NUTRITION HOTLINE: Low Carb Diets
Q: Everyone seems to be talking about low carb diets. Are they good for you?
A: The low carb diet craze is not new. Low carb diets were also popular in the 1960s, and I am sorry to see them make a comeback. The current low carb diets contain only 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 100 grams of carbohydrates per day, as carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel.
There are many reasons why a low carbohydrate diet is not a good choice for someone with an eating disorder. First of all, eating a low carbohydrate diet can cause fatigue, bone loss, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, hypoglycemia, depression, carbohydrate cravings, and multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
People with eating disorders are at risk for these conditions to begin with, and eating a low carb diet compounds the risk. One study that was not reported in the media showed that low carb diets decrease blood flow to the heart. Additionally, in some people a high protein diet may cause cholesterol levels to increase.
You may have seen recent reports that low carb diets are safe and cause large amounts of weight loss. Nutrition information presented in the media is often misleading. Only a few studies have looked at the safety of low carb diets. The studies were limited in their scope and only lasted 6 to 12 months. The studies did show that for some people, a low carb diet can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
The longer studies showed that there was no difference in weight lost between people on a low carb diet versus people eating a low fat diet. This is most likely because low carb diets have a poor rate of compliance, and much of the weight lost on a low carb diet is water weight due to dehydration. Once a person resumes eating carbohydrates, the body rehydrates and water weight is regained. For all of these reasons, I do not recommend low carb diets to anyone.
By Diane Keddy, MS, RD
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2004 Volume 2, Number 4
©2004 Gürze Books
About the Author
Diane Keddy, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian with a private practice in Newport Beach, CA.