The never-ending debate on the use and benefits of a low-carb diet may not be as complex as you think.

By taking a step back and an unbiased look at the research, potential mechanisms and, most importantly, the context and application, you can finally make your own educated and informed decision.

Here’s everything you need to know…

 

A Brief History of Low-Carb Diets & Research

Low-carb diets have been around from the start of time, dating back to the Paleolithic era where the main sources of carbohydrates were exclusive to fruits, vegetables and a few other natural products [1].

Until the last century, with the rise of starch-based foods, grains and sugars, a general person’s diet would have been lower in calories, higher in protein and healthy fats. While it’s easy for low-carb dieters to point this out and state we were healthier back then, life expectancy has only increased as times gone on, so this does not automatically make all carbs evil.

In addition, observation data which monitors trends can easily highlight the rise in carb or sugar consumption and its links to disease or obesity. However, this only weakly supports the benefits of a low-carb diet and isn’t much use in a low/carb debate. Anyone who understands research knows this and understands that there can be many other key factors or variables that could also explain these findings [2][3][4].

These include:

  • Reduced daily activity or NEAT [5]
  • Reduce physical exercise [6]
  • Sedentary lifestyle [7]
  • Increased stress [8]
  • Alcohol [9]
  • Increased intake of unhealthy fats [10]
  • Excess calorie intake and ultimately an energy imbalance, burning less and consuming more (which is key) [11][12]

This data is far from conclusive and if you try hard enough, you can find cause and effect very easily. For example, the rise in smart phone use likely correlates to a rise in obesity levels, so, does this make smart phones the key cause of obesity?

Along with this weak cause and effect like observational research, numerous controlled studies have also shown the benefit of a low-carb diet for fat loss, even when compared to the typical higher carb, low fat diet [13].

Again, while low-carb advocates love to point this out, when we take a closer look it’s clear to see several issues are involved, such as differences in protein intake, calorie intake, nature of the participants (i.e. most are overweight and obese with impaired metabolism, not bodybuilders), poor food monitoring and adherence issues. Combined, these factors can easily exclude 90% of the studies from the argument [14][15].

Ultimately, if protein, adherence and calories are not exactly the same between groups we simply cannot state that “low-carb diets provide a metabolic advantage”. While some studies have controlled these factors and still shown greater benefits, how many of those studies are on non-obese, Biolayne members?

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