body to begin to digest proteins from its muscles, heart, and other internal organs. This is obviously not an ideal situation and can have disastrous effects.

What are the results of a low-carb diet?

The effects of a low-carb diet on your body are serious, especially if you eat low-carbs long term. These include:

1. An increased risk of heart disease: A low-CHO (low carbodydrate), low-fiber diet that is high in animal protein, cholesterol and saturated fat greatly increases your risk of heart disease. A high meat consumption can increase homocysteine levels and iron stores to excessive levels.

2. An increased risk of cancer: When fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are reduced or eliminated from your diet, the risk of many cancers increase (as well as constipation from not having enough fiber).

3. Reduced Athletic Performance: For almost a century, we have known that a diet rich in carbohydrates can enhance endurance during strenuous athletic events. If you restrict CHO from your diet, you will limit your abilities to reach your potential. Strenous exercise at altitude, such as mountain climbing, with too few CHO in your blood can lead to altitude sickness and even lead to death if not addressed immediately. Your brain only operates off of sugars from food you have eaten (broken down by your body from carbohydrate), so when you feel sluggish and have trouble concentrating, reach for an apple or granola bar and a bottle of water.

4. Rising Blood Pressure with Age: A high-CHO diet usually includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lowfat dairy products so includes key nutrients such as vitamins and minerals such as potassium and calcium that your body needs for good long-term health. A low-CHO diet obviously makes it very difficult to get these nutrients. Additionally, low-CHO diets often do not restrict sodium intake, the main reason for increasing blood pressure as we get older.

5. Gout: Too much uric acid in your body will cause gout. You can have too much uric acid after consuming a diet high in food with purines, found in such food as meat, poultry, eggs, and nuts. Elevated levels of uric acid in your blood can actually lead to needle-like uric acid crystals in your joints.

6. Kidney Stones: Uric Acid and calcium oxalate stones are much more likely to form after consuming a high protein, ketogenic diet. Consume fruits and vegetables every day to avoid this problem.

7. Osteoporosis: The consumption of large amounts of protein increases the loss of calcium in your body which can eventually lead to osteoporosis. Consume lots of green, leafy vegetables and nonfat dairy products, fortified orange juice, or enriched soy products.

Other side effects, which may not be so dangerous but also have bad consequences, are fainting, keto breath, trouble concentrating, and binging on high fat and high sugar foods from having too few calories in your system.

How can I add more healthy carbs?

Fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, beans, cereal, non-fat dairy products and soy foods all add healthy, nutrition-packed calories to your diet. Keeping a steady energy level, provided by eating a reasonable amount of calories (300-500 calories, depending on your activity level) every 3-4 hours will help prevent binging on high sugar and high fat foods such as cookies, ice cream, candy, pizza, chips and fries. Eating often allows your body to receive a steady stream of energy that is can actually use instead of sending it off to fat cells for storage which is what happens when you eat 1000 calories or more in one sitting.

The human body does not operate well off of fad diets, such as low carb diets or any diet with too much of one food group and not enough of the others. Just as your car needs the correct kind of fuel to run, your body must have a balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein in order to operate at its best. Generally speaking, try to consume about 60-65% carbohydrate, 15-20% fat, and 15-20% protein. You will need slightly more protein than the recommended 1 gram per kilogram of body weight if you are very active. Keep it simple by eating a wide variety of foods, different colors and flavors, and drink at least 2-3 liters of water every day so that your body has the energy to allow you to do whatever it is you want to do.

Bibliography: Communicating Food for Health and the Low-Carb Fad Diet 2000 Presentation Kit by Food and Health Communications, Inc.

Dr. Steven Barrett, via Quackwatch.org.

About the Submitter


I have been an ACE certified personal trainer since 2000 who has trained over 3000 hours. I specialize in pre- and post-natal fitness, stretching, running, and weight loss. Yoga is also a passion for me and a way of life. I received my Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in India and love to share the calmness, strength, and openness that yoga offers to people of all ages and abilities.

Public Comments

  • By: proctor

    Saturday, January 13, 2007 - 3:43pm

    mrsjones-cutting out the white carbs and eating whole grain based carbs is a good change, and will add a lot of nutrition to your diets too. The fact that you have added lots of vegetables and fruits is great as well because of the vitamins, water, and healthy carbs that come with them. Keep it up!

  • By: mrsjones

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007 - 12:04pm

    Going "low carb seems to be the best way for Clay to shed weight. However, he does not cut all carbs out - just the "white carbs like white rice, jacket potatoes, white bread, and pasta. We eat whole wheat bread and brown rice though, because from what I understand these are better for you. He still eats fruits and veggies though,. This type of carb cut out isn't bad is it? I was reading the article and got quite concerned, esp. with his family history of heart problems and diabetes. We also cut our corn from our diet (again read somewhere it's not as good as other veggies) but eats lots of soy beans, lentils, green beans, broccli, cauliflower, and carrots.

  • By: proctor

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 12:18pm

    The South Beach Diet for some people is great because it makes them very aware of eating excess sugar and the unhealthy fats. If you are an athlete, you have to make sure that you get enough calories to fuel your workout and keep your immune system at its strongest so that you don't get sidelined by a cold or illness.

  • By: molitor

    Wednesday, December 6, 2006 - 5:54pm

    How do you feel about the South Beach Diet which only restricts carbs for 2 weeks (during the 1st phase)? I understand that the point of SBD is to focus on eating good carbs and fats while restricting the bad carbs and fats (2nd and 3rd phases).

  • By: kakers

    Monday, October 2, 2006 - 8:21pm

    Thanks for posting that. It helps.

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