Low Carb

Will Cutting Carbs Reduce Belly Fat?

Max Carmody, MSc

There are multiple studies showing that cutting carbs may help to reduce belly fat, at least among certain populations. Sometimes this is also related to reducing simple carbs but increasing fiber, or increasing protein intake. However, you cannot spot treat belly fat with any particular diet, and any form of sensible diet and exercise will eventually reduce belly fat.

What are Carbs?

Carbs (short for carbohydrates) are one of the three major macronutrients. Macronutrients are nutrients that your body needs in large amounts in order to survive. The other types of macronutrients are fat and protein. Carbs are made up of sugars, starches, and fibers. The digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose or blood sugar. The bloodstream then absorbs glucose and uses it as energy to fuel the body. There are different types of carbs. The two main types are simple and complex carbs. Both simple and complex carbs provide the body with energy. Simple carbs provide the body with short bursts of energy. Complex carbs provide a longer lasting source of energy. Simple carbs are in things like fruit and table sugar. Complex carbs are in things like whole grains and legumes.

What is Body Fat?

Fats are also called lipids or “fatty acids”. Fats in our body are made up of three molecules joined together. Fats and lipids play a crucial role in the overall functioning of the body, such as in energy metabolism and digestion. Fat is the energy reserve and energy provider of the body. Fats and lipids are involved in the production and regulation of some hormones such as steroid hormones. 

Fat serves as the energy reserve for the body, especially as exercise goes past the 20 minute mark. Fats are used as the energy source as exercise gets longer in duration, and is the major contributor of energy for long events. Fat is also a protector and insulator of organs and approximately 50% of all fat deposits are in and around organs.

Belly Fat

There are different types of fat in the body. Two of the main ones are abdominal, or visceral fat, and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat lies deep out of reach in the abdominal cavity, and it pads the spaces between abdominal organs. Subcutaneous fat is the type of fat you can grasp with your hand. Fat accumulated in the lower body is typically subcutaneous, while fat in the abdominal area is typically visceral. Where the fat ends up is based on several factors, such as heredity and hormones.

Dangers of Excess Belly Fat

Belly fat puts people at far greater risk of multiple types of health problems. These include diabetes, heart disease, liver problems, some types of cancer, and the risk of sudden death. ON the other hand, fat in the hips and bottom may actually be far less harmful. Two people who weigh the same could actually have dramatically different risks of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, depending on where fat is stored on the body. You don’t even have to be overweight or obese to face the health hazards from belly fat, if fat is stored primarily in your abdomen. Even people of average weight can have harmful amounts of belly fat.

Will Cutting Carbs Reduce Belly Fat?

There is some evidence that cutting carbs may reduce belly fat. Especially when you replace simple carbs with high fiber foods, it may help your belly to flatten out. Most Americans eat far less fiber than they should be eating. When we don’t eat enough fiber, the healthy gut microbes that help to keep us lean have less to eat. Unhealthy microbes that feast on sugar take over. These microbes cause bloating, and make your belly look bigger than it actually is. Even things like trading white bread for whole grain bread, while not completely cutting carbs, but replacing simple carbs for complex carbs, may be helpful in reducing belly size from bloating.

One study has found that even a relatively modest reduction of carbs may promote loss of deep belly fat, even with little or no change in weight. The study compared a standard low fat diet with a diet with a modest reduction in carbs, but slightly higher fat intake. Subjects consuming the carb reduced diet had 11% less belly fat than those on the standard low fat diet. The carb restricted diet also had a 4% greater loss of total body fat than those on the low fat diet. However, this finding was only true among white people, and did not hold for other races.

In another study, conducted specifically on people in Japan with diabetes, a decrease in carb intake was correlated significantly with deep belly fat loss during a three month moderate carb diet. This was independent of total calorie intake. However, these findings only applied to the men in the study, and not to the women.

Not all low carb diets are high in protein, but many are. A low carb, high protein diet may promote weight loss by increasing fullness. Protein can also contribute to a higher metabolism and more calories burned even without exercising. There are multiple studies showing that people consuming the highest amount of protein are the least likely to have excess belly fat. 

You can’t really spot reduce belly fat. When you lose weight you are going to be losing weight from across your whole body. Exactly where you are losing the weight from on your body will depend in large part on your genes. But any form of sensible diet and exercise will eventually lead to loss of belly fat, because it’s going to reduce fat across the whole body. A low carb diet is not the only form of diet that will reduce belly fat, but many studies have shown that low carb diets are very effective for general weight loss, perhaps even more than standard low fat diets.

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