Are Very Low Carb Diets Overrated for Weight Loss? Atkins vs South Beach vs the Zone.

lowcarbdietWeight loss and carbs, always seem to be in the same sentence together. Some people say “avoid them all” and others say “make better choices”. Who is right? Is there any one right way? Well today I will present you with some interesting information and let you take the debate from there.

Do All Diets Work?


Have you tried all these diets and found them too restrictive? Does it really have to be that way?

Well most “diets” can work. Atkins can work, South Beach can work, the Zone can work….and all have dramatically different allowances for carb levels. Atkins being very low carb, South Beach allowing more access to carbs, and the Zone being the most carb friendly with higher allowances (40% of total calorie intake). One thing in common you will find is a calorie deficit state that allows fat to be burned.

So far, there is no clear winner…..they can all work with calorie deficit.

Very Low Carb Advantage?

Here’s an interesting study: Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets

Objective:We compared weight loss and biomarker change in adults adhering to a ketogenic low-carbohydrate (KLC) diet or a nonketogenic low-carbohydrate (NLC) diet.

Design:Twenty adults [body mass index (in kg/m2): 34.4 ± 1.0] were randomly assigned to the KLC (60% of energy as fat, beginning with {approx}5% of energy as carbohydrate) or NLC (30% of energy as fat; {approx}40% of energy as carbohydrate) diet. During the 6-wk trial, participants were sedentary, and 24-h intakes were strictly controlled.

Results:Mean (±SE) weight losses (6.3 ± 0.6 and 7.2 ± 0.8 kg in KLC and NLC dieters, respectively; P = 0.324) and fat losses (3.4 and 5.5 kg in KLC and NLC dieters, respectively; P = 0.111) did not differ significantly by group after 6 wk. Blood beta-hydroxybutyrate in the KLC dieters was 3.6 times that in the NLC dieters at week 2 (P = 0.018), and LDL cholesterol was directly correlated with blood beta-hydroxybutyrate (r = 0.297, P = 0.025). Overall, insulin sensitivity and resting energy expenditure increased and serum {gamma}-glutamyltransferase concentrations decreased in both diet groups during the 6-wk trial (P < 0.05). However, inflammatory risk (arachidonic acid:eicosapentaenoic acid ratios in plasma phospholipids) and perceptions of vigor were more adversely affected by the KLC than by the NLC diet.

Conclusions:KLC and NLC diets were equally effective in reducing body weight and insulin resistance, but the KLC diet was associated with several adverse metabolic and emotional effects. The use of ketogenic diets for weight loss is not warranted.

Basically with the same calorie load, same protein load….there were no major advantages to a very low carb approach. Keep in mind this is very low around 30-35g (like Atkins) vs a higher intake around 150g (like Zone). So in an Atkins vs Zone faceoff… appears there is no one winner when it comes to weight/fat loss.


Metabolic Advantage to Carbs/Refeeds?

The goal in weight loss is to be able to burn fat while ALSO keeping your metabolism strong. Otherwise all those crash low cal diets would work forever (if the metabolism didn’t crash along with it). So hormones and metabolic responses are important as well. One such hormone that is getting more airtime nowadays is Leptin. Still much is unknown about how it all ties in, but it does have an effect on your metabolism. One draw back that may happen with a very low carb approach all the time is the dropping levels of Leptin. Here’s a study to show how leptin can be reset to higher levels: Effects of short-term carb or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations

RESULTS: CHO OF increased plasma leptin concentrations by 28%, and 24 h EE by 7%. Basal metabolic rate and the energy expended during physical activity were not affected. FAT OF did not significantly change plasma leptin concentrations or energy expenditure. There was no relationship between changes in leptin concentrations and changes in energy expenditure, suggesting that leptin is not involved in the stimulation of energy metabolism during overfeeding. Interstitial subcutaneous glucose and lactate concentrations were not altered by CHO OF and FAT OF.

CONCLUSIONS: CHO OF, but not FAT OF, increases energy expenditure and leptin concentration.

So only with carbohydrate overfeeding (CHO OF) comes the increase in energy expenditure and leptin. Hence why you will see many diets nowadays allowing for “cheat” meals of ice cream, pizza or whatever. That is that they are hoping for, a reset and increase in energy expenditure and Leptin (and then back to a lower calorie/carb based diet).


So What Approach is Best?

Well the whole point is going to be very different approaches can work for very different people. There are many factors that are important in determining what kind of carb level is best for a client (or yourself) such as:

While a very low carb approach may work for one person, it could be an absolute disaster for another (based on one or more of the factors above). If you have low energy, feel like crap, and insane hunger and cravings…what’s the chance you are going to be successful with that approach? Not high. So finding your daily carb energy point can vary from person to person. One may do well with 30g….another 75g and another 150g. Also some may get better results with having cycling of low and higher carb intakes throughout the week. I would always stress that the majority of carbs should be whole natural sources like fruits/vegetables. But it’s not going to kill anyone’s diet if once in a while they go out for ice cream or pizza (and might even help as seen above). There is still the factor of not overdoing the calories, but all in all there can be many different carb level approaches for many types of people. Lastly Lyle McDonald has a great chart that sums it all up.

Diet Activity Level Insulin Sensitivity Carb Choices Carb Addict Stubborn Fat
High-carb/low-fat High High Low GI No NO
Mod carb/mod-fat Medium Low-moderate Medium GI Maybe Yes/Maybe
Standard Keto Low Low N/A Yes Yes
Targeted Keto High Low N/A Yes Yes
Cyclical Keto High Low N/A Yes Yes

In the end, find what works for you and then you can adjust anything as you go. Whether you do higher intake, follow the zone, love low carb, use IF or anything in between….make sure it is a sustainable lifestyle change for real lasting results (as that is what matters the most). Keep your protein intake adequate, make your carb choices more real foods (fruits/vegetables) and then adjust %s of fats/carbs as you see fit for your energy/performance needs and overall enjoyment factors.

Get Your Free Course Today!