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Low-carbohydrate diets or low-carb diets restrict carbohydrate consumption usually for weight control or for the treatment of obesity.
Apart from obesity, low-carb diets are often considered as a treatment modality for some other conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy. Other than being helpful for intractable epilepsy in children, this diet is still controversial and lacks widespread support.

A low-carb diet is synonymous with a high-fat and moderate protein diet. When on a low-carb diet, you can eat until you're full, as long as you eat only allowed foods. Allowed foods include meats, fish, soy products, poultry, eggs, and cheese, and some green vegetables. Foods high in digestible carbohydrates (such as breads, pasta) are limited or replaced with the allowed foods.

Food is made up of three primary macro nutrients - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Low carb means that the percentage of carbohydrates (by calories) is low:
  • High carb 50-70% (USDA Food Pyramid)
  • Moderate carb 40-50%
  • Low carb 25-39%
  • Very low carb 0-25%
There are diverse varieties of the low-carb diet, such as Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, Protein Power, Neanderthin, The Carbohydrate Addict's Lifestyle Plan, Life without Bread, and others. All of these, however, have one thing in common – they all result in a very strict reduction in the carbohydrate consumption. As a general rule, those on a low-carb diet should get at least 60 to 70 percent of their daily calorie intake from fat. It is said that carbohydrates should make up less than 10 percent, and in some cases, less than 5 percent of your daily calorie intake.

Severely restricting carbs may result in ketosis

On severely restricting carbohydrates; body goes into a state of ketosis i.e. burning fat with the subsequent production of ketone bodies in the bloodstream. If ketones are found in the urine then the condition is known as ketonuria. Ketosis stabilizes the blood sugar levels, causes a drop in insulin levels; and helps in loosing weight as body burns fat during this process.

A diet that high in fat with moderate protein and virtually no carbohydrate, and causes the body to go into a state of ketosis is known as ketogenic diet. For most people, restricting the carbohydrate intake to fewer than 30 grams a day induces ketonuria. This helps them lose weight fairly quickly. However, although some diet experts believe that ketosis is a safe condition, it is not essential to be in ketosis to lose weight. But then it is important to keep in mind that when you choose a higher level of carbohydrates than what is needed to bring on ketosis, you might have to limit your total calories in order to lose weight.

Who should start a low carb diet?

A low carb diet is the only way to actually treat hyperinsulinemia. Hyperinsulinemia usually leads to insulin resistance and its associated symptoms and disorders. It is often called Syndrome X, which is manifested by some or all of the following symptoms and conditions:
  • Hypoglycemia
  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • Anxiety/Panic disorder
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Binge eating
  • Digestive disorders
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes.

Who should not start a low carb diet?

There are people such as vegetarians who find it tough to follow a low carb diet regimen. Those who just don’t relish a lot of meat, eggs, and cheese may find it tricky to stick to this eating style for a longer while.

But for those who love steaks, shrimp, fish, chicken, omelettes, cheese, and pork chops, and are comfortable giving up bread, potatoes, and desserts, the low carb diet regimen can conveniently become a forever habit of eating especially since craving for the high-carbohydrate foods vanishes after a couple of weeks of following low carbohydrate diet.

Dr. Atkins diet plan, The Zone diet plan, and Paleolithic diet

Dr. Atkins put forth a low carb diet that offered a weight loss plan. This diet works by restricting carbohydrate intake. This diet prevents hyperinsulinism i.e. excessive production of insulin that occurs on consuming carbohydrates, which in turn causes fat storage, and a craving for more carbohydrates.  This diet plan is known to lower body’s stored carbohydrate and thus create ongoing ketosis for weight loss. During the induction phase of this diet plan, the stores of glycogen in the liver are purposely depleted. In the maintenance phase, carbohydrate intake is increased so that people do not gain or lose weight.

The Zone diet plan put forth that food intake should be designed to promote the response of insulin, glucagon, and eicosanoids throughout the day. The objective of this plan is to eat the correct balance of carbohydrates and protein so that glucagon is produced instead of insulin. An accurate balanced ratio of carbohydrates (40%), fat (30%) and proteins (30%) should be consumed so that you get to eat foods, which control your body’s insulin production. This means that no meal or snack is forbidden in the Zone Diet and yet weight or fat is lost while Zone dieting. Protein requirements in the Zone are based on lean body mass and level of physical activity. This calculated requirement is not to be exceeded, and is to be spread throughout the day to avoid increased insulin levels caused by protein digestion. A close watch should be maintained on the calorie consumption while eating: a meal not exceeding 500 calories and a snack not exceeding 100 calories is ideal for staying in the Zone.

The Paleolithic diet, also known as caveman diet, consists of meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries. The foods chosen must be the ones that cavemen gathered and hunted for. These foods could be consumed without cooking. The followers of this diet plan strongly believe that processed foods cause diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis and other immunologic conditions.

The above diets are mostly collectively put under the general definition of low-carb, and this includes diets that are made up of little or no carbs to some that are moderate carb.