Diets very low in carbohydrates are in vogue, so what do you need to know about their effects, when not all carbs are created equal?
Food, like everything in life, goes through trends and cycles. So does nutrition. Back in the early to mid 2000s there was one diet that reigned above all others: Atkins. A low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet, it was all the rage, especially in the US. Atkins-branded products filled the shelves and Atkins books sold in the millions. All over the world, people loaded up on bacon and eggs for breakfast – hold the toast.
The Atkins diet eventually faded from fashion. People found its restrictions hard to stick to; people who’d lost weight gained it back again. Atkins himself died in 2002 from injuries caused in a fall on an icy sidewalk, but medical records showed he weighed 258 pounds and had a history of heart attacks and hypertension. His company eventually went into bankruptcy.
Today we know much more about carbohydrates and nutrition. But low-carb diets are having another moment, with the keto or ketogenic diet the current low-carb plan du jour.
The basic premise of this diet is a focus on limiting carbohydrate. Keto, dieters eat very small amounts of carbohydrate foods, but load up on fat and some protein. Keto dieters typically cut carbs to less than 50 grams a day – that’s about what you’d find in a couple of apples. (Most healthy eating guidelines around the world recommend upwards of 200 grams a day of carbohydrates).
The ketogenic diet originated in the 1920s as a treatment for children with epilepsy, for which there’s evidence it helps. It’s also been studied for the potential treatment of other conditions such as autism and brain cancer. The theory is that your body will use ketones from stored fat as its preferred fuel source, instead of glucose from carbs. Ketones are produced by the liver from fat when the body is starved of carbohydrates.
But what about regular people wanting to lose weight and be healthy? Do very low-carb diets work? Should we all be ditching the bread, and just eating the butter?