Low-carb diets have long been hailed as helpful for treating diabetes, obesity, and other illnesses. The body’s usage of carbohydrates is a major reason for this focus on them: When carbohydrate intake is limited, the body switches to its fat reserves for energy. Usually, this is what causes people to lose weight.
A diet rich in simple carbohydrates (such as cakes, white bread, cookies, and some prepackaged foods) is also linked to a higher risk of developing chronic illnesses including diabetes and obesity.
A Low-Carb Diet: What Is It?
In addition to giving us energy, carbohydrates also assist the metabolism of cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin, and blood sugar. These bodily processes can become out of balance when there are too many carbohydrates in the diet.
The following categories can be used to categorise dietary carbohydrates:
Simple carbohydrates that quickly raise blood sugar levels, as those in soda and sweets,
Due to their fibre and minerals, complex carbohydrates including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains affect blood sugar levels more gradually.
Complex carbs contain fibre, a non-digestible component that promotes gut health.
According to dietary recommendations, people should consume 45–65 percent of their calories as carbohydrates, with an emphasis on getting enough fibre and avoiding simple carbohydrates.
Low-carbohydrate diets typically contain 20 to 130 grams of carbohydrates per day and less than 10% to 44% of total calories from carbohydrates. The following are a few of the more well-liked low-carb eating plans:
Carbohydrates range from 20 to 50 grams per day on ketogenic diets. According to Alma Simmons, a registered dietitian nutritionist and maternal foetal medicine dietitian at Ohio Health Hospital, “[This] diet gained attention in the early 20th century when physicians discovered the beneficial effects of carb restriction on the symptoms of epilepsy in children, so these diets were used for the treatment of epilepsy.” However, she continues, “the popularity increased dramatically when people realised that low-carb diets could also help with weight loss.
To cause ketosis is the aim of the keto diet. The body typically favours carbohydrates as its primary fuel source, but when there aren’t enough of them, the body is compelled to burn stored fat.
It’s critical to understand that a keto diet created for someone with epilepsy differs significantly from one created for someone without the illness. Most significantly, epilepsy sufferers are frequently encouraged to follow a more restricted, extremely high fat diet in order to hasten the process by which their bodies enter ketosis.
This plan, which was introduced in 1972 along with Dr. Robert Atkins’ book Dr. Atkins’ plan Revolution, is predicated on the notion that, when it comes to weight loss, a low-carb diet is superior to a traditional low-calorie one. Currently, there are Atkins diet variations with daily carbohydrate intakes ranging from 20 to 100 grams.
The Atkins diet is typically less limiting when it comes to fruits and vegetables, which may make it an excellent option for boosting vitamin and mineral intake.
Diet of the Palaeolithic Era
The foods consumed by hunter-gatherer societies during the Palaeolithic era, according to advocates of the paleo diet, are the healthiest for people today. The diet avoids all grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and processed foods and has a carbohydrate content of roughly 25%.
People may react to low-carbohydrate diets differently; just because a certain low-carbohydrate diet works exceptionally well for one person (i.e., results in speedier weight reduction), doesn’t guarantee it will work the same way for another person—a variation that is sometimes attributed to heredity. Additionally, people with obesity and excess weight may find that it takes them longer to enter ketosis than people without those conditions.
Foods to be consumed for a Low-Carb Diet
According to Simmons, when you cut out carbohydrates from your diet, your intake of fat and protein as macronutrients rises to make up the difference. Low-carb diets frequently include the following foods:
seafood, and fish
non-starchy vegetables (such cucumbers, carrots, and broccoli).
and olive oils
Foods while on a Low-Carb Diet Should Limited or Avoided
The typical advice for low-carb diets is to reduce or avoid:
Legume and beans
Drinks and juice
sweets and baked goods
Starchy vegetables, dairy products, and fruits may also be restricted or avoided when following a low-carb diet.
Low-Carb Diet to Lose Weight
Although many people choose low-carb diets to lose weight, the evidence for this effect is not entirely conclusive. Nearly 7,000 participants in 61 randomised controlled trials were given either a low-carb (less than 45% of total energy) or a balanced-carb (45% to 65% of total energy) diet in a 2022 Cochrane Database systematic review.
It’s interesting to note that results showed little to no difference in weight loss over the long run (one to two years) between people with and without type 2 diabetes.
A low-carb diet may make it possible to lose weight, however studies have shown that the initial weight loss is at least partially the result of water loss. With diet adherence, fat loss does frequently occur, but after a year, the effect is comparable to that of other diets.
And it is known for adherence to dwindle. A 2021 study published in Nutrients found that most participants found it challenging to maintain a low carb diet, specifically a ketogenic diet, over the long term
According to David Prologo, M.D., a double board-certified interventional radiologist and obesity medicine specialist at Emory University School of Medicine, the real answer to whether low-carb diets helps people lose weight is “complicated.”
Low-Carb Diet to Manage Diabetes
According to a review and meta analysis published in the BMJ in 2020, a low-carb diet can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes in the short term (roughly six months), increasing the rate of remission of the condition, decreasing medication use, promoting weight loss, and improving triglyceride levels. However, that same review discovered that most of the advantages of a low-carb diet started to wane after a year and even appeared to make LDL (bad) cholesterol worse.
According to the recommendations of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a low-carb diet is a real choice in the medical nutrition therapy for diabetes.
The ADA stresses that low-carb diets are not the only dietary treatments available, and that recommendations for macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins) should be tailored to the individual’s eating habits, preferences, and goals.
Many nutrition experts continue to be cautious or even wary of low-carb diets, echoing the BMJ study.
“[Low-carb dieting] reduces food to its macronutrients (fat, protein, and carb) and ignores the thousands of phytonutrients in carb-rich plant foods as well as the vitamins, minerals, and the wide variety of fibres that are found only in carb-containing foods,” says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., a registered dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist, and author of the digital Prediabetes Meal Planning Crash Course. These nutrient-rich plant-based diets, she continues, “are so important in the prevention and treatment of diabetes and other chronic diseases.”
Safety of a Low Carb Diet
Low-carb diets, like any restrictive diet, can have certain negative side effects, especially if followed for an extended period of time. These negative impacts include, among others:
Type 2 diabetics taking specific drugs run the risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis.
LDL (bad) cholesterol may rise if more fat and protein are consumed in place of carbohydrates.
People with chronic kidney disease who consume more protein in order to consume fewer carbohydrates run the risk of worsening kidney function. In general, less protein is advised for this group.
According to Simmons, low-carb diets are not recommended for young athletes, children, women who are pregnant or nursing, or those who currently have an eating disorder or have a history of having one.
Overall, low-carb diets’ effectiveness is still debatable, especially in more generalised contexts. However, there are some circumstances where it might be advantageous, such as when someone wants to lose weight quickly or ease type 2 diabetes symptoms without cutting calories. It’s always advised to speak with your doctor or a dietitian before starting a low-carb diet to determine whether the benefits and drawbacks of this specific eating strategy are ideal for your unique health history.