Health & Nutrition

The risks of high protein, low-carb diets

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, like the Atkins Diet, are widely endorsed as effective weight loss plans. These programs generally recommend that dieters get 30-50% of their total calories from protein. Based on decades of research, low-carb diets have been linked to benefits that include speedy weight loss, reduced hunger, insulin and blood sugar maintained at normal levels, enhanced cognitive performance, lower risk for heart disease factors and even a reduced risk for certain types of cancer.

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Generally, your body burns carbohydrates for fuel. When you drastically cut out these carbs, the body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis, and it begins to burn its own fat for fuel. When your fat stores become a primary energy source, you may lose weight.

However, some specialists have raised concerns about high-protein, low-carb diets.

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•Some protein sources like fatty cuts of meat and other high-fat foods are liable to increase cholesterol levels, increasing your chance of heart disease. However, studies have shown that people who were diets like this for up to 2 years, actually had reduced “bad” cholesterol levels.

•For people with kidney problems, eating too much protein puts added strain on kidneys, adversely affecting their functioning.

•While on a high-protein diet, calcium discharge is higher than normal. There are conflicting reports, but some experts think this could make osteoporosis and kidney stones more likely.

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According to one published study on 2007, blood ketone levels are directly related to feelings of fatigue and a higher perceived effort during exercise. This was especially in the case of overweight adults on low-carbohydrate diets.

During the study, after overweight adults followed either a very low-carb ketogenic diet (5% of calories from carbs) or a moderately controlled diet (40% of calories from carbs), it was found that those with the most “ketones” detected in their blood, due to very low intakes of glucose, experienced dramatic mood changes. They began to tire easily and there was a reduction even in the desire to exercise. On the other hand, data from other trials have shown the opposite: that low-carb diets, even very low-carb ketogenic diets, can actually help improve mood and reduce fatigue and hunger.

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Every individual responds differently to various dietary plans, and there isn’t necessarily a one size-fits-all approach to low-carb dieting that is going to work best for everyone. Factors like age, gender, level of activity, bodyweight and genetic disposition all affect how that person feels when following a low-carb diet. Therefore, it’s important to practice self-awareness especially if you plan to reduce your carb intake in order to arrive at the level in your diet that works best. This might take some trial and error initially, and it’s usually best to reduce carbs gradually in order to prevent side effects like cravings or feeling tired.