Everyone’s been talking about low carb diets. While most people tend to associate it with South Beach or Atkins, there are actually quite a few books that centre on the principle of cutting out the carbs: Sugar Busters, Protein Power, The Zone Diet, Carbohydrates Addict Diet. They differ on how strict they are about carbohydrate intake—what you can eat, and not eat, or how much you are later allowed to eat in the later phases of the diet—but as a whole, they agree on one thing: carbs are bad.

The Carbohydrate Principle

Which makes you wonder: what’s so bad about carbs? The belief is that when you control carbohydrates, you lower your body’s production of insulin. Insulin gives your body the “quick fix” of energy (which is why, after eating carbs, you get the famous sugar rush). But without carbs, your body’s forced to use your body’s fat and protein stores.

Low carb diets can lead to rapid weight loss, but nutritionists are debating whether or not it should be continued in a long term. This is because you force your body to burn muscle, and muscle can be a dieter’s best friend because it burns calories even when you’re at rest. However, some diets allow restricted carbs in later phases—which would lower the rate of your weight loss, but is healthier for you in the long run.

What are the benefits of low carb diets?

* You feel (and weigh!) lighter. Low carb diets remove many high-calorie, low-nutrition foods such as pastries and pasta. It also forces the body to burn fat stores (i.e., the bulge around your hips). The foods that are typically included, mainly protein, low-fat dairy, and fibre, also tend to reduce water retention.

* You feel less hungry and more energetic. The body digests carbs and uses very quickly, leading to quick bursts of energy but also frequent hunger pangs and the infamous “sugar rush-sugar crash” cycle When you replace carbs with fibre and protein, which takes longer to process, you’ll feel full longer and have more stable energy levels. That is also linked to less mood swings and higher concentration.

* Better blood pressure and cholesterol. Low carb diets usually remove saturated fats, and refined or processed food, and shift to what is called “whole food groups” (low fat dairy, protein, fibre) which help control blood pressure and cholesterol. The significant reduction of sugary food—which typically contain lots of calories, no nutritional content—also helps control obesity, which is a big factor in heart attacks.

What foods are low carb?

Low carb diets sound good, but be prepared: low carb diets will take out what many consider as staples in all meals: bread, pasta, and rice. In fact, low carb diets will remove anything made of flour, starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes, and foods that contain sugar (this includes several fruits), and cereals that aren’t specifically labelled as “low carb”. However, you will be allowed to take meat and eggs, low sugar fruits like strawberries, and high-protein but low-fat alternatives like soybeans. Some low carb diets allow dairy.