Low-carb diets are all the rage, but are they good for you?
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Dr. Dean Ornish, a proponent of low-fat, heart-healthy diets, has been one critic of low-carb diets. He’s particularly concerned about the unknown, long-term effects of a high-fat diet on patients with heart disease and high cholesterol. According to Ornish, the effects of extreme diets are short term only, and permanent weight loss can only be achieved by eating less and moving more, which is a good point. Counting calories, grams of fat, numbers of carbohydrates … nothing diminishes the importance of healthy amounts of all different food groups, along with regular exercise.
As Rae Ann Karsch, a registered dietician at Straub Clinic and Hospital in Honolulu, points out, “Long-term success is achieved when you choose a diet that you can stick with for the rest of your life. There are benefits to all of the food groups that cannot be replaced by trying to avoid any one type of food. It’s not just about what you eat, but how much and how often.” Even Atkins enthusiasts will admit that long-term research is lacking to support the claim that permanent weight loss is possible, and safe, on a low-carbohydrate diet plan. However, they counter that the effects of obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes are known.
For Hudson, now weighing in at 278, almost 120 pounds lighter in less than a year, following a low-carbohydrate diet was easy once he got started. After the first two weeks, he had lost the cravings for the candy and sweets that had been his diet staples in the past. He admits that the diet he chose may seem extreme to others, but he feels that it’s the only plan that could have worked for him. The end results: normal blood sugar, clothes he can fit into and a lifestyle he’s happy to share. “I can’t predict the future,” he told me at his last visit, “but at least I can be proud of who I am now. I have finally found a diet I can live by.”
Is the low-carbohydrate way of life just another diet craze that’s bound to fall out of favor in the next few years? Many hope so, but, until then, the struggle continues to find the perfect balance of a healthy diet and exercise to minimize the known increases in the rates of heart disease, diabetes, strokes and cancer now, and far into the future. The best diet is the one that can be followed in the long term, and not just result in a momentary change in habits. The research continues to find the ever-elusive answer to the perfect diet question, “what to eat?” One thing is for sure, there is no easy answer.
Low Carb in Hawaii
The popularity of low-carb diets has certainly affected how Hawai‘i eats. Chains such as Subway are now offering low-carbohydrate options. General Nutrition Centers have seen a dramatic increase in the sale of low-carbohydrate foods in the past two years. Times Supermarket and Daiei now offer special aisles with low-carb versions of chocolate, bread, cookies, muffins, cereals and so on. In Kailua, Paradise Foods caters exclusively to the low-carb eater. Dennis Muth, co-owner with his wife Hedy, has noticed a significant increase in the number of patrons. “Without a doubt, more and more people are hearing about our market, and business has been tremendous. We are in the process of opening up two more stores closer to town to meet the demand of those seeking low-carbohydrate or no-carbohydrate foods.” L&L Drive Inn offers a special low-carb plate lunch, complete with extra servings of meat and eggs, and greens instead of white rice. Diamond Head Market and Grill offers pre-cooked, take-out meals, all cooked with the low-carb dieter in mind.
Author’s Note: Kathleen Kozak, M.D., M.B.A., is an internist at Straub Clinic & Hospital in Honolulu.