Carbs Aren’t Evil: The Real Skinny On Low-Carb Diets

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Low carb diet crazes hit the United States with the frequency of big hurricanes: about once every five years. The most recent low carb craze to hit these shores came in the wake of Kate Middleton’s wedding to Price William in 2011. That’s because Kate looked slender and terrific in her full length wedding gown. It soon became known that her diet plan for looking so trim was the creation of a French physician named Pierre Dukan. The diet named after him first sold five million copies in France, but after it became identified with Princess Kate, sales in America and around the world exploded.

In truth, like so many before it, the Dukan Diet is a variation on a theme that began with the 1972 bestselling book, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, by Robert Atkins. This includes mega-bestsellers like, The Zone, Sugar Busters, South Beach Diet—

And now the Dukan Diet Plan.

Like the financial scheme started in the 1920s by Charles Ponzi (most recently re-introduced to America by Bernie Madoff), low carb diets have never generated the results that the authors of these best-selling diet plans have promised. And like Ponzi, they are reinvented in different forms every few years and consistently yield the same dismal results.

In fact, close to 99% of low carb dieters fail to maintain their weight loss for two years or longer.

While Dukan would argue that his diet book and program are different than that of Dr. Atkins, both diets commonly cause dry mouth, headaches, and (yikes!) constipation. Of course, it’s not at all surprising that a diet that tells followers to forego fruits and vegetables and whole grains is likely to cause constipation, since those foods contain the natural fibers that keep our systems regular in the first place.

So, why all the success for the sale of low carb diet books?

It’s simple. At first, they succeed!  Here’s why:

The average American consumes about 2,250 calories per day. A study of people placed on a low carb diet plan reveals that in the first four weeks, they were averaging 1,450 calories per day as they focused on avoiding all carbs including non-nutritious foods (a.k.a., “junk food”) like processed breads, cookies, doughnuts, pastas, and more.

It’s not uncommon, as has been reported with the Dukan diet, for followers to lose from five to fifteen pounds in the first two weeks of a low carb program. With those kind of rapid results, who isn’t going to be excited and tell fellow workers, friends, and family that this is indeed the diet we’ve all been waiting for?

But in reality, low carb diets are an exercise in throwing out the baby with the bath water.

It’s true that carbohydrates are prevalent in low-nutrient foods, such as doughnuts, dinner rolls, pizzas, and so much more—or what I like to call “the bath water.” But carbs are also in nutrient-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, apples, oranges, blueberries, and so many other fruits that are essential for a healthy diet. Think of these as “the baby.”

Nutritionists from France to Japan, from Australia to the United States have been driven to distraction over the last 40-plus years by the reoccurring popularity of low carb diets because they are both unhealthy—and ultimately, unsuccessful.

If your goal is to lose weight, you would be far better off by:

1: Eating smaller portions. Remember, calories in, calories on; and

2: Eliminating what are often called “empty calories.” Cut out Cheese Doodles and alcohol, and you’ve won several wars, if not the battle.

Conditioning yourself to be aware of what you’re eating, and when you’re eating it, is the real life strategy for obtaining that trim Kate Middleton figure—and keeping it for a lifetime.

Martin Brown is a health journalist and author of the new book, Fit in 50 Days.