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Are Low-Carb Diets Healthy?

3 min read
With low-carb diets having been touted as a lifestyle choice for some time, many people are choosing to restrict or eliminate carbohydrates from their meals. But a diet lacking in a major food group can have undesirable consequences.

Low-carb diets have been popular for decades. They used to be highly controversial, mainly because of their over-reliance on protein, but have recently become more mainstream. Most people go on low-carb diets in order to lose weight. While low-carb diets may be effective for weight loss, how healthy are they in the long run?

“While many studies have shown that a low-carb diet can be effective for weight loss and Type 2 diabetes management in the short term, its long-term effects are still not known,” attests Dr Lee Sook Yee, Science Team Lead and Senior Biochemist, Alchemy Foodtech Pte Ltd.

HARMFUL CONSEQUENCES
Low-carb diets can have adverse effects on some people. Certain low- carb diets severely restrict the consumption of carbohydrate-rich food, including fruit, whole grains and legumes, which are good sources of fibre as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Depriving the body of such fibre and essential micronutrients can lead to health problems such as constipation, fatigue and gastrointestinal issues, points out Dr Lee.

Other dangers of a low-carb diet are that it could potentially lead to cardiac complications, osteoporosis and muscle loss, discloses general practitioner Dr Benjamin Loh, whose clinic, Dr Ben Medical, specialises in men’s health, ENT and dermatology.

All diet plans require careful planning to ensure the individual is getting the essential nutrients he or she need. A balanced diet consisting of a moderate amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat is still considered the most optimal for the human body. “Personally, I don’t think there is a quick fix or substitute for healthy eating — that is, eating balanced meals that are nutrient-rich and less calorie-dense — and regular exercise to achieve a healthy body,” asserts Dr Lee.

Weight loss fundamentally boils down to the amount of calories consumed versus the amount of calories used by the individual. Much of the weight-loss effect, especially in the short term, seen with low-carb diets can be attributed to the reduction in the amount of calories consumed. Studies have also shown that low-carb diets are not more effective for weight loss compared to other calorie-restricting diets in the longer term.

Moreover, adherence to a strict low-carb, no-grain diet tends to be less sustainable than one that allows moderate consumption of healthy carbohydrates. In addition, certain groups of people, such as diabetics or pregnant women, who choose to go on these diets should take precautions to avoid hypoglycaemia, cautions Dr Loh.

A HEALTHIER PLAN
According to the Health Promotion Board, an easy visual guide to healthy eating can be found in the Healthy Plate, which suggests that a typical meal should consist of ¼ plate of wholegrains, ¼ plate of a good source of protein, and ½ plate of fruit and vegetables. The omission of any food groups in the healthy plate is not recommended.

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. When choosing carbohydrates, wholegrains, such wholewheat bread and brown rice, are recommended. However, for some folks, taste takes precedence. In such instances, Alchemy Foodtech’s patented plant-based fibre blends Alchemy Fibre™ For Rice — available in most supermarkets — can be added to white rice, as it lowers its glycaemic index to the same range as brown rice and increases its fibre levels by more than 10 times.

When it comes to losing those stubborn kilos and keeping them off, Dr Loh advises that what works is a healthy diet, exercise and goal setting using the SMART (an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) model. Some may benefit from medical interventions in discussion with their doctor, he adds.