Low carb diets seem to be a persistent trend in dieting – but what are they? Do they work? Are they safe? What, when all is said and done, is a carb?
A carb, or carbohydrate, is simply an organic compound of sugars and starches; it’s a major source of energy for both animals and humans, but foods with lots of carbohydrates can also be foods with lots of calories. A diet low on carbs may not be ideal for you or it might be a great tool for losing weight. The key is to understand the various low carb diets out there and pick one out that’s perfect for you and your lifestyle.
Fortunately, almost every low carb diet has a book to go with it and if you plan on taking a diet on, it’s important to know everything about it so that you can lose weight in a healthy and efficient way. Here is an introduction to some of the most popular low carb diets out there so you can then point yourself in the right direction.
The Atkins diet is one of the most extreme low carb diets on the table. Dr. Robert Atkins invented it and essentially in an Atkins diet, carbohydrates are counted – like calories – and where they come from is not the most important issue. However, refined grains and added sugars are never an option for Atkins dieters. In general, there is a lot of restriction to what you can eat in the beginning but as you get used to the diet, you can gradually eat more.
The Atkins diet has an overriding structure – there are various phases the dieter has to go through. They include Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss (or OWL), Pre-maintenance, and finally maintenance. A nifty aspect about dieting the Atkins way is you have a good deal of control over what you put into your body as there is a lot of room for choice. You can essentially tailor the diet to your liking.
The advantages of the Atkins diet is that once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly easy to figure out what foods you can eat and what foods you can’t. As well, you can eat many foods – like butter – that you aren’t allowed to eat in other diets! But probably the best part about the Atkins diet is it is made to be customized so that you can find an appropriate level of carbohydrate intake for you.
However, there are more than a few downsides. Most of all, one has to keep careful watch over how many carbs are in everything he or she eats. This can take a lot of mental effort and thus render the diet too much work and too difficult to maintain! Furthermore, many people do not react positively to the first stage, Induction. The withdrawal from carbs is not always a pleasant experience and even when there are no negative effects, the Atkins diet can be very boring and restrictive at first.
But even after this initial phase, it can be difficult to diet in a healthy manner as it’s sometimes hard to find nutritious foods that have few carbs. As well, while a pro is that the Atkins diet is easy to personalize, this also means that it may be difficult for some to navigate it at the more advanced phase.
The Zone diet organizes carbohydrates, proteins and fats as “good” or “bad” for its dieters. This way, they can engineer their diet to be healthy without giving up any one type of energy source. Specific foods are restricted, rather than carbohydrates or proteins in general. And dieters are expected to have five meals and two snacks a day and when they eat and how many calories they consume at a time is also enforced. Once you start the Zone, you better get comfortable with it, because the rules won’t change much as you go on.
The major disadvantage to the Zone is it is hard to learn and it may be unrealistic for those who work full-time jobs, etc, as five meals a day is not easy to plan for! The plus of the Zone diet is that the logic behind it is very solid and thus those who can figure it out will likely be in good shape.
Another popular low carb diet is the South Beach diet, which was created by Dr. Arthur Agatston. The diet was originally designed for those at risk of heart disease, so the South Beach diet is supposed to be a diet that’s great for your heart!
The South Beach diet is essentially a combination of the Zone, Atkins, and another popular diet – Protein Power. Like the Atkins, basic carbohydrates are restricted from the diet in the first two-week phase (even fruit and dairy products) and then are gradually added on as time passes. In the beginning, dieters have a strict structure to work with – three meals and three snacks a day, with firm restriction on carbs. However, after the first phase, there is little structure. Dieters don’t have to count carbs or weigh their food, etc.
The pros are probably obvious – the South Beach diet is easy to follow! The guidelines are simple and they’re only abrasive in the very beginning. As well, individuals are encouraged to make their own choices about their diet after a certain point. The cons of the South Beach diet include its over-reliance on the glycemic index and the fact that its lack of structure may not be helpful for those who lack control over their eating habits. On the contrary, the diet’s first restrictive phase may have too much structure as many people are turned off from the diet during the first two weeks before they give it a good chance.
These are just three of the most common low carb diets out there. You may find one or two to your liking or you may be completely turned off by them. It’s vital, however, that whatever diet you choose, you are prepared for. And make sure the diet you pick out is prepared to supply you with healthy eating habits that you can maintain.