Low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss are receiving a lot of attention of late. Reasons for this interest include a plethora of low-carbohydrate diet books, the over-sensationalism of these diets in the media and by celebrities, and the promotion of these diets in fitness centres and health clubs. The re-emergence of low-carbohydrate diets into the spotlight has lead many people in the general public to question whether carbohydrates are inherently 'bad' and should be limited in the diet. Although low-carbohydrate diets were popular in the 1970s they have resurged again yet little scientific fact into the true nature of how these diets work or, more importantly, any potential for serious long-term health risks in adopting this dieting practice appear to have reached the mainstream literature. Evidence abounds that low-carbohydrate diets present no significant advantage over more traditional energy-restricted, nutritionally balanced diets both in terms of weight loss and weight maintenance. Studies examining the efficacy of using low-carbohydrate diets for long-term weight loss are few in number, however few positive benefits exist to promote the adoption of carbohydrate restriction as a realistic, and more importantly, safe means of dieting. While short-term carbohydrate restriction over a period of a week can result in a significant loss of weight (albeit mostly from water and glycogen stores), of serious concern is what potential exists for the following of this type of eating plan for longer periods of months to years. Complications such as heart arrhythmias, cardiac contractile function impairment, sudden death, osteoporosis, kidney damage, increased cancer risk, impairment of physical activity and lipid abnormalities can all be linked to long-term restriction of carbohydrates in the diet. The need to further explore and communicate the untoward side-effects of low-carbohydrate diets should be an important public health message from nutrition professionals.
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