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How do Low-Carb Diets Work?

Weight Loss by Restricted Carbohydrate Intake Based on the Glycemic Index

Copyright © 2014 Kelly Smith; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission; Author’s Google profile; Posted January 14, 2014

Meat on the BBQ; photo courtesy Jell96


Many people are under the misconception that low-carbohydrate diets are a recent strategy for a weight loss program. Nothing could be further from the truth. Robert Atkins promoted it after reading a research paper he read in The Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Weight Reduction” which was published in 1958.

Since then, much scientific and medical research has been done to both confirm and to tweak the methods. As might be expected, many companies have jumped on the bandwagon, many hiring celebrities to hype their brand on radio and TV commercials.

The Science of Weight Loss Programs

Regardless of which program is under consideration, they are all based on two simple food concepts, the glycemic index being the first and insulin resistance. The glycemic index simply rates foods by their energy-burning rates. The slower they burn, the longer you will have energy and the less need to eat.

Now, the glycemic index of the foods that are being consumed determines how much insulin the pancreas produces. Insulin is used to move glucose or blood sugar to the cells. There it is either used for energy right away or it is stored as a future source of energy or stored as fat.

It’s easy to see that what is needed to store less fat (and lose weight) is to eat foods that burn slowly and increase insulin resistance. The farther one can avoid refined sugars the better.

The Complications of Age, Metabolism, and Exercise

Many people wonder why they begin gaining weight as they age despite not changing their eating habits and activity level. This is because our metabolism slows down as we age; it’s a fact of life.

What’s the answer? It is two-fold. First, adopt one of the low-carbohydrate diets (to some extent at least) and second, to ramp up one’s activity level. Different exercises affect us in different ways.

Aerobic sports such as running, cycling, aerobic classes, triathlon, and swimming will burn excess calories while the activity is being engaged in and for several hours thereafter. Weight training (anaerobic), on the other hand, builds lean muscle mass.

The more lean muscle mass there is, higher the metabolism will be and the more energy must be expended in the course of regular daily activities. So, what’s the best solution? Engaging in both aerobic and anaerobic activity at least four times per week.

Selecting a Low-Carb Diet

As mentioned above, basically all low-carb programs are geared around the same nutritional science. Other than that the business models vary. The biggest difference is price. How many services are needed? How much outside support is important? Here are a few of the popular ones:

  • The South Beach Diet—this one is easy to follow and most grocery stores carry their food products. Of course, there are an abundance of approved recipes in the South Beach Diet book.

  • The Atkins Diet—this one is much like South Beach but puts more emphasis on tracking calories. Again, a comprehensive Atkins Ultimate Diet book is available.

  • Weight Watchers—this one is more on the support side. It encourages joining a local support group, which is the upside for dieters that need group support. The downside is that there is a price for the monthly pass. Currently, that would be $32.95 for the first month and $42.95 per month thereafter.

  • Jenny Craig—this one offers regular meetings with a consultant, either face-to-face or over the phone. They also want customers to buy their prepared meals, or as they call them, “cuisine”. All of these things cost money of course.

  • Nutrisystem—like Jenny, they also sell you their pre-packaged meals. But (as most people have noticed), they also run a lot of celebrity testimonial TV commercials and hiring Dan Marino and Marie Osmond can’t be cheap.

Author’s disclaimer: I have tried and have great success with both South Beach and Atkins; I have not tried the others. I just preferred to buy the book and cook my own meals using their recipes. Plus, I like saving the extra money.


  • Arthur Agatston, M.D. (2011) The South Beach Diet. Rodale Books

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