Why a Low-Carb Diet Works

February 16, 2011

From Atkins to South Beach - They Work

There is no shortage of low-carbohydrate diets available these days. From Atkins through South Beach, we find that eating protein and fat is a great way to knock off those unwanted pounds. Cutting back on all carbs and increasing fat and protein intake is foundational to some of the more popular and, admittedly, more successful diet plans. These diets often claim to be diets of luxury because of the fat and meat content.

How Low-Carb Diets Work

To understand why low-carb diets work, we need to understand the relationship between fat and insulin. Everyone is born with hundreds of genes and hormones that work together to maintain the balance of caloric intake and caloric burn. Caloric intake includes everything you eat and drink during the course of a day. Calories burned are those used for all of the physical activities, including exercise, and functions necessary to keep your body working. Any calories that are left over from intake that haven't been used in activity or function get stored as fat.

We know that dietary fat is not always converted directly into fat in the body. On the other hand, carbohydrates are quickly converted to fat through insulin. Elevated insulin levels are a marker for obesity, as well as diabetes and other diseases. By reducing insulin in the body, the body is forced to burn fat.

The Insulin Connection

A low carbohydrate diet works on the premise that lower carbs reduce the amount of insulin produced in the body, causing the body to use fat stores for energy rather than converting sugar to fat. One signal that the body is using fat for energy is the presence of ketones, a by-product of fat burning. Ketones have a nasty smell to them, similar to acetone in nail polish. When there is high ketone release, other side effects such as nausea, loss of appetite and fatigue may also be present.

When a high carbohydrate meal is consumed, the pancreas stimulates insulin production and blood sugar is increased for cellular use. Insulin causes fat to be deposited and then instigates hunger signals from the brain. Over the course of time, insulin resistance happens and the pancreas is forced to work harder in order to meet insulin demands.

Gaining Control

Restricting carbohydrate intake puts a stop to the cycle. Insulin is reduced and glucagon, the hormone that causes the burning of cholesterol and body fat, increases when the diet is changed to low-carbs. Typically, all low-carbohydrate diets replace carbs with protein and fat, ensuring that 60 to 70 percent of the caloric intake is from these foods. Carbs make up only 10 percent or less of the diet.

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