While it’s true that we need carbs in our diet to provide us with energy and keep our bodies working properly, we don’t need to chow down too many carbs, especially the wrong kind.
A diet that consumes too much of the wrong carbs can negatively impact our health. Especially those with high glycemic load are known to increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
What is a low carb diet?
Although the word "low-carb diet" implies one diet, it describes a type of diets that limit carbohydrate intake.
In a typical low-carb diet, you most likely eat anywhere from 20 to 150 grams of carbs a day, which is equivalent to an apple to 3 cups of rice.
What types of carbohydrates and exactly how much you eat depends on which low-carb diet you decide to follow.
This is because there are many types of low-carb diets with each having its own restrictions on the types and amounts of carbohydrates you can eat.
For example, if you are following the Paleo diet— all grains including quinoa and "chickpeas"are restricted. But they have no restrictions on the amount of allowed carbs. If your carb choices are Paleo, you can eat them.
So how are they considered low-carb?
Paleo is most certainly considered a low-carb diet because it eliminates all grains, dairy (except butter) and legumes, foods that are particularly high in carbs and glycemic index.
Another popular low-carb diet, Atkins diet takes a different approach.
While their selection of carbs is broader and catered to general idea of healthy eating, your permitted amount of carbs begins very little, 20 grams a day (about 1 medium apple) and increases as you go through phases to find your own levels of carb tolerance.
Whichever low-carb diet plan you decide to follow, the common ground for all diets is this: a low-carb diet is a diet that emphasizes low-carb intake with moderate to high protein and fat.
Why a Low-Carb Diet?
Low-carb diets have been around for decades and proven effective for weight loss and fat loss—but that’s not all.
There is scientific evidence that low-carb diet followers see improvements in health and lower risks of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and other metabolic syndromes.
Before getting into its health benefits, let’s review what carbohydrates are.
Carbs, short for carbohydrates are a source of energy found in grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and diary products. Carbs supply the body with glucose it needs for energy so it can function properly.
Carbs are generally divided into two types.
- Simple Carbs
- Complex carbs
Simple carbohydrates also known as sugars are absorbed quickly by the body and will give you burst of energy for a very short time.
You can find simple carbs in wide range of foods including whole nutritious fruits, some diary products like milk and grain products such as pasta and bread.
Added sugars are often found in foods that have little to no nutritional value such as soda, cookies, fruit spreads, milk, creamer and breads.
It's often hard to know how healthy these foods are because the nutritional labels on foods do not distinguish between added and natural sugars.
But you can look at the ingredient list to see if sugars (such as sucrose, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup) are being added to the food or if it comes form an ingredient such as fruit.
This is primarily the reason why many low-carb diets such as the Paleo and the Atkins diets limit processed and packaging foods— and focus on eating whole foods.
In a low-carb diet, you’d generally eat foods that are closest to is natural inhabitants and haven't been processed. In a more familiar term, those carbohydrate foods are referred to as whole foods— They are unprocessed with low carb counts.
Complex carbohydrates also known as healthy or good carbs usually take longer to digest than simple carbs.
They give you sustained energy instead of a sugar rush like simple carbs. This seemingly slight difference make all the difference in your health, blood sugar levels and insulin activities.
However, just like simple carbs, not all complex carbs are created equal.
Some complex carbohydrates are good sources of fibers.
If you’ve read our post on high fiber foods, you already know that fiber is a heart healthy nutrient that many American don't consume enough of.
Those fiber-rich carbs are known to keep you full longer and help with bowel movements and digestion.
They also help with blood sugar management by slowing down the breakdown of carbs and absorption of sugar.
High fiber carbohydrate foods include whole grains, brown rice, split peas, lentils, carrots, avocado, "chickpeas" and "quinoa", artichokes, peas, broccoli and many more.
Why You Still Need Carbs
Carbs is of of three macronutrients and as important as proteins and fats.
It has unique functions and carb specific vitamins and nutrients that the other macronutrients can't provide.
Simple or complex, carbohydrates are your body's preferred and primary fuel and support one of the most important organs, your brain!
But consuming in excess is a sure way to create a surplus of immediate fuel, which gets stored in your body as fat.
When the fat gets stored in your belly (known as belly fat), it becomes hazardous to your health.
On the flip side, when your body doesn't take in enough carbohydrates, it'll have to break down the store energy and use other food sources such as fats and proteins to fuel the body.
This is the idea behind low carb dieting. Limiting your carbs, so that the body will look to stored fat and other food sources such as proteins and fats to fuel the body.
Are you considering a low-carb diet?
Here are 7 undeniable health benefits of low carb diet.
1. It Reduces Your Appetite and Suppresses Hunger
Hunger is probably one of the worst side effect when it comes to dieting— In fact hunger might the #1 reason why many dieters quit after feeling so miserable and are not able to eat the foods they love.
One of the best things about being on a low-carb diet is that it leads to an automatic reduction in appetite.
According to an article published in American Family Physician, people have less food cravings and appetite when they are on a low-carb diet.
Another study published in the Obesity had a similar finding—participants following a low carbohydrate, high protein and fat diet had significantly less food cravings and preferences for carbs than those on a low calorie and low fat diet plan.
A higher intake of protein is thought to be the contributing factor— The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports the study related to high-protein diet.
Surprisingly, leptin levels fell and ghrelin rose, which was the opposite of what was expected.
Take away: When dieters cut carbs, their appetite goes down and less hungry you become, which results in them less eating calories than those who are in a low-fat diet.
2. Helps You Lose Weight and Burn Fat
If you are wondering "how to lose weight fast"— cutting back carbs has been proven effective in losing weight.
In one study that compared a low-carb diet and low-fat diet, the weight loss benefit was apparent.
People who were on a low-fat diet lost more weight faster than those who were on a low-fat diet.
Another study shows that low-carb dieters can even lose 2-3 times more weight than those on a low-fat diet.
With a low-carb diet, dieters are able to add back in healthier carbs after they reach their goal weight (It's the approach of Atkins Diet)— whereas with a low-fat diet, you have to constantly monitor what you eat and count calories.
Another area where a low-carb diet may be healthier than a low-fat diet is that low-fat diets don't always prioritize food quality and emphasize nutritious whole foods.
Many products that are being marketed as low-fat are highly processed and refined to cut fats out.
Whereas going lower in carbs often mean cutting out processed and highly refined products, leaving only less starchy, whole foods in your diet.
Take away: A low-carb diet has been proven effective in losing weight and burning fat. Cutting out excess calories from your carb intake has been evidently an effective way to reduce appetite and leading to a successful weight loss.
Comparing to a low-fat diet, it tends to maintain its focus on quality rather than taking the diet by the numbers and focusing solely on calories and fat content.
3. Targets and Fights Belly Fat
Having too much of unwanted body fat is dangerous in general, but having belly fat is more alarming than fat in other problem areas such as thighs and arms.
Needless to say, burning the visceral fat in your belly is highly recommended by doctors and deemed necessary to reduce your risk of diseases and health complications such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and certain cancers.
While a previous post how to get rid of lower belly fat and lose love handles, covers this topic in detail, here is a quick recap of what can help with reducing belly fat.
There is scientific evidence that a low-carb diet helps fight off the belly fat.
According to one study, it brings greater fat loss than their low-fat diet counterpart.
There is more.
The same research also found that with a low-carb diet, the fat loss comes from the abdominal cavity.
It means that not only you get to lose weight and burn fat with a low-carb diet, it does it from the most problematic (and dangerous) area, your midsection.
4. Helps You Manage Type 2 Diabetes By Controlling Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
When we eat carbs, they are broken down into simple sugars (glucose) in the digestive tract.
From there, they enter the bloodstream and elevate blood sugar levels.
High blood sugars are toxic and the body responds with a hormone called insulin, which tells the cells to bring the glucose into the cells and to start burning or storing it.
For healthy people, the quick insulin response tends to minimize the blood sugar "spike" and prevents it from harming us.
For people who are unhealthy—things are not so smooth and efficient. Overtime, they develop insulin resistance where your cells in the body are resistant to the insulin and are unable to use it effectively.
It's a huge problem that can lead to high blood sugar.
All this forces your pancreas to subsequently increase their production of insulin, further contributing to a high blood insulin level.
When this goes undetected (which happens quite often), it can develop disease such as latent autoimmune diabetes (type 2).
Type 2 diabetes is very common today among overweight and obese people, affecting about 86 million adults— more than one in three U.S.. adults have pre diabetes, where their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization, this is largely due to the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Without sufficient reduction of body weight and moderate physical activity, 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Study has shown that a low-carb diet is very effective at improving insulin resistance and remove all the need for excess creation of insulin. In other words, it works just as well as diabetes prevention as glucose management once you develop diabetes.
It's being reported that both your blood sugar and insulin often go down when following a low-carbohydrate diet.
Another study shows that 95.2% of type 2 diabetics had managed to reduce or eliminate their need for glucose-lowering medication with 6 months following a low-carb diet.
Although it is worth mentioning, if you are currently taking blood sugar lowering medication, then it is important to check with your doctor before making any changes to your carbohydrates intake, because your dosage may need to be adjusted in order to prevent hypoglycemia.
Take away: A low carb diet has been proven to be effective in lowering blood sugar levels. It’s also a very effective way to manage type 2 diabetes.
5. Treats High blood Pressure with Low-Carb Diets
Having high blood pressure (hypertension) can put you on a higher risk for many diseases including heart diseases, stroke, kidney failure and more.
Because low-carb diets are proven effective in lowering blood pressure, it can successful reduce your risk level and improve your overall health.
According to a Duke University Medical Center study done by William S. Yancy, Jr., MD, a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (LCKD) may be effective for improving glycemia and reducing medications in patient with type 2 diabetes.
“If people have high blood pressure and a weight problem, a low-carbohydrate diet is a better option than a weight loss medication.”, says Dr. William.
He also points that you can try a diet instead of medication and get the same weight loss results with fewer cost and potentially fewer side effects.
In the study, 146 obese or overweight adults were randomly divided into two groups. Many of the participants had chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
The first group was advised to follow a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet consisting of less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, and the second group received the weight loss drug, orlistat three times a day, plus counseling in following a low-fat diet (less than 30% of daily calories from fat) at group meetings over 48 weeks.
The results showed weight loss was similar in the two groups.
The low-carb diet group lost an average of 9.5% of their body weight and the orlistat group lost an average of 8.5%.
Both weight loss methods were also not significantly different at improving cholesterol and glucose levels.
But when researchers looked at changes in blood pressure, they found nearly half of those who followed the low-carbohydrate group had their blood pressure medication decreased or discontinued during the study, compared to only 21% of those in the orlistat group.
Overall, systolic (the top number in a blood pressure reading) dropped an average of 5.9 points among the low-carb diet group, compared with an increase of 1.5 points in the orlistat group.
Researchers say weight loss itself typically produces a healthy reduction in blood pressure, but it appears that a low-carbohydrate diet was particularly effective has an additional blood pressure-lowering effect that merits further study.
Take away: Low-carb diets are not only shown to be effective for weight loss but also at lowering blood pressure.