It seems like fad diets pop up every year. Some stick around and some are discovered to be dangerous or at the best unhealthy. One diet that has gained traction in the mainstream and has grown in popularity is the low carb diet. The effectiveness of the diet and its quick results has fed the growth of the acceptance of the low-carb diet. In this article, I break down the everyday benefits and potential downsides of eating a low carb diet. First, what do I consider a low carb diet? It’s typically when you reduce the calories from carbs you consume to between 10-30 percent. Although if you eat a 90% carb diet and reduce it to 50-60%, you will notice positive results in your health and body.
Good Carbohydrates and Bad Carbohydrates
When reducing carbs as a method for diet, I am typically referring to sugars and grains and not carbs found in vegetables like green beans, spinach, legumes, lentils and other healthy vitamin rich foods. Carbohydrates lower on the glycemic index won’t spike your insulin as much as foods higher on this index and won’t result in the negative effects carbohydrates might have on your body.
A Large portion of your diet should consist of eating healthy greens, vegetables, and legumes that are low on the glycemic index.
Benefits of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet
- Fewer cravings
- Eating more fat and protein instead of carbohydrate helps your body turn-off ghrelin, also known as the hungry hormone.
- Carbs spike insulin which will cause hunger as the blood sugar drops and ghrelin increases. The blood sugar drops because the insulin spike causes the glucose in the blood to be pushed into muscle and fat cells.
- Faster Weight Loss
- Carbs cause insulin, the “fat-storage hormone” to be released and signaling cells to store as much available energy as possible. This energy is stored as glycogen which is from the glucose you get from carbs. Less insulin means the body uses up the glycogen then burns body fat for fuel instead.
- Increasing Healthy Fats and Protein in Diet
- It’s true that the more carbohydrates someone consumes, the less healthy fats and protein they eat. This inverse relationship causes those who reduce carbs to consume more healthy fats and protein to satiate themselves in a more healthy way. Fat and protein provides the body essential nutrients while processed carbohydrates, grains and sugars do not.
- Natural Diabetes Treatment
- Studies show that a low-carb diet helps to prevent type 2 diabetes. Since type 2 diabetes (a root cause in many deaths around the world) is related to blood sugar which is directly related to our diet, eating a low carbohydrate diet can greatly prevent or treat this particular disease.
- General Key Indicators of Health Improve
- Very important indicators of health, such as triglycerides (lowers), blood pressure (lowers), LDL (low-density lipoprotein increases) will improve.
Downsides of A Low Carb Diet
- The downside of reducing carbs is often the difficulty of maintaining a diet that eliminates refined carbs, something most of us grew up eating. Much of this difficulty is reduced once your body and habits adapt to the new low carb diet.
- If your carb consumption is too low or your body goes into ketosis, you may feel ill from the extreme change in diet. It’s up to you at this point whether you want to push through the pain and (most often) temporary side effects of the diet or increase the carbs you eat to a more comfortable level.
- You may find it difficult to substitute all the refined carbohydrate calories you used to consume with other more healthy alternatives in fat and protein and carbs from vegetables. However difficult this may be, it is essential that you do so as replacing a high carb diet with a diet high in other junk food will most likely be detrimental to your health.
Are Fruits Bad For You
- Many fruits contain fructose which is a type of sugar but since they are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, eating fruits is generally a good idea. There is also very little evidence that being overweight and getting fat is correlated solely to a high fruit diet.
- The table below has information on 23 scientific studies on low-carbohydrate diet versus other diets. The data on the table is from the authoritynutrition.com website’s article here.
|Examiner||Title||Details||Conclusion||Publication||Year||Link to Study|
|Foster GD, et al||A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity||63 individuals were randomized to either a low-fat diet group, or a low-carb diet group. The low-fat group was calorie restricted. This study went on for 12 months.||There was more weight loss in the low-carb group, significant at 3 and 6 months, but not 12. The low-carb group had greater improvements in blood triglycerides and HDL, but other biomarkers were similar between groups.||New England Journal of Medicine||2003||http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022207|
|Samaha FF, et al||A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity||132 individuals with severe obesity (mean BMI of 43) were randomized to either a low-fat or a low-carb diet. Many of the subjects had metabolic syndrome or type II diabetes. The low-fat dieters were calorie restricted. Study duration was 6 months.||The low-carb group lost significantly more weight (about 3 times as much). There was also a statistically significant difference in several biomarkers||New England Journal of Medicine||2003||http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022637|
|Sondike SB, et al||Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents||30 overweight adolescents were randomized to two groups, a low-carb diet group and a low-fat diet group. This study went on for 12 weeks. Neither group was instructed to restrict calories.||The low-carb group lost significantly more (2.3 times as much) weight and had significant decreases in Triglycerides and Non-HDL cholesterol. Total and LDL cholesterol decreased in the low-fat group only.||The Journal of Pediatrics||2003||http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347602402065|
|Brehm BJ, et al||A randomized trial comparing a very low carbohydrate diet and a calorie-restricted low fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women||53 healthy but obese females were randomized to either a low-fat diet, or a low-carb diet. Low-fat group was calorie restricted. The study went on for 6 months.||The low-carb group lost more weight (2.2 times as much) and had significant reductions in blood triglycerides. HDL improved slightly in both groups.||The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism||2003||http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/88/4/1617.long|
|Aude YW, et al||The national cholesterol education program diet vs a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and monounsaturated fat||60 overweight individuals were randomized to a low-carb diet high in monounsaturated fat, or a low-fat diet based on the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).||The low-carb group lost 1.8 times as much weight. There were also several changes in biomarkers that are worth noting:|
* Waist-to-hip ratio is a marker for abdominal fat. This marker improved slightly in the LC group, not in the LF group.
* Total cholesterol improved in both groups.
* Triglycerides went down by 42 mg/dL in the LC group, compared to 15.3 mg/dL in the LF group.
* LDL particle size increased by 4.8 nm and percentage of small, dense LDL decreased by 6.1% in the LC group, while there was no significant difference in the LF group.
* Overall, the low-carb group lost more weight and had much greater improvements in several important risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
|Archives of Internal Medicine||2004||http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=217514|
|Yancy WS Jr, et al||A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia||120 overweight individuals with elevated blood lipids were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet. The low-fat group was calorie restricted. Study went on for 24 weeks.||The low-carb group lost significantly more weight and had greater improvements in blood triglycerides and HDL cholesterol.||Annals of Internal Medicine||2004||http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=717451|
|JS Volek, et al||Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women||A randomized, crossover trial with 28 overweight/obese individuals. Study went on for 30 days (for women) and 50 days (for men) on each diet, that is a very low-carb diet and a low-fat diet. Both diets were calorie restricted.||The low-carb group lost more weight. The men on the low-carb diet lost three times as much abdominal fat as the men on the low-fat diet.||Nutrition & Metabolism (London)||2004||http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC538279/|
|Meckling KA, et al||Comparison of a low-fat diet to a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss, body composition, and risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease in free-living, overweight men and women||40 overweight individuals were randomized to a low-carb and a low-fat diet for 10 weeks. The calories were matched between groups.||Both groups lost a similar amount of weight.|
A few other notable differences in biomarkers:
* Blood pressure decreased in both groups, both systolic and diastolic.
* Total and LDL cholesterol decreased in the LF group only.
* Triglycerides decreased in both groups.
* HDL cholesterol went up in the LC group, but decreased in the LF group.
* Blood sugar went down in both groups, but only the LC group had decreases in insulin levels, indicating improved insulin sensitivity.
|The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism||2004||http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/89/6/2717.long|
|Nickols-Richardson SM, et al||Perceived hunger is lower and weight loss is greater in overweight premenopausal women consuming a low-carbohydrate/high-protein vs high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet||28 overweight premenopausal women consumed either a low-carb or a low-fat diet for 6 weeks. The low-fat group was calorie restricted.||The low-carb diet caused significantly more weight loss and reduced hunger compared to the low-fat diet.||Journal of the American Dietetic Association||2005||http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000282230501151X|
|Daly ME, et al||Short-term effects of severe dietary carbohydrate-restriction advice in Type 2 diabetes||102 patients with Type 2 diabetes were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet for 3 months. The low-fat group was instructed to reduce portion sizes.||The low-carb group lost more weight and had greater improvements in the Total cholesterol/HDL ratio. There was no difference in triglycerides, blood pressure or HbA1c (a marker for blood sugar levels) between groups.||Diabetic Medicine||2006||http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-5491.2005.01760.x/abstract|
|McClernon FJ, et al||The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger, and other self-reported symptoms||119 overweight individuals were randomized to a low-carb, ketogenic diet or a calorie restricted low-fat diet for 6 months.||The low-carb group lost almost twice the weight and experienced less hunger.||Obesity (Silver Spring)||2007||http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17228046|
|Gardner CD, et al||Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study||311 overweight/obese premenopausal women were randomized to 4 diets: A low-carb Atkins diet, a low-fat vegetarian Ornish diet, the Zone diet and the LEARN diet. Zone and LEARN were calorie restricted.||The Atkins group lost the most weight, although the difference was not statistically significant. The Atkins group had the greatest improvements in blood pressure, triglycerides and HDL. LEARN and Ornish (low-fat) had decreases in LDL at 2 months, but then the effects diminished.||The Journal of The American Medical Association||2007||http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=205916|
|Halyburton AK, et al||Low- and high-carbohydrate weight-loss diets have similar effects on mood but not cognitive performance||93 overweight/obese individuals were randomized to either a low-carb, high-fat diet or a low-fat, high-carb diet for 8 weeks. Both groups were calorie restricted.||The low-carb group lost more weight. Both groups had similar improvements in mood, but speed of processing (a measure of cognitive performance) improved further on the low-fat diet.||American Journal of Clinical Nutrition||2007||http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/3/580.long|
|Dyson PA, et al||A low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing body weight than healthy eating in both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects||13 diabetic and 13 non-diabetic individuals were randomized to a low-carb diet or a “healthy eating” diet that followed the Diabetes UK recommendations (a calorie restricted, low-fat diet). Study went on for 3 months.||The low-carb group lost more weight (about 3 times as much). There was no difference in any other marker between groups.||Diabetic Medicine||2007||http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-5491.2007.02290.x/full|
|Westman EC, et al||The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus||84 individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes were randomized to a low-carb, ketogenic diet or a calorie restricted low-glycemic diet. The study went on for 24 weeks.||The low-carb group lost significantly more weight than the low-glycemic group. There were several other important differences:|
* Hemoglobin A1c went down by 1.5% in the LC group, compared to 0.5% in the low-glycemic group.
* HDL cholesterol increased in the LC group only, by 5.6 mg/dL.
* Diabetes medications were either reduced or eliminated in 95.2% of the LC group, compared to 62% in the low-glycemic group.
* Many other health markers like blood pressure and triglycerides improved in both groups, but the difference between groups was not statistically significant.
|Nutrion & Metabolism (London)||2008||http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633336/|
|Shai I, et al||Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet||322 obese individuals were randomized to three diets: a low-carb diet, a calorie restricted low-fat diet and a calorie restricted Mediterranean diet. Study went on for 2 years.||The low-carb group lost more weight than the low-fat group and had greater improvements in HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.||New England Journal of Medicine||2008||http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0708681|
|Keogh JB, et al||Effects of weight loss from a very-low-carbohydrate diet on endothelial function and markers of cardiovascular disease risk in subjects with abdominal obesity||107 individuals with abdominal obesity were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet. Both groups were calorie restricted and the study went on for 8 weeks.||The low-carb group lost more weight and there was no difference between groups on Flow Mediated Dilation or any other markers of the function of the endothelium (the lining of blood vessels). There was also no difference in common risk factors between groups.||American Journal of Clinical Nutrition||2008||http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/3/567.long|
|Tay J, et al||Metabolic effects of weight loss on a very-low-carbohydrate diet compared with an isocaloric high-carbohydrate diet in abdominally obese subjects||88 individuals with abdominal obesity were randomized to a very low-carb or a low-fat diet for 24 weeks. Both diets were calorie restricted.||The low-carb group lost more weight. Triglycerides, HDL, C-Reactive Protein, Insulin, Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Pressure improved in both groups. Total and LDL cholesterol improved in the low-fat group only.||Journal of The American College of Cardiology||2008||http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109707032597|
|Volek JS, et al||Carbohydrate restriction has a more favorable impact on the metabolic syndrome than a low fat diet||40 subjects with elevated risk factors for cardiovascular disease were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet for 12 weeks. Both groups were calorie restricted.||The low-carb group lost almost twice the amount of weight as the low-fat group, despite eating the same amount of calories.|
This study is particularly interesting because it matched calories between groups and measured so-called “advanced” lipid markers. Several things are worth noting:
* Triglycerides went down by 107 mg/dL on LC, but 36 mg/dL on the LF diet.
* HDL cholesterol increased by 4 mg/dL on LC, but went down by 1 mg/dL on LF.
* Apolipoprotein B went down by 11 points on LC, but only 2 points on LF.
* LDL size increased on LC, but stayed the same on LF.
* On the LC diet, the LDL particles partly shifted from small to large (good), while they partly shifted from large to small on LF (bad).
|Brinkworth GD, et al||Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 months||118 individuals with abdominal obesity were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet for 1 year. Both diets were calorie restricted.||The low-carb group had greater decreases in triglycerides and greater increases in both HDL and LDL cholesterol, compared to the low-fat group.||American Journal of Clinical Nutrition||2009||http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/1/23.long|
|Hernandez, et al||Lack of suppression of circulating free fatty acids and hypercholesterolemia during weight loss on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet||32 obese adults were randomized to a low-carb or a calorie restricted, low-fat diet for 6 weeks.||The low-carb group had greater decreases in triglycerides (43.6 mg/dL) than the low-fat group (26.9 mg/dL). Both LDL and HDL decreased in the low-fat group only.||American Journal of Clinical Nutrition||2010||http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/578.long|
|Krebs NF, et al||Efficacy and safety of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss in severely obese adolescents||46 individuals were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet for 36 weeks. Low-fat group was calorie restricted.||The low-carb group had greater reductions in BMI. Various biomarkers improved in both groups, but there was no significant difference between groups.||Journal of Pediatrics||2010||http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892194/|
|Guldbrand, et al||In type 2 diabetes, randomization to advice to follow a low-carbohydrate diet transiently improves glycaemic control compared with advice to follow a low-fat diet producing a similar weight loss||61 individuals with type 2 diabetes were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet for 2 years. Both diets were calorie restricted.||There was no difference in weight loss or common risk factors between groups. There was significant improvement in glycemic control at 6 months for the low-carb group, but compliance was poor and the effects diminished at 24 months as individuals had increased their carb intake.||Diabetologia||2012||http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00125-012-2567-4|
- The glycemic index chart below shows the index and the foods associate with it. Foods that are low on the glycemic index won’t spike your insulin as high and are safer to eat if you are trying to comply with a low-carb diet.
|Food||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving||Type of Food|
|Banana cake, made with sugar||47||60||14||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Banana cake, made without sugar||55||60||12||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Sponge cake, plain||46||63||17||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Vanilla cake made from packet mix with vanilla frosting (Betty Crocker)||42||111||24||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Apple muffin, made with rolled oats and sugar||44||60||13||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Apple muffin, made with rolled oats and without sugar||48||60||9||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Waffles, Aunt Jemima®||76||35||10||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Bagel, white, frozen||72||70||25||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Baguette, white, plain||95||30||14||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Coarse barley bread, 80% kernels||34||30||7||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Hamburger bun||61||30||9||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Kaiser roll||73||30||12||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Pumpernickel bread||56||30||7||Bakery Products and Breads|
|50% cracked wheat kernel bread||58||30||12||Bakery Products and Breads|
|White wheat flour bread, average||75||30||11||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Wonder® bread, average||73||30||10||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Whole wheat bread, average||69||30||9||Bakery Products and Breads|
|100% Whole Grain® bread (Natural Ovens)||51||30||7||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Pita bread, white||68||30||10||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Corn tortilla||52||50||12||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Wheat tortilla||30||50||8||Bakery Products and Breads|
|Coca Cola® (US formula)||63||250 mL||16||Beverages|
|Fanta®, orange soft drink||68||250 mL||23||Beverages|
|Lucozade®, original (sparkling glucose drink)||95||250 mL||40||Beverages|
|Apple juice, unsweetened||41||250 mL||12||Beverages|
|Cranberry juice cocktail (Ocean Spray®)||68||250 mL||24||Beverages|
|Gatorade, orange flavor (US formula)||89||250 mL||13||Beverages|
|Orange juice, unsweetened, average||50||250 mL||12||Beverages|
|Tomato juice, canned, no sugar added||38||250 mL||4||Beverages|
|All-Bran®, average||44||30||9||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Coco Pops®, average||77||30||20||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Cornflakes®, average||81||30||20||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Cream of Wheat®||66||250||17||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Cream of Wheat®, Instant||74||250||22||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Grape-Nuts®||75||30||16||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Muesli, average||56||30||10||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Oatmeal, average||55||250||13||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Instant oatmeal, average||79||250||21||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Puffed wheat cereal||80||30||17||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Raisin Bran®||61||30||12||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Special K® (US formula)||69||30||14||Breakfast Cereals And Related Products|
|Pearled barley, average||25||150||11||Grains|
|Sweet corn on the cob||48||60||14||Grains|
|White rice, boiled, type non-specified||72||150||29||Grains|
|Quick cooking white basmati||63||150||26||Grains|
|Brown rice, steamed||50||150||16||Grains|
|Parboiled Converted white rice (Uncle Ben's®)||38||150||14||Grains|
|Whole wheat kernels, average||45||50||15||Grains|
|Graham crackers||74||25||13||Cookies And Crackers|
|Vanilla wafers||77||25||14||Cookies And Crackers|
|Shortbread||64||25||10||Cookies And Crackers|
|Rice cakes, average||82||25||17||Cookies And Crackers|
|Rye crisps, average||64||25||11||Cookies And Crackers|
|Soda crackers||74||25||12||Cookies And Crackers|
|Ice cream, regular, average||62||50||8||Dairy Products And Alternatives|
|Ice cream, premium (Sara Lee®)||38||50||3||Dairy Products And Alternatives|
|Milk, full-fat, average||31||250 mL||4||Dairy Products And Alternatives|
|Milk, skim, average||31||250 mL||4||Dairy Products And Alternatives|
|Reduced-fat yogurt with fruit, average||33||200||11||Dairy Products And Alternatives|
|Banana, raw, average||48||120||11||Fruits|
|Dates, dried, average||42||60||18||Fruits|
|Oranges, raw, average||45||120||5||Fruits|
|Peach, canned in light syrup||52||120||9||Fruits|
|Pear, raw, average||38||120||4||Fruits|
|Pear, canned in pear juice||44||120||5||Fruits|
|Baked beans||40||150||6||Beans And Nuts|
|Black-eyed peas||50||150||15||Beans And Nuts|
|Black beans||30||150||3||Beans And Nuts|
|Chickpeas||10||150||3||Beans And Nuts|
|Chickpeas, canned in brine||42||150||9||Beans And Nuts|
|Navy beans, average||39||150||12||Beans And Nuts|
|Kidney beans, average||34||150||9||Beans And Nuts|
|Lentils||28||150||5||Beans And Nuts|
|Soy beans, average||15||150||1||Beans And Nuts|
|Cashews, salted||22||50||3||Beans And Nuts|
|Peanuts||13||50||1||Beans And Nuts|
|Fettucini||32||180||15||Pasta And Noodles|
|Macaroni, average||50||180||24||Pasta And Noodles|
|Macaroni and Cheese (Kraft®)||64||180||33||Pasta And Noodles|
|Spaghetti, white, boiled, average||46||180||22||Pasta And Noodles|
|Spaghetti, white, boiled 20 min||58||180||26||Pasta And Noodles|
|Spaghetti, whole-grain, boiled||42||180||17||Pasta And Noodles|
|Corn chips, plain, salted||42||50||11||Snack Foods|
|Fruit Roll-Ups®||99||30||24||Snack Foods|
|M & M's®, peanut||33||30||6||Snack Foods|
|Microwave popcorn, plain, average||65||20||7||Snack Foods|
|Potato chips, average||56||50||12||Snack Foods|
|Pretzels, oven-baked||83||30||16||Snack Foods|
|Snickers Bar®, average||51||60||18||Snack Foods|
|Baked russet potato||111||150||33||Vegetables|
|Boiled white potato, average||82||150||21||Vegetables|
|Instant mashed potato, average||87||150||17||Vegetables|
|Sweet potato, average||70||150||22||Vegetables|
|Hummus (chickpea salad dip)||6||30||0||Miscellaneous|
|Chicken nuggets, frozen, reheated in microwave oven 5 min||46||100||7||Miscellaneous|
|Pizza, plain baked dough, served with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce||80||100||22||Miscellaneous|
|Pizza, Super Supreme (Pizza Hut®)||36||100||9||Miscellaneous|