Top Responses to Low-Carb Ignorance and Myths

For about 2 years now, I have been restricting myself to a healthier diet and exercise regimen in an attempt to improve my health and fitness. As part of this, I have adopted a (relatively) low-carbohydrate diet. In conversation on this subject with others, I have encountered a stupefying lack of knowledge, a wealth of rhetoric, and an infuriating amount of blatant non-truths.

Despite having a small amount of knowledge in the arena of nutrition, stemming from both my own reading and personal experience, I found myself powerless to effectively debate this topic with people in casual conversation. I frequently found myself speechless to respond to some of the things people say. Not because they were lucid, well-formed arguments, but rather because I couldn’t believe any rational person would say these things. It’s a bit like arguing evolution with a Creationist – you have to be prepared for arguments based on logic that doesn’t. make. sense.

So, to help organize myself as far as what I know and what I think, I am providing these top questions/arguments from the many “low-carb haters” out there, along with the most obvious logical rebuttals for each. Some of these are probably quite familiar to any of you who have been so brave as to broach the subject in casual conversation.

Read on, and enjoy!

1. “But your body **needs carbohydrates!!”**

This is a half-truth. Your body doesn’t need carbohydrates, your body needs energy. The human body can obtain energy by oxidizing any of the following: carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol. In fact, it’s well-known approximately how much energy the body can obtain from each:

  • 1g of carbohydrates yields: 16kJ (3.75 kcal)
  • 1g of protein provides: 17kJ (4 kcal)
  • 1g of fat provides: 37kJ (9 kcal)
  • 1g of alcohol provides: 29kJ (7 kcal)

So, while it’s true that the body can obtain energy from carbohydrates (indeed, most easily and efficiently, as well), it can just as readily get energy in various other ways. An important distinction should be made that low-carb diets are called “low-carb” for a reason. They are not “no-carb” diets (the induction phase of the Atkins’ diet notwithstanding). Humans did not evolve with the sort of refined carbohydrates that we have at our disposal today. They evolved eating what they could find as hunter-gatherers until the advent of agriculture. A healthy (non-corrective) diet should have carbohydrates in it, but there is no need for the amount of refined carbohydrates that most people (particularly Americans) are inundated with daily.

2. “Eating low-carb can cause kidney/liver/*insert organ here* failure!!”

This is not true. There has never been one single study yielding such results, nor one single incident of organ failure due to eating low-carb. I’ve researched it a bit, and the closest I can find is a study done by the AKF that showed a correlation between high protein diets and a tendency towards marginal levels of dehydration in long-distance runners. Note that “high protein” is not the same as “low carbohydrate”. The “high protein” diet they subjected the runners to was around 246 grams of protein a day, which is far in excess of even the average Atkins’ dieters’ intake.

3. “Low-carb diets make you lose weight, but you just gain it all back”

This one’s easy. Lots of people go on low carb diets like Atkins’ as a quick fix. You tend to drop a lot of initial water weight very quickly. Many people with no understanding of nutrition and absolutely no willpower go on this diet and lose that weight, and then go right back to their prior bad eating habits. This, coupled with the recent findings about the hormone ghrelin’s post-diet impact on the body, makes it no surprise that they gain the weight back. Their diet didn’t fail them – they failed their diet. A low-carb diet requires a change in lifestyle. Anything less is a waste of time.

4. “Low-carb diets are bad for your heart/blood pressure/cholesterol” (also “Dr Atkins himself just had a heart attack!”)

No study has ever shown that low-carb diets have a negative impact on your risk for heart disease, blood pressure, or cholesterol. In fact, quite the opposite. Several studies, including one by Gary Foster at the University of Pennsylvania, Sam Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, and Jim Hill, who runs the University of Colorado Center for Human Nutrition in Denver, have shown that low-carb diets have actually resulted in lower levels of triglycerides, in addition to weight loss. Published studies on the effects of low-carb diets are difficult to find, thanks largely to a complete lack of funding and cooperation by the NIH (surprise).

Dr. Atkins’ heart attack was caused by cardiomyopathy, which was caused by an infection that spread to his heart. Neither his diet, nor any symptoms of heart disease were responsible for the attack.

5. “Ketosis is an unnatural, unhealthy state for the body.”

This is one of the most popular, most annoying, and most completely false arguments against low-carb diets. This statement stems from a confusion of ketosis with “ketoacidosis”, which are two very different things.

Ketosis is a natural process by which your body shifts from deriving energy carbohydrates to deriving energy from stored fat. Sensitive tests of ketone levels in the blood have shown that the body is in some state of ketosis every day, regardless of diet.

Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is a dangerous condition most frequently found in insulin-deprived type-1 diabetics which results in a buildup of blood glucose and a subsequent extreme teardown of muscle and fat tissue.