No-carbohydrate diet

No-carbohydrate diet

A no-carbohydrate diet (no-carb diet) is described as human carnivorism. It excludes dietary consumption of all carbohydrates and suggests fat as the main source of energy with sufficient protein. A no-carbohydrate diet is ketogenic, which means it causes the body to go into a state of ketosis (converting dietary fat and body fat into ketone bodies and using them to fuel the entire body and up to 95% of the brain. The remaining 5% still runs on glucose which is adequately supplied by converting dietary protein via gluconeogenesis or by converting glycerol from the breakdown of fat). It uses mainly animal source foods and requires a high saturated fat intake.



The earliest and primary proponent of an all animal-based diet was Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Canadian explorer who lived with the Inuit for some time, and who witnessed their diet as essentially consisting of meat and fish, with very few carbohydrates - berries during the summer. Stefansson and a friend later volunteered for a one year experiment at Bellevue Hospital in New York to prove he could thrive on a diet of nothing but meat, meat fat and internal organs of animals.[1] His progress was closely monitored and experiments were done on his health throughout the year. At the end of the year, he did not show any symptoms of ill health; he did not develop scurvy, which many scientists had expected to manifest itself only a few months into the diet due to the lack of vitamin C in muscle meat. However, Stefansson and his partner did not eat just muscle meat - they ate fat, raw brain, raw liver (a significant source of vitamin C and others), and other varieties of offal.

One of the first registries on No-carbohydrate diets was in 1860 when English casket maker William Banting was prompted to lose weight and decided to write “Letter on Corpulence”, which aimed to completely avoid starch and sugar. Mr Banting lost 45 pounds, basing on a diet composed by lean meat, dry toast, soft boiled eggs and a few drinks a day. Thus, the Banting diet became a very well known method back then in the 19th century, promoted also for weight loss and diabetes control.[2] More than a century after this, carbohydrate-restricted diets gained great popularity, particularly in the case of the Atkins Diet which emerged in 1972, thanks to Dr Robert Atkins. While his diet is not a zero-carbohydrate diet, it does reduce carb intake to a ketogenic level in its initial stages (20 grams daily in induction; weekly increase of 5 thereafter), allowing followers to take advantage of the fat burning mechanism that is ketosis. According to him, this nutritional approach turns out to be more effective for weight loss than a low-fat, “high carbohydrate diet”, although there has always been much controversy and great dispute amongst healthcare professionals concerning drastic carbohydrate restriction.[3]

No-Carbohydrate Foods

No-Carbohydrate diet is an extreme form of low-carbohydrate diets. The following is a list of foods that can be eaten due to their lack of carbohydrates:

Meat: Followers of this diet can consume almost any kind of white and red meat.

Seafood: All types of fish can be consumed: tuna, sole, trout, flounder, sardines and herring.

Eggs: The best way to consume them is to boil them.

Cheese: Cheddar, goat cheese, Gouda, Mozzarella, and Bleu cheese.

Fat: Consumption is limited to natural and not hydrogenated animal fats, such as real unsalted butter, heavy cream, suet, lard and marrow.

Medical research

  • In lab tests on mice, prostate tumors grow slower with a no-carbohydrate diet.[4][5] A study led by Duke University Prostate Center researchers in 2007 prove also in mice that low-carbohydrate diet may slow tumor growth of prostate tumors. This due to a reduction on insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF), substances that are linked with the growth of prostate tumors in previous research. Mice were fed with 3 different diets and researchers found that mice that ate a low-carbohydrate diet had the longest survival and smaller tumor size.[6]
  • "A high fat, high protein and no carbohydrate diet and similar drink, ClearScan, decreased myocardial uptake in oncology studies" when compared to fasting.[7]
Side effects of this diet:

According to observational and prospectively designed studies from physicians and nutrition scientists, impaired physical performance is a common but not an obligate result of a low carbohydrate diet or no-carbohydrate diet. However, therapeutic use of ketogenic diets should not require restriction of any physical labor or recreational activity, with the particularity that only anaerobic performance is limited, such as weight lifting. In this case, due to the low glycogen levels in the ketogenic diet, competitive athletes cannot follow this kind of diet. In 1939 two Danish scientists, Christensen and Hansen, made a study of low carbohydrate, moderate carbohydrate and high carbohydrate diets, each one lasting at least one week. At the end of each diet, the subjects' endurance time to exhaustion on a stationery bicycle was measured, and they found that with the low carbohydrate they lasted only 81 minutes, while they were able to ride for 206 minutes after the high carbohydrates diet. In 1946, another experiment was made by Kark, Johnson and Lewis to determine effects of pemmican (a mixture of fat and dry meat) as an emergency ration for infantry troops in winter training in the Canadian Arctic. Results on this study showed that in 3 days, soldiers were unable to complete their assigned tasks. Then, in the 1960s, with the resurgence of biomedical science, new research revealed that fat had limited utility as fuel for high intensity exercise, and that humans are physically impaired if they are given a low carbohydrate or no-carbohydrate diet.[8]

At the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, Philadelphia, researchers found recently that after a 2 year comparison, a low carbohydrate diet is almost similar to low-fat diet in terms of weight loss, but low-carbohydrate improves cardiovascular risk factors more, such as blood pressure and lipid levels. This study would suggest that low-carbohydrate diet protects individuals from potential coronary heart diseases in a more effective way. 307 patients were randomly assigned to either one of the two diets and researchers found 2 years later that good cholesterol levels were higher among the low-carbohydrate group compared to the low-fat group, 23% and 11% respectively.[9] On the other side, a study by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, revealed after a study made on mice with different diets that with a low-carbohydrate there is a significant impact on atherosclerosis, even though it didn't affect cholesterol levels. Anthony Rosenzweig, a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, found that the increase in plaque build-up in the blood vessels and the impaired ability to form new vessels were associated with a reduction in vascular progenitor cells, which some researchers claim could play a protective role in keeping vascular health.[10]


Alexander Ströhle, Maike Wolters and Andreas Hahn, with the Department of Food Science at the University of Hannover, rely on Bjerregaard et al. (2003)[11] to argue that hunters like the Inuit, who traditionally obtain most of their dietary energy from wild animals and therefore eat a low-carbohydrate diet, seem to have a high mortality from coronary heart disease, but the study did not control for carbohydrate consumption or smoking, which is significant, considering it was a "westernized" Inuit population of which 79% were current smokers and more than likely ate a non-traditional diet.[12]

There are still serious doubts about the long term effects on health adopting a no-carbohydrate diet. In 2005, the British Heart Foundation recommended not to follow these kind of diets, for those individuals who want to lose weight and take care of their heart. Working together with the Oxford University team, they found that the energy stored in the heart was reduced by an average of 16% among those who followed a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.[13] When the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) found in their investigation that this diet is associated with serious artery damage in animals, the Stroke Association in the UK added that with foods as red meat and dairy products, containing high levels of saturated fat, are the ones that cause the buildup in the arteries. Researchers suggested having a moderate and balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise.[14]

See also


  1. ^ McClellan WS, Du Bois EF (1930). "Clinical calorimetry. XLV. Prolonged meat diets with a study on kidney function and ketosis" (PDF). J. Biol. Chem. 87 (3): 651–668. 
  2. ^ 1860s: first low-carb diet CBS Money Watch. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  3. ^ No Carb Diet Plan CBS Money Watch. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  4. ^ No-Carb Diet May Curb Prostate Cancer
  5. ^ Freedland SJ, Mavropoulos J, Wang A, et al. (January 2008). "Carbohydrate restriction, prostate cancer growth, and the insulin-like growth factor axis". Prostate 68 (1): 11–9. doi:10.1002/pros.20683. PMID 17999389. 
  6. ^ A Low-carb Diet may stunt Prostate Tumor Growth Science Daily. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  7. ^ Bennett, Lauren. "The value of a high fat, high protein and no carbohydrate diet versus fasting in myocardial uptake in oncology studies". J Nucl Med. 2008; 49 (Supplement 1):429P.
  8. ^ Phinney, Stephen D.(2004-08-17)Ketogenic diets and physical performance Nutrition and Metabolism. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  9. ^ Low Carb Better for Cardiovascular Health than Low Fat Diet Medical News Today. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  10. ^ Prescott, Bonnie. (2009-08-24)Low-carb diets linked to atherosclerosis and impaired blood vessel growth Harvard Science. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  11. ^ Bjerregaard P, Young TK, Hegele RA (2003, February). "Low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit--what is the evidence?". Atherosclerosis 166 (2): 351–57. doi:10.1016/S0021-9150(02)00364-7. PMID 12535749. 
  12. ^ Ströhle A, Wolters M, Hahn A. (January 2007). "Carbohydrates and the diet-atherosclerosis connection--more between earth and heaven. Comment on the article "The atherogenic potential of dietary carbohydrate"". Prev Med. 44 (1): 82–4. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2006.08.014. PMID 16997359. 
  13. ^ Low-carb diets 'cut heart energy' BBC News. Retrieved 2010-08-26
  14. ^ Low carb diets 'damage arteries' BBC News. Retrieved 2010-08-26

Further reading

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