Low Carb Diets – What You Need to Know

Low Carb Diets - What You Need to Know
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Low carb diets have been around for over two centuries, however most mainstream medical doctors have yet to acknowledge the benefits of the diet, but perhaps this is bound to change as more and more studies begin to highlight the advantages of a low carb diet.

Low carb diets are certainly not new, with John Rollo reporting the use of a low carb diet to treat diabetes in 1797 and William Banting publishing his “Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public” in 1863. In fact, many low carb diets are still referred to as “Banting Diets.”

What are Low Carb Diets

Simply put, low carb diets are based on restricting your carbohydrate intake and increasing the amount of protein and fat you consume.

If you want to follow a low carb diet you need to restrict your intake of sugar, fruits, some vegetables, and starches (many vegetables are permitted on a low-carb diet, however, many starchy vegetables contain carbohydrates and should be restricted).

Bread, refined sugar, rice, and pasta are generally on the restricted or to be avoided list, while meat, eggs, fish, cheese, and other proteins are on the unrestricted list.

With over twenty clinical trials conducted over the last eleven years alone, the benefits of low carb diets are quickly becoming recognized and accepted. Here are some of the benefits of implementing a low carb diet:

  1. Low carb diets regulate insulin levels
  2. Low carb diets support fat loss
  3. Low carb diets offer a metabolic advantage
  4. Low carb diets reduce cardiovascular risk factors
  5. Low carb diets can reduce food cravings
  6. Low carb diets can reduce appetite leading to lower calorie intake

Insulin Regulation and Low Carb Diets

Insulin levels and insulin sensitivity are hot topics when you read discussions on obesity and diabetes, and with good reason. Insulin is responsible for three main functions in your body:

  • It allows cells to absorb and use glucose for energy.
  • It removes excess levels of glucose from your blood.
  • It allows glucose to be stored as fat if the cells don’t need glucose for energy.

When you eat too much sugar, the pancreas may not be able to produce sufficient insulin and this leads to high blood glucose levels, which leads to diabetes (get familiar with these 13 early signs of diabetes).

When your cells become insulin resistant it leads to metabolic syndrome, which leads to fatigue and other serious conditions like cardiovascular disease and obesity.

In a clinical study done on 132 severely obese individuals, the New England Journal of Medicine found that insulin levels reduced by 27% and that overall insulin sensitivity increased in the individuals on a low carb diet.[1]

Water, Fat, and Weight Loss

The bottom line is that most of us choose to go on diet to lose weight.

There are different types of weight loss, namely water loss and fat loss. Water loss often occurs at the start of a diet. Insulin levels can affect how much water you retain and a change in insulin levels or blood glucose levels can therefore affect how much water you lose initially.

Long term weight loss is normally associated with fat loss as opposed to water loss.

Low carb diets are well known for encouraging water weight loss in the first two weeks of the diet because they often have a big effect on insulin levels. But this doesn’t mean you only lose water on low carb diets.

In more than twenty studies done over the last eleven years on low carb versus low fat diets, individuals on low carb diets lost more weight in the short and long-term. Individuals on low carb diets also lost more abdominal and visceral fat and low carb groups often lost two to three times more weight than individuals on low fat diets.[2]

The Metabolic Advantage of Low Carb Diets

The metabolic advantage is what most dieters dream about.

Essentially, your metabolic rate is used to describe how much energy your body produces and uses in a given period of time. The more energy your body needs the more fuel it burns and the easier you lose weight and fat. More muscle weight means your body burns more calories for energy (read more about it in my article about the top 10 factors that affect your metabolism).

The increase in protein consumption on low carb diets is thought to be responsible for increased energy expenditure, which creates the metabolic advantage associated with low carb diets.[3] Eating more proteins is also one of the 70 habits featured in my e-book 70 Powerful Habits For A Great Health which will guide you how to take positive steps to improve your wellness and overall health.

Low Carb Diets Reduce Certain Cardiovascular Risks

Cholesterol and triglyceride levels are two of the most important indicators of cardiovascular health and they are often used to determine the risks of developing various cardiovascular disorders (please be aware that there are various opinions about the role of cholesterol and you can read more about it in my article What Most Doctors Won’t Tell You About Cholesterol).

When HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol) increase, cardiovascular risks decrease and cardiovascular health is improved.

In over 18 studies on low carb versus low fat diets, individuals on the low carb diet saw a greater increase in HDL cholesterol levels and in 19 studies, individuals on low carb diets saw greater reductions in triglyceride levels than those on low fat diets.[2]

Low Carb Diets and Food Cravings

Food cravings are a dieter’s nemesis. For most of us, food cravings spell diet disaster, so a diet that can not only help you to lose weight but that can actually help to reduce food cravings is a diet made in heaven.

Low carb diets may actually help to reduce food cravings because they help to regulate blood sugar levels and they reduce insulin levels in the body. Blood sugar levels are one of the most important underlying causes of food cravings.

When your blood sugar levels drop, your body is designed to crave carbohydrates to help it to normalize the levels of glucose in your blood.

When you eat sugar or carbohydrates, blood sugar levels increase and this causes the pancreas to produce insulin to remove excess glucose from the blood, which in turn creates a vicious cycle because when the glucose levels drop you crave carbohydrates again.

By reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing protein intake, blood sugar levels no longer spike, reducing your cravings for sweet foods.

Low Carb Diets and Appetite Regulation

Blood sugar levels, food cravings, and appetite are all linked by insulin and ghrelin levels in the body. Leptin and ghrelin are commonly called the hunger hormones and these hormones are responsible for regulating appetite (read more about it in my article on How to Reset Your Hormones and Melt Fat).

Studies show low carb diets increase ghrelin and reduces leptin levels. Individuals in low carb diets are often less hungry, experience less cravings for carbohydrates, and they generally tend to consume fewer calories naturally.[5]

Low Carb Diets – The Evidence is Clear

A low carb diet may not be for everyone, but the evidence is clear: Low carb diets can be extremely beneficial for losing weight and improving overall health.

If you are looking for a less restrictive diet – you can find more information in my eBook Blast Your Belly Fat. This eBook is the ultimate guide for losing belly fat for good without counting calories.

Read my other articles about other types of diets:
Intermittent Fasting 5:2 – Principles, Science and How To
How to Reduce Your Glycemic Index (GI) and Lose Weight
How to Eat Right for Your Blood Type
How to Use Raw Food Diet to Treat Eczema

Resources:

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25 Responses to Low Carb Diets – What You Need to Know

  1. Someone says:

    You have the grehlin and leptin switched. Leptin signals your body that you are full, have enough stored energy, and it’s time to burn fat. Grehlin is the hunger hormone. It naturally peaks shortly after waking causing hunger. If you don’t eat carbs during this spike (or otherwise don’t cause an insulin spike during this point), and wait it out, hunger will subside, and as grehlin drops off you will have a boost of hGH (which helps burn fat and preserve, or increase lean muscle mass). If you do consume carbs dieting this window you will get a temporary reduction in grehlin (meaning your hunger levels will drop), however this is only temporary, and your grehlin will rebound causing worse hunger and cravings throughout the day. In addition you will have cut short the natural cycle of morning hormones and you won’t get that hGH boost that would have naturally followed the grehlin cycle. Cortisol also plays a role in the morning hormone cycle, and in the absence of an insulin spike, will facilitate the breakdown of fat tissue. Cortisol, which peeks in the morning should not be mixed with carbs. Once insulin is introduced, cortisol will signal your body to store body fat instead of break it down. Yet another reason to avoid carbs in the morning. This is also why cortisol is associated with weight problems for those on the standard American high carb diet. Biochemistry is incredible. Great article.

    I have a ketogenic (ultra low carb, moderate protein, high fat) diet 6.5 days per week. 1 night per week I use high glycemic carbs as a tool to spike insulin, and up-regulate my thyroid, metabolism, leptin, etc. to avoid the common pitfall of low carb diets. As being low carb for am extended period of time without these occasional spikes will cause the thyroid activity to go down. The way around this hormonal effect is simple enough, and enjoyable. Understanding how to work with, and manipulate your hormones is the key to real lasting weight loss.

    • Jenny says:

      I appreciate your lengthy comment however I didn’t replace between the two hormones. What I’ve written is based on a research that found that a high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite. This research found that high protein diet significantly decreased leptin AUC and increased ghrelin AUC. I’ve just used the words low carb diet instead of high protein diet.
      You can also refer to the 5th resource which has similar findings.
      I deliberately didn’t want to get into the complex issue of hormones and left it as a further reading for anyone who is interested – there is a list of resources and anyone who is interested is welcome to refer to them.

      • Diana says:

        Low-carb and High-protein are not the same thing. A proper low-carb diet is high fat and moderate – low protein .

      • Tony says:

        How can you simply use a study on a high protein diet and use the same results for a low carb diet? That is so unscientific that it has completely devalued your article for me!

        • Jenny says:

          Tony, here is what I wrote: “The increase in protein consumption on low carb diets is thought to be responsible for increased energy expenditure, which creates the metabolic advantage associated with low carb diets”. This was followed with a reference to a research about the effects of high protein diets. I cannot see any issue here.

          • MlcDz says:

            That is exactly the sentence I was going to write you about. On a low carb diet you do not want high protein because protein can be turned into glucose through gluconeogenesis. You want a high fat, low carb diet with adequate (not high)protein so that you are not causing any more release of insulin and glucose. That is where I disagree with your point. Check Dietdoctor.com for loads of up to date information, studies and videos about a low carb living.
            Also read Phinney & Volek’s “The Art & Science of Low Carbohydrate Living” for the best explanation I’ve ever read.

          • Jenny says:

            There are various types of low-carb diets. There is also a diet that is basically a low-carb, high-protein and based on the book of husband and wife Michael R. Eades, MD, and Mary Dan Eades, MD, which provides also provides a lot of scientific explanations.

  2. Zachary says:

    A very nice and detailed article on low carb diet, but you have not written that what kind of foods or vegetables have low in carbs.

  3. Very well explained for layman like me and better information on diet issues. Thanks

  4. Carol says:

    Very helpful information.Thanks

  5. Angie says:

    So when doing low carb do u not worry about how many calories consume? How many carbs should u consume a day

    • Jenny says:

      In any type of nutrition/diet you need to watch out your calorie intake and not exaggerate. This depends on factors like your sex, age, and activity level. There are different types of low carb diets (such as Atkins, paleo, south beach, ketogenic) and every one has it’s own rules – there is no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a “low carb diet”. According to Mayo Clinic website, a daily limit of 60 to 130 grams of carbohydrates is typical with a low-carb diet. These amounts of carbohydrates provide 240 to 520 calories. But there are diets that allow less than that.

  6. ilze says:

    Can low carb diet chance hormones to convieve

  7. Janine says:

    I have a conundrum 🙂
    I had gastric sleeve a year ago and I’ve used the low carb diet instead of the conventional advice (I just needed to be sure I was throwing the whole book at my weight and diabetes problem.

    I keep reading that if you are low carb then you should be moderate protein, well I *need* high protein because of my gastric sleeve (around 80 per day) so I think it’s definitely possible to have low carb and high protein! As a result of adjusting for this I lower fat intake a little bit but ONLY if it doesn’t increase the carb content (ie, philadelphia light) but I still treat low carb as the most important priority 🙂

    It’s been an interesting journey, but i’m down around 120lbs (I work in kg so it’s an approximate calc) I’ll never know whether it was the op or whether it was the low carb that got rid of my diabetes, but I’m thankful I no longer have numb legs and fingers <3

  8. Sitti says:

    I am on a low carb diet. I have reduce 7 kgs for 2 months now.is this diet good for ostheo arthritis considering that i eat lots of protien and fats.

  9. Ranveig says:

    Dear Jenny!

    This comprehensive article was really helpful to me. Now I’m confident to start with a low carb diet. I like that it has a metabolic advantage and reduce food cravings. I’m attending an event in three weeks, and I want to lose weight before that event. I’m considering the Scarsdale Diet. The diet contains 43% proteins, 22.5% fat and 34.5% carbohydrates.

    But I’m not familiar with this diet, and I don’t know anybody who has tried it. What do you think about the diet Jenny?

    • Jenny says:

      I’m personally not familiar with this diet. I had a quick look at the principles of this diet and from what I’ve understood the main benefits of the Scarsdale diet is a quick weight loss, although it isn’t necessarily achieved in a safe way. It is a very restrictive diet in which restricted foods are allowed, and that makes it difficult to follow and can make the person deficient in certain nutrients (especially if you follow it for more than the recommended 2 week limit). Most of the weight that you lose is water weight, which you usually regain as soon as you return to your normal diet. All this things need to be taken into consideration if you want to do this diet.

  10. C. says:

    Well, I have to say.
    There is a Dr in Toronto that works with low carb, low salt, no sugar high protein diet…. lots of patients had lost anywhere between 50 to 150 lbs!
    I am in a journey, but it is not for everyone.
    Most of us at the clinic have health issues that makes difficult to break down the carbs as any other “normal” person.
    Name it, diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver, bladder or kidney stones… and many others.
    While I know that it is not eveyone’s case, I can vouch for a diet that is low carbs and high in protein.
    I lost already 40lbs in 4 months… not starving and have enough energy to exercise now.
    I am doing it because of my health, and I havent felt this good in YEARS.
    So there… I guess at the end of the day, it is whatever works for you.
    Good luck to everyone!
    C.

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