Ten Hazards of a Low Carbs (sic) Diet by Dana Carpender


Sometimes the articles just write themselves. I was futzing around on line when I found this webpage: A Low Carbs (sic) Diet is Hazardous to Your Health For Ten Reasons. It was so off the mark, I had to write a response. Then, as I finished it, I realized I’d just written my article for this week!

1) Article claims: Heart Disease Risk – large amounts of animal protein raises LDL cholesterol.

Dana’s Response: Clinical studies repeatedly demonstrate improved blood lipid profiles – raised HDL and lowered triglycerides, usually with LDL remaining about constant, with low carbohydrate diets. Further, the LDL profile skews to the harmless large, fluffy LDL, rather than the small, dense LDL. Indeed, total LDL seems to be a non-issue where heart disease is concerned, no matter how hysterical people want to get about it.

2)Article claims: Cancer Risk Increased – many cancers are promoted/thrive on a low plant-based diet.

Dana’s Response: Low carb diets are not low in plant foods, they’re low in grains and potatoes. Most low carbers wind up eating more vegetables, not fewer. Why? Because we’re the ones getting the innards of our sandwich served on a bed of lettuce. We’re the ones asking for extra steamed asparagus instead of the baked potato. We’re the ones eating pureed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.

3) Article claims: Weight Control loss – initial weight lowers from reduced caloric intake which lowers overall nutrient intake triggering the tendency to binge on empty fast foods.

Dana’s Response: Repeated studies demonstrate that low carb diets cause greater weight loss than low fat or calorie-controlled diets, even when more calories are eaten. In the Schnieder’s Children’s Hospital study of obese adolescents, the low carb group lost twice the weight of the low fat group, while eating 60% more calories on average. You can argue all you like that this violates the laws of thermodynamics, but that would only be true if the body were a bomb calorimeter. It is not. It operates differently on different fuels, because of differences in hormonal signaling. And overwhelmingly, low carbers report reduced hunger.

4) Article claims: Athletic Performance Reduced – known since the 1930’s, high-carbohydrate diets enhance physical endurance, e.g. cheetahs must catch their prey (a vegetarian) soon into the chase.

Dana’s Response: Cheetahs are not human beings. They are also sprinters, not endurance athletes. Clinical studies demonstrate that after an adjustment period of about two weeks, stamina for aerobic exercise is the same or slightly better on a low carb diet as it is on a high carb diet, because of a dramatic increase in fat-burning enzymes. It is true that sprints and heavy weight lifting are anaerobic, and must be fueled by glucose, but this low carber certainly can manage Phil Campbell’s Sprint 8 program. Probably because the body can make glucose from protein and the glycerol fraction of fats.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate low-carb diets. Eskimos ate virtually no carbs for most of the year. Are we to believe they didn’t walk, run, hunt, and otherwise exercise?

5) Article claims: Blood Pressure Increase – on high protein diet raises salt intake cutting important nutrients which work to lower B.P.

Dana’s Response: Where on earth did you get the ridiculous notion that a low carb diet raises blood pressure? Not to mention the equally ridiculous notion that a low carb diet is particularly high in salt? Because high insulin levels signal the kidney to retain sodium and eliminate potassium, high carb diets can cause high blood pressure. The fast weight loss in the first week of a low carb diet comes from all of that excess water being dumped as the kidneys start eliminating salt properly. This brings about a rapid reduction in blood pressure.

As for a high salt diet, the vast majority of the salt in the American diet comes from processed food, most of which is high carb, and from baked goods. We eat very little of either. That said, studies demonstrate that severe salt restriction increases blood pressure about as often as it lowers it. This is thought to be due to changes in the renin-angiotensin system.

6)Article claims: Gout Incidence Caused – by excessive uric acid production from high purines through animal diet.

Dana’s Response: Gout? More confusing than it sounds. It’s caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, and uric acid does, ultimately, derive from proteins. However, according to Wikipedia, “Gout occurs when crystals of uric acid, in the form of monosodium urate, precipitate on the articular cartilage of joints, on tendons, and in the surrounding tissues. Uric acid is a normal component of blood serum. Uric acid is more likely to form into crystals when there is hyperuricemia, although hyperuricemia is 10 times more common without clinical gout than with it. Gout can also occur when serum uric acid is normal, and when it is abnormally low (hypouricemia). Gout can also be triggered by alcohol consumption; there also appears to be a hereditary factor.

Interestingly, there are several studies indicating carb restriction helps with gout; clearly more study is needed. However, it is clear gout is most commonly found in those with metabolic syndrome – abdominal obesity, diabetes, elevated blood fats, hypertension, etc – which is most effectively treated through carbohydrate restriction.

Just as importantly, it is now felt that high intake of fructose stimulates gout, with particular blame being laid on beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Certainly a low carbohydrate diet drastically limits fructose intake from all sources.

7) Article claims: Kidney Stones – the development of both uric acid and calcium oxalate stones are more likely on a high protein diet.

Dana’s Response: Properly followed, a low carb diet is not a high protein diet, but rather a high fat/moderate protein diet*. Furthermore, strict ketogenic diets have been used for decades to control seizures. Such diets do tend to a modest increase of kidney stones, but then, they also restrict fluids, so as to allow ketones to build up in the bloodstream. Liberalizing fluids generally takes care of the problem. Those of us eating low carb for our general health and weight control do not restrict fluids.

8)Article claims: Osteoporosis – excess protein stimulates the loss of calcium through urination.

Dana’s Response: About equal numbers of studies show diets rich in animal protein improving bone density as harming it. It should also be noted that whole grains and beans, particularly soy beans, bind minerals. This is apparently why, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors started farming, their progeny became shorter, with weaker bones and bad teeth. (That’s how paleoanthropologists tell the hunter-gatherers from the farmers.)

9) Article claims: Orthostatic Hypotension – a body deprived of carbohydrates develops a condition of rapid blood pressure drop from lying to standing through low electrolyte levels and reduced sympathetic nervous system activity giving the sense of dizziness and/or fainting.

Dana’s Response: I’m still trying to figure out how a low carb diet is supposed to cause hyper- and hypotension at the same time. As for electrolytes, why would we be short on them? We salt our food – at least most of us do. We eat plenty of vegetables for potassium (though interestingly, many types of flesh foods are also excellent potassium sources; look up pork.) We eat cheese freely, supplying calcium, and many of us also eat plain yogurt. (Some of us also save all our bones to make bone broth.) We snack on nuts and seeds, rich in magnesium. So much for needing concentrated carbs to get our electrolytes.

10) Article claims: Ketosis – unhealthful state recognized by keto-breath condition described as cross between nail polish remover and over-ripe pineapple from low carbohydrate diet.

Dana’s Response: As for ketosis being unhealthy, if it is, the Eskimos were unhealthy all the time for centuries, possibly millennia. Furthermore, multi-university, multi-national studies indicate that hunter-gatherers obtained half their calories from animal foods, and most of the rest from vegetables, wild fruit in season, and nuts and seeds – in other words, a low carbohydrate diet. Ketosis is the natural state of mankind. And just as well – if it weren’t, our ancestors would have been unable to come up with enough energy to hunt and gather while hungry, and we wouldn’t be here.

It’s clear that Rick Cotrell, the “lifestyle counselor” who wrote the original article, has done no actual research regarding low carb diets. I’m guessing he hasn’t even bothered reading any of Dr. Atkins’ books, nor any of the many good low carb books out there. It’s overwhelmingly clear he hasn’t bothered actually reading the medical studies, or even the abstracts. It doesn’t even sound like he’s bothered to talk to any actual low carb dieters. Like so many other low carb detractors, he’s simply parroting the talking points he’s heard again and again, setting up straw men so he can knock them down.

Further, if you click through to his diet plan website, he’s selling some sort of probiotic supplement which he claims will cause weight loss. How, exactly, this differs from eating the yogurt that is a part of so many low carbers’ diets is anybody’s guess. But it is clear that Mr. Cotrell has his own axe to grind, and isn’t going to be dissuaded by a little thing like facts.

* What do I mean by a high fat diet? Low carbers may or may not wind up eating more fat than they did before going low carb, depending on whether they were previously on a low fat diet. Regardless, fat as a fraction of the diet will be increased, simply because carbohydrate is lowered.

Look at it this way: Let’s say you’re eating 1800 calories per day – a pretty average calorie intake for me — and you’re getting 120 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrate. That comes to just 640 calories. So 1160 calories will be coming from fat – 128 grams of fat. That means that as a fraction, you’ll be getting 71% of your calories from fat. (Actually, in my case the fat fraction would be a little smaller, since I get about 250 calories from dry red wine most days. But you see my point.)

Yet the average American gets over 2500 calories per day. With 45% of calories, on average, coming from fat, that means that most people are eating about the same actual number of fat grams as our typical low carber. It’s just because the carbohydrate fraction of the pie is so much higher that the fat percentage is lower.

© Copyright 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the not-so-hazardous author.

Check Also

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I frequently see questions about cheat days – most commonly, “How often should I have a cheat day?” There seems to be an assumption that cheat days are a good idea, something that should be built into a low-carb diet to keep people from feeling deprived.

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