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By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Low-carb diets
can be deceiving

Question: What's your opinion of the low-carbohydrate diet that everyone seems to be on?

Answer: My opinion about all diets, including low-carb ones, is that in the long term they don't work, and what's the sense of losing weight just to turn around and gain it all back?

Proponents of these low-carbohydrate diets claim that by eating mostly protein and fat the body is forced to burn stored fat for energy. That may be true, but at what cost?

Let's back up a little and look at the role that carbohydrates play in our bodies. Carbs are our primary source of glucose, a simple sugar that furnishes the body with energy. Glucose is found in the liver and in the muscles, and is also stored throughout the body as fat. When glucose is stored in the muscles, it's stored as glycogen.

Glycogen can be converted back into glucose and released as the body needs energy. The problem is that the muscles can only store limited amounts of glycogen.

Any excess glucose is stored as body fat. When someone starts a low-carb diet it only takes a few days to deplete the body's glycogen stores. Then the body starts utilizing stored fat for energy. This process is called ketosis, and it's dangerous to your health.

Ketosis makes the dieter feel tired and lethargic. It causes the kidneys to become overworked and your bones to lose calcium. One of the main functions of the kidneys is to filter protein and excrete the residue and waste products. When you dump too much protein into this system the kidneys go into overdrive in order to deal with the challenge.

Why on Earth would anyone want to risk damage to two vital organs, the kidneys and bones, just to lose weight? Especially when there are other methods of losing weight that aren't detrimental to long-term good health.

The popularity of these low-carbohydrate diets is now showing up negatively in our country's health statistics. As the popularity of these diets increases, so does the incidence of hypertension and heart disease.

Why? Because high-protein, low-carb diets are all high in fat, especially animal fat. Animal fat is saturated, and saturated fat is a major risk factor in heart disease.

By definition, low-carb diets are low in carbohydrates. It just so happens that in addition to energy, carbohydrate-rich foods contain lots of nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber -- all necessary to long term good health.

People on these diets do lose weight (the diets also are low in calories), but the weight lost is a combination of fat, glycogen, water and muscle. Stored glycogen retains three times its own weight in water, so quite a bit of the weight lost is water weight. In addition, the faster you "lose weight" the faster you lose muscle weight.

Without exception, every person who loses weight on a diet will gain it back when they return to their pre-diet eating habits. Sound familiar?

If diets worked, there would be no need for diets. Everyone would already be lean.

One of the safest and surest ways to lose fat and keep it off is to exercise most days of the week. Couple regular activity with some manageable calorie restriction (e.g., eat less of everything), and you'll lose weight, build muscle, enhance well-being and improve your health.

My weight loss prescription: Give up the diet, grab an apple, and take a long, brisk walk.

Health Events

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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