Is there any question about the current popularity of low-carbohydrate dieting? The concept of lowering carbohydrate intake is said to have first been documented in a book published 142 years ago by a London undertaker who was thrilled at losing 100 pounds after his physician insisted that he quit consuming most starches and sugars. It was over one hundred years later when Robert Atkin's The New Diet Revolution (1972) lit the low-carb fuse that has now exploded into a phenomenon.
The low-carb approach to dieting has evolved from a runner-up to the "low fat" crusade of the last two decades to become a mainstream marvel that may be nearing maturity. "Low Carb" seems to have transcended the perception of a mere diet regimen -- it's now the low-carb lifestyle. It's estimated that there are currently 30 million people in the U.S. following some sort of diet that restricts carbohydrate intake. And 55% of U.S. adults said they were avoiding or eating less sugars and carbohydrates in a survey conducted by the IFIC in January.
Consumers are embracing it, and manufacturers and retailers have geared up to meet their needs. According to Mintel's Global New Products Database, over 660 new 'low-carb' products were released into the U.S. market in the first four months of 2004 -- about as many released in all of 2003.
It's big business. Nestle is introducing low-carb chocolate bars, Coke has launched its low-carb C2, and beer drinkers are flocking to Michelob Ultra. Chain restaurants such as Subway, Burger King, Blimpies and TGI Friday's are adding low-carb selections to their menus. Many chain retailers have created low-carb sections, some with their own low-carb brand. Wal-Mart is rumored to have a low-carb private-label brand ready to launch sometime this year.
There are other signs of popularity. It is estimated that the U.S. now has over 200 low-carb specialty retailer locations. Consumers can subscribe to magazines like Low Carb Energy, Low Carb Luxury, and Low Carb Living. For the industry, there is the Low Carb Manufacturers Alliance and LowCarbiz magazine. To tie it all together, the Carbohydrate Awareness Council was founded just last November as a hub for the industry, consumers, and health care professionals.
In the 1980's and 1990's, dieters flocked to low-fat diets and products. But it became evident that eating fat didn't necessarily cause body fat-in fact, instead of viewing fat as the enemy, awareness that there are "good fats" (such as omega-3 essential fatty acids) starting growing in the late 1990's. And during this time Americans were not losing weight. Diabetes has run rampant and it's estimated that two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight.
Enter the low-carbohydrate craze. Support for the Atkins concept began to pick up steam in recent years as new research suggested that a carbohydrate-controlled approach to dieting was more effective at causing weight loss than low-fat diets. Now there are many low-carb diet programs to compete with Atkins, each with variations on caloric consumption and maintenance, such as South Beach, Sugar Busters, No-Grain, Protein Power and many more.
As with any diet, there are critics that point to potential problems that could result from favoring a particular nutritional source for caloric intake over another. In response to the low-carb diet craze, the American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association (AHA) have warned of serious health risks, especially to those with heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. The AHA has also expressed concern that people who stay on low-carb diets for extended periods of time may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals and be at risk for osteoporosis and disorders of the kidney and liver.
A low-carbohydrate diet starts to work when a reduced carb intake causes the body to begin burning glycogen (stored carbohydrates) for energy. When your body burns glycogen, water is released and you lose weight. However, a heavily carb-restricted diet can also force the body to burn fat. This is a metabolic state called ketosis, in which by-products called ketones build up in the bloodstream. These are removed by the kidney and eliminated. According to the Mayo Clinic, ketosis can cause the desirable effect of physically removing body fat, but muscle tissue can also be lost in the process. And an abundance of ketones can cause symptoms of nausea, fatigue and bad breath, or worse, cause kidney failure and gout.
Many controlled-carb dieters follow a basic, but flawed, philosophy that they can load up on fat and protein -- an approach that worries some health experts. The AHA continues to endorse a low-fat component as part of its dietary recommendations because of the risks like heart disease and high blood pressure that are associated with over consumption of saturated fats. And excessive protein intake can put a strain on the kidneys, possibly leading to kidney disease in extreme cases, according to the Cleveland Clinic. High protein diets have also been shown to cause people to excrete more calcium and other minerals than normal, creating a potential susceptibility for osteoporosis and kidney stones.
There is also concern that the low intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains typically associated with a low-carb diet could create a deficiency of important vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. The Atkins web site encourages everyone, not just dieters, to supplement their diet with vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins, plus antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, selenium, glutathione, COQ10 and bioflavonoids. New versions of Wyeth's Centrum® and Bayer's One-A-Day® Vitamins have recently been introduced to support low-carb dieters with added or increased levels of certain nutrients that can help break down fats and proteins into energy, or nutrients that may be lacking in a low-carb regimen.
The Low Mood Connection
Low-carb dieters are susceptible to mood swings, according to MIT researchers. The issue involves serotonin, the "feel good" brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite and acts as a natural tranquilizer.
In news released earlier this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Clinical Research Center reported that a lack of dietary carbohydrates causes the brain to stop regulating serotonin. Researchers discovered that serotonin is naturally produced only after consumption of carbohydrates in the form of sweets and starches.
In the 1970's, MIT professor Richard Wurtman and colleagues first showed that eating carbohydrates raises brain serotonin levels. Since then, additional studies at MIT, including those by Dr. Judith J. Wurtman, have explored the relationship between carbohydrates in the brain and their connection to mood and weight loss. Dr. Wurtman states in a February MIT press release that "When serotonin is made and becomes active in your brain, its effect on your appetite is to make you feel full before your stomach is stuffed and stretched." The researchers explain that people may still feel hungry after eating a large steak-their stomachs may be full but their brains may not be producing enough serotonin to shut off their appetites.
It's not unusual for people who are changing their eating patterns or embarking on any kind of diet to experience episodes of irritability. However, according to Psychology Today, many who are trying testing low-carbohydrate regimens are reporting unusually high feelings of anger, tension and depression. Dr. Wurtman claims that that it's a very well documented response-she calls it the "Atkins attitude". Dieters who have eliminated or reduced dietary carbohydrates may find that their low mood is combined with irritability if the diet is heavy on protein, and/or combined with a lack of energy if the diet is heavy on saturated fats.
Are certain people more susceptible to low mood? According to Wurtman, some people are "carbohydrate cravers" -- they tend to experience a change in their mood, usually in the late afternoon or early evening -- and they need to eat a certain amount of carbohydrates to keep their moods steady. And although both men and women can experience low mood when cutting carbs, women are more likely to feel the effects because they are known to have typically lower levels of serotonin in their brains than men.
Because of her research, Wurtman believes that low-carb diets may be dangerous for individuals who are already struggling with depression or bipolar disorder. In an Oxford study involving women, researchers did find that those who had a predisposition to mood disorders exhibited a measurable drop in mood when following a low-carb regimen, but reported that other subjects on the diet did not seem to be impacted.
Of course, the pharmaceutical solution to depression and mood disorders is the use of antidepressant drugs. These are designed to help regulate mood by keeping serotonin production active in the brain for extended periods, accomplished via an unnatural mechanism that prevents the cellular reuptake of the brain chemical (which is why most of these medications are known as "SSRIs", for "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors"). St. Johns Wort is a popular herbal solution that also mimics the unnatural mechanism of SSRIs because the herb's active ingredient, hypericin, increases circulating levels of serotonin by also selectively preventing its cellular reuptake.
There are natural alternatives that can assist in regulating mood by playing a similar role as carbohydrates in serotonin production. Low-carb dieters who are experiencing low mood might consider taking specific vitamins that are known to help boost serotonin naturally. Important nutrients like selenium, several B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, folic acid, biotin, etc.), and vitamin D have been shown to help increase the enzyme supply that converts certain amino acids into serotonin.
Levity Mood Elevating Formula was designed to include the six most important vitamins and minerals that can play a role in boosting serotonin. It can be a very effective means of warding off the mood swings and irritability that can accompany a low carb diet -- safely and inexpensively!
Geneva Health & Nutrition is the maker of Levity Mood Elevating Formula,
Levity Plus Multivitamin, and other fine vitamin supplement products for women's health.
The information on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other
healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Click Here to read our Legal Statement.
Copyright © 2002-2008 Geneva Health & Nutrition, LLC. All rights reserved.