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Rating Low-Carb Diets for Seniors

The Carbohydrate Addict's Lifespan Program

This is one in a series of diet books written by the husband and wife team of Richard and Rachael Heller. Most of the books are follow-ups to their original 1991 book, The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet. This updated version, written for the over-40 reader, is basically the same song with some different verses.

Quick Take


  • Maintains that excessive production of insulin triggers carbohydrate cravings, making you overeat
  • Restricts carbohydrate intake to control your cravings and help you lose weight
  • Requires that you eat foods in particular proportions to one another

This Diet Is Best For

Those who have trouble controlling cravings for carbohydrate foods. That's not because the diet magically alters metabolism and reduces cravings but because it restricts carbohydrate intake to only one meal a day. It also is best suited for those who can't deal with the virtual ban on carbohydrates required on the Atkins diet but still want to control their carbohydrate intake.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Anyone with preexisting health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

The Premise

The Hellers believe that 75 percent of overweight people -- and many people of normal weight -- are addicted to carbohydrates and that dealing with that addiction is the key to successful weight loss. They define carbohydrate addiction as a compelling hunger, craving, or desire for carbohydrate-rich foods: an escalating, recurring need or drive for starches, snack foods, junk food, or sweets.

The Hellers maintain that eating carbohydrates for some people is like doing drugs, and they have devised a diet plan that greatly restricts carbohydrate intake, distributing it in measured amounts at a single meal.

The Rationale

According to the Hellers, overproduction of insulin is what triggers hunger and drives the carbohydrate addiction. Eating too many carbohydrates, they say, causes a spike in insulin production, triggering carbohydrate cravings. This drives you to eat even more carbohydrates, which creates a never-ending cycle of craving, over-consumption of carbohydrates, and overproduction of insulin.

An overindulgence in carbohydrate-rich foods, then, leads to weight gain and out-of-control eating. Their answer is to regulate and restrict carbohydrate intake, especially eliminating foods that contain refined carbs such as sugar and flour.

Eating on the Carbohydrate Addict's Lifespan Program

Though the Hellers' plan is basically a low-carb diet, it doesn't restrict carbohydrates to the degree that the Atkins diet does. In fact, it allows for a single carbohydrate-rich meal each day. Their diet prescription calls for two no-carb meals and one controlled-carbohydrate meal (called a reward meal) each day.

The reward meal consists of one-third protein-rich foods, one-third carbohydrate-rich foods, and one-third non-starchy vegetables. You can eat as much as you want, but you must eat it all within a one-hour time limit.

The Hellers recommend complex carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, and potatoes. Sugar is not on the menu. Once you've lost the weight, the plan allows you to add carbohydrates to your reward meal a little at a time if you're maintaining your weight.

What the Experts Say

While the "insulin-makes-you-fat" theory is a popular one, researchers have actually found that managing insulin levels does not help you lose weight. But it has been proved that losing weight can help control insulin levels. According to Gerald Reaven, M.D., professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and an expert on insulin metabolism, "The whole thing is mumbo-jumbo.

A calorie is a calorie; if you take in more than you need, you gain weight." Moreover, the Carbohydrate Addict's Quiz that's supposed to diagnose your carbohydrate addiction could diagnose almost everybody because it asks questions like, "Does the sight, smell, or even the thought of food sometimes stimulate you to eat?" Most people could answer yes to this question.

Though not as extreme as Atkins' diet, the Hellers' diet plan is just as likely to be low in calcium and fiber and high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat, making it bad for your bones and your heart and potentially causing constipation.

The symptoms that the Hellers attribute to carbohydrate craving, such as weakness, irritability, and dizziness, could be due to any number of medical conditions and should be checked out by your health care provider.

Ironically, the lack of concentration that they attribute to overindulging on carbohydrates is actually a symptom of not getting enough of them. That's because glucose, the sugar the body manufactures from the carbohydrates you eat, is the brain's primary fuel.

Like the other low-carb diets, the Hellers' plan is likely to result in weight loss, at least in the beginning. But the high-protein, high fat program is not the best choice for folks over 50 for several reasons.

First, a lot of high-protein meat means a high intake of iron, something you don't need more of at this stage of your life. Too much protein is also bad for your kidneys, as with age they become less efficient at clearing out protein's waste products. Lastly, this diet can mean you get too much of the wrong kind of fat, which is bad for your heart.

Calorie quota: Calories are not counted and there is no limit on calorie intake, but proportions of foods at each meal are controlled.

Yes: High-protein, high fat foods

No: Sugar-fat combinations and a lot of high-carb foods

Other similar diets: The Atkins' Lifespan Program, The Zone, SugarBusters!

In the next section, learn about Sugarbusters for Seniors. Continue to the next and final page of this article to find out if this diet is right for you.

To learn more about senior health, see: