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Your Low-Carb Diet Questions Answered

The idea of being able to eat as much meat and cheese as you want and lose weight is pretty appealing to most people; hence the popularity of low-carb diets. But does "beefing up" your plate really result in weight-loss, and are there any negative spin-offs when cutting down on carbs?

We put these questions and more to our CalorieKing dietitian, Joan Bushman. Check out her helpful responses to commonly asked questions about low-carb diets below.

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Q1. Does cutting carbs really result in weight-loss? Does the weight stay off?

Cutting carbs will often result in rapid short-term weight loss – but there are problems with this. Low-carb/high-protein diets force your body into a state called ketosis – this is when your body uses fat instead of carbs as an energy source. During the early stages of ketosis, small body fat losses are exaggerated by large water losses – rapid weight loss is a result.

If you compare a regular diet and a low-carb diet based on the same number of calories, the fat losses are exactly the same. But as much as 7 lbs or more can be lost in the initial stages of a low-carb diet because of water loss. Because it’s water rather than body fat, however, it’s not “real” weight loss and is easily regained when the diet is relaxed.

Although it involves some patience, losing weight gradually is better. Quick weight loss may be a temporary motivator but when the weight plateaus or comes back, the metabolism is negatively affected. Go slowly and eat healthy foods from all the major food groups. Include wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit, vegetables, and low fat milk or a moderate amount of soy in your diet. Keep the big picture in mind, not just the “quick fix”.

Q2. Are there any negative side-effects to a low-carb diet?

That depends on what you consider “low-carb”. Reducing your carb intake to 40% of total calories may be okay, especially if you plan to cut back on sugar and white flour and include lots of high-fibre vegetables and fruit. But if you’re thinking of reducing your carb intake to 100g or less per day and proportionately increasing your protein and fat intake (especially saturated fat), then negative health effects may result. These may include constipation, high blood cholesterol levels, gout, dehydration, kidney problems, ketosis, immune deficiency diseases, colon cancer and other cancers – not a nice pay-off really! The high acid level in a high protein diet can also leech calcium from bone, and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Tiredness and a lack of energy can also result from insufficient carbohydrate intake. For most types of exercise the body’s muscles use mainly glycogen – the storage form of carbohydrate. When glycogen stores get depleted, so can your energy.

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Next: Q3. Is there a danger of missing out on nutrients from carbohydrates on a low-carb diet?

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