Low-carbohydrate diets are followed by many in a bid to lose weight or find a solution to different health problems. Even though such diets are popular and seem to deliver speedy results, the serious health consequences that accompany low-carbohydrate eating plans cannot be ignored.
A low-carbohydrate diet restricts the amount of starchy foods like grain foods and potatoes while encouraging high amounts of meat. Some low-carbohydrate eating plans also put a limit to legumes and sweet fruit. However, eating less starch and sugar than is required by the body comes with severe health consequences and some of them only become evident after a long time.
The number one flaw with the whole low-carbohydrate notion is failure to distinguish between healthy starchy foods and unhealthy processed starchy foods. Also, there is no differentiation between naturally sweet healthy foods and foods sweetened with added sugar. Starchy and naturally sweet foods eaten in their unprocessed or naturally existing edible state are immensely healthy. Unprocessed foods contain all edible parts of a food as it comes naturally. Examples include whole grains, watermelon, banana, and unpeeled butternuts and potatoes. By contrast, heavily processed starchy foods like white pasta, white bread, processed maize meal, and peeled potatoes are unhealthy. So are sweetened foods like cake and soft drinks.
Clean eating calls for getting rid of processed foods and increasing the amount of unprocessed food. Unfortunately, on low-carbohydrate diets, all starch and sugar, good or bad, is restricted. The following are just a few among many health consequences linked to low-carbohydrate diets.
Being high in meat, a low-carbohydrate diet is a perfect recipe for systemic inflammation, a term used to describe redness, heat, and swelling experienced in different areas throughout the body due to cell damage. Research has identified systemic inflammation as an underlying cause of chronic illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type1 diabetes. Heme iron, the form of iron from meat sources is a major culprit and red meat has the highest known concentration. Unfortunately, the body cannot shed excess heme iron like it does iron from plant sources. When meat is at the center of a diet, heme iron may easily buildup to toxic levels, causing what is known as oxidative stress. This is when the body has more harmful radicals than it is able to neutralize. Oxidative stress causes tremendous damage to body cells, resulting in systemic inflammation.
Another problem with low-carbohydrate diets is that they tend to promote insulin resistance, a situation where the ability of insulin to control blood sugar is greatly impaired. This is especially bad news for people with diabetes. What is even more concerning is that low-carbohydrate dieting can be misleading because when people with diabetes are on such an eating plan, they may experience reduced blood sugar levels. But this happens due to low starch intake and has very little to do with insulin controlling blood sugar. Poor insulin performance is masked by the low blood sugar levels which result from low starch intake rather than potency of insulin.
Managing diabetes sustainably entails improving insulin sensitivity, not depriving the body of starch and sugar from healthy sources like unprocessed starchy foods and fruits. There is evidence showing that unprocessed plant foods including starchy foods and sweet fruits, which are avoided on low-carbohydrate diets, actually improve insulin performance, making them ideal for preventing and managing diabetes.
Depression, mood swings
A low-carbohydrate diet increases susceptibility to depression and mood swings. Starch is needed for production of mood-boosting hormones dopamine and serotonin, also known as happy hormones. As a result, lack of starch leads to very low levels of these happy hormones, significantly increasing likelihood of depression, mood swings, and other mental disorders. With this in mind, people who already suffer from depression may want to steer clear of low-carbohydrate diets.
Low-carbohydrate diets are simply not compatible with the human digestive system. They cause tremendous harm to digestive health due to excessive meat and insufficient fiber. Constipation, heart burn, and bloating are some of the problems people are likely to experience and overtime, more serious problems are likely to emerge. Such conditions include piles and cancers affecting the digestive tract like stomach, throat, and colon cancer. Fiber, which can only be obtained from unprocessed plant foods including starchy foods, is essential for cutting the risk of colon cancer. Different studies show that eating foods rich in fiber is an important habit for reducing colon cancer risk. On the other hand, people who follow low-carbohydrate diets, which are severely deficient in fiber, are at a greater risk of developing colon cancer.
Low-carbohydrate diets also impair digestion by destroying healthy gut bacteria. Unprocessed plant foods including starchy foods are needed for nurturing healthy bacteria. Lacking in fiber and high in meat, low-carbohydrate diets create a very hostile environment for healthy gut bacteria. Having insufficient gut bacteria increases the risk of a wide variety of health problems like diabetes, mental disorders, allergies, and colon cancer.
Low phyto-nutrient intake
Unprocessed plant foods are rich in thousands of plant chemicals that are immensely beneficial to health. These include antioxidants. High in meat and low in unprocessed plant foods, especially starchy foods, low-carbohydrate diets severely lack antioxidants. One downside of such a nutritionally unsound diet is that it speeds up the aging processed. As a result, people who go on low-carbohydrate diets get to lose all the weight they want to get rid of but also end up looking a lot older.
Lack of antioxidants also increases susceptibility to cancer because antioxidants are a prime requirement for fighting off cancer. Additionally, different studies have linked diets low in phyto-nutrients to degenerative conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Meat associated with premature death
Meat is a prime aspect of low-carbohydrate dieting. Studies show a grim picture of long-term health effects of consuming too much meat, especially red meat and processed meat like bacon, ham, and hot dog. Such eating habits are linked to a slew of health problems and subsequently premature death. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases are some of the serious conditions associated with diets high in meat A recent study by the World Health Organization classified processed meat as a confirmed cause of cancer while red meat was found to be a probable cause of the disease.
Low-carbohydrate dieting is a narrow and short-sighted approach because it lacks a holistic or broader view of wellness. There is no benefit in using this eating plan for losing weight only to have the same approach put you at risk of cancer, depression, and other diseases. It does not mean that anything that makes you lose weight is healthy.
Sound nutrition has a holistic and long-lasting positive impact on health; it helps address the condition in question so as to reduce the overall scale of health risks a person is faced with. This makes you a healthier person for the longest time possible. However, the low-carbohydrate approach is a far cry from a diet with such an effect.
While low-carbohydrate dieting may seem like an answer to one condition, it also substantially increases the risk of other health problems. And in many cases, relief from the original condition is short-lived because there is a possibility that the very condition targeted for treatment by low-carbohydrate dieting may only get worse in the long-run. At the end of the day, low-carbohydrate diets fail to make you a healthier person; they simply change the name of your disease or add more names to your health problems.
This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of Huffington Post South Africa. - blogs editor