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The Lowdown on Low Carb

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Overview

While low-carbohydrate diets like Atkins, Zone, and South Beach may be helpful in losing weight, what role can they play in the health of people with MS? How safe are they?

Here’s the weight-loss theory behind these popular diets:

  • Carbohydrates encourage the body to produce insulin, which can lead to weight gain.
  • By “cutting carbs” the body uses its internal carbohydrate stores (glycogen) for energy. When your body burns glycogen, water is released and you lose weight.
  • After glycogen is gone, your body will burn fat. Burning fat without carbohydrates can result in the build-up of byproducts called “ketones” in the bloodstream. Ketones can curb your appetite, and as a result you eat less.

All these diets eliminate highly processed, sugar-filled carbohydrates such as cookies, cakes and soda. But they also tend to cut healthy high-fiber and vitamin-rich grains, fruits and vegetables. They allow protein and fat-rich foods, like meat, cheese, cream, butter and eggs, in unlimited quantities.

Special considerations for people with MS

  • Fatigue—Ketones can curb appetite, but they can also cause fatigue. This can compound an already significant problem for someone with MS.
  • Bone health—Changes in mobility and periodic use of steroids may put people with MS at increased risk for osteoporosis, a state where the bones become porous and brittle. High–protein diets not only limit some calcium sources, they can cause the body to lose calcium.
  • Constipation—MS can contribute to chronic constipation. A diet rich in fiber and fluids, along with exercise, is important to help manage this problem.

Long-term safety

The verdict is still out on the long-term safety of low-carb diets. They tend to be high in total fat, especially saturated animal fat, which has been linked to heart disease, cancer, and perhaps even MS. The low-carb craze also restricts fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This can result in deficiencies of valuable vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber. All of these are important to long-term good health.

People with MS need to plan for the long haul. Maintaining a healthy weight is important, and while carbohydrates may contribute to weight gain, it’s calories that pack on the pounds.

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