Reproduced, with permission, from Muscular Development
"This study confirms the importance of reducing carbohydrates in the diet. There has been too much emphasis on saturated fat. Bagels, white bread, potatoes and soft drinks are the real bad guys in our diet."
Frank Hu, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology
Harvard School of Public Health
For decades, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taught us that a diet low in fat and high in starch (e.g., USDA food pyramid) promotes fat loss and decreases the risk of chronic diseases. It should be noted, however, that there's not one shred of evidence supporting this notion.
In fact, the current epidemic of obesity has been accompanied by a significant decrease in fat consumption and an increase in carbohydrate consumption. Thus, alternative dietary approaches are clearly needed, especially for fat loss.
Indeed, a growing body of evidence indicates that carbohydrate restriction is the way to go when one wishes to cut extra lard. The latest very-low-carb study was recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
A recent one-year study led by Dr. Christopher Gardner at the Stanford University Medical School provides more support for the very low-carb (ketogenic) weight-loss diets. Gardner and colleagues randomly assigned 311 overweight/obese women to follow the very low-carb Atkins diet, the moderate-carb Zone diet, the traditional high-carb/low-fat diet, or extremely low-fat Ornish diet.
Compared with the subjects who were assigned to follow higher carb diets, the Atkins dieters cut more extra lard and had more favorable changes in related metabolic risk factors (e.g., blood lipids, blood sugar). Also, the Atkins diet didn't cause any adverse side effects.
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Some have suggested that the greater improvements in blood lipids in subjects randomly assigned to the low-carbohydrate diets might have been anticipated as a result of their greater weight loss. However, the JAMA study confirmed that this is not the case.
After adjusting for weight loss differentials among groups, the blood lipid differences were still statistically significant, although the level of significance was diminished.
Common Low-Carb Misconceptions
But how about the relatively high intake of saturated fats? Aren't they unhealthy? Well, when you look at the effects of saturated fats on health, you certainly have to consider the intake of carbohydrates too.
Recent studies have consistently shown that if you replace carbs with fats, your triglyceride levels go down and your "good cholesterol" (HDL) goes up. And your "bad cholesterol" (LDL) particles get bigger, making them less harmful. In other words, a high intake of saturated fat has adverse effects on blood lipids only when one is taking in lot of carbs.
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High-protein foods consumed during a very low-carb diet will explode your kidneys, right? Wrong! The assumption that lower protein diets decrease the risk of developing kidney disease in the general population is clearly not supported by the scientific literature.
If anything, higher protein intake will preserve muscle mass and promote satiety during dieting. However, there is a potential role for protein restriction in patients with established kidney disease.
Is the brain getting enough carbs? Absolutely. Contrary to popular belief, there is no clear requirement for dietary carbs for humans. You see, the human body can adapt to a carb-free diet and make all the carbs (glucose) it needs. Also, during a very-low-carb intake ketone body metabolism by the brain displaces glucose utilization. In other words, the brain derives most of its energy from ketone bodies during a very-low-carb diet.
Ketogenic Diet Guidelines For Gym Rats
The most important point is to keep carbohydrate intake very low. Choose only low-glycemic, high-fiber carb sources (vegetables, legumes, etc.). Also, make sure you take in adequate amounts of protein with every meal, but too high protein intake inhibits ketogenesis.
Good protein sources include fish (healthy fats!), eggs, lean meats and carbohydrate-free protein powders. You hardly need to limit fat intake during a very low-carbohydrate diet. However, avoid trans fats.
The most useful supplements include multivitamin/mineral complexes, pure creatine powder or a carb-free creatine transport formula. A well-designed, fat loss-enhancing supplement may be of some benefit too.
Remember to drink lots of water and other calorie-free fluids. Also, make sure you take in adequate amounts of potassium and sodium.
You may need to modify your resistance-training program. For example, it's a good idea to focus on heavier weights for fewer reps (3-8), because the energy is primarily derived from creatine phosphate stores.
Ingesting creatine monohydrate at a dosage of 20-30 grams per day for two weeks increases intramuscular concentrations of free creatine and creatine phosphate by up to 30 percent. Consequently, creatine can be a useful supplement in the very low-carb diet.
About The Author
Anssi Manninen holds an M.H.S. in sports medicine from the University of Kuopio Medical School. His numerous cutting-edge articles in Muscular Development firmly establish his reputation as a leading authority on hardcore sports nutrition. Anssi's articles have also been published in scientific journals, including The British Journal of Sports Medicine, The Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, Nutrition & Metabolism, and Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Anssi is also an associate editor for Nutrition & Metabolism, a leading scientific journal in the area of nutritional biochemistry.
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- Gardner CD et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2007 Mar 7;297(9):969-77.
- Wood RJ. Effect of dietary carbohydrate restriction with and without weight loss on atherogenic dyslipidemia. Nutr Rev. 2006 Dec;64(12):539-45.
- Feinman RD, Volek JS. Low carbohydrate diets improve atherogenic dyslipidemia even in the absence of weight loss. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006 Jun 21;3:24.
- Volek JS. Forsythe CE. The case for not restricting saturated fat on a low carbohydrate diet. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Aug 31;2:21.
- Volek JS et al. Modification of lipoproteins by very low-carbohydrate diets. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6):1339-42.
- Feinman RD. When is a high fat diet not a high fat diet? Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Oct 17;2:27.
- Pecoits-Vilho R. Dietary protein intake and kidney disease in Western diet. Contrib Nephrol. 2007;155:102-12.
- Manninen AH. Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006 Jan 31;3:9.
- Bloch AS. Low carbohydrate diets, pro: time to rethink our current strategies. Nutr Clin Pract. 2005 Feb;20(1):3-12.
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