Fad Diets come and go and the Low Carbohydrate Diet could be described as such, but this is a diet that has lingered for longer than most and which still has adherents the world over, who swear by the efficacy of the low carb diet. Typically the Indian diet is a high carb diet that relies a lot on starchy foods such as rice and potatoes, on sugar, whole-wheat and refined wheat flour, grains, cereals, veggies and fruits.
When the energy derived from carbohydrates is not expended, it is converted into fat and stored in the body. The low carb diet tries to restrict the amount of carbs contained so that they are not stored as fat and so that the body is forced to expend fat stores to meet the body’s energy requirements. A low carb diet is also useful for medical conditions such as diabetes. It can help manage the disease and people with diabetes may require reduced insulin dosages.
What is the low carb diet?
Simply put a low carb diet means that less than 20% of your total caloric intake is in the form of carbs. So you reduce the proportion of carbs and increase the proportion of protein and fat consumed. The most well known low carb diet is the Atkins Diet used widely for inducing weight loss.
The idea is to achieve Ketosis, a state at which the body reaches a high fat burning rate. The theory behind a low carb diet is that eating more protein and fat keeps the body feeling fuller for longer, which pevents hunger pangs for longer and hence reduces total food consumption.
What does a low carb diet consist of?
Milk products, meat, eggs and fish are some of the best sources of protein so there is stress laid on these foods in a low carb diet. Milk, paneer, yoghurt are anyway the staple of Indian diets so increasing the proportion of these in the diet can be relatively easy. However since a significant percentage of Indians are vegetarian, eating a low carb diet can be difficult. Soya products – available in the market as soy chunks, soy milk, granules and other forms can be a good addition to the diet because soya is a good source of protein.
Though grains, some fruits and vegetables are also good sources of protein, they are also high in carbs so typically their intake is limited in this diet. Items like naans made from maida, rice, sweets and so on are restricted if not cut out entirely. Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and good quality fats so these are recommended in a low carb diet. Dates, figs and coconuts are also thought to be good sources of protein and these can be included in the diet.
And what are high fibre-low carb foods and low sugar low carb foods? Fibre or roughage is important to consume. But this can be difficult on a high protein, low carb diet and present further challenges when following a low carb diet.
Sample meal plans for a low carb diet – non-veg, veg and vegan
With the amount of rice, roti, daal and subzi in the typical Indian diets, going low can be tough and several adjustments would be needed to be made to follow a high protein diet.
Non vegetarians have it easy if they decide to follow a low carb diet plan. Eggs, poultry, meat, fish, milk and dairy products all fit within the high protein-low carbs ambit. So for breakfast you can have a glass of milk and some eggs, have lunch of grilled chicken, and eat a dinner of fried fish. Your accompaniments can be roti stir fried veggies or atta bread or perhaps a very small helping of low glycemic rice.
Even vegetarians can get protein relatively easier so long as they consume dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, paneer, butter milk and so on. Whole grains and beans also contain significant amounts of protein and so should be added to the diet. In addition nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts can be a good way to get healthy oils, fiber and protein.
Vegans have it particularly difficult – they eat neither meat, nor poultry, fish nor eggs and no milk and dairy products as well. So vegans would have to rely a lot on seeds, nuts, whole grains and soya products in order to get enough protein in their food. Tempeh, tofu, soy milk, soy yoghurt, legumes, nut butters are some of the staples of vegan diets abroad but these may be difficult to locate in our shops except the high priced speciality shops in the bigger cities.
Are low carb diets effective for weight loss?
Most people get on the low carb diet or the Atkins diet to lose weight. However the efficacy of this diet as a weight loss tool is iffy. A low carb diet study revealed the study participants on a high protein low carb diet tended to lose more weight than those on a conventional diet for the first 3 months, but this difference was not very significant. Also over a one year duration, the difference became negligible to nil.
Several studies have examined the efficacy of low carb diets and have come to similar conclusions – that there is short term benefit to be derived but that “low-carbohydrate diets present no significant advantage over more traditional energy-restricted diets on long-term weight loss and maintenance.”
Are low carb diets safe?
This is another aspect that makes low carb diets controversial – their safety, particularly in the long run. The fact is that the body needs carbs for basic functioning and common sense says that to deprive it of that necessary fuel has to be detrimental, particularly over a longer duration. Web MD speaks of a range of problems and health issues that a low carb diet could cause – high cholesterol (resulting from increased fat consumption), kidney failure (because digesting more proteins puts a greater strain on the kidneys), ketosis which can be an unhealthy metabolic state which in turn can cause many health problems.
By – Reena Daruwalla
See also –
Images – Courtesy Wikipedia and Atkins Facebook Page