A no-carbohydrate diet (no-carb diet, zero carb diet) excludes dietary consumption of all carbohydrates (including dietary fiber) and suggests fat as the main source of energy with sufficient protein. A no-carbohydrate diet may be ketogenic, which means it causes the body to go into a state of ketosis, converting dietary fat and body fat into ketone bodies which are used to fuel parts of the body that do not oxidize fat for energy, especially the brain. Some bodily organs and parts of the brain still require glucose, which is tightly regulated by the liver and adequately supplied by gluconeogenesis or by converting glycerol from the breakdown of triglycerides. A no-carbohydrate diet may use mainly animal source foods and may include a high saturated fat intake, though this is not prescriptive of the diet, which, by definition, only restricts carbohydrate intake.
An early proponent of an all animal-based diet was Icelandic-Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879–1962), who lived with the Inuit for some time and witnessed their diet as essentially consisting of meat and fish, with very few carbohydrates—just berries during the summer. However, the accuracy of his analysis has been since called into question, as the Inuit diet has not been shown to be a ketogenic diet and roughly 15-20% of its calories are from carbohydrates, largely from the glycogen found in the raw meats. Stefansson and a friend later volunteered for a one-year experiment at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City to prove he could thrive on a diet of nothing but meat, meat fat, and internal organs of animals. His progress was closely monitored and experiments were done on his health throughout the year. At the end of the year, he did not show any symptoms of ill health; he did not develop scurvy, which many scientists had expected to manifest itself only a few months into the diet due to the lack of vitamin C in muscle meat. However, Stefansson and his partner did not eat just muscle meat but also fat, raw brain, raw liver (a significant source of vitamin C and others), and other varieties of offal. There is some question as to amount - if any - of raw brain, raw liver, or other organ/offal eating by either Stefansson or his friend during the Study as reports indicate a vast majority of meat consumed as being mutton, with that being almost all fatty cuts.
Carbohydrate-restricted diets gained great popularity, particularly in the case of the Atkins Diet which emerged in 1972, thanks to Robert Atkins. While his diet is not a zero-carbohydrate diet, it does reduce carb intake to a ketogenic level in its initial stages (20 grams daily in induction; weekly increase of 5 grams thereafter), allowing followers to take advantage of the fat-burning mechanism that is ketosis. According to Atkins, this nutritional approach is more effective for weight loss than a low-fat, "high-carbohydrate diet", although there has always been much controversy and great dispute amongst healthcare professionals concerning drastic carbohydrate restriction.
Low carbohydrate foods
Foods that are low in carbohydrates include:
- Meats: beef, pork, venison, chicken, etc.
- Seafood: tuna, trout, flounder, sardines, scallops, herring, etc.
- Cheeses: cheddar, goat cheese, Gouda, blue cheese, etc.
- Fats: butter, cream, suet, lard, marrow, etc.
Research on effects of no-carbohydrate diet
In 1980, Stephen Phinney performed an experiment in which subjects' physical performance was tested while eating a zero carb diet, over a longer period of time. In the first week they showed the same degradation of performance as the earlier studies. After six weeks, though, their endurance performance had fully recovered suggesting that it takes some time to adapt to a ketogenic diet.
At the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, Philadelphia, researchers found recently that after a two-year comparison, a low carbohydrate diet is almost similar to low-fat diet in terms of weight loss, but low-carbohydrate improves cardiovascular risk factors more, such as blood pressure and blood lipid levels. This study would suggest that low-carbohydrate diet protects individuals from potential coronary heart diseases in a more effective way. 307 patients were randomly assigned to either one of the two diets and researchers found 2 years later that good cholesterol levels were higher among the low-carbohydrate group compared to the low-fat group, 23% and 11% respectively.
On the other side, a study by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, revealed after a study made on mice with different diets that with a low-carbohydrate there is a significant impact on atherosclerosis, even though it didn't affect cholesterol levels. Anthony Rosenzweig, a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, found that the increase in plaque build-up in the blood vessels and the impaired ability to form new vessels were associated with a reduction in vascular progenitor cells, which some researchers claim could play a protective role in keeping vascular health.
Also, a September 2014 study at NIH showed that a low carbohydrate diet was more effective in weight loss than a low fat diet, and that while weight loss did occur with the low fat (high carb) diet, that most of the weight loss was from muscle mass as compared to stored body fat in comparison (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1900694)
Alexander Ströhle, Maike Wolters and Andreas Hahn, with the Department of Food Science at the University of Hanover, rely on Bjerregaard et al. (2003) to argue that hunters like the Inuit, who traditionally obtain most of their dietary energy from wild animals and therefore eat a low-carbohydrate diet, seem to have a high mortality from coronary heart disease, but the study did not control for carbohydrate consumption or smoking, which is significant, considering it was a "westernized" Inuit population of which 79% were current smokers and more than likely ate a non-traditional diet.
There are still some questions about the long-term effects on health adopting a no-carbohydrate diet. In 2005, the British Heart Foundation recommended not to follow diets of this kind, for those individuals who want to lose weight and take care of their heart. Working together with the Oxford University team, they found that the energy stored in the heart was reduced by an average of 16% among those who followed a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet although it is unclear at this stage whether this could have a damaging impact on health.
When the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) found in their investigation that this diet is associated with serious artery damage in animals, The Stroke Association in the UK added that foods such as red meat and dairy products, containing high levels of saturated fat, are the ones that cause the buildup in the arteries. Researchers suggested having a moderate and balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise.
- Carbohydrate metabolism
- Country food / Inuit diet, the traditional diet of the Inuit and First Nations
- Ketogenic diet
- Low-carbohydrate diet
- Rabbit starvation
- Vilhjalmur Stefansson
- Bear Stanley
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