It is estimated that over 50 million Americans are currently on a diet. Some succeed in taking weight off, but far fewer—maybe just 5 percent—manage to keep the weight off over the long term. With half the adult population in the United States considered overweight, it's little wonder that consumers are constantly searching for a "magic bullet" to help them lose weight quickly and effortlessly.
There is little scientific research to corroborate the theories expounded in the majority of diet books currently on the market. Many promise weight-loss programs that are easy, allow favorite foods or foods traditionally limited in weight-loss diets without limitations, and do not require a major shift in exercise habits. Authors may simplify or expand upon biochemistry and physiology to help support their theories and provide a plethora of scientific jargon that people do not understand but that seems to make sense. Few, if any, offer solid scientific support for their claims in the form of published research studies. Instead, most evidence is based on anecdotal findings, theories, and testimonials about short-term results.
Some of the most popular diets to hit the news wires these days are those that promote low-carbohydrate and high-protein intakes and promise significant weight loss. Variations of low-carbohydrate diets have been around since the 1960s. These diets are nothing more than low-kcalorie diets in disguise, but with some potentially serious consequences. Following a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet will encourage the body to burn its own fat. Without carbohydrates, however, fat is not burned completely and substances called ketones are formed and released into the bloodstream. Abnormally high ketone levels in the body, or ketosis, may indeed make dieting easier, since they typically decrease appetite and cause nausea. Although these diets may not be harmful when used by healthy people for a short period, they restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients.
Individuals who follow these diets for more than just a short period run the risk of compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential heart, kidney, bone, and liver abnormalities. There are no long-term studies that have found these diets to be effective and safe.
Here's a rundown on some of the more popular high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.
1. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution by Robert Atkins, MD
Premise/Theory: Excess carbohydrate intake prevents the body from burning fat efficiently. Eating too many carbohydrates causes production of excessive amounts of insulin, leading to obesity and a variety of other health problems. Drastically decreasing dietary intake of carbohydrates forces the body to burn reserves of stored fat for energy, causing a buildup of ketones that lead to decreased hunger.
2. Sugar Busters! by H. Leighton Steward, Sam S. Andrews, MD, Morrison C. Bethea, MD, and Luis A. Balart, MD
Premise/Theory: Sugar and certain carbohydrates are toxic to the body, causing blood-sugar levels to rise and increasing the levels of insulin production, thereby prompting fat storage and weight gain. Supposedly, decreasing sugar intake can help people lose weight and decrease body fat, no matter what other foods are eaten.
3. Enter the Zone by Barry Sears, PhD
Premise/Theory: The "zone" is a metabolic state in which the mind is relaxed and focused and the body is strong and works at peak efficiency. A person in the "zone" will allegedly experience permanent body-fat loss, optimal health, greater athletic performance, and improved mental productivity. Insulin is released as a result of eating carbohydrates and leads to weight gain. Because food has a potent druglike effect on the hormonal systems that regulate the body's physiological processes, eating the right combination of foods leads to a metabolic state in which the body works at peak performance and experiences decreased hunger, weight loss, and increased energy.
• To get into the "zone," rigid quantities of food, apportioned in blocks and at prescribed times, are recommended in a distribution of 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein,
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