Two very broad categories of diets include the low carb variety and the low fat. This is because among the three major categories of macronutrient required for human well-being, carbohydrate and fat intake are the ones with the most flexibility, as low-protein diets are dangerous and unsustainable. Low fat diets were originally the most popular, as fat had been linked to obesity and heart disease in the public mind. Recently, however, low carb lifestyles have been gaining steam with many proponents claiming they’re the healthiest choice. While the basic idea remains the same amongst all low carb diets, different emphasis is placed on just how low one has to go.
Perhaps the most famous variety of low carb diet is the one popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1970s. Very generally, the diet focuses on reducing net carbohydrate intake (carbs minus fiber, sugar alcohols or glycerin) and works in four stages. During the first, or “induction” stage, dieters are told to reduce carbs to less than 20g a day, with most of them coming from fruits and vegetables, and drink 8 glasses of water. The next “ongoing weight loss” stage gradually re-introduces some small amount of carbohydrates back into the body. In the “Pre-maintenance” phase, net carbohydrates are again increased but still not to the level of a regular carb-rich diet. Finally, in the “Lifetime maintenance” stage, dieters are introduced to healthy habits that they are encouraged to adopt permanently to maintain their weight-loss.
The Atkins diet’s initial very low-carb stage is a form of Ketogenic diet. Ketogenic diets cause the body to begin burning fat stores as opposed to carbohydrates. While consuming an average western diet, the body will prefer to burn carbohydrates for fuel. A Ketogenic diet, that is one that is very low in carbohydrates, forces the body to change its preference to burning fats. In addition, the lack of carbs ensures insulin levels in the blood are properly moderated which may lead to less fat storage and reduced hunger. Proponents of such a diet claim that it can be a way to lose weight without the necessity of monitoring caloric intake, and many also claim it promotes a better over-all health, reducing the risk for a number of diseases.
Another form of low carb diet is the Paleo diet that’s been gaining popularity in recent years. The diet claims to closely mimic that of early Paleolithic man before the advent of agriculture. Many have had weight loss success following the Paleo diet, and some leading proponents claim it’s as close to a truly healthy diet one can achieve.