Is a Low Carb Diet a Good Diet?
Max Carmody, MSc
A low carb diet is a good diet that can result in rapid weight loss, and has many health benefits, although it may also have some negative effects.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates (carbs) are a type of macronutrient, the other of which are fat and protein. Macronutrients are the nutrients we need in larger quantities that provide us with energy. Starches, sugar, and fibers are carbs. The digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose, or blood sugar. The bloodstream absorbs the glucose and uses it as energy for fueling the body. There are different types of carbs. There are both complex carbs, and simple carbs. Simple carbs are digested quickly and send immediate bursts of glucose into the bloodstream. Refined sugars like white sugar are simple carbs, although fruit and milk also have simple carbs. Complex carbs are digested slowly and supply a lower, more steady release of glucose. Complex carbs tend to be things like whole grains.
Low Carb Diet
A low carb diet involves reducing the amount of carbs that a person eats on a daily basis. Carbs are typically limited to under 130 grams a day. Some diets, like the keto diet, however go extremely low carb and involve eating under 50, or even under 20, grams of carbs a day. To make up for eating fewer carbs, you have to make it up by consuming either more fat, more protein, or both. There is no single, standard low carb diet, instead there are a wide variety of different ones that each recommend different types of foods, or different ratios of macronutrients.
I have personally gone on a low carb diet 2-3 times. And each time I have lost weight, relatively quickly. Some people do experience negative side effects from low carb diets, such as nausea or headaches. However, I did not experience any of these ever. In fact, I felt better than before. A lot of this was probably due to the fact that I was eating much healthier than before. I was eating increased amounts of vegetables, and even fruit, which I was not eating much before. I was getting a lot of protein which I’d probably been lacking before.
Probably my favorite part of a low carb diet though, is that I never feel hungry. I used to mostly do calorie counting before. And I constantly felt hungry with calorie counting. I used to eat cereal for breakfast (often sugary) and then I would be starving by 10 am. I used to have sandwiches with yogurt for lunch, and I’d be starving by 3 or 4 pm. But with a low carb diet, I always eat until I am satiated. And then I have little snacks in the afternoon too. And the protein keeps me filled up. If you would like to find out more about what is better, high or low carb, you can find an article here on the topic.
On the latest low carb diet I’ve been trying, I’ve tried a couple of different things. One of them was on the relatively higher end of low carb. Every day I had special k for breakfast with berries, grilled chicken and salad for lunch, and a steak with vegetables and basmati rice for dinner. So the basmati rice and the special K do have some carbs. But I lost almost 6 pounds in 5 days. You can find all the recipes here in the book I used to do it. Lately I’ve been doing the “diet of hope”, a diet that my mom’s doctor recommended to her. It’s pretty high protein, and moderate fat. I don’t eat too many nuts or a lot of cheese, but I do eat some healthy fats like avocados. It’s been working pretty well for me so far.
Evidence for Low Carb being a Good Diet
When people cut carbs and eat more protein and fat, studies have shown that they eat far fewer calories. People on low carb diets tend to lose more weight, faster, than those on low fat and conventional diets, especially for the 1st or 2nd week, and even for as many as 6 months into the diet. Abdominal fat is considered to be an especially harmful type of fat, and low carb diets are very effective at reducing abdominal fat.
Triglycerides are fat molecules that circulate in your bloodstream, and can be a strong heart disease risk factor, when people cut carbs, they usually have quite a reduction in triglycerides. High density lipoprotein, (HDL) is considered to be the “good” cholesterol. The higher the good cholesterol to the bad cholesterol, the lower the risk of heart disease, and HDL levels increase a lot on healthy, low carb diets.
Low carb diets can be very good for people with diabetes and insulin resistance, cutting carbs cuts both insulin levels and blood sugar drastically. Cutting carbs leads to quite a reduction in blood pressure, which reduces the risk of many common diseases. A healthy low carb diet can reverse the major key symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a pretty serious condition that increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Cutting carbs can also improve the “bad” type of cholesterol and is considered to be therapeutic for several brain disorders.
Although low carb diets have worked very well for me in the past, and studies have shown many potential benefits, some people also have a more negative opinion. One of the major short term risks is considered to be the “keto flu”. This occurs when you consume less than 50 grams of carbs today, and may be a big shock to your body. People may experience fatigue, nausea, constipation, and dizziness. These side effects generally go away within a few weeks, however.
One study showed that those who consumed the least amount of carbs were 32% more likely to die of any cause. Low carb consumers were 51% more likely to die from coronary heart disease, 50% more likely to die from cerebrovascular disease, and 35% more likely to die from cancer. However, it is important to remember that this was just the results from a single study, and many more studies show potential benefits.
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