The Down Low on Low-Carb Diets
How to avoid the pitfalls and side effects of a low-carb weight loss plan.
You've cleaned out those pantry closets, gone food shopping,
and made the commitment. It's official: you're on a low-carb diet!
But while the road to a slimmer new you may be paved with
high-protein foods, if you're like most low-carbers it's likely you've also
encountered a few potholes along the way.
"Any time you make a fundamental change in your diet your
body is going to react -- and when it does you are bound to experience certain
symptoms or problems," says Stephen Sondike, MD, director of the Nutrition,
Exercise, and Weight Management Program (NEW) at Children's Hospital of
When that change involves reducing carbs, he says, among the
most common problems is constipation.
"One of the primary places where you are going to see
metabolic changes on any kind of diet is in your gastrointestinal tract -- and
that can include a change in bowel habits often experienced as
constipation," says Sondike, who is also credited with conducting the first
published, randomized clinical trial on low-carb diets. The reason, Sondike
tells WebMD, is that most folks get whatever fiber they consume from high-carb
foods such as bread and pasta. Cut those foods out, and your fiber intake can
drop dramatically, while the risk of constipation rises.
"However, if you really follow a low-carb diet correctly,
you will be replacing those starchy foods with low-carb, high-fiber vegetables
-- which should help counter the constipation by providing as much, if not more
fiber, than you had before," says Sondike.
Doctors say that eating up to five servings of low-carb
vegetables daily -- foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce -- can
keep your bowels healthy without interfering with weight loss.
If it's still not doing the trick, Sondike says a fiber
supplement -- such as Metameucil or FiberCon can help.
"The one thing I would not do is start taking laxatives --
adding more fiber to your diet is definitely a smarter and healthier way to
deal with the problem," says Doris Pasteur, MD, director of the Nutrition
Wellness program at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
A low-carb diet can help you lose weight because it turns on
fat-burning processes, known as "dietary ketosis." These ketones are
also thought to have an appetite suppressant effect.
However, Pasteur says that when large amounts of ketones are
produced, your body can become quickly dehydrated -- another problem faced by
those on a low-carb diet.
The solution: Drink more water.
"The lower your carb intake, the greater your risk of
dehydration and subsequently the greater your need for water," says
Pasteur. Most low-carb diet experts suggest drinking at least 2 quarts of water
In addition to keeping you adequately hydrated -- which can
also help alleviate constipation -- drinking lots of water can also help offset
still another low-carb diet problem: bad breath. The ketones produced during
the diet can lead to what is sometimes described as a fruity odor although it
is often described as having an almost "chemical" odor similar to
acetone or nail polish remover.
Now if you're thinking you'll just handle the problem by
brushing and flossing a little more often, guess again. Since the breath odor
is coming from metabolic changes and not necessarily a dental-related
condition, traditional breath products are not likely to provide long-lasting
relief. On the other hand drinking more water intake can do the trick.
"The water helps dilute the ketones in your system, and
while that won't affect weight loss, it will help with the bad breath,"