The trend of low-carbohydrate diets has received much attention in recent years. Many diet trends, such as the Atkins diet, South Beach diet and low-GI diets, all adhere to similar principles of limiting the intake of simple carbohydrates while increasing lean protein and dietary fiber amounts. Each diet functions slightly differently and will have different results depending on the dieter's metabolism and lifestyle. Since each dieter is different, there is no "best" low carb diet; however, examining each different diet will allow the dieter to choose the one best for her particular body and goals.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Nutritional Approach, also called the Atkins Diet, has received much press coverage. This diet was created by Robert Atkins, MD, in 1972 and modified with a new nutritional approach with his 2002 book, "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution."
The principles of this diet limit the dieter to approximately 20g of "net carbohydrates" per day, and then gradually increase that amount as the diet progresses. Net carbs are calculated by reading the nutrition label and subtracting dietary fiber and sugar alcohol carbs from the total carbohydrate count to get the "net carb" count - the carbohydrates that actually impact the body. The diet is divided into four "phases" - induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance and lifetime maintenance.
Induction is the most limited phase. There, the dieter is limited to 20g net carbs per day. This phase forbids all simple carbohydrates, most complex carbohydrates and even most naturally occurring sugars, such as fruits and certain vegetables. This phase puts the body into a state of ketosis, in which the body burns stored fat as fuel. Following the induction phases, the dieter adds carbohydrates back in the form of fiber-rich complex carbohydrates. Once the weight loss goal is achieved, the dieter enters the lifetime maintenance stage, where the amount of carb intake is balanced so the dieter neither gains nor loses weight. This diet is effective but limiting. It requires adherence to the principles of the phases that constrict daily choices. Finding Atkins-friendly meals can be a challenge, and the supplement bars and shakes sold by the Atkins Company can be expensive.
The South Beach Diet
Arthur Agatston, MD, created the South Beach Diet in the mid-1990s as a part of his cardiology practice. Similar to the Atkins diet, this diet places emphasis on replacing simple carbohydrates with complex carbs rich in fiber that do not cause the body to produce too much insulin.
Like the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet is divided into phases. The first phase is similar to the Atkins induction phase, in which carbohydrate intake is restricted and dieters focus on intake of lean proteins and vegetables. In the second phase, the restrictions are lifted slightly to allow the dieter to enjoy complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, whole wheat pastas and breads, and other fiber rich alternatives. This balanced approach leads to continued weight loss, which is then followed up, like Atkins, with a maintenance phase in which balance between carb intake and weight is achieved.
Considerably less restrictive than the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet approaches carbs as necessary. The allowance of whole grains and other complex carbohydrates make this diet somewhat easier to adhere to in the long term. It is, however, still restricted in that dieters must adhere to the rules of the diet, which can be difficult when dining out.
The GI Diet
Another carbohydrate restricting diet is the GI Diet. This plan focuses on food's influence upon the blood sugar. High GI foods have a greater impact, impeding fat burn and weight loss, where low GI foods have a lesser impact. Principles of the GI diet are straightforward. They allow for much of the same foods as the Atkins and South Beach diets, steering the dieter toward increasing the intake of lean protein and fiber-rich vegetables. The main tenet of the GI diet is balance--if a high GI food is eaten, it should be eaten in conjunction with a low GI food to balance the impact upon blood sugar. Out of the three diets, this is the least restrictive, but this can mean that the dieter may find it easier to stray, thus making the diet less effective. On any low carb diet, it is important that the dieter gauge her body's reactions to the changes made and adjust accordingly--what works for one dieter, be it Atkins, South Beach or low GI--may not work for another.