Why Does Low-Carb Work?
That’s an even far less clear subject. One study chalks it up to appetite reduction. Research shows eating a low-carb diet is better at making you feel less hungry, thus naturally restricting your calories, than a low-fat diet. But that doesn’t really explain the whole thing.
The most promising theory is ketosis. Although not all weight loss researchers agree, ketosis is by far the best explanation for the effectiveness of the low-carb diet.
A 2015 meta-analysis of studies on the effect of the ketogenic diet shows it can help suppress the appetite and increase satiety, even as you are losing weight on a very-low-energy diet. It may even be far more effective at inducing weight loss than a low-fat diet.
In a nutshell, ketosis is a metabolic state where the body taps into its fat stores to produce ketone bodies that are burned for energy. Ketosis happens when glucose, which is produced by breaking down the carbs you eat, is not present.
There are subtle but significant differences between a ketogenic diet and a low-carb diet. While going low-carb means you can eat a cup of brown rice every day, you’ll need to reduce your carb intake further to less than 20 grams a day if you want to go into ketosis. That means you’ll have to cut your rice portion to less than a half cup a day.
You get majority of your calories from fat. Not the bad kind of fat you get from eating French fries and hotdogs and milkshakes. For God’s sake, no! You still have to eat healthy by going for high-quality, good fats, such as salmon, eggs, and cheese.
You can eat protein as well, but keep it in moderation. Excess protein is turned into glucose, which defeats the purpose of trying to go into ketosis altogether.
Your body typically moves into ketosis a few days after you start eating a ketogenic diet. Your insulin takes a nosedive and fatty acids are released from your fat stores (read: your stomach rolls) in huge amounts. These fatty acids go to the liver, where they are oxidized and turned into ketone bodies, which are then burned for energy.
Ancient humans evolved to use ketone bodies for fuel when glucose is nowhere to be found. When food is scarce, our ancestors had to turn to their built-in energy reserves to keep themselves alive.
Ketosis is Not Just for Fat Loss
Eating a ketogenic diet has been shown to provide a number of health benefits aside from fat loss.
Research shows it can protect against heart disease by reducing triglycerides, total cholesterol, and high-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol). It may also play a role in treating diabetes by boosting insulin sensitivity immediately, although it’s not yet clear what the long-term effects might be.
The ketogenic diet has long been known in scientific circles as effective in the treatment of epilepsy, but bold new research shows it may also beneficial for other brain and neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Pushing the envelope even further, early studies show ketosis can help cure certain types of cancers by starving cancer cells and stalling the growth of tumors or even reversing them.
So while scientists have yet to reach a universal agreement on this, much of the research surrounding the low-carb diet, including the ketogenic diet, show a lot of hope for people who want to lose several pounds off their waists, and perhaps to clear up a few disorders.
However, ketosis is not a stroll in the park, especially in the beginning. Because your body is not used to burning ketone bodies instead of glucose, it may throw a tantrum and manifest its dissent in various side effects.
Many first-timers say they experience headaches, constipation, and fatigue on the first few weeks in ketosis. You might also have bad breath and high cholesterol. These side effects should disappear after your body gets accustomed to the new energy source.