Weight Loss (Support)
South African personality and Professor at the Sport Science Institute, Tim Noakes, is creating a stir as his new and controversial take on carbohydrates is splashed across the media. In January, the Sunday Times and Radio 702 reported that Prof Noakes has withdrawn decades of previous dietary advice, both for sportspeople and your average Joe Soap, in favour of a low-carbohydrate, moderate protein, high-fat diet. He claims that carbohydrates, not fat, are responsible for our obesity epidemic and related diseases, and that by replacing much of the carbohydrates we eat with fat, we’ll not only shed kilos but also feel healthier and run faster.
Authorities recommend a diet containing 30% or less from fat, 15-20% from protein and 50-55% from carbohydrates. This gives you about 190g of carbohydrate if you’re following a typical 1,400Cal weight loss diet. A low-carbohydrate diet, like Atkins, only provides 20-120g of carbohydrate daily – 5 to 35% of total energy – with the remainder being made up of protein and fat. Prof Noakes advocates 55-60% of energy from fat, 30% protein and 5-10% carbohydrate (about 80g per day).
WEIGHING UP THE EVIDENCE
Low-carbohydrate diets have been spurned as unhealthy and unsafe. So, it’s surprising to learn that research is amassing in support of Prof Noakes and Atkins’ unorthodox dietary advice. A recent review of the studies comparing carbohydrate and fat-restricted diets found that low-carbohydrate diets perform as well or better than low-fat diets for weight loss; blood cholesterol, fat and sugar levels; insulin response, blood pressure; and other heart disease risk factors. The researchers concluded that low-carbohydrate diets should be embraced for reversing obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Despite these findings, there are those who still warn against low-carbohydrate diets, particularly for people with diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors (like high cholesterol and fat levels, and blood pressure) who are already at increased risk for heart disease. This is based on the outdated assumption that diets low in carbohydrate and high in fat raise blood cholesterol and fat levels. Actually, increasing good mono- and polyunsaturated fats reduce your risk and research hasn’t proven that saturated fat increases it. Paradoxically, though, replacing dietary saturated fat with carbohydrate, as seen in your typical low-fat weight loss diet, increases heart disease risk by raising blood fats and dangerous small LDL cholesterol, while lowering protective HDL cholesterol.
The studies examining the effect of low-carbohydrate diets have overwhelmingly found favourable effects on not only blood fats and cholesterol, but also on blood sugar control in diabetics, putting paid to the notion that low carbohydrate diets are unsafe.
COPY THE CAVEMAN
The evidence in favour of low-carbohydrate diets actually reaches as far back as the caveman. Few realise that the paleo diet – known for reducing weight and hunger, as well as diabetes and heart disease risk – is made up of 65% animal proteins and only 35% plants. Diets high in meat keep us stocked up on omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
Ensuring other aspects of your low-carbohydrate diet also mimics those of your ancestors’ can further deter the development of heart disease. This means a high intake of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and phytochemicals; low salt; and lots of exercise, less stress and no smoking.
But, you don’t have to eat meat to benefit. A vegan version of the Atkins diet, called the Eco Atkins, also has heart health benefits over the usual low-fat weight loss diet. Its higher protein content comes from gluten, soya, nuts, fruit, vegetables and cereals; and the fat is from seed, nut and vegetable oils.
HOW IT WORKS
Although it takes more energy for the body to process carbohydrate and less to store fat as body fat; carbohydrates also cause signalling in the brain that increases fat storage and food intake. Other possible reasons for the weight loss on a low-carbohydrate diet include hormonal effects, the satiating upshot of higher protein intake, the body’s energy-taxing production of an appetite-suppressing fuel called ketones, made from fat, and limited food choices leading to decreased guzzling.
With scientific evidence mounting in support of Prof Noakes’ carbohydrate condemnation, more people should consider a low-carbohydrate diet; containing high-fibre carbohydrates mainly from fruit, vegetables and possibly legumes; to drop the kilos and fight diabetes and heart disease. Be on the safe side though and get the go-ahead from your doctor or dietician first.
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