The Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet
What is a low-carb diet?
As you may know, a low-carb diet limits the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, particularly those found in sugar, grains, starchy vegetables and fruits. The diet focuses on foods that are high in protein and fat (the other macronutrients our body needs).
Foods consumed on a low-carb diet: Animal meat, eggs, fish, healthy fats (like avocado and nuts), high-fat dairy, berries and non-starchy vegetables that grow above ground.
Foods and beverages avoided on a low-carb diet: Sugary and starchy foods, particularly those made with grains (like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes), fruit (with the exception of berries as they are high in fibre), sugary soda, juice, candy and alcohol. Foods containing industrial oils (trans-fats) should be avoided.
How are low-carb diets classified?
A low-carb diet is typically divided into three categories:
Ketogenic (keto) diet: 0-20 grams of carbs per day
Moderate low-carb diet: 20 grams – 50 grams of carbs per day
Liberal low-carb diet: 50 grams – 100 grams of carbs per day
The strictest diet above is the ketogenic (keto) diet. It contains less than 21 grams of carbohydrates per day and changes the way we use food as fuel (you burn ketones from fat instead of glucose from carbs). Those who follow a keto diet (or a very low-carb diet) should be monitored by a doctor regularly.
Side effects of low-carb diets
Before we look at the benefits of low-carb diets, let’s take a look at some of the side effects. Some low-carb diets can result in ketosis, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, bone loss, gastrointestinal problems. Some can even increase risk of certain chronic conditions. Following a low-carb diet can also lead to a variety of unpleasant side effects, including but not limited to:
- Bad breath
- Muscle cramps
- Skin rash
Health benefits of low-carb diets
Research on low-fat diets is in its infancy. Anecdotal reports and surveys have shown positive results. A low-carb diet is often followed for healthy weight loss. According to the Canadian Clinicians of Therapeutic Nutrition, there is good evidence showing “sugar, as opposed to fat, is the main driver of obesity and diabetes, and medical research is now implicating sugar in heart disease.” Some low-carb diets may offer health benefits beyond weight loss, such as the following.
Low-carb diets may lead to greater short-term weight loss than low-fat diets. A 2015 review found that higher protein, low-carb diets may support weight loss and fat mass loss compared with a “normal” protein-rich diet (one that is not low-carb). Some research shows individuals may lose weight on a low-fat diet because extra protein and fat can keep you feeling full longer, which means you eat less.
Other health benefits of low-carb diets
When done “right,” low-carb diets may help prevent or improve serious health conditions, particularly diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Low-carb diets may also improve your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels more than moderate-carb diets. Regardless of whether you are low-carb or not, food choices matter. Lean protein (like fish and poultry), healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and unprocessed carbs like non-starchy vegetables are generally healthier choices.
Should you go low-carb?
A low-carb diet is not for everyone, including children, teens, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, take insulin for diabetes, take blood pressure medication, or have kidney problems (including kidney stones). If you decide to follow a low-carb diet, check with your doctor first, be informed and get all the nutrients your body requires.