While low carb diets have definitely grown in popularity over the last twenty years, there still seem to be worries and concerns surrounding them – even in spite of the wealth of scientific backing which lends support to the health benefits of restricting your dietary carbohydrate, and maintaining a state of ketosis.
Even though low carb dieting has been proven to help counteract obesity, has benefits for people suffering with type 2 diabetes and helps with metabolic syndrome, myths still abound regarding the ‘safety’ and overall effectiveness of low-carb diets.
It seems that, even in the face of scientific as well as anecdotal evidence pertaining to the health benefits of following a low carb diet, people are still suspicious – and there is definitely a feeling of doubt and uncertainty within western societies collective consciousness.
If you are a low-carb dieter, you may have encountered some of the negativity that surrounding this type of lifestyle choice. I myself have been hounded with statements like ‘you shouldn’t cut out carbs, it’s not good for you’ and ‘it’s not a natural way of eating’ when I’ve tried to convince friends and family of the benefits of low-carb dieting.
It would seem that this snap judgement is borne simply out of a lack of education around the benefits of low-carb dieting – leading to a few widely believed myths about the ‘safety’ of such diets. This article seeks to debunk three of the most prevalent myths surrounding low-carb, ketogenic diets, and prove that, if you choose to follow a low-cab lifestyle, there really isn’t anything to worry about.
Myth Number One: Low-Carb Diets Decrease Your Athletic Performance
This simply is not true. On the contrary, studies have shown that low carbohydrate diets are in fact very effective in preserving and increasing lean muscle mass. In a study, published by The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found that, even when on a restricted, low-carb diet, subjects of the study displayed a greater retention of muscle mass than a control group who were not placed on a low-carb diet.
It was concluded that the subjects who were not following the low-carb diet lost more muscle mass due to the fact that their dietary protein was being displaced by the carbohydrate they were consuming.
This is something that has been displayed over and over again in clinical trials – dietary protein, when consumed on a low carbohydrate diet, helps the body to retain muscle mass. The idea that low-cab dieting causes your muscles to ‘waste away’ often seems to come be purported by dieticians and nutritionists – who are by nature more concerned with overall dietary balance than with the science behind the physiology of muscle building and preservation.
While it is true that the body does need at least 100 grams of carbohydrate per day, otherwise it will begin to break down muscles for fuel – this will only occur when there are no ketone bodies available as an alternative source of fuel.
In short, low carb-dieting does not make you ‘weak’, and does not have a negative effect on your athletic performance.
Myth Number 2: Dietary Ketosis is Dangerous
‘Dangerous’ is a strong word – and yet it is something that I have heard uttered on numerous occasions with regard to low-carb, ketogenic diets (both anecdotally and in the vast wealth of literature across the web).
The myth here seems to stem from people commonly mistaking the term ketosis to mean ketoacidosis. While the two words may sound very similar, the two metabolic states that they refer to are quite different indeed:
Ketosis is completely safe. As frequently outlined on this blog, it refers to a state where our bodies release stored fat and ketone bodies as a result of low carbohydrate intake and a higher consumption of fat.
Ketoacidosis is a serious condition in which abnormal quantities of ketones are produced, when the body is physically unable to use blood sugar glucose for energy, due to a lack of insulin. This can result in vomiting, abdominal pain and even coma. Ketoacidosis is sometimes referred to as Diabetic Keto Acidosis (DKA) – and should not be confused with the benign state of ketosis.
Myth Number 3: Low Carb Diets Harm Your Gut
The fact that most low carb diets involve consuming larger quantities of protein and fat than in a ‘normal’ everyday diet may be one reason that this misconception has come about. It seems natural to assume that if you are eating more fat and protein, then you won’t be getting the right amount of nutrients and fibre from vegetables – leading to all sorts of complications, ranging from constipation right through to colorectal cancer.
This is not true.
In fact, people who follow low-carb, or ketogenic diets have actually been found to consume a higher amounts of fibrous vegetables that when following a standard diet. This is presumably due to the fact that low-carb diets are limited and restrictive, so the amount of carbohydrate which is allowed on the diet tends to come from fibrous vegetables such as salads, cabbage and other leafy vegetables.
Take a look at the following survey results from a study in the Nutrition Journal (Richard Feinman, 2006) referring to the increase in consumption of certain food groups, by participants following a low carbohydrate diet.
It’s clear that consumption of vegetables increased greatly, especially in relation to other food groups.
After all, if you are following a limited diet – then it only seems reasonable that you would consume more fibrous vegetables, now that starchy carbs and other ‘bulking’ type foods are now off the menu.
So there we have it. Three of the most prevalent low-carb diet myths debunked. But it’s no secret that there are other myths and misguided opinions out there – even in the face of evidence pointing to the actual health benefits of low-carb dieting.
Have you encountered any negativity (either online or from friends, family or colleagues) when it comes to choosing to lead a low-carb lifestyle?
Feel free to share in the comments below!