Sunday, May 23, 2004

Dieters cut carbs, boost crankiness

The Daily Grind

John Eckberg

If she's heard it once in the last six months, she's heard it 20 times:

A boss, manager or co-worker decides it's time to lose a few pounds. America is obese. Extra weight is a killer.

So the would-be dieter turns to the Atkins low-carbohydrate regime for a couple of weeks to shed the pounds.

They nibble on lunchmeat for breakfast, an egg with a leafy salad for lunch and maybe a nice piece of grilled fish for dinner.

No bread. No cereal. No oatmeal - what a drag. No fresh fruits like apples and oranges, both high in carbs. Only a few vegetables.

At lunch no crackers, no rice and no potatoes. For sure no sweets - what, no powered sugar donettes, no Lil Debbies? Inconceivable.

But here's the good news: all the bacon and cheese you can stomach.

People on this strict diet will surely lose pounds, says Lauren Niemes, executive director of the Nutrition Council of Greater Cincinnati, a nonprofit agency that promotes the health of Tristate residents through better nutrition and physical activity.

And the weight does go away at a rapid pace for the first two weeks.

But it comes with a price, she says, particularly for everybody else in the workplace.

It may bring lost weight for the person on the Atkins diet, but it also means cranky mornings and crabby afternoons on the factory floor or in the office for everybody else.

"We do this Lunch and Learn program," Niemes says. "It's called 'Clearing up the Carb Confusion' and I'm telling you it's the hottest topic we've ever done.

"I was up at International Paper last week and two women came up to me afterward. They said they had to ask their boss to go off the Atkins diet because he was so difficult to work with. We hear that anecdotally all the time."

To understand why people get cranky, one must first take a look at how the body creates fuel.

The problem, Niemes says, is that people don't understand how the body metabolizes carbohydrates - how the brain needs glucose derived from carbs to function properly

The brain will burn through a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates every day but the Atkins diet in the early induction phase limits carbohydrates to just 20 grams per day.

Without the carbs, glucose production hits the skids and so does fuel for the brain.

As a result, the body will manufacture glucose from protein or, instead, burn ketone bodies, which are created when the body burns fat without the presence of carbohydrates.

In the meantime, blood sugar dips, the same way it dips in the morning after a night of sleep and fasting, and so the body must use glucose stores in the liver.

"We know when people have low blood sugar, the first symptom is irritability," Niemes says. "Lots of studies show that when people don't eat breakfast, they don't perform as well on mental tests."

And while it's tough to create a study on crankiness - after all, isn't being cranky part of the job description for a boss - the Atkins diet has not helped with workplace relations.

"People need to know that carbs are not the root of all evil," Niemes says.


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Eckberg: Dieters cut carbs, boost crankiness
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