I'm a senior with a weight problem. I've tried a variety of diets; well, you know the story. I hear everyone talking about low-carb diets. People do lose a lot of weight on these, but are they long-term healthy?
I gave your question to Nancy Tanquary our nutrition program manager at the Area Agency on Aging in Johnson County. Here's what she had to say:
Diet is the word we all want to avoid but usually are contemplating if we're not already on one. Of course, we'd really rather not diet because we want to eat what we want when we want it and as much of it as we want. Imagine that. Most people in their lifetime have been on some type of diet for various reasons, but predominately to lose weight. The older we get the harder it is to lose those extra pounds. Now, how do you decide which diet to follow? Are you thinking low-carbohydrate diet? Well, there's no doubt that the low-carbohydrate diets are getting a lot of press these days. What do you need to know about low-carbohydrate diets?
What constitutes a low-carbohydrate diet? Basically followers are told to eat unlimited amounts of protein foods, such as meats, poultry, fish, cheese and eggs. The diet has low amounts of carbohydrates. Low-carb dieters avoid most vegetables, sweets, rice, pasta, bread, fruits and milk. Hmm, sounds like an appealing diet for many. Well you know the old saying: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Are carbohydrates bad for us? Absolutely not, if they were none of us would be here! As a matter of fact, there are many high-carbohydrate foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and milk products that are loaded with good stuff like fiber, vitamins and minerals that promote good health. Most of the energy we use to move around and perform our daily life functions comes from carbohydrates. They are our main source of energy. Severe restriction of carbohydrates causes fatigue, making it difficult to accomplish daily activities. However, most individuals would benefit from eating fewer simple carbohydrates like cookies and soft drinks.
Will you lose weight on a low-carbohydrate diet? Yes, but it's not likely you will keep it off because of the limited foods allowed. At first much of the weight loss is water. This is healthy water weight and is regained when the person starts eating carbohydrates again. If an individual stays on this diet for a long time, muscle and fat will be lost because the body will use it for energy.
What's wrong with eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet? Protein foods are very high in fat, especially saturated fat. Saturated fat, which comes from animal foods like meat, contributes to heart disease. The typical American diet provides 20 percent or less of calories from protein, whereas these diets provide 30 percent or more of calories from protein. This increase in dietary protein requires the kidneys to work much harder.
Are there health risks? Depending on the length of time an individual is on the diet and the severity of the carbohydrate restriction, there can be increased risk of heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis and kidney disease. Other health problems such as nausea and diarrhea or constipation can arise. Ketosis can occur too; that is the process where ketones build up in the blood from incomplete burning of stored and dietary fats. This can lead to a life-threatening condition in some people.
Unfortunately, there are no miracle diets. Before starting any diet, consult your physician. Losing weight and keeping it off over the long haul takes changing your eating habits. A varied diet using the food pyramid as your guide, watching your portion sizes and eating three meals a day are all very important. Remember moderation!