by Minh Thi
In recent years, many Vietnamese women have been using a popular dietary programme known as a "low-carb diet" to lose weight.
Low-carb (low-carbohydrate) regimes, promoted by American physician Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1970s, restrict carbohydrate consumption.
Foods high in easily digestible carbohydrate, such as sugar, bread or pasta, are limited or replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of fats and protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and cheese.
According to Atkins.com, a website to promote the diet, the programme aims to cut carbohydrate intake sufficiently to reduce insulin production and to encourage ketosis, the production of ketones to be used as energy in place of glucose.
Nguyen Quynh Trang, a fashion designer in Ha Noi, said she had lost 14 kilogrammes after six months of following the low-carb diet and doing exercises.
Trang described the experience as "wonderful" and the low-carb diet as "the key to a more attractive body", stating that she wanted to recommend the diet to all her friends and acquaintances with weight problems.
Trang is not alone in successfully losing weight thanks to the low-carb diet. Many female members of Webtretho, a popular website among parents, said on the forum that they had lost up to 10 kilos thanks to the low-carb regime.
Judging from the women's description, it seems that the diet can solve weight problems, but, for some, the process is not easy.
Nguyen Manh Tuan, a businessman in HCM City said he once tried the ketogenic diet, a type of low-carb diet, but failed to stick to it because of the effects on his health in the early stages.
Tuan said after a week of applying the regime, he suffered from dizziness, headaches, reduced strength and constant thirst.
"I was unable to concentrate, feeling like I was on drugs," he added. Consequently, he gave up the diet, saying that it was too strict to follow.
Despite the warnings, Nguyen Thanh Nga, a banker in Ha Noi, decided to stick to the regime.
"If you are seriously determined about losing weight, you must expect some uneasiness at the early stage. That is the price you have to pay,"she said.
She noted after the early stages, people adapted and learned to appreciate the approach.
For years, low-carb diet has been a highly controversial issue among medical experts.
In 2008, the American Diabetes Association said low-carb diets were a legitimate weight-loss plan for the short term. However, it failed to endorse the diet as a long-term health plan.
In 2005, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, however, said low-carbohydrate diets were "not the route to healthy, long-term weight management".
In 2008, the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation raised concerns about the increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, bone mineral loss, gout and kidney stones as a result of the diet.
Dr. Le Thi Hai from the Nutrition Counseling Centre under the National Institute of Nutrition said she could not recommend the low-carb diet as there had been no research proving the benefits.
Hai said she personally did not consider the low carb diet healthy because it went against the principle of a balanced diet.
Health professionals from the National Heart Foundation of Australia said at a conference last month that while low carbohydrate diets resulted in greater short-term weight loss, other health implications were still not fully understood.
Professor Buckley from the foundation said a low carb diet could result in greater weight loss in the short term, but there was an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, which raised concern about increased cardiovascular disease risks.
The foundation's CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts, said low carbohydrate diets did not provide adequate nutrition, particularly of antioxidants, dietary folate, calcium and dietary fibre.
The doctor added that the keys to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight were to enjoy a variety of foods and be physically active every day.
It is understandable that overweight people want to lose weight. But changing a diet regime is an issue that should be considered carefully. I think it's best for them to consult a nutrition expert or doctor first before changing their eating habits. — VNS