Friday 30 March 2012

The rise of the Carbophobes.

I don't think I could live with staple food stuffs like pasta, rice and bread. However, these foods are increasingly on people's 'ban' list. OK, so thankfully people have stopped with the dangerous Atkins diet, but people still follow high protein, low carb diets, such as the Dukan diet. Please note this post excludes those who have cut out such food due to food intolerances!

I just think WHY??????

The way these diets work is essentially to make your body use it's fat stores for energy. Carbohydrates provide us with most of our energy, whereas fat is usally stored by the body and used as an energy reserve, it's the can of beans that is kept in the back of the cupboard for the end of the month when we're a bit skint.  However, despite this, when the body metabolises it's fat stores, it does provide us with more energy than when we burn carbohydrates. However the body prefers to use carbohydrates for energy as it is usally more readily available. Think of carbohydrates as the ready meal that you grab when you come home from work and are too tired and hungry to cook. The idea of these diets is by restricting carbohydrates you force your body to turn to it's stored fat for energy.  The high protein (but low fat) aspect of the diet is to ensure that you never get the hunger pangs that you usually associate with diets.

So, your probably thinking 'So this must be a good thing right?', well yes on the face of it this seems like a brilliant diet, it is certainly a good thing to get rid of fat stores however the problem comes from the side effects of not eating the carbohydrates. People who go on these diets often feel lethargic due to the lack of carbohydrates providing the readily available energy, someone on the Dukan diet once commented that they struggled to exercise at the gym because they felt really tired. Now to me that just seems wrong.

Another problem with low carb diets is they affect your mood, I watched ITV's Worlds Best Diet (unable to find the official link) a while back, and Carole Malone was sent to LA to follow a low carb diet, although she lost weight throughout the programme both her and her husband commented on how the diet had resulted in mood swings.

Another issue with low carb diets is what happens when your body metabolises fat, a by-product is produced called a ketone, these are acidic and usually the body is able to restore the PH balence, but when the levels of ketones rise (i.e. during a low carb diet where the body is metabolising fat for energy) the body reponds by going into another metabolic state called Ketoacidosis. This state produces another by-product called acetone which is breathed out and can be smelt in someone breath- if you have ever smelt this on someone you would know it smells awful! Ketoacidosis is common in diabetics and alcoholics. Lovely.

To be fair, the latest craze, The Dukan diet is a lot better that the Atkins diet. It has different phases, and at least includes some carbohydrates and the later phases (3 and 4) are maintaining a desired weight and going back to a more normal diet. But it still involves lots of confusing rules about what you can or can't eat. Phase 2 involved alternating between protein only and protein and veg days- what if your invited out for sunday lunch on a protein only day???

I could go on and on about the side effects of these diets, but I fear I may have been going on a bit already.

The thing I don't like about these diets, or any diet to be honest is that they seem to promise miracles with rapid and extreme weight loss, they are unmaintainable and often ignore the idea of a healthy and balanced diet. They concentrate on weight loss rather than overall health and companies are making a fortune out of desparate people. Is this fair when in the UK those living in poverty are more likely to be overweight and suffer from the related health problems?

I think this is a symptom of our convienience society, we don't have time for gradual, safe weight loss and want the quick fixes. I think a lot of us are baffled by what is meant by a healthy diet, there is so much information out there and science is constantly evolving and changing the perception of what a healthy diet and lifestyle is. I know that I find it hard to get my five a day- breakfast and tea are fine, it's lunch I struggle with. But, we are complicated, when you think of what our body does to get us through the day it's not surprising that our dietry requirements are complicated too.

And despite how complex and inconvienient a healthy diet and lifestyle may be, it is worth it and I for one will continue to do my best to achieve it.

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