Looking for a last minute summer slim down? You could always consider following in LeBron James’ footsteps by adhering to a low-carb diet. The basketball star is allegedly the latest to follow this well-trod path. According to a Tweet by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, James has dropped serious weight recently by cutting back on the carbs. SB Nation went as far as to say that the slimmed down James “looks like an 18-year old again.”
It isn’t entirely clear if a low- or no-carb diet is really responsible for James’ apparent weight loss, but it has been a popular choice for people looking to lose weight for decades. A press release by the University of Maryland Medical Center explains that the diet is founded on the idea that consuming “bad carbs” will result in a blood sugar spike, high insulin, increased hunger, and weight gain. Foods that fall into the “bad” category include white potatoes, pastas, and breads. There are typically at least two phases to the diet. In the first, people will curtail their consumption of carbs, potentially to under 20 grams per day. After a couple weeks on this regimen, carbohydrates are gradually allowed back in, but still at a restricted amount.
Getting only 20 grams of carbohydrates each day is well under the proposed guidelines. Writing in SFGate, Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D., stated that the Institute of Medicine recommends adults have 45 to 65 percent of their daily calorie intake come from carbohydrates. This, Coleman calculates, works out to about 150 grams of carbohydrates each day.
That leaves people with a lot of carbs to eliminate, and as Livestrong points out, nearly all foods contain carbohydrates — a vital source of energy. Meat and eggs are your carb-free choices, but when you try to add to a meal surrounding either, you can quickly run into trouble. Even if you skip the pasta and choose the veggies, you can still run afoul of carbohydrates. For this reason, the Mayo Clinic includes fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, beans, sweets, and breads on a list of foods generally limited or eliminated from low carb diets. But is a diet that turns carrots into an improper choice and where you can’t freely enjoy a pasta primavera worth it?
According to two studies summarized by U.S. News Health, in the long run, probably not. First in 2009, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that over a two-year period participants lost between 6 and 7 pounds whether they were on a high- or low-carb diet. Before that, in 2003, an analysis of low-carb studies published in Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that weight loss associated with low-carb diets could be attributed to cutting calories.
That said, during the first year, participants following a diet low in carbohydrates tend to lose more weight than their counterparts, WebMD states, and some people may be able to find balance with a diet that moderately cuts back on carb-laden foods. Also mentioning that the weight loss tends to equalize over time, the issue of the diet as a potential health danger is raised. Nutritional experts do not recommended severely limiting fruit and vegetable intake, and warn that consuming too much protein can be hazardous for people with kidney damage. The extra protein a person eats when limiting carbohydrates puts extra strain on the kidneys, causing them to function improperly.
On top of that, Health adds that diet can cause stress, and leave people feeling deprived. At very restricted levels, it is also not considered sustainable in the long run. However, it is hard to deny the visible results. If James has cut carbs, his trim physique could cause people to make a similar dietary choice in hopes of losing weight. Before jumping on another round of the low-carb wagon though, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of the diet, and honestly evaluate personal goals and the sustainability of such a lifestyle change.