THE keto diet is constantly being touted as the regime for weight loss.

But it’s also no surprise that not everyone is a massive fan of the zero-carb plan.

4 If you want to lose weight in a more sustainable way, it might be worth giving “the hybrid diet” a goCredit: Getty – Contributor

Keto may be effective at burning fat but it’s very restrictive and can be unrealistic for people who actually like eating carbs and who struggle to get enough fibre.

That’s why experts have come up with a compromise – switching between keto and a low-carb.

But wait a minute…isn’t keto low-carb itself? What’s the difference? And why might going between the two diets be the best weight loss plan?

According to Patrick Holford and Jerome Burne, authors of The Hybrid Diet: Your Body Thrives On Two Fuels, there’s growing evidence to support the idea of switching between keto and low-carb might be the ideal weight loss.


Keto is no carb

Keto involves eating no more than 30g of carbs a day plus a high amount of good fats.

If done correctly, it should be full of green, leafy veg and unprocessed foods.

While cutting out carbs, on keto you increase how much meat, dairy, avocado, nuts and oil you eat.

It works by persuading the body to start burning its own fat supplies – putting the body into a state called ketosis – rather than burn the carbs in your diet.

But low-carb is about the type of carbs you eat

A low-carb diet, on the other hand, involves having a much greater range of carbohydrate foods but without the generous portion of fats that you get with keto.

Patrick and Jerome claim: “Both diets come with health benefits, including weight loss and an improvement of diabetic markers.

“But switching between them may boost these results – and make them more sustainable.”

Their Hybrid Diet works by switching from an intense week of the keto diet, to three weeks of the less-restrictive low-carb diet – and they say, that’s what makes it more sustainable.

Switching between the two diets means that you can eat both carbs and fats – both of which we need for fuel.

4 Oats aren’t keto friendly but they are low-GL, which means that you could eat them on the low-carb weeksCredit: Alamy

Not all carbs are created equal

While for three weeks a month you are allowed to eat 150g or more carbs, you can’t just eat any old carbs.

Writing in the Mail, Jerome explained there are good carbs and bad carbs, when it comes to weight loss.

In this case, the low-carb diet is designed around the glycaemic load (GL) rating.

Glycaemic load measures the total amount of carbs in a food.

It is similar to the better-known glycaemic index (GI), which focuses solely on how much sugar is in a food.

Both GL and GI rate foods on how fast they are broken down by the body, and how they affect blood sugar levels.

Foods are classified as high, medium pr low GL/GI – with foods rated low, being better for weight loss.

Lower GL or GI foods, like lentils and veg, break down more slowly in the body, and so release sugar into the blood stream at a more stable rate – leaving you feeling fuller for longer.

High GL or GI foods, like white bread and pasta, cause sudden spikes in sugar levels.

The problem with the glycaemic index is lots of fruit is considered high GI because of the sugar content – yet they are an important part of a healthy diet.

“On the GL diet, you can have 150 or more grams of carbs but it still keeps blood sugar level healthy,” Jermone said.

“This is because not all carbs are created equal. Those rated low GL slowly release sugar into the blood, keeping it stable so you can safely eat more.

“For example, half a small serving of cornflakes has a high GL rating — the same as two bowls of porridge.”

What foods have a low Gi and low GL rating?

GL gives you a more accurate picture of a food’s real-life impact on your blood sugar.

Watermelon, for example, has a high glycaemic index of 80.

But because the fruit contains very little carbohydrate, its glycaemic load is only 5.

Food with high GL and GI

  • White bread
  • Bran flakes
  • Overcooked pasta
  • Sticky white race
  • White potatoes and mashed potato

Food with low GL and GI

A diet that ‘actually makes sense’

Nutritionist Resource Member Sonal Shah told The Sun that the Hybrid Diet “actually makes sense and the health benefits look impressive”.

She said focusing on carbs that are low-GL rather than low-GI, “makes a big difference”.

“This is a more accurate way to eat carbs,” she said. “The GI only provides half the information, which is how fast a carb is broken down.

“The key is to prevent fluctuating blood sugar highs and lows, and improve how insulin works.

“Insulin is the hormone that’s responsible for weight gain and type 2 diabetes.”

Sonal said she agrees with the new book, and the idea that switching between keto and a low-GL diet can help reverse type 2 diabetes, boost weight loss and tackle inflammation and energy levels.

She added: “It is also easy for those avoiding meat or dairy products to follow with substitutes and tips provided so no one goes hungry and it does not feel like a restrictive diet as it leaves you feeling full and satisfied.”

4 Both keto and low carb involve filling up on green leafy vegCredit: Getty – Contributor Holly is amazed with her 1st 6lbs weightloss following a vegan keto diet

‘One diet is hard enough – let alone switching between two’

Not everyone is convinced by the idea of the Hybrid Diet.

Elspeth Waters is another nutritionist and Nutritionist Resource expert, and she’s not a fan of keto in any form.

She told The Sun that the idea of switching between two diets is “overly complex” and hard for most people to stick to.

And she said while keto might help you lose weight at first, there’s not enough research on the long-term effects of eating that much fat, especially animal fat, and protein.

(Ketosis) is hugely taxing for the body as a whole and makes the body significantly more acidic than it should be – a state which promotes disease

Elspeth Water

“Simply calculating how many calories people are consuming from fat, protein and carbohydrates gives no consideration to what people are actually eating,” she said.

She warned focusing on high fat and protein foods means many people on keto miss out on fibre and key antioxidants.

“That is hugely concerning, as these two components are essential for health and vitality,” Elspeth said.

Moreover, she said our bodies need glucose from carbs to function properly.

“This state is hugely taxing for the body as a whole, especially the adrenal glands, which produce our stress hormones and are already over-taxed because of the increasing number of stresses and strains we live with currently.

4 Being totally carb-free can put the body under immense stressCredit: Getty – Contributor

“Ketosis also makes the body significantly more acidic than it should be – a state which promotes disease.”

She said that any weight loss from plans like keto tends to be short-lived and that for long-term health and wellbeing, we need to make sure that we are eating lots of good quality carbs from fruit and veg.

In fact, fruit and veg contain fat and protein and Elspeth claims that that’s all we need.

She said: “When you fuel the body with a low-fat, plant-based diet, the liver is able to let go of the fat and toxins it has been holding onto and we are able to shed weight from all over the body – particularly the fat around the belly.”


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If you do want to give keto a go, this hybrid approach is probably an easier option.

There are definite benefits to eating carbs and you may be better off filling up on fruit, veg and whole grains rather than swerving off carbs altogether.

Apart from anything else, it’ll help you avoid the so-called “keto crotch” that comes from going carb-free.

Porn star Jenna Jameson shows off weight loss after a year on the keto diet

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One way to protect yourself, she says, is to take a B vitamin supplement — with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.

“All of the B vitamins work together in a very complicated metabolic pathway and they need each other — so if you are not going to get your source in foods, then a vitamin supplement is a must,” says Heller.

Sondike agrees and says that, “Any time you are on a weight-loss diet you need a good multivitamin, regardless of whether you are limiting your carbohydrate intake or not,” he says.

Although there has been some evidence that a low-carb diet can also take its toll on calcium levels, Sondike says that fortunately, this is usually only on a short-term basis.

“Your body will often shift metabolism when you do something different to it — but it equalizes — you see a rapid shift and a return to normal — and the longer-term studies show normal results in this area,” says Sondike. Still, he tells WebMD it’s a “smart idea” to take a calcium supplement beginning at the start of your low-carb diet to safeguard against a possible deficiency. Tofu can also be a good source of calcium.

Another mineral you may want to supplement is potassium. While there is no concrete evidence that a dramatic potassium loss occurs on a low-carb regimen, Sondike says to ensure against problems he recommends patients use Morton’s Light Salt — a potassium chloride product that he says can add back any of this important mineral that’s lost. Eating a few almonds is also a good way to supplement this mineral without adding carbs to your diet.

Finally, if you stick to your low-carb diet via the use of prepackaged foods, experts say read the label carefully to avoid ingredients that are notoriously responsible for gastrointestinal upsets, and especially excess gas. Among the worst offenders: sugar alcohol, found in sweeteners such as sorbitol.

“Anything above 10 grams or more of sorbitol at a time has been shown to cause gastrointestinal upset — and some of these low-carb diet foods have as much as 30 grams a serving,” says Heller. While it won’t make you violently ill, she says, it can make you — and those in the same room — pretty uncomfortable.

I’ve tried my fair share of weird weight-loss strategies, none of which I wind up maintaining long-term because of the crazy restrictions. But in the summer of 2015, my parents started their own journey on the low-carb diet, and after seeing each of them successfully shed some pounds, I decided to give the diet a try for myself and see what kind of low-carb diet results I’d get.

Diets that minimize carbs go by many names. Chances are you’ve heard people refer to the Atkins, South Beach, or Keto (short for “ketogenic”) diets. For the purposes of this experiment, I followed the rules laid out by Susan Kleiner, Ph.D, R.D, author of Power Eating, in this article. Since I work out moderately at least three times a week, I planned to consume 100 grams of carbohydrates per day on the plan—and that was the only rule. Considering cheese is naturally low in carbs (and was the hardest thing to give up during my bouts of Paleo and Whole30), I figured I’d finally met my perfect weight-loss match. So, armed with no further restrictions than capping my carb count, I kicked off two full weeks on the diet. Here’s what I learned and what my low-carb diet results looked like.

1. You might want to start a food journal

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I’ve heard people preach about the wonders of food journals and how helpful they can be, but I always found the idea of writing down every last bite of food I consumed to be overkill. After all, I’m pretty aware of what I’m putting in my body, thankyouverymuch. But during my first day of counting carbs, I realized how helpful it really was to keep track of what I was eating. I kept my daily journal on a Google doc and updated it throughout my day. Not only did it help me keep a daily tally of how many carbs I’d eaten, but it was also a great reference for looking up the number of carbs in foods I eat regularly.

2. Meal prep is helpful, but not totally necessary

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge advocate of meal prepping. And planning my low-carb meals ahead of time made sense since I wanted to reduce temptation. However, when I got tired of my meals by day three and checked out the menus of a few restaurants online, I was pleasantly surprised to find it’s easy to eat out on the low-carb diet. As a rule of thumb, I stuck to grabbing food from places I could accurately record the nutrition of my meal. And if that wasn’t available, I’d use my best judgement to order as low-carb as possible. (Read: No bun or fries with my burger, please.)

Related: 7 Foods I Prep Each Week to Make Sure I Eat as Healthy as Possible

3. Booze is allowed

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Just as not all diets are created equal, neither are your favorite happy hour drinks. I quickly got into the habit of looking up the carbs per serving of foods online before (and sometimes after) I consumed them, and when doing a quick search for drinks I learned that most red wine and spirits are actually safe options. I got into the habit of ordering a glass of Pinot Noir (3.4 grams of carbs for five ounces) or a gin and soda (no carbs!), which was a totally welcome change from Paleo, which discourages all alcohol. (These are the best wines to drink if you’re trying to lose weight.)

Check out these moves that can help you reach your weight loss goal faster.

4. Always calculate your own nutrition information

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Sure, you can trust nutrition labels on foods you buy at the grocery store, but if you’re cooking from a recipe you found online (or even if you’re relying on MyFitnessPal), it’s best to double check how many carbs are in your ingredients. I found when I was grocery shopping that different brands of certain products (i.e. marinara sauce) can have insanely different carb counts per serving. During my first week of prep, I followed a blogger’s low-carb recipe for a veggie lasagna and found that my version actually had more carbs per serving than hers (thanks to the sauce).

Related: Is Weight Loss Really 80 Percent Diet and 20 Percent Exercise?

5. This diet is very dairy friendly.

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Listen up, cheese lovers, because this diet could potentially be a good fix for you. I know how hard it is to part ways with cheese and cream, but since dairy is naturally low in carbs it’s actually a great source of healthy fats (which you’ll consume a lot of on this plan). Since the whole point of a low-carb diet is to train your body to burn fat and not sugar as a source of energy, full-fat dairy is encouraged. Score! (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)

6. You probably won’t get crazy cravings.

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My parents are in the super-serious Atkins induction phase, which only allows them 20 grams of carbs per day (about the amount in a small apple). My mom constantly preached to me about keeping snacks handy for when my body suddenly goes into ketosis, but I actually never felt any symptoms of weakness or deprivation. In fact, since I was filling up on protein and healthy fats, I was able to consistently stay full. Sorry, mom!

Related: The Changes One Trainer Made to Lose Weight After Years of Diet and Exercise

7. You’ll start seeing results quickly.

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Even though I was only committed to this diet for two weeks, I couldn’t help but weigh myself after my first week. I wasn’t feeling hungry or deprived, so I worried that I was doing something wrong. Despite my concerns I’d dropped 1.8 pounds after one week on the diet. After my second week, I’d lost 3.4 pounds and started to notice my frame thin out a bit. So yes, I did get to eat dairy, drink wine, and drop a few pounds. Needless to say, I think this is a plan I could happily stick with. But first I need a slice of pizza.

Why a low-carb diet can help you lose weight and keep it off

“The largest and longest feeding study to test the ‘carbohydrate-insulin model'” concludes that a lower carb intake burns more calories, which may help people maintain weight loss over a longer period of time.

Share on PinterestEating a high-quality, low-carb diet may help us stave off weight gain for longer.

Cara Ebbeling, Ph.D., together with Dr. David Ludwig — both at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts — led the new study, which now appears in the BMJ.

As they explain, when we lose weight, the body adapts by lowering its energy expenditure. In other words, it burns fewer calories.

This way, the metabolism protects itself against long-term weight changes.

However, when the weight loss is intentional, this adaptive response can be frustrating for dieters, as it leads to weight regain.

Although weight gain after dieting is a well-known phenomenon, researchers do not know much about how different diets affect the way the metabolism responds to them.

The so-called carbohydrate-insulin model, however, suggests one such mechanism. It posits that highly processed foods high in sugar drive hormonal changes that increase the appetite and lead to weight gain.

“According to this model,” explains Dr. Ludwig, “the processed carbohydrates that flooded our diets during the low-fat era have raised insulin levels, driving fat cells to store excessive calories. With fewer calories available to the rest of the body, hunger increases and metabolism slows — a recipe for weight gain.”

In this context, Ebbeling, Dr. Ludwig, and their colleagues decided to investigate the effects that different diets had on the metabolism. Specifically, they looked at the carb-to-fat ratio in varying diets over a 20-week period.

Studying carb intake, weight, and calories

The researchers examined the effect of different diets on 234 adults aged 18–65 whose body mass index (BMI) was at least 25. As part of the study, the participants had also adhered to a weight loss plan for 10 weeks.

By the end of the trial, 164 participants had achieved their weight loss goal of around 12 percent of their total weight. Then, they adhered to either a high-, moderate-, or low-carb diet for 20 weeks, allowing the researchers to examine if they managed to maintain the weight loss.

The high-carb diet was composed of 60 percent high-quality carbs, the moderate-carb one had 40 percent carbs, and the low-carb diet had 20 percent carbs. The diets also minimized sugar intake and used whole grains.

During this time, the scientists measured the participants’ weight and tracked the number of calories they burned. They also examined the participants’ insulin secretion and metabolic hormones.

‘A 20-pound weight loss after 3 years’

At the end of the study period, people in the low-carb group burned significantly more calories than those who had been on a high-carb diet.

Specifically, participants who were on a low-carb diet burned around 250 kilocalories more per day than those who were on a high-carb diet.

Ebbeling explains, “If this difference persists — and we saw no drop-off during the 20 weeks of our study — the effect would translate into about a 20-pound weight loss after 3 years, with no change in calorie intake.”

The results also indicated that for participants who had the highest insulin secretion, the impact of a low-carb diet was even more significant: low-carb dieters burned 400 calories more per day than high-carb dieters.

“A low glycemic load, high-fat diet,” explain the authors, “might facilitate weight loss maintenance beyond the conventional focus on restricting energy intake and encouraging physical activity.”

Ebbeling says, “Our observations challenge the belief that all calories are the same to the body.”

“This is the largest and longest feeding study to test the ‘carbohydrate-insulin model,’ which provides a new way to think about and treat obesity.”

Dr. David Ludwig

Low-carb diets are very effective for people who want to lose weight.

As well as being satisfying and healthy, a strict low-carb diet is able to switch your body into fat burning mode.

To achieve effective weight loss on a low-carb diet, you’ll need to:

  • Keep carbohydrate intake low
  • Protein intake moderate
  • Fat intake high
  • Avoid snacking
  • Exercise regularly

The information on this page guides you towards what you need to do to lose weight on a low-carb diet.

Other guides that you will find useful, include:

  • How low carb diets work – for the theory on how the diet helps to reduce weight and blood sugar
  • How to follow a healthy low-carb diet – this will tell you which type of foods to include in your diet
  • Common mistakes on a low-carb diet – see if you’re making any of these mistakes which could be holding back your success
  • Why is low-carb not working? – see if there are any others factors that may be making weight loss harder for you than it is for others

Low carb, moderate protein, high fat

Getting the right balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat should help you lose weight.

Most people can have success on a low carb diet without having to measure how much carbs, protein or fat they’re having.

Avoiding starchy foods like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and pastry and not having too much protein-based foods including meat, cheese and nuts, is a good basis for most people to lose weight.

However, some of you may want to monitor your energy intake to make sure you’re keeping on the right lines. There are a number of apps that can help with this.

Keep carbohydrate low

It’s up to you how low-carb you want your diet to be but strict ketogenic low-carb diets are particularly good for achieving weight loss.

Carbohydrate intake usually needs to be below 50g per day to be ketogenic. Some people may find they need to restrict their carb intake further, say to under 30g, to achieve a ketogenic diet.

Ketogenic diets are when the body is being fuelled primarily by ketones rather than by glucose. Ketones are a form of energy produced by the breaking down of body fat.

To achieve a ketogenic diet , you will need to eliminate grains, starchy foods and most fruit from your diet.

When keeping to a strict low-carb diet, it’s important to be aware how much carbohydrate is in different foods. To help out, see our guide on which foods have more carbs than you might expect

Protein should be moderate

Protein should be moderate for weight loss to occur. Too much protein can cause the liver to produce too much glucose (a process called gluconeogenesis) which leads to higher blood sugar levels and can hamper weight loss.

There is no fixed figure for how much ‘moderate’ should be but low-carb diet researchers and doctors recommend upper limits of anywhere between 30g and 120g of protein.

As this is quite a wide spread, it may be best to aim for a more conservative window of around 50g to 60g of protein a day and work from there.

The following image gives a visual guide to how much protein can be found in typical foods.

High in natural fats

A low-carb ketogenic diet for weight loss has a high fat content with fats coming from natural sources such as meat, oily fish, nuts, avocado, olive oil and dairy.

Fat is the energy providing nutrient (macronutrient) that results in the least impact on blood glucose, insulin levels and weight gain.

Put another way, a high fat diet is more likely to assist weight loss than diets that are high in carbohydrate or protein.

Most people find that if they keep carbohydrate intake low and protein intake sensible, they do not need to monitor how much fat they’re having.

One point to bear in mind is that a number of fatty foods, such as meat, fish, nuts and cheese are sources of protein and yoghurt and nuts are a source of carbohydrate so be wary of having excessive amounts of these foods.

Avoid snacking

A low-carb ketogenic diet is generally fairly self-regulating. Many people will find that it’s actually quite hard to overeat when sticking to a low-carb, moderate-protein, high-fat diet.

However, no diet is totally fool proof and weight loss will be best achieved if you can avoid snacking between meals.

This will help to keep the level of insulin in your body low and therefore help your body to burn fat.

Exercise regularly

Exercise works the muscles and helps them to take in excess glucose and energy from the blood, which helps lower insulin levels, promote ketosis and therefore stimulate weight loss.

Adding regular exercise to a low-carb diet therefore gives a belt and braces approach to reducing your waistline.

Monitoring fat burning (ketosis)

Measuring your weight is the most obvious way to measure weight loss but some people may wish to also measure their ketone levels.

Ketones are produced in direct response to the burning of fat and so this is a good way measuring to check if your body is burning fat.

Note that sometimes weight loss can occur as a result of fluid loss and weight can be put on in terms of muscle if you have been exercising, so measuring ketones helps avoid these uncertainties.

Measuring ketones can be useful if your weight loss stalls or if you make a change to your diet and want to review whether fat burning is indeed occurring.

If you’re looking for a way to lose weight and keep it off, you’d be hard-pressed to find a method more studied than a low-carb diet. Research on the effects of cutting carbs has been conducted since the early 2000s, with findings suggesting that a low-carb diet can lead to greater weight loss than a low-fat diet and even boost your metabolism. And if your BMI is already within a healthy range, there are other benefits to limiting your carb intake, as long as you do it the right way. Here, experts share how to make a low-carb diet work for you and your health goals.

Why Is a Low-Carb Diet So Beneficial?

“Low-carb diets are effective for weight loss because, for most people, eating fewer carbs cuts out a lot of junk food from their diets,” Monali Y. Desai, MD, a cardiologist based in New York City, told POPSUGAR. “It could help reduce your risk for diseases like diabetes because you’re cutting unhealthy high-carb foods from your diet, which helps lower your blood sugar levels. But if you replace the carbs you’re cutting with foods high in unhealthy fats, you can increase your risk of heart and vascular disease long-term.”

In order to lose weight and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease, make sure you’re eating low-carb fruits and vegetables and healthy fats like nuts in place of carbs you’d normally consume. (Here’s a cheat sheet of everything you can eat on a low-carb diet.)


Is a Low-Carb Diet Difficult to Maintain?

That’s the catch. Depending on how much you restrict your carb intake (most experts recommend between 50 and 100 grams of net carbs per day), you may find it difficult to stick to your plan long-term. “Carbs are the preferred source of energy for our bodies and our brain,” Alyssa Tucci Krober, MS, RDN, CDN, director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners, told POPSUGAR. “This can make extreme carbohydrate restriction difficult to stick to for most people.”

Once you’ve reached your goal weight, Alyssa recommends shifting to a moderate-intake plan, focusing on healthy carbs like fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables, while still making a point to eat fewer refined grains and sugar. You may gain a little weight back, but you should maintain the majority of your weight loss, and the extra carbs will prevent you from falling off the wagon (and into a pile of bagels).

How to Get Started on a Low-Carb Diet

Both experts recommend cutting carbs from your diet slowly. “Have a goal of changing one food each week, like cutting out cookies or eating broccoli at dinner instead of a starchy carb,” Dr. Desai said. “This is easier to maintain because you have time to troubleshoot along the way.” Alyssa also suggests keeping an arsenal of low-carb staples in your kitchen, including celery, cucumber, asparagus, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, leafy greens, and healthy fats including avocados, nuts, plant oils, and seeds.

“Foods filled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats are digested more slowly and won’t cause your blood sugar to spike quickly the way refined carbs do,” Alyssa said. It’s that jolt in your blood sugar levels that makes you feel hungry and tired after eating high-carb foods, causing you to crave even more in order to get your energy back up. “Instead, the nutrients in these low-carb foods will keep you full between meals, helping you reduce how much you eat in a day overall,” she explained.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Cera Hensley

Low-Carb Diets May Be the Best Quick and Healthy Way to Lose Weight

At the moment, there are so many kinds of diets that it can be pretty mind-boggling to figure out which one is right for you. Low-carb diets like Paleo, Atkins, and South Beach fill you up on healthy fat and protein but can leave some people feeling fatigued as carbs are actually your body’s first source of energy. Low-fat diets have become more controversial in recent years since zero-fat or low-fat products often contain lots of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients to make them taste better-after all, fat has flavor. Plus, research shows that healthy fats like omega-3s are a crucial part of any diet. Studies also suggest that eating low-fat products can make you crave more carbs, which can, in turn, counteract all the calories from fat you’re trying to save.

Despite these limitations, limiting total fat intake or carb intake as needed to balance out your diet will have its benefits. For example, one study found that low-carb dieters were almost twice as likely to lower their risk of heart attack and stroke than those who followed a low-fat diet. And now a new study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association is giving low-carb eating habits the upper hand again. Researchers found that over the course of six months, those who followed a low-carb diet lost between two and a half and almost nine more pounds than those on low-fat diets. If you put that in perspective, for people who are trying to lose weight in a healthy way for a wedding or other major event, an extra nine pounds of weight loss can make a huge difference.

There are, however, some significant limitations to the study. First, the authors point out that their research does not show the type of weight lost, meaning whether the weight shed was from water, muscle, or fat. Losing fat is probably the goal for most people, while losing water (awesome if you just want to debloat) means virtually nothing for long-term weight loss since you gain that back very quickly. Finally, losing muscle is probably not what you want either because there goes your muscle mass, which can actually speed up metabolism. If people on low-carb diets are losing a higher rate of muscle or water weight than those on low-fat diets, then these findings don’t mean as much.

“As an osteopathic physician, I tell patients there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health,” says Tiffany Lowe-Payne, D.O., a representative for the American Osteopathic Association, in a press release. “Factors like the patient’s genetics and personal history should be considered, along with the diet programs they’ve tried before and, most importantly, their ability to stick to them.”

So, ultimately, if you’re trying to lose weight quickly without succumbing to fads, shakes, or pills that will a) never work or b) leave you weak and hangry, a low-carb diet may produce better results. If you’re looking to follow a longer-term plan, though, a deeper look at your overall food intake is probably needed if you want to lose the weight and keep it off.

The Skinny on Low-Carb Diets

Should you cut out carbs and pack on the protein?

These days, many people turn to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets to shed unwanted pounds.

But is a protein-packed plan that forces you to forsake virtually all carbs the best way to lose weight and, more important, keep it off?

Here, Rush dietitian Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RDN, CPT, discusses whether there’s such a thing as too much protein — and whether curbing the carbs can do more harm than good.

Are low-carb diets safe?

It’s my understanding that when diets like Atkins first came about, the instructions were: You can eat whatever you want, just don’t eat any carbs. And people took that to mean, “Oh, I can eat tons of bacon and steak and cheese.”

But when you do that, you’re driving your saturated fat up. If you tell someone they have free rein and can eat as much protein as they want, there’s some risk there because they’re likely increasing saturated fat intake.

Today, most people understand that you have to choose proteins that are lower in saturated fat. But even if so, there are still health risks associated with a diet that severely restricts carbohydrates for more than just a few months.

So I think someone would have to be paying really close attention and would need professional guidance from a physician and nutrition expert to be able to do a low-carb diet safely.

The effects of cutting out carbs.

We get our calories, our fuel, from three sources: protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Any carbs you eat that aren’t used right away for energy are stored in the muscle as glycogen or processed through the liver and converted to fat. Glycogen, or the storage form of carbohydrate, is the first source of energy that you use for physical activity.

If you don’t eat adequate amounts of carbs, you deplete your glycogen. And when your body can’t use the carbohydrates in your muscles, it will start to break down the protein in your muscles for fuel.

Doing this for more than a few months — especially when trying to maintain an active lifestyle — can become dangerous. Under these conditions, the body is more likely to store fat, slow its metabolism, and be at risk for dehydration, muscle aches and fatigue.

That’s why it’s not safe for anyone who engages in regular exercise to be on a severely carb-restricted diet. You’re going to start breaking down your muscle tissue. And you won’t have enough energy to get through the workouts that are going to be beneficial for heart and lung health, cancer prevention, bone density and overall fitness.

The risks of beefing up on protein.

Protein is a really big molecule, and it has to filter through your kidneys. So there was an initial fear, back when high-protein diets started to pop up,that people who consumed excessive protein might be leading themselves on a path toward kidney damage.

You can’t really study this kind of thing, though, because it’s unethical to say, “Let me feed you a bunch of protein and see if you go into kidney failure.”

But according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, diets high in animal proteins — like those found in meats and fish — could be a problem for people with compromised kidney function, since the body already has trouble metabolizing waste products.

And because uric acid is a byproduct of protein, a high-protein diet in someone who is susceptible to gout could lead to flare-ups. If you have impaired renal function and aren’t on dialysis yet, too much protein can accelerate kidney damage, leading to kidney failure.

So I would say if you have any history of kidney problems or kidney stones, you should check with your doctor to see if a protein restriction is necessary. For this type of individual, a low-carb diet would not be a good choice.

Some of these diets claim that if you cut out carbs, you’ll lose 5 pounds in two days. Well, you didn’t lose 5 pounds of fat mass in two days.

Glycogen tends to hold onto water. So if you don’t have a lot of glycogen, you’re not retaining water. In the initial phases of high protein, low-carb diets, people see the numbers on the scale go down, but a lot of that is really that they’re intramuscularly dehydrated — their muscles aren’t holding onto water.

That’s one reason why some of these diets claim that if you cut out carbs, you’ll lose 5 pounds in two days. Well, you didn’t lose 5 pounds of fat mass in two days. The number on the scale is lower, and admittedly you look thinner because your belly also tends to retain more water when you eat carbohydrates.

All of those flat belly diets, that’s how they work: If you don’t eat carbs, you don’t have a lot of water in your belly, so you don’t look bloated.

The challenges of staying the course.

Low-carb diets are extremely hard to sustain because people look at cutting carbs as restricting themselves. And what do you want when someone tells you that you can’t have something? The exact thing you can’t have.

So behaviorally, it’s not realistic to think that someone could stick to something like severely limiting carbs long-term.

What I recommend is that you stay moderately low on the carbs most of the time. In the Prevention Center, we call it “the Perfect Plate”: Half the plate should be nonstarchy vegetables (like spinach, green beans, broccoli, bell peppers and cauliflower); one-fourth of the plate should be protein; and one-fourth of the plate should be healthy carbs.

The United States Department of Agriculture plate actually has four categories — they say a quarter plate of nonstarchy vegetables and a quarter plate fruit — but I prefer half a plate of vegetables.

The more veggies, the better.

Vegetables are low in carbs and high in fiber, which is what you want if you’re trying to lose weight. The fiber and water content of vegetables take up a lot of space and feel heavy in the stomach.

The hypothalamus — the area in your brain that receives the signal for you to stop eating — gets that “full” message in response to the weight and volume of the food in your stomach. If you eat lots a lot of veggies, the brain will receive that message sooner, you will feel fuller, and you’ll be more likely to not want to eat as many carbs.

Should fruit be forbidden?

Don’t skip the fruit. One of the big down sides when you’re cutting out carbs is that all fruit, no matter what type of fruit it is, contains carbohydrates.

But fruit is also healthy. We have many studies that show fruits, vegetables and whole grains — especially oats — are important in cancer prevention, heart health, cholesterol reduction and maintaining a healthy weight.

You can always use fruit as the carbohydrate on your plate. Just make sure you pay attention to the portion size. If you’re using a bigger plate, that quarter plate could end up being too large. I always say you should have about a fistful of carbs and a palm-sized portion of protein at each meal. Budget with your fist for all carbs — including fruit.

The final word on low-carb diets.

I would say the best advice I can give is to avoid extremes.

Make sure you’re getting enough protein to ensure good health, but don’t make it the centerpiece of your diet. Don’t gorge on carbs, but don’t eliminate them, either. And lastly, load up on the veggies!

It’s become such a cliché — moderation and finding a balance. But when you look at all the components of both weight loss and weight maintenance, that’s really what it’s about: finding behaviors that you can stick with and that don’t feel like deprivation.

I’m also a big advocate of not cutting out everything you love. People will say things like, “I’m not going to eat cake ever again,” or “I’m swearing off chips forever.” Well, that’s probably not true. If you eat cake or chips every day now, it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll never have them again.

So instead of deprivation, look at making improvements. How often are sweets a part of your normal routine now? If it’s every day, cutting back to two or three days a week is an improvement. If you eat chips with lunch every day, substituting a salad or moving to the smaller size bag of chips will be more realistic than swearing them off for life.

Think about it this way: If you’re going to try to change something, ask yourself, “Can I do this forever?” If the answer is no, you probably want to rethink what you’re trying to do.

Working Out on a Low Carb Diet

Ready to rev up your exercise program and get the most from your workout? First, lets learn how exercising on a low carb diet can help you reach and maintain your optimal weight and fitness level, plus tips for supercharging your metabolism—making your body even better at burning fat and calories. If you’re not yet working out, you’ll learn a terrific basic routine that will get you started and that can be done by anyone, in only 20 minutes a day.

Exercise Benefits

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. But let’s take a moment to review the benefits of working out on a low carb diet. Regular physical activity does the following:

  • Builds and maintains healthy muscles, bones and joints
  • Improves psychological well-being
  • Enhances work, recreation and sport performance
  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease
  • Reduces high blood pressure or the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Reduces high cholesterol or the risk of developing high cholesterol
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • Reduces or maintains body weight or body fat (when coupled with a healthy eating program like the Atkins)
  • Reduces depression and anxiety

How Much Should You Exercise?

Most health organizations (such as the American College of Sports Medicine) have focused on endurance and have specified “sustained periods of vigorous physical activity involving large muscle groups and lasting at least 20 minutes on three or more days a week.” However, as research continues to accumulate, we now know that even small amounts of activity throughout the day will add up and produce benefits. We also now know that endurance training (typical aerobic activities like walking and jogging) isn’t enough–weight training needs to be added into the mix.

Research over the last few decades has illuminated how physical activity actually affects physiologic function. Your body responds to physical activity in ways that have really important positive effects on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and endocrine systems. It’s long been known that exercise has a positive effect on brain function and mood—probably as effective against mild or moderate depression as some medications. Regular exercise appears to reduce both depression and anxiety, improve mood and enhance the ability to perform daily tasks well into old age.

How Weight-Training Helps You Reach a Healthy Goal Weight—and Maintain It

You can certainly burn calories with aerobic exercises like walking, running, bicycling and cardio workouts. Aerobic exercise is great for your heart, as well. But aerobics alone isn’t enough. It certainly isn’t enough for weight loss, and it’s also not enough to produce optimal health and longevity. Here’s why:

Your body burns calories and fat in tiny structures in the cell called the mitochondria, which are like Power Central for the cell. And mitochondria are found mainly in the muscle cells. These little power centers are the best ally you have in your fight against fat. They’re the “fireplaces” where the fuel you eat (and the calories you store) get consumed. If you want to raise your metabolism, you need to increase the number of mitochondria. The best way to do this is by putting on some muscle!

But turbo-charging your metabolism is not the only benefit of weight training. Weight-bearing activity is probably the single best lifestyle choice you can make if you want to prevent osteoporosis. Weight training also gives shape and form to your body and, from a functional point of view, can help you maintain autonomy well into your tenth decade. Most people who are in nursing homes are not there because they are terribly sick–they’re there because they can no longer perform the daily tasks associated with life, from opening jars to getting out of a chair. By keeping your muscles strong and functional with weight training, you can significantly lessen the odds of being dependent on others.

Weight Training and Body Composition

If you don’t challenge your muscles they atrophy at a rate of approximately half pound a year. That adds up to five pounds a decade of muscle loss, and some people lose more than that. Your weight may stay the same (it usually doesn’t), but your body composition will change to a less desirable composition of more fat, less muscle at the same weight. Because of its ability to burn calories, every pound of muscle that you lose is a loss of a valuable asset in the war to keep your metabolism strong.

Don’t be put off by the term “weight training.” Weight training is essentially resistance training, which simply means you are using some kind of significant resistance to stress and challenge your muscles. That resistance can come in the form of weights, machines, rubber bands or even your own body weight (push-ups or squats, for example). You can use dumbbells, small hand weights or even improvised resistance tools like jugs of water.

The take-home point: Do your weights. Weight training gives you the tools to burn calories while you’re sedentary. You need to train your body to be efficient at calorie burning for the 23 hours a day when you’re not in the gym. You don’t have to pump serious iron to enjoy the benefits of weight training. You can use hand weights, resistance bands or weight machines. Weight training can start at any age and at any level!

High-Intensity Intervals = High-Intensity Calorie Burning

Don’t misunderstand–you’ll get plenty of benefits just by adding walking to your daily routine, or by doing the recommended 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise three times a week. But you can push it to the next level by adding what exercise professionals call “high-intensity intervals.” Here’s how it works:

Suppose your “normal” exercise intensity is, for the sake of argument, a 4. Maybe that’s the number you set on your treadmill, or that’s the rating you’d give your intensity on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing absolutely no effort and 10 representing an all-out effort that you can’t sustain for more than a few seconds. With high-intensity intervals, you simply escalate your effort for 30 to 60 seconds, moving your level of exertion from the aforementioned 4 to say a 6 or even a 7. Do that for 30 to 60 seconds and then fall back to what’s called “active rest,” returning to a more comfortable level 4 (or even 3) while you catch your breath. Then after about two or three minutes, you repeat. It’s like doing short “wind sprints” in the middle of a long, slow jog.

You can add these high-intensity intervals at your own pace. Maybe you begin with just 15 seconds, and take a three-minute “recovery” period. As you become more fit, and your lung capacity improves, you can make the intervals longer (say 30 to 60 seconds) and the rest period shorter (say 1 to 2 minutes). You can add up to 10 such intervals in one training session. They increase your endurance, expand your lung capacity (what’s called in exercise parlance, VO2 max, for maximum uptake of oxygen) and burn many more calories in a short period of time than by doing less intense exercise. High-intensity intervals are a favorite way that personal trainers push their clients to the next level. Now you know how to do it at home!

Our Basic 20-Minute Beginning Workout

The 20-minute beginners workout is perfect for those following Atkins® low carb diet. This workout includes the following five components:


Stand approximately eight to 12 inches away from a chair or a park bench, facing away from the seat of it. Now bend your legs, push your rear out and bend forward till you are seated on the chair. Do 10 repetitions.

Beginners: Rest for a second, then put your hands on your thighs, push off using your legs, and stand up again. Non-beginners: Just let your rear touch the seat of the chair and come right back up, keeping tension on the muscles throughout the movement.

Wall Push-Ups:

If you’re outdoors, you can use a tree. If you’re indoors, use a wall. Stand about arm’s length away from the tree or wall; extend both arms out and place both hands on the wall, shoulder width apart, arms extended at a right angle to the torso like you’re saying “Stop!” Now lean in towards the wall or tree, bending the elbows as you come forward, and straightening the elbows as you push away back to starting position. Do 10 repetitions.

Non-beginners can do “regular” push-ups on the ground, either full military style or with knees on the ground.


Lie on the floor with your legs bent, feet flat on the floor and hands clasped behind your head with the elbows touching the ground. Your head should be in position with the body so that you could hold an apple between your chest and your chin. Imagine Velcroing your lower back to a piece of Velcro on the floor where your lower back is. You may feel like you’re doing a small pelvic thrust slightly forward to accomplish this. Keep your lower back nice and stable in this position.

Curl your upper body forward and up holding the highest position for a full second before lowering your upper body back to the ground. Don’t pull on your neck when you come up. When you lower your upper torso back to the ground, don’t return all the way to the “relaxed” position where your weight is supported by the ground, but rather to a point where your upper body is just above the ground and the abs are still contracted.

Remember to keep your elbows all the way back while doing the motion.

Repeat for as many reps as you can manage in good form. The goal is to try for 10-20 repetitions.

Spine Stretch:

Lie down in a comfortable place. Bring the left knee in towards the chest and hold it there with both hands. After a few moments, bring your left arm out on the floor at 90 degrees from your body, and put your right hand on the outside of your left knee. Gently bring the left knee towards the ground on the right side of the body while you turn your head to look over to the left side.

This gentle spine-stretch should feel wonderful. Bring the left knee as far towards the ground as is comfortable. Then repeat the whole thing on the other side.


Sit up in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply through your nose; expanding your abdomen and then letting the breath fill the chest. Exhale slowly, also through your nose, letting the air out of the chest and then out of the abdomen. Spend a few minutes doing this, concentrating on the flow of air, filling the lungs and emptying them completely. As you exhale you may want to make a soft, vibrating sound like “Mmmmm,” which is very soothing and helps you to concentrate on the breath. Sit quietly for a minute and focus on something that makes you happy.

What About Abs?

When it comes to exercise, one topic that interests just about everyone is abs–the abdominal muscles. “How do I get that six-pack?” is a question virtually every personal trainer has heard more than once. Well, there’s good news and bad news. Not everyone can achieve a six-pack. That’s partly because a real six-pack—flat, beautifully defined abs—requires extremely low body fat and a certain genetic gift for thin, tight skin. But the good news is that absolutely everyone can have stronger, more defined abs. You won’t get them just by doing sit-ups, though. Even if your abs are rock-solid, you won’t see them if there’s a layer of body fat around your middle. So the real answer to how to get great abs is twofold: exercise the abdominal regions and lower your body fat by following the principles of Atkins!

Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

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