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A Carb-Controlled Diet

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

Weight control presents a major health concern in the United States. From 2009 to 2010, close to 70 percent of adults were overweight or obese, according to the Weight-Control Information Network. As you search for a solution for the battle of the bulge, you'll likely encounter a wide variety of weight loss advice. Carbohydrate-controlled diets are one such approach. While a carb-controlled diet may offer a short-term solution to weight loss, studies indicate it may not benefit you over the long run.

All About Insulin

All carb-controlled diets have the same goal: to control insulin levels. Insulin is a crucial hormone needed for your cells to absorb glucose -- a major form of energy -- from your bloodstream. When insulin levels are low, your body uses alternative fuel sources, such as fat. Having more glucose circulating in your blood or stored in the form of glycogen provides your body with its preferred fuel source. Carb-controlled diets deplete your body's glycogen stores and then keep your insulin output relatively low so that your body will partly fuel itself on fat, resulting in weight loss.

Types of Controlled-Carbohydrate Diets

Carb-controlled diets primarily come in three forms: low-carb, low-glycemic, and low-glycemic load. Low-carb diets place emphasis on the total number of carbs rather than the type of carbs you eat each day. This method reflects the premise that restricting total carb intake is the most important factor for weight loss. Low-glycemic diets place emphasis on the type of carbs and not necessarily the total amount. The idea is that not all carbs are created equal. Some carbohydrates raise blood sugar more quickly and more drastically than others. So the goal is to eat carbs that have the least effect on insulin secretion. The third type of carb-controlled diet -- low-glycemic load -- takes into account the type of carbs and the total amount eaten per serving.

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Drawbacks

Carb-controlled diets aren't without their drawbacks. Low-carb diets often require you to cut out otherwise healthy foods, such as fruit or grains, at least during the initial phase. You may also experience fatigue temporarily until your body adjusts. These diets may also contain higher than recommended amounts of fat. Low-glycemic and low-glycemic load diets restrict higher-glycemic foods, some of which are healthy, such as bananas and carrots.

Final Verdict

Carbohydrate-controlled diets may offer weight loss benefits in the short term over traditional calorie-restricted diets. Short-term data support restricted-carbohydrate diets for improving insulin sensitivity and improving glucose control, according to a review published in the journal "Obesity Reviews." When it comes to long-term weight loss benefits, restricting carbs does not appear to offer benefits over the traditional approach, according to the review, published in August 2005. In the long run, the age-old advice still applies: establish healthy, balanced eating habits and engage in physical activity to help manage your weight.

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