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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is a low-carb diet appropriate for my whole family?

I've been searching for an appropriate diet for my husband and one of my children....both are battling extra pounds.....several friends have gone on a diet that they eat no (or very little) potatoes, rice, bread and pasta.....they have all lost significant amounts of weight but I remain skeptical. My son is 14 and I am nervous to restrict his diet too drastically. Do you recommend a diet like this. Thank you for your help and I love your site.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

The diet that you refer to is the same diet as The Atkins Diet. While many people feel that this diet may be dangerous to one's health, the main problem seems to be that while it is pretty easy to lose weight on it, in the end the pounds come back. One can lose weight by cutting down on carbohydrates because this essentially means cutting down on calories. The problem with this is that the body uses carbohydrates as a more immediate source of fuel.

By cutting them out of the diet the body perceives that it is starving and begins to burn stored fat and muscle (using fat and protein as a fuel source). The result is weight loss.

There is controversy about how healthy this is for the body for a number of reasons, the foremost being increased acidity in the body. After a prolonged period of carbohydrate starvation and the subsequent burning of fat and muscle, ketones build up in the blood stream (these are acids that are the byproducts of fat and muscle breakdown). When one stops eating the restricted carbohydrate diet, the starving body responds by storing as much as possible.

The evidence says that people who lose weight in this way will more than likely gain it back, and often more. Considering this, I don't recommend this type of diet, and a lot of people have written pro and con on this topic. For me, the issue is why would one want to eat anything that restricts your ability to eat good food? Long term weight loss is about eating good healthy balanced food. And that's what you and your family should be looking for.

Depending on how active your son and husband are is the key to the amount of calories that they should consume. Cutting those calories should leave balance in your lives - both a balance of the types of calories (fat, protein and carbohydrates) but also a balance in enjoying the food that you eat.

Without knowing more about your family it's difficult to be more specific. My web site does discuss calorie requirements but if you wish to write I may be able to guide you further.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet