Myths & FAQ
It is common to hear misinformation about the low-carb lifestyle from almost everyone. What is fact and what is fiction? Many people have been discouraged from continuing to follow this program even when they have been successful losing weight, feeling better and improving their risk factors by uninformed or deliberately misleading comments.
How many people have regained their weight because of giving up the only program that worked for them or that they could follow long term?
Educating people about the facts is what is needed to dispel the many incorrect statements made by medical people, well meaning but uneducated friends or family and of course the media who sensationalizes and cherry-picks what it will report about the low-carb lifestyle.
Providing education and research data can go along way to demonstrating that a low-carb way of eating is a safe, effective and healthy way of life. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, low carb deserves to be considered a healthy choice if we are to address the ever increasing numbers of people with obesity and its complications.
Most of the Weight Lost doing low-carb is Water
A portion of the initial weight loss is water, just as it is on any diet. It takes about 4 days of reducing your carbs to less than 20-50 carbs per day before your body changes to burning fat.
Eating More Protein will Lead to Kidney Damage
There has never been a study that demonstrated increasing protein intake damages healthy kidneys. However, people who already have severe pre-existing kidney disease often require a more limited protein intake along with regular monitoring of kidney function. People with diabetes are at risk for kidney disease. Not because of eating protein, but because of the damaging effects of high levels of blood sugar. Controlling carbohydrates is a good strategy for improving blood sugar control in people with type II diabetes; therefore, decreasing the risk of kidney complications as well as other complications of diabetes.
A Low-Carb Diet Will Take Away all your Calcium and Cause Osteoporosis
A number of studies have shown the importance of adequate protein for bone health. The Framingham Osteoporosis Study demonstrated the importance of dietary protein for building and maintaining strong bones especially as one ages. Over a four-year period, the elderly people who ate the most protein had the strongest bones. Those who ate the least lost significantly more bone mass. Now just imagine what a youthful state you’d be in while in your old age if you combined your low-carb diet with strength training! You can imagine it as a gift to your future self, rather than constantly thinking that you need things “now”.
High-Fat Diets Cause Cancer
Consuming natural fats do not lead to cancer. Having a high body fat percentage predisposes you to cancer. Fat is often blamed, because fat is higher in calories than protein or carbohydrates, and the assumption is made that eating higher fat will make you fat, based on the calories-in-calories-out theory. When following a low-carb lifestyle, you are not gaining fat but burning it and normalizing your weight.
Low-Carb Diets Cause Liver Damage
There has never been any research to support this. It is likely another theory that because low-carb dieters consume a higher fat intake it will cause fatty infiltration of the liver. All of the studies done on people following Atkins have examined liver function tests on previously healthy livers and have shown it to be safe.
High-Fat Diets Cause Heart Disease
The idea that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat leads to heart disease is only a theory. For an eye-opening and interesting discussion on how this theory came to be adopted, read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.
Low-carb diets decrease cardiovascular risks by:
Re-balancing blood sugar/insulin
Increasing HDL cholesterol better than any drug available
Shifting LDL particles from small, dangerous types to large, buoyant particles
Decreasing inflammatory chemicals
Lowering blood pressure, decreasing fluid retention
Improving the processing of saturated fat
Inhibiting the manufacturing of fat
Improving the clearance/use of saturated fat
Dr Atkins died of heart disease
Dr Atkins actually died due to head trauma caused by a fall.
The body needs carbs to function
Unlike fat and protein, there is no minimum daily dietary need for carbs, although you will hear this statement made all the time. Yes, the brain and few other tissues in the body require about 130 grams of carbs daily to function properly, but these need not be from food sources. The body is quite capable of meeting this need by making enough glucose for these tissues. Additionally, the brain and heart function efficiently on ketones. If our bodies couldn’t do this, our species would not have survived. Ketones are produced when fat is burned, which happens when you cut carbs to less than 50 grams daily. Remember that your fat reserves are there as fuel stores to prevent starvation and protect lean mass. If you have an excess of fat stores, what better way to use them than for fuel, as they were intended?
You Will Always Be Tired on a Low Carb Diet
Quite the contrary; controlling both the quality and quantity of carbs stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to more energy and more sustained energy. It can take a few days for the body to adapt to a fat-burning metabolism rather than a glucose-burning one. During that time, some people may experience fatigue. Additionally, because high insulin levels cause water retention, as high levels normalize, fatigue can occur if too much water is lost and with it minerals. To avoid this, have two cups of hot water with salty bouillon along with your lunch daily, or take a multi-mineral containing calcium, potassium and magnesium. Sugar gives you very short-term energy, and in many people actually causes a hypoglycemic response leading to fatigue and numerous other symptoms within two hours or so of your last sugar fix. Research has demonstrated that fat burning provides more sustained energy once you have adapted to a fat-burning metabolism. This has been tested on competitive athletes whose energy requirements are far above the average person’s.
Doctors Promote Low-Fat Diets
Modern society has largely been indoctrinated into the mindset that fat clogs your arteries and makes you fat, and should thus be avoided. But nothing could be further from the truth. Tropical oils, like coconut and palm, as well as butter from grass-fed animals and fat derived from meat are actually quite healthy for you. These saturated fats help promote healthy brain function and regulate proper hormone production. Popular vegetable oils, on the other hand, which oftentimes are hydrogenated and morphed into trans-fats, are a primary cause of heart disease and other illness, and should be avoided.
We Should Be Eating Less Salt
This claim assumes that most people are consuming high amounts of synthetic, refined table salt, which is highly toxic and responsible for causing widespread cellular inflammation, hence the many warnings about salt intake. But what most people do not know is that unrefined, all-natural sea salt and mineral salts are completely different, as they are packed with health-promoting minerals, electrolytes, and other important nutrients. Eating lots of sea and mineral salt, in other words, is actually good for your health.
Natural Sugar is Good For You
In most cases, switching out that table sugar for honey or agave nectar in the name of improving health is a misnomer, as these popular sugar substitutes are sometimes just as refined and unhealthy as regular sugar. Agave, for instance, contains high levels of fructose, which is metabolized directly by the liver and turned into fat. And unless your honey is raw, unprocessed, and locally sourced, it is also a toxic offender when consumed liberally.
Don’t Eat Too Many Eggs It Will Raise Your Cholesterol
The medical system has gone back-and-forth on this one, but the truth about eggs will always remain the same: pasture-raised eggs from healthy chickens are an excellent source of both protein and cholesterol, and they are not in and of themselves a cause of heart disease. And removing egg yolks and eating only the whites, as many people now do, can actually be detrimental to your health, as eggs should be eaten in complete form for optimal nutrition.
Too Much Red Meat Is Unhealthy
The mainstream media loves to target red meat these days, but the problem with telling people to limit their consumption of red meat in order to avoid heart disease is that not all red meat is the same. In fact, red meat from grass-fed, pasture-raised cattle is actually just as healthy as, and potentially even healthier than, wild-caught salmon. This contrasts sharply with factory-farmed red meat which is high in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids. It is all about how the animals are raised and what they are eating that determines the nutritional profile of meat in general, which is why it is always best to choose meat from local, naturally-raised sources.
Low-Carb Diets Mean No-Carbs at all which is impossible
While it may feel like it at first, following a low-carb way of eating does not mean that you do not eat any carbs. While some plans have greater allowances than others, it all comes down to the individual. As with anything in life, you learn where you feel and function best. The average American consumes 300 grams of carbs per day, if not more. (It’s usually way more.) Most low-carb plans will put you at a level under 100 grams of carbs per day. For me, I feel my best when I eat under 40 grams a day.
I Heard You Don’t Eat Fruit or Vegetables on Low Carb
Quite the opposite! While on a low-carb way of eating, this is where the majority of your carbs come from. Starchy vegetables (like white potato, peas, and carrots) and high sugar fruits (like pineapple, bananas, and grapes) are not encouraged, but non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits (like raspberries) are.
You Will Have Heart Disease or High Cholesterol
Low-carb diets have been around since 1860 and should be called a “lifestyle” and not diet. To be successful in managing weight, you must make permanent changes in what you eat and how you make your food decisions.
Low-carb Eating Is Just for Short-Term Weight Loss
Again, the opposite; study after study has shown that people on a low-carbohydrate diet LOWER their risk for heart disease, and their cholesterol actually improves. You’ll be seeing me add a section where news articles, medical studies, and other low-carb scientific data are complied. I’m sure you’ll find this information very interesting!
Common Myth: Your body needs 100g of carbs a day to prevent muscle loss
This is common advice touted by trainers and dietitians who fail to understand the science behind muscle preservation. They will tell you that your brain requires at least 100g of carbs per day to function properly and your body will sacrifice muscle tissue to get it.
This is simply not true for low-carbers.
In fact, MIT and Harvard conducted a study on this very topic, in 1984. They split a group of women into two groups. They put one group on a low-carb diet and the other on a high-carb diet. Both groups were only allowed to eat 700 calories each day. The results showed higher muscle retention for the low-carb group, even at a severe caloric deficit.
Why did the high-carb group lose more muscle?
Consuming a high-carb diet causes nutrient displacement. Simply put, it means the body would rather go for the low hanging fruit if it’s available. Carbohydrates are a quickly processed energy source. The body will get its energy from them before it even goes near dietary protein or fat, because it requires less work.
Repeated studies have shown that even at dangerously low caloric levels, the body will retain muscle mass as long as it gets enough dietary protein and muscle building substrates, such as sodium and potassium.
Unfortunately, for the women in the study who followed a high-carb diet, all the dietary protein that would have helped slow their muscle loss went unused because of the amount of carbs present.
Why would trainers and dietitians give out such misguided information?
The thing is eating less than 100g of carbs per day can cause muscle loss or poor functioning of the brain, if you are following a high-carb meal plan. The key difference is when your body has fully adapted to a low carb or ketosis diet, it starts to produce ketone bodies which become brain fuel. The body also drops down its need to 40g of daily carbs (or glucose). It can easily get this from dietary protein or from the glycerol that it breaks down from fatty acids.
Glucose is the Only Fuel the Brain Can Use, So You Actually Need Glucose From Carbohydrates
Not correct. Brain cells are metabolically flexible because they can attain energy from both glucose and ketone bodies which are made from fatty acids. While the brain does require some glucose to function but it can create it from a process called gluconeogenesis. The majority of its fuel can come from ketones, which are made from fatty acids.
Low Carb Is Not a Natural Way of Eating
Actually what’s really unnatural is a standard Western diet that is full of sugar and flour. Typical high carb foods are so abundant today, made available by technology that it is more difficult to eat real unprocessed foods. There is nothing natural about eating white sugar, it takes a complicated refining process to create.
Cereals Are Considered “Heart-Healthy”
Food manufacturers spend millions a year on fooling us about the health benefits of cereals, when in reality they contain high amounts of sugar and fat combined. The fancy little check mark that you see on boxes doesn’t really mean much when the manufacturer can just pay to have it stamped on their box.
Low Carb Programs Are Short-Term Only, and Not Really For the Long-Term
Many followers of low carbohydrate programs consider it a way of eating or a lifestyle. Studies have concluded that long-term weight maintenance is possible on a low carb diet.
The Body Needs Bread, Pasta and Cereal To Get Enough Nutrients
Our ancestors lived for hundreds of years without eating bread, pasta or cereal. You can easily get your nutrients without eating these kinds of foods. A hearty and healthy diet can be had eating foods without a label and decipherable ingredient list. If you are eating a food with a label, try to stick with something with less than five ingredients.
Antioxidants and Phytonutrients From Plants Are Required For Good Health, a Ketogenic Diet Won’t Provide These
Low carbohydrate diets do not eliminate nutritionally dense vegetables and fruit. Actually people following this diet typically eat more vegetables on average and eat them more frequently. Fruit such as berries can be consumed in moderate amounts which are a good source for antioxidants.
Ketogenic diets cause your body to go into ketosis, which is dangerous
Not true, the person who says this is confusing ketosis with ketoacidosis. Also the ketogenic diet is being studied for its neuroprotective effects and as therapy for conditions like Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes and epilepsy.
If You Don’t Eat Whole Grains You Won’t Get Enough Fiber In Your Diet
There are many excellent sources of fiber in a low carb diet besides whole grains. Most health organizations recommend eating 25 grams of fiber per day. Just eating a few of these good fiber foods you can easily hit that number.
Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds equals 4.5 grams
One cup of broccoli has a little over 5 grams
A one-ounce snack of almonds (about 20) has 3 grams
Are Natural Sweeteners acceptable on a low-carb lifestyle?
“Natural” sweeteners are gaining popularity to ease fears about white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Although it’s fast becoming the preferred sweetener for health-conscious consumers, the truth is these “natural” sugars are often worse than plain table sugar.
Agave nectar, date sugar, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and palm/coconut sugar all break down into glucose requiring insulin. As we learned from the Carb page, anytime insulin is released, you store fat and your body stops burning fat!
Did you know that Agave nectar or syrup is as high as 90% concentrated fructose compared to the 55% fructose of high-fructose corn syrup? Don’t be dazzled by words like “natural”.
Can I still drink alcohol?
When consuming alcoholic beverages, your body will first burn the alcohol before going to the fat stores. This can slow down your weight loss and give you cravings. If you’re going to have alcohol, have it sparingly, and choose spirits over wines or ales.The body burns alcohol first for fuel when it is available and will stop burning fat. This does not stop weight loss; it postpones it. Since alcohol does not get stored as glycogen, a person will immediately get back into fat burning after the alcohol has been metabolized. Keep in mind that alcohol consumption may increase yeast-related symptoms in some people and interfere with weight loss. If it does not slow weight loss, an occasional glass of wine is acceptable once a person is beyond the first few weeks of a low-carb lifestyle, providing the carbohydrates are counted in the daily tally. (A 3 1/2-ounce glass of wine contains about 4.3 grams of carbohydrate.) Alcohol intake should be limited to one drink a day at most. Spirits such as Scotch, rye, vodka and gin are acceptable, but do not mix with juice, tonic water or non-diet soda, all of which contain sugar. Seltzer, diet tonic and diet soda mixers are permitted.
If you have added alcohol to your regimen and suddenly stop losing weight, discontinue your alcohol intake. It is also best to consume alcohol with food and not on an empty stomach. In people who have yeast-related problems, such as bloating, gas, a coated tongue and cravings for sugar, limit beer or eliminate it completely from the diet. Otherwise, after the first few weeks, light beer can be added as long as it does not cause weight gain, stalls weight-loss or leads to inappropriate food choices. I recommend that alcohol be limited to 1 serving a day at most especially during the earlier phases of the plan.
Are Sugar-Free Sweeteners acceptable on a low-carb lifestyle?
While not scientifically proven, it is my opinion that for some people, the mere taste of sweet has an impact on insulin release. It’s for this reason that, if you are having problems losing weight or if you are diabetic, then you should avoid or extremely limit the following.
Artificial Sweeteners – Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Saccharin (Sugar Twin, Sweet’N Low), and Sucralose (Splenda).
Sugar Alcohols – Erythritol, Hydrogenated starch Hydrolysate, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, and Xylitol.
Novel sweeteners – Stevia extracts (Pure Via, Truvia), Tagatose (Naturlose), and Trehalose.
The main goal of a low-carb lifestyle is to stabilize blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels through the control of both the quantity and quality of carbohydrates. Sugar is a carbohydrate, so it is strictly limited. Controlling carbs naturally curbs sugar cravings. However, if cravings are still present a sugar substitute can be judiciously used. Sugar and high fructose corn sweeteners pose a greater threat to good health than artificial sweeteners do. Be aware that not all sugar substitutes are created equal nor are they all well tolerated by everyone. Some people experience negative reactions to certain sweeteners, and the risk increases with the amount used. Limit all artificial sweeteners to 3 per day and remember to count each packet as 1 gram of carbohydrate.
The best sweetener to use is Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and has a negligible effect on blood glucose.
Is a low-carb lifestyle healthy?
According to our experts, we should “eat a balanced diet” but what does this actually mean? Should we eat equal portions of fat, carbs, and protein? Should we make sure to eat something from all the food groups, like one part meat, one part potato, and one part milk? I don’t know about you, but if it’s going to make me fat, cause health problems, or give me diabetes, then it doesn’t seem like a great idea to me.
We should be eating whatever is good for us. If that means cutting the bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes out of the diet and replacing it with meat and high-fiber fruits and veggies, then that likely is a balanced diet.
Public health authorities and institutions have been recommending low-fat and low-calorie diets for as long as I can remember. A lot of food companies making packaged products have a vested interest in such diet programs and have been promoting them for years. It is very difficult to admit being wrong, especially if recommendations have been made to so many people. If you hear something day in and out from your doctor, TV, and the radio, it’s easy to become very convinced of what is being said; I believe some people like to call that “brainwashing”.
There have been many studies about low-carb diets, and they are all positive. When on a low-carb diet, you can expect greater weight loss, improved good cholesterol, decreased bad cholesterol, lower blood sugar, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased blood pressure, lower blood insulin levels, and less muscle mass lost per pound.
One of the biggest myths about low-carb diets is that eating fat will give you heart disease. Several studies have shown that low-carb diets actually help to prevent heart disease. This information seems almost completely upside down to what we hear from our doctors, TV, and radio almost daily! Research is now vindicating Dr. Robert Atkins, who was promoting this point of view forty years ago.
Again, if a balanced diet means containing large amounts of refined carbohydrates, Atkins is, in fact, deliberately “unbalanced,” because it is a corrective program. The excessive secretion of insulin is the reason most people are overweight and the best way to fix an insulin disorder is to limit the very foods that stimulate insulin which are carbohydrates. Doing so corrects the imbalance that exists in the typical American diet, which includes hundreds of grams of carbohydrates a day, mostly those of poor quality.
The Atkins Lifestyle is not lacking in basic nutrition when done correctly. Even during the Induction phase one consumes four cups of leafy green salad vegetables every day or alternatively three cups of salad and one cup of cooked vegetables, along with fruits such as olives, avocado and tomato.
As people advance through the phases to Lifetime Maintenance carbs are added in the form of a more liberal intake of vegetables, low glycemic fruits, legumes and even whole grains if one’s metabolism allows.
There is nothing unhealthy about eating primarily whole foods and avoiding foods with added sugars and refined carbohydrates.
Can Athletes benefit from a low-carb diet?
The first two things that come to mind when speaking to an athlete about a low-carb diet are that you need carbs for energy and that you lose muscle mass on a low-carb diet.
Study after study has concluded that as long as you’re getting enough protein and fat while keeping your net carbohydrates (carbohydrates – fibers) below 20-30, you could lose a hundred pounds without losing muscle. It’s true that your body needs carbs, but it actually doesn’t need you to eat them! Your body will surprisingly convert fat into carbs, causing you to lose weight and allowing your body to have a constant energy source instead of variable energy. That is one of the reasons that carb-loading athletes often hit a wall midway through a race. They run out of carbs, and therefore energy. This is not a problem when you’re on a constant energy source of your own personal fat. Additionally, it’s been discovered by Dr. Atkins in his latest publication before his death, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, that if you are in lipolysis and eating low enough carbs to be in ketosis then your body will primarily burn fatty tissue, and therefore no lean body mass would be lost. Lipolysis is basically the fancy term for saying that your fat is being broken down and released into your body; since your body is focusing on breaking down your fat, then the weight you’re losing is coming from the fat you’re burning and not any sort of muscle loss!
The same is not true on a low-fat or low-calorie diet. On these diets, much of the weight loss is muscle, and that’s not good, since muscle burns fat. Thus, losing your muscle would mean that you’ll eventually lose fat a lot more slowly.
If you would like to understand the complexities for athletes and not only why a low-carb diet works, but why a low-carb ketogenic diet is even better, read The Art and Science of Low Carb Living
My cholesterol has actually risen since I began a low carb diet. What do I do?
Before beginning a ketogenic style low carb diet it is important to have baseline numbers of your health for reference. You should actually find an improvement in a variety of these numbers including cholesterol.
Remember that there are actually two different numbers when reading total cholesterol and the total cholesterol reading is not as important as how the cholesterol is carried in the blood. If the increase in total cholesterol is mostly an increase in your HDL then that is not a cause for concern. A higher HDL is protective. If the LDL increases a bit then that is also likely not a concern because it is not the LDL total number that is as important as the size of the LDL particle. Research has shown that when one follows a low carb plan LDL may increase a bit but it leads to predominately larger, buoyant LDL particles that are safer. This does not happen with a low fat diet. Keep in mind that it may take up to six months to increase the HDL to its optimum.
Other possible causes are stress. Stress elevates cholesterol as can following a low carb plan with frequent cheating. This is a corrective program and on-again-off-again cycles do not improve the metabolism.
If you’ve been following a low carb diet for some time then chances are something else is going on and will require further investigation.
How do I cope with holiday eating?
Socializing on holidays can be a minefield for weight management, and it’s common to break your diet when vacationing or when the holiday season comes around even when you fully intend to get back on the train as soon as it’s over. But then find they are struggling months after they were supposed to get back to it. The secret here is to just plan ahead.
Also, for the short term change your goal to weight maintenance instead of weight loss during this holiday time. This will allow you to score a victory in the short term as you go through this festive time.
Eat a lot of protein to stabilize your blood sugar and bring a low carb dessert you can eat so you won’t feel as tempted and eat a small meal or snack before a big dinner party. Don’t skip a meal in light of having a large meal soon after because keeping your blood sugar under control will help when eyeing a bunch of tempting carbohydrates.
Lastly drink a lot of water to help you feel full and if you drink, make sure there is food available to help you resist any temptation.
I Am not hungry in the morning, can I skip breakfast?
Most people have a lower blood sugar level in the morning, and if we don’t eat our blood sugar levels typically become more unstable during the day and could cause cravings, and hunger. This makes it more difficult to make healthier decisions later on in the day.
To help stabalize your blood sugar always have some sort of protein for breakfast, like eggs or meat protein like leftover steak or fish.
If you can’t eat first thing in the morning have a protein snack and then something prepared for mid morning.
What can I take for constipation?
Be sure you are drinking enough water each day because in adequate water is the main reason for constipation. You can also take an additional supplement of fiber like wheat bran or ground flax seed. Magnesium oxide can also be helpful, but you may need to test the amount to find what is right for you.
How can I follow a low carb diet if I am craving the sugar fix?
If you find yourself with cravings for either sugar or starch then it is likely you have somewhat of an addiction issue. Some of us can eat one cookie, and others will eat the whole box. Firt it’s importan that you recognize your addiction which allows you to take control of it.
To kick off your low carb diet why not totally eliminate any sweets or starch vegetables. This will break your addiction cycle usually with in a week, and since you are eating higher protein foods you will feel more satiated anyway.
Once your cravings disappear you will find that you actually have more control over what you eat.
Can people with diabetes do the Atkins plan?
Controlling your carb intake has fantastic benefits for people with diabetes. Many times it can be so effective on blood sugar that someone with Type 1 or 2 diabetes end up consulting with their doctor about the results of the change in diet because of the risk of hypoglycemia when using blood sugar medication.
How often should I weigh myself when following a a low carb program?
There will be daily variations in weight usually from water retention. This is more noticeable on hot and humid days as well as when using some medications.
When starting a low carb diet weigh yourself first thing in the morning without clothes to get a baseline number for where you are starting from. Also take the following measurements: widest part of the upper arm, chest or bust, waist (area around the navel), hips (usually about 8 inches below the navel) and widest part of the upper thigh. Make sure record them somewhere.
Weigh yourself weekly and repeat your measurements every two weeks. Remember that some people lose inches before losing weight, and this is perfectly fine.
Also have a size goal in mind rather than a weight, this way any changes in fluid retention will not discourage you.
Some people are so addicted to the scale they will weigh themselves numerous times a day. What they don’t realize is that this is actually hurting your chances, so keep the scale out of site if you are tempted to do this.
Can I really eat as much as I want on a low carb diet?
If you are truly low carb then it’s true that you don’t have to count calories, but this is not permission to gorge. You will have an advantage if you eat until you are satisfied and not until you are bursting. Also eat more slowly to give your brain enough time to register that you are full. Many times it is just a habit that someone eats until way past satiety. Lifetime weight management is also about learning good habits that support your goals.