You have probably heard many good things about the low carb diet, especially its ability to help people lose weight, but is low carb healthy? Will following the low carb diet not wreak havoc on your health?
Related reading: Best Carbs to Eat for Weight Loss
We all love carbs, and cutting them out of our lives can be terrifying. But with many celebrities claiming that quitting carbs is the key to weight loss, you are probably tempted to try it.
Whether it’s the Atkins, Paleo, or keto diet, the low carb diet has taken the diet world by storm. But chances are you might not fully understand what it is all about and find yourself wondering, is low carb healthy?
So, in this article, let’s take a closer look into the low carb diet, understand what it is, and find out if it’s good for your health.
What is Low Carb Eating?
A low carb diet is the type of diet that limits the consumption of carbohydrates in favor of foods high in healthy fats and protein.
Carbohydrates refer to starches and sugars found naturally in fruits, whole grains, and some vegetables. However, most carbohydrates in modern diets come from highly-processed foods made with sugars, refined grains, and starches.
According to Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating,
“Depending on who you talk to, there are different definitions of a low-carb diet. Plans can range from 100 grams of carbohydrates per day to zero grams.”
The low-carb diet generally requires eating less than 25% of daily calories from carbs, equivalent to less than 100 to 150 grams of carbs per day. However, for very low carb diets like keto, only 10% of your daily calories should come from carbs or less than 50 grams per day.
As your body starts to break down fat, it produces an acid called ketones, which becomes your body’s main source of fuel. Since ketosis shifts your metabolism by relying heavily on fats for energy, your body will burn fats at a higher rate, and that’s when you start losing weight.
Which Foods Are Considered Carbs?
Sure, the low carb diet can help you lose weight. But is low carb healthy? The best way to address this question is to determine the type of foods to eat and what to limit eating while on the diet.
Related reading: Low Carb or Keto For Weight Loss – Which is Best?
In general, a low carb diet focuses on healthy fats, proteins, and non-starchy veggies. It limits the consumption of bread, grains, sweets, legumes, pasta, and starchy vegetables. But some low carb diets allows small amounts of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Despite their bad rep, some carbs are vital to our health. Foods and drinks can have three types of carbs – starches, sugar, and fiber. When you look at a food’s nutrition label, the “total carbs” refer to the combination of all these carbs.
Starches are complex carbohydrates. They provide our body with vitamins and minerals and would take longer for the body to break them down. Therefore, they help us to feel full longer. Examples are beans, legumes, fruits like apples and berries, whole grain products, and some veggies.
Sugars are simple carbohydrates that the body can break down quickly. Because of this, they can cause the blood sugar level to rise and drop quickly. It is for this reason you will notice a burst of energy immediately after eating sugary foods, but you’ll likely feel tired after.
Plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain have fiber. It’s a complex healthy carbohydrate that your body cannot break down. Most of it will pass through the intestine and stimulates digestion and helps to prevent constipation.
Fiber also helps regulate blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol, and keeps you full longer.
Is Low Carb Healthy?
If you ask health experts the question, is low carb healthy? Most of them will most likely say yes.
According to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an American cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy,
“Lowering carb intake, especially from processed sources, slows down the speed and amount of these fuels entering the bloodstream. This has many health benefits.”
Losing weight itself can lead to many health benefits. Here are more reasons a low carb diet is good for the health.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Since the low carb diet can lead to weight loss, your cardiovascular health will generally improve. In fact, research shows that a low-carb diet can benefit your heart as long as the protein and fats come from healthy sources.
Related reading: Keto and Heart Disease: Are Keto and Paleo Bad for your Heart?
Reducing your intake of carbs can improve your blood sugar level. Also, any diet that can lead to weight loss is beneficial for those with diabetes. As a matter of fact, the American Diabetes Association has recommended low carb eating as an option for managing diabetes.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure or hypertension can put you at risk for various illnesses, including stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. Low carb diets have been found to help lower blood pressure, which lowers your risk of these diseases, leading to a much longer life.
General Health and Nutrition
Reducing your intake of processed grains and sugar is generally good for your health. However, there are some concerns. Some low carb diet plans include a high intake of intensively reared red meat and processed meats, which could put you at risk of cardiovascular diseases.
In addition, some low carb diets do not include enough fiber, leading to constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), etc.
Is low carb healthy? Yes, it is. As you can see above, it comes with many health benefits. However, it’s worth noting that a very low carb diet like keto is not suitable for everyone and may not be sustainable long-term.
The healthiest option would be to reduce your intake of processed grains and sugars and replace them with minimally processed foods, such as vegetables, seeds, nuts, and minimally processed plant oils.
The keto diet may be good for the short term. But once you have achieved your desired weight and your blood sugar level is managed, you can probably maintain the results with eating higher levels of healthy carbs.
As mentioned above, not all carbs are bad. Complex carbs are less likely to increase blood sugar levels. They also contain vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function well.