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As grain and sugar consumption skyrockets, low-carb diet gurus gain attention

Wheat and sugar consumption skyrocket.
Wheat and sugar consumption skyrocket.Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

On average, Americans eat about 500 calories more each day than we did 30 years ago, and much of that increase comes from foods high in sugar and grains, reported the Washington Post on Wednesday. And while more experts are blaming high carb processed foods for our obesity epidemic, low-carb diet gurus are earning increased attention and respect for new studies showing that low-carb high fat (LCHF) and high protein diets are most effective for weight loss.

Based on the latest data, the Standard American Diet (SAD) includes a small amount of dairy, a slightly more generous serving of produce and protein and lots of oils, fats, sugar and grains. "It's hard to pinpoint why exactly it's increased," Jeanine Bentley, the social science analyst responsible for the USDA's food availability database, said about the added calories. "But it probably comes from an increase in processed and fast foods."

And while the exact reason may be unclear, what is known is that the SAD food plan kills. A new study showed that when lab mice were fed Western diets, they collapsed and died, reported Cornell University News on Wednesday.

After the scientists conducted autopsies on the little mice bodies, they said they acquired a deeper knowledge of how Western diets result in obesity and metabolic syndrome. They determined that part of the link between mortality and diet resides in the gut bacteria.

So what plan really works? A trio of studies are pointing to low carb high fat (LCHF) ketogenic diets as a way to avoid that problem. Researchers have discovered that "in all three of these studies, reducing carbohydrate intake led to a substantial, spontaneous reduction in appetite," says Dr. William Lagakos, author of "The poor, misunderstood calorie: calories proper."

One of the studies was conducted by Dr. Eric Westman and focused on studying low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet. Co-author of "New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great," Dr. Westman and his colleagues concluded that "lifestyle modification using low carbohydrate interventions is effective for improving and reversing type 2 diabetes" as well as weight loss.

In terms of weight loss, low carb diets also proved more effective than calorie-counting in another study, entitled "A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial." Also led by Dr. Westman, the study demonstrated that low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet programs are more effective than low-fat diets for obesity as well as cholesterol.

With a BSc in nutrition and MS in obesity science, Emily Maguire told us in an exclusive interview that she believes "there really isn't one dietary approach for all even in the case of low carbohydrate diets. The formulation of one low carbohydrate diet to the next will vary from person to person."

An ongoing debate in the low-carb diet community: Can someone follow a plant-based diet and achieve nutritional ketosis? "The problem with trying to achieve a ketogenic range with a pure plant-based diet is actually being able to have your carbohydrate content low enough that it lowers your insulin levels," explained Emily.

With regard to the increasing respect that high fat low carb diets have earned, Emily credits "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health" for getting the butter ball rolling. It's authored by Gary Taubes, who also wrote "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It." In addition, she notes, "There has been a wave of extremely credible scientists and health professionals coming forward and saying that we have gotten it wrong."

In particular, Emily views "one of the most profound in the past few years has to be that of Professor Tim Noakes and I commend him for the stance that he has taken. I think what all of this has done though, is to allow individuals themselves to start doing their own research and not just accepting what their government has told them."

After years of trying to reduce fat and count calories, then being chided for failing due to lack of willpower, more people are recognizing the reality that "calories in equals calories out" does not work. However, Emily emphasizes that low-carb diets require customization.

And Emily practices what she preaches. "My diet is that of a low carbohydrate diet whereby I do not generally consume any starch based or sugar products," she said. For "go-to" readng on the topic, she recommends Dr. Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek, authors of "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable."

Rather than count carbohydrates, Emily focuses on the quality of her choices. Evaluating what you eat rather than how much you eat should be "way more important," she told me.

Who can benefit most from low-carb diets? Emily recommends them for those with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes.

"From my research I found that all participants not only lost a greater amount of weight that following low fat, but they had significant improvements in all diabetic markers as well as being able to reduce or completely eliminate their medication; which is consistent with most of the data out there," she said. "The uncontrolled aspect of diabetes can be very dangerous and anyone looking to take this dietary approach should seek help from professionals who know how to work with this."