Low Carb Diet
A low-carb diet is one that limits carbohydrates, primarily found in sugary foods, pasta, and bread. Instead of eating carbs, you focus on protein-rich whole foods and vegetables.
Studies show that low-carb diets can result in weight loss and improved health markers. These diets have been in common use for decades and are recommended by many doctors.
Best yet, there’s usually no need to count calories or use special products. All you need to do is eat whole foods that make for a complete, nutritious, and filling diet.
What is low carb?
A low-carb diet means that you eat fewer carbohydrates and a higher proportion of protein and fat. This can also be called a keto diet. However, not all low-carb diets result in ketosis.
For decades we’ve been told that fat is detrimental to our health. Meanwhile, low-fat “diet” products, often full of sugar, flooded supermarket shelves. This coincided with the beginning of the obesity epidemic and, in hindsight, was likely a major mistake. While the proliferation of low-fat products doesn’t prove causation, it’s clear the low-fat message didn’t prevent the increase in obesity, and we believe that it has contributed.
Studies now suggest that there’s little reason to fear natural fats. Instead, on a low-carb diet you don’t have to fear fat. Simply minimize your intake of sugar and starches, make sure you are getting adequate protein — or even high amounts of protein — and you can eat enough natural fat to enjoy your meals.
When you avoid sugar and starches, your blood sugar tends to stabilize, and the levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin drop, which may make it easier to burn fat stores in the body.
In addition, the higher protein intake and presence of ketones (if eating very low carb) may make you feel more satiated, thereby naturally reducing food intake and promoting weight loss.
- Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables growing above ground and natural fats (like butter).
- Avoid: Sugar and starchy foods (like bread, pasta, rice, beans and potatoes).
Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. It can be that simple. You do not need to count calories or weigh your food.
Who should NOT do a strict low-carb diet?
Most people can safely start a low-carb diet.
But in these three situations you may need some preparation or adaptation:
- Are you taking medication for diabetes, e.g. insulin?
- Are you taking medication for high blood pressure?
- Are you currently breastfeeding?
If you’re not in any of these groups and don’t have other severe chronic medical conditions — such as advanced liver or kidney failure — you’re good to go!
How low carb is a low-carb diet?
The lower your carbohydrate intake, the more powerful the effects may be on weight and blood sugar.
For this reason, we recommend initially following the dietary advice fairly strict. When you’re happy with your weight and health, you may carefully try eating more carbs if desired (although we find many people don’t want to).
A strict low-carb diet is often called a keto or ketogenic diet. It’s not a no-carb diet, but it contains less than 20 grams of net carbs per day.
Here are three examples of what a low-carb meal can look like, depending on how many carbs you plan to eat per day:
Health benefits of a low-carb diet
Why would you consider eating fewer carbs? There are many potential benefits, proven by science and supported by clinical experience, like these:
I. Lose weight
Most people start eating fewer carbs to lose weight. Studies have shown that low-carb diets are at least as effective — if not more effective — than other diets.
Low carb makes it easier to lose weight without hunger and without having to count calories.
According to recent studies, a low-carb diet can even result in burning more calories than other diets
II. Reverse type 2 diabetes
Low-carb diets can help reduce or even normalize blood sugar and thus potentially reverse type 2 diabetes.
As the American Diabetes Association notes, carbohydrate reduction of any level is likely an effective tool for blood sugar control.
Low carb can also be helpful in managing type 1 diabetes.
III. A grateful gut
Low carb might help settle a grumpy gut, often reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps, and pain.
Indigestion, reflux and other digestive issues can sometimes improve, too.
For some, this is the best part of going low carb and happens usually within the first few days, or first week, of starting the diet.
IV. Reduce sugar cravings
Are you struggling to stay away from sweet foods, even though you try to eat them in “moderation?” Many people do.
A low-carb diet can often reduce and sometimes even eliminate cravings for sweets
V. Bonus benefits
Weight loss, lower blood sugar, improved mental clarity, and a calmer digestive system are the most frequently cited benefits of low-carb eating.
But some people experience even more improvements, some of which can be life-changing: lower blood pressure and other improvements in risk factors for heart disease, less acne and better skin, fewer migraines, improved mental health symptoms, better fertility, and more.
Disclaimer: While a low-carb diet has many proven benefits, it’s still controversial. The main potential danger regards medications, especially for diabetes, where doses may need to be adapted (see above). Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor.
This guide is written for adults with health issues, including obesity, who could benefit from a low-carb diet.