An answer to the perennial question as an excuse to explore the nutrients that Americans are really deficient in, like fiber and potassium (see 98% of American Diets Potassium Deficient).
I've got a whole series of new videos coming out on paleo-type diets--there's actually been some small clinical trials published now. The last of my series using Freedom of Information Act documents to offer a peek behind the food industry curtain. I think if you compare some of the new videos to the Top Ten of 2012 and the Top Ten of 2013 you'll agree that there's been a big improvement--I'm embarrassed to even watch some of my old videos! People like to debate the mechanism, the stuff that is actually going on in our organs and cells that makes the weight go off.
In this article, I take look at some of the most convincing explanations for the effectiveness of low carb diets. One of the functions of insulin is to tell fat cells to produce and store fat, and to hold on to the fat that they already carry.
They have claimed that, when carbs are restricted and insulin levels go down, the fat isn't "lockeda€? away in the fat cells anymore and becomes accessible for the body to use as energy, leading to reduced need for eating. However, I'd like to point out that many respected obesity researchers do not believe this to be true, and do not think the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis of obesity is supported by the evidence. Glycogen: The body stores carbs in the form of glycogen, which binds water in the muscles and liver.
Even though some people use this as an argument against low-carb diets, reduced water weight should be considered an advantage.
The studies clearly show that low-carb diets lead to more fat being lost as well, especially the a€?dangerous"belly fat found in the abdominal cavity (8, 16). So, part of the weight loss advantage of low-carb diets is explained by reductions in water weight, but there is still a major fat loss advantage as well. Bottom Line: When people go low-carb, they lose significant amounts of excess water from their bodies.
In most studies where low carb and low fat diets are compared, the low carb groups end up eating much more protein. This is because people replace many low-protein foods (grains, sugars) with higher protein foods like meat, fish and eggs. Many nutrition experts believe that the high protein content of low-carb diets is the main reason for their effectiveness. Although this is controversial, many experts do believe that low carb diets have a metabolic advantage. In other words, that low carb diets increase your energy expenditure, and that people lose more weight than can be explained by reduced calorie intake alone. A study conducted in 2012 found that a very low carb diet increased energy expenditure compared to a low fat diet, during a period of weight maintenance (21). The increase was around 250 calories, which is equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day! However, another study has suggested that it may be the high protein (but not low carb) part of the diet that causes the increase in calories burned (22).
On a very low carb, ketogenic diet, when carb intake is kept extremely low, a lot of protein is being transformed into glucose in the beginning, a process called gluconeogenesis (23).
Bottom Line: Low-carb diets appear to have a metabolic advantage, but most of it is caused by the increased protein intake.
This includes sugar, sugary drinks, fruit juices, pizzas, white bread, french fries, pastries and most unhealthy snacks. So, reduced food variety and reduced intake of highly rewarding junk foods should both contribute to a reduced calorie intake.
Bottom Line: Low carb diets exclude many foods that are highly rewarding and extremely fattening.
Probably the single biggest explanation for the weight loss effects of low carb diets, is their powerful effects on appetite.
It is well established that when people go low carb, their appetite goes down and they start eating fewer calories automatically (27). There are many possible explanations for this appetite reducing effect, some of which we have already covered. The increased protein intake is a major factor, but there is also evidence that ketosis can have a powerful effect (29).
There is also some evidence that low carb diets can have beneficial effects on appetite regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin (30). Bottom Line: Low carb diets lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake, so that people eat fewer calories without having to think about it. Even though low carb diets are very effective in the short-term, the long-term results are not that great. Most studies that last for 1-2 years show that the difference between the low-carb and low-fat groups mostly disappears. This is not specific to low carb diets, and is a well known problem in most long-term weight loss studies. Some people refuse to accept that low carb diets can work, and that people can eat as much as they want, because that must violate the calories in, calories out model. They boost your metabolism (increasing calories out) and lower your appetite (reducing calories in), leading to automatic calorie restriction. Calories still count, it's just that low carb diets automate the process and help prevent the biggest side effect of conscious calorie restriction, which is hunger. Thanks to the collective enthusiasm for sharing this work from our subscribers, twitter followers, and 200,000 Facebook fans, we averaged more than 1.3 million views per month. With the help of a team of fellow volunteers, in 2014 we downloaded, categorized, and reviewed 17,533 papers on human nutrition from the medical literature. For extra credit, gargle with the green tea concoction, especially now during cold season (Can Gargling Prevent the Common Cold?). Those eating plant-based diets average higher intakes of nearly every nutrient (Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management).
For more see Paleolithic Lessons, and one of the most popular blog posts of 2014, Will The Real Paleo Diet Please Stand Up? More behind-the-scenes emails in Eggs and Cholesterol: Patently False and Misleading Claims.
In my 2012 review, Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, I went through the list of the 15 leading causes of death, exploring the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing our top 15 killers. Unfortunately, this is not fully known, and chances are that it is multifactorial a€“ as in, there are many different reasons why these diets are so effective (11).
It also tells other cells in the body to pick up glucose (blood sugar) from the bloodstream, and burn that instead of fat. High insulin levels contribute to fat storage, and low insulin levels facilitate fat burning.
When carb intake goes down, glycogen levels in the body go down, and the water follows along.This does not happen to nearly the same extent on a higher carb diet, even if calories are reduced significantly.
Anyway, despite claims to the contrary, this is far from being the main weight loss advantage of low-carb diets.
Numerous studies show that protein can reduce appetite, boost metabolism, and help increase muscle mass, which is metabolically active and burns calories around the clock (17, 18, 19, 20). Protein can reduce appetite, boost metabolism and help people hold on to muscle mass despite restricting calories. That being said, there are other mechanisms that may cause an additional metabolic advantage.
This is an inefficient process, and can lead to hundreds of calories being "wasted."However, this is mostly temporary as ketones should start replacing some of that glucose as brain fuel within a few days (24). In the beginning of a very low carb, ketogenic diet, some calories are wasted when glucose is produced. There is also an obvious reduction in variety when you eliminate most high-carb foods, especially given that wheat, corn and sugar are in almost all processed foods.
Many of these foods are also highly rewarding, and the reward value of foods can impact how many calories we end up eating (26). In fact, studies that compare low carb and low fat diets usually restrict calories in the low-fat groups, while the low-carb groups are allowed to eat until fullness (28).
Many people who go on a ketogenic diet feel that they only need to eat 1 or 2 meals per day. There are many possible explanations for this, but the most plausible one is that people tend to abandon the diet over time, and start gaining the weight back. However, when you understand the mechanisms behind low carb diets, you can see that the CICO model is not being violated, and the laws of thermodynamics still hold.
But it's not about the numbers; it's about the people whose lives we've touched, changed, or even saved. Well you can subscribe (for free, of course, like everything else on the site) to get emails daily, weekly, or monthly so as to not miss any of the new ones. Last year's More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases ran the list on how a healthy diet can affect some of the most common medical conditions.
Thanks to so many of you chipping in, 2014 was the first year we've been fully staffed, so I can concentrate on the research while others coordinate the volunteers and tackle all the logistics.
In many cases, a low-carb diet causes 2-3 times more weight loss as the standard low-fat diet that wea€™re still being told to follow (1, 2).
In fact, the studies show that these diets cause major improvements in many important risk factors (3). A high percentage of the fat lost on a low carb diet comes from the belly area and the liver. So, insulin stimulates lipogenesis (production of fat) and inhibits lipolysis (the burning of fat). As for the existing 50 or so hours of content, you can browse through the 1500+ topics I cover or use the search box to explore any type of food or disease condition. This year represents the third of the trilogy, in which I explore the role of diet in correcting some of our leading causes of disability. And thanks to everyone's end-of-year generosity we are now powered up to take on another year of providing the latest in evidence-based nutrition.
This is the dangerous visceral fat that builds up in and around the organs, driving inflammation and disease (8, 9, 10). It is actually well established that low-carb diets lead to drastic and almost immediate reductions in insulin levels (12, 13). Annually, though, I try to compile the top ten most popular videos of the year to inspire everyone to fulfill their healthy New Year's resolutions and offer a sampling of what folks seemed most interested in sharing.
In general I strive to focus on the most groundbreaking, interesting, and practical findings, but which topics resonate the most? If you'd like to join others who have supported this free, nonprofit, noncommercial effort please consider making a tax-deductible donation here. Is it the practical ones like The Best Way to Cook Sweet Potatoes, offering cooking or shopping tips?
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