Low Calorie or Low Carb Diets?

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First there were only low calorie diets in the war against weight gain.  Then, Atkins and other low carb diets gained popularity and we were taught that we needed to shelve bread, potatoes, pasta, cereals, rice and even fruit if we were to beat the battle of the bulge  - so which is most effective?

Low Carb Diets
Low carbohydrate diets have become very popular over recent years for two reasons - they tend to produce fast results and  they have received a great deal of celebrity endorsement.
The theory behind a low carb diet is to control blood sugar levels.  Carbohydrates are broken down to release sugars into the blood.  If we eat large quantities or carbs or too many fast releasing carbohydrates (such as refined bread, cereals and sugars) it triggers the body to produce more of the sugar controlling hormone, insulin.  The problem with this is that insulin also enhances fat storage and inhibits fat burning.  Therefore, if we cut out the carbs we greatly reduce the amount of insulin we produce which in turn helps us to store less fat and burn more fat for use as energy.
So should we turn our back on carbs?
The reason cutting carbohydrates from the diet typically results in fast weight loss (sometimes as much as 20 pounds in the first few weeks although much of this is due to a loss of stored water ) is often more to do with the fact that cutting carbs automatically cuts calories as we are essentially just removing a large food group from our plates.  Starchy carbs are also typically eaten with fat (one of the most calorie dense nutrients) too.  We put butter on our bread, mayonnaise in our sandwiches, creamy sauces on pasta and cheese on jacket potatoes.  Therefore, when we cut the carbs we cut the calories two fold be eating less starchy foods and less fat.

The problem with cutting out carbohydrates too much is that these foods contain many valuable nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and much needed fibre.  It is carbohydrates that also give us the energy.  Banishing fruit from the diet also removes a large group of low calorie, high fibre, nutrient dense snack foods so it can make things more difficult for the hungry dieter to get through the day.

Maintaining a diet with no carbohydrates is not sustainable for life either and therefore it is not a long term solution. Cut the carbs and your left with a high protein and high fat diet which can be filling and tasty for a while but is not good for long term weight control or good health. This is because eating fatty meats and cheeses not only leads to a high calorie intake, the accompanying high protein intake can put excess strain on your kidneys and increase calcium loss from your bones which in turn can increase the risk of osteoporosis

Low Calorie Diets
It is only possible to gain weight if you are consuming more calories than your body actually needs so cutting back on calories if you are trying to shift the pounds will always be effective.  However, cut back too far (less than 1200 calories a day) and you'll simply cause the body to go into 'starvation mode' where it believes it is under threat of not getting enough to eat and so it reduces your metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories) and hangs on to fat stores even tighter than ever.  Of course, counting calories can be an extremely boring process that can greatly reduce your quality of life in the process.

So what's the answer?