A diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein is all the rage, and has been for the last several years because it works. It’s the answer to weight loss, managing Type 2 diabetes and a laundry list of other health problems. But what exactly is going on there?
Our bodies normally turn carbohydrates into fuel, but when we’re on a low-carbohydrate diet, and few are available, fat instead is converted into energy, causing optimal ketosis.
Ketosis is a state where the body burns fat at an extremely high rate. To reach ketosis, the ketone bodies, which are energy molecules in the blood, must be converted from fat by the liver into energy. Ketone bodies are produced at a higher rate when insulin levels are low, which is why a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet produces optimal ketosis.
Ketosis states also stave off hunger, expel fat (in the form of ketones) through urine and aid in the body efficiently converting fats into energy.
Sounds like a dream state for weight loss, right? There are risks when our bodies go into ketosis. If your diet contains too much protein, it can lead to kidney failure. Likewise, too extreme of a low-carb diet can induce a dangerous metabolic state of ketosis because of the lack of glucose. When the extreme ketosis occurs, ketones affect organ function, which can result in kidney stones or kidney failure. Extreme ketosis also could cause nausea and bad breath.
Also, a lack of glucose adversely affects brain function. A study conducted at Tufts University concluded that women eating low-carb or zero-carb diets are worse at memory and thinking tasks than women eating more carbohydrates.
So what’s a dieter to do? Eat a low-carb, high-protein diet, but make sure that your protein intake doesn’t become too great and that you don’t cut out whole grains completely.