There have been many versions of low carb diets over the years. Atkins and ketogenic are well known examples.
But does this way of eating actually help with weight loss? Are there other benefits or risks to eating fewer carbs? Should I take the trouble to count my consumption?
Carbohydrates are one of 3 macronutrients along with proteins and fats that make up the foods in our diet. Carbs come from sugars, starches and fiber.
- Sugars are the smallest molecule of carbohydrate. There are many different names for sugar. It can be processed and refined and also found naturally in fruits.
- Starches are longer chains of sugars bound together. They can be refined such as in flour or found naturally in foods such as whole grains and potatoes.
- Fiber is also a long chain of sugars, but since it can’t be broken down by our digestive enzymes, it do not get absorbed into our bodies. Instead, fiber passes through our system, feeds our good gut bacteria, and helps us remove waste products from the body.
Because fiber isn’t absorbed, it is often excluded from the total carb count for those tracking their grams of carbs. For instance, many people following a low carb diet will subtract fiber from their carbs and count only the difference or “net carbs.”
Carbohydrates and Metabolism
When we eat carbs, our body breaks them down, which raises our blood sugar. Our body then releases insulin to tell our cells to absorb that sugar out of our blood and use it as energy now, or store it for later.
This is reasoning that many people use as to why low carb diets can help with weight loss. Fewer carbs, means less insulin, and less storage of excess calories. Let’s see what the science says.
Carbohydrates and Weight Loss
A long-term study compared low carb and low-fat diets for weight loss. However, what they found is that it’s very difficult to compare the two.
- There isn’t one universal definition of low carb (see below).
- People have more trouble sticking to low carb diets than low-fat diets.
- Both diets work for some people, but neither one is significantly better for weight loss
- The number of calories people eat is still a big factor when it comes to weight loss
Low Carb Definition
Spoiler altert: there isn’t one.
The average American eats about 300 g of carbs per day. So, some people consider eating under 250 g of carbs per day to be “lower carb.” That’s really not that low in carbs in my opinion!
Generally, eating less than 150 g per day of carbs is considered typical of a low carb diet.
Eating less than 50 g of carbs per day is consistent with ketogenic eating. At this level, most people will shift their metabolism into a state of fat burning (ketosis). However, this is difficult to maintain for most people.
Low Carb Health Benefits
Low carb diets help preserve muscle mass during weight loss. They can also improve heart health markers like cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Also, reduced intake of carbs improves insulin and fasting blood sugar levels.
Eating a low carb diet can be healthy, as long as it contains enough of all the essential nutrients. Some people may lose weight eating fewer carbs, but it’s also important to watch which carbs you are eating and how much.
When we are trying to avoid carbs, we often think of foods such as bread, pasta, pizza, muffins, or cookies etc. These foods have a lot of processed or refined carbs, and are good to remove from the diet. But there are many other sources of carbohydrates that are healthy such as fruits and vegetables.
As with most things in nutrition, there isn’t one diet that works for all people. Low carb diets can be a good choice for many, but it’s not perfect for everyone.
Have you tried to eat low carb? How do you feel on it? How many carbs do you eat per day? Do you count them? (I don’t!) Let me know in the comments below.