What is a Low Carb Diet, and Does it Work?

Isaac K

Low-Carb diet

While browsing the internet for information on dieting, you will no doubt come across what is called a low-carb diet or low-carbohydrate diet. It is one of the popular diets brought to the spotlight by both celebrities and some health experts.

But what exactly is a low-carb diet? What does it do? Does it have any benefits? You have come to the right place. In a series of articles, we will look extensively into everything there is to know about a low-carb diet.

But first, let’s define what it means, how effective it is for weight loss, and how to do it right.

What is a Low-Carb Diet?

In a nutshell, a low-carb diet involves consuming food that limits carbohydrates – to less than 100g a day – and eating more proteins and fats.

The limited carbohydrates are usually sugary foods, refined grains, below-ground vegetables, and fruits, to name a few.

There are different types of low-carb diets, and the first one was the Atkins diet. This type of nutritional plan emerged close to five decades ago, and it paved the way for other diets, including Paleo, Zone, and Ketogenic or keto diets.

All these diets have varied limitations on the amounts of carbs one is supposed to consume, but the purpose is all for weight loss, and therein lies the primary reason people stick to a low-carb diet.

Over the years, this type of diet has been a controversial topic among health experts, nutritionists, and other professionals. What keeps all these individuals at an impasse is whether a low-carb diet is indeed a weight-loss milestone or a health concern.

Well, the fact remains that this diet has been proven to help people experience fast weight loss results than those sticking to a low-fat diet. The same evidence shows that a low-carb for weight loss is sustainable.

Nevertheless, it is always important to talk to a nutritionist before starting a low-carb diet.

You might be tempted to start limiting carbs on your diet to maintain a healthy weight or when you want to shift to a different eating habit. But always consult.

What Constitutes a Low-Carb Diet?

Usually, diet guidelines recommend that one aims for about 45 to 65 percent of carbs in every meal. Anything below that is considered a low-carb diet.

If your body requires 2000 calories a day, the number of carbohydrates should be dangling between 225 and 325 grams a day.

In a nutshell, a low-carb diet limits your carbohydrate intake to below 50 and up to 150 grams a day. This varies from one low-carb diet to another. Up to 60 or 80 percent of the calories you get here come from fat.

Of course, depending on the food type, you also get to enjoy other nutritional benefits the meal comes with.

How Do Low-Carb Diets Work?

How low-carb diets work is simple. They reduce or entirely rid your body of glucose. This reduction in glucose deprives the body of an energy source, and in response, it burns the stored fat for metabolism.

Your body is dependent on sugar as a source of energy. When the sugar stored in the body runs out, fat oxidization is initiated. This burning of fat is what leads to weigh-loss.

The effectiveness of different low-carb diets varies; some have quicker results. A good example is the ketogenic diet. It puts the body into a state that burns fat rapidly by eliminating all glucose sources.

A keto diet involves eating a very low amount of carbs (5 percent), 75 percent fat, and 20 percent proteins. However, most people don’t necessarily get this low before experiencing results.

It is also worth remembering that the amount of carbs one requires to hit before experiencing weight loss in this nutritional plan is not universal. It varies with each individual.

But working on limiting sources of sugars while increasing the intake of healthy fats and protein to meet your caloric requirements will result in a healthy weight loss and overall health.

Why a Low-Carb Diet is Effective for Weight Loss

Worrywarts will say a low-carb diet does not work for weight loss. But at this point, saying it is effective is a scientific fact.

Studies prove that these diets cause about 2 to 3 times more weight loss than a conventional low-fat diet nutritionist would recommend for people to follow.

Most of the fat burned by these diets is mainly from the belly region and the liver. This fat is usually associated with inflammations and diseases since they mostly surround body organs.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, some skeptics are riding on the notion that the said studies are not conclusive. Many think the results are multifactorial, which means the reasons the plans are effective for weight loss are many.

That said, here are the most reasonable explanations as to why low-carb diets work for weight loss.

a) It lowers insulin levels in the body

Insulin is a fat-storing hormone that controls energy storage and regulates blood sugar levels in the body.

Insulin stimulates the production and storage of fats and lets these fats consolidate with the already existing ones.

When the body oxidizes fats, when it doesn’t have enough glucose for energy, or when it needs to use glucose instead of fat, the insulin hormone is involved. In short, insulin stimulates lipogenesis and inhibits lipolysis.

Different studies have established that low-carbohydrate diets result in a radical and almost instantaneous lowering of insulin levels.

Lowered insulin levels are one reason experts believe results in weight loss. The restriction of carbs in your meals lowers insulin levels leaving fats accessible to be burned for metabolism. This also reduces hunger pangs and the need for eating.

b) Low-carb diet leads to a drop in water weight

One is most likely to realize a rapid weight loss during the first two weeks of sticking to a low-carbohydrate diet. This is a result of a drop in water weight.

The drop in water weight is somewhat attributed to reduced insulin levels making the kidneys expel excess sodium from your body. This process is also known to lower blood pressure.

When you restrict your carbohydrate intake, the level of glycogen (glucose stored in the body) drops. Given that glycogen also holds water in the liver, the water levels also drop.

Although weight loss by water weight reduction is only part of the explanation, the significant advantage is fat loss.

c) Low-carb diets curb appetite for food

The impact a low-carb diet has on one’s appetite is perhaps one of the main reasons it is highly effective for weight loss. People would go on eating a few calories when their appetite is low.

Experts exploring low carb and low-fat diets recommend restricting the number of calories in the low-fat category. On the other hand, those in a low-carb group are allowed to eat until they are satiated.

A low-carb diet mainly substitutes carbohydrates for foods high in proteins since foods such as grains and sugars are mostly eliminated. One would, therefore, eat fish, meat, and eggs.

These foods, high in proteins but low on carbohydrates, leave one satiated, full, and with increased metabolism.

It also contributes to increased muscle mass, whose activity throughout the day burns fats.

The low-carb, high protein diet is one of the reasons why this particular meal plan is effective at weight loss.

d) A low-carb diet plan is low in “food rewards”

Junk foods or most processed foods are the automatically excluded low carb meals. Pizza, chips or fries, soda, fruit juices, and many unhealthy snacks fall into this category.

Variety is a limitation, especially when most foods people prefer are carbohydrate-rich meals.

This includes pastries, sugary beverages, fruit juices, sugar, chips or French fries, pizzas, and many unhealthy snacks.

As is the norm, the reason behind increased calorie intake is an increase in food variety. Doing away with a few choices keeps your calories in check.

It also follows that most of these foods are highly rewarding, which means that one may continue rewarding themselves with food for a long, unlike in consuming protein-rich meals.

It is true, therefore, to say that reducing the food variety and the reduced intake of most processed foods goes a long way in limiting your calories for easy weight management or loss.

Another reason why a low-carb diet works are because of the metabolic advantage it has. This subtopic will be covered later on under More Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet.

Your Health and a Low-Carb Diet

A low-carb diet does not fit everyone. It comes with some drawbacks for individuals with pre-existing health conditions. If you are healthy, you are less likely to experience any problems.

But the diet comes with some drawbacks for individuals with certain health conditions. A person with diabetes cannot effectively control the amount of sugar in their body or the increased insulin production.

Such individuals are at risk of experiencing weight gain or getting diabetes, not to mention leaving them vulnerable to high blood pressure (hypertension).

A low-carb diet will lower blood sugars and insulin levels. As discussed earlier, the impact reduces blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. This is achieved by trimming down the intake of sugary foods. Additionally, it also reduces weight gain.

People with these two conditions shouldn’t take the low-carb diet for a test drive. It can be a dangerous move.  

Despite the obvious benefits of the low-carb diet in people with diabetes and hypertension, the diet is not sustainable in the long term.

The same goes for women who are pregnant. Before trying to lose weight with a low-carb diet, consult your doctor. They will guide you on how to proceed and whether it is necessary, as it were.

Doing It for Weight Loss

If you are sticking to a low-carb diet for weight loss, please bear in mind that if you stop, you will revert to your original state, eventually. The diet is not a long-term solution to sustaining a specific body size. 

Also, remember that weight loss occurs after the dietary carbohydrate restriction and increased physical activity.

For example, if you want to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds of flesh in a week, you should cut your daily caloric intake by 500 to 750 calories.

Doing It Right

Don’t be surprised when you visit your favorite store for food supplies or supplements only to find products labeled “ketogenic” or “low carb.” The popularity of the diet has stretched that far.

But if you want to do it right, these products are a no. Be wary of pasta, rice, bread, chocolate bars, supplements, snacks, and cookies, among others labeled as such.

Check the ingredients list. The fewer, the better. It is, however, recommended that you stick to whole organic foods.

Foods labeled low-carb may not work well for weight loss. Some have hidden carbs that aren’t declared on the product’s nutritional information.

Even worse, these products may cause cravings and or great addictions to high sugar foods the companies claim to replace.

Common Mistakes People on a Low-Carb Diet Make

Every nutritional plan has stumbling blocks; a low-carb diet is no exception. Here are some mistakes that make people stray from the diet:

  • Not having enough carbohydrates – eating less than 40 percent of carbs in your meals is already considered low enough. Therefore, don’t eat too few carbs. Ensure that you get enough nutrients from the foods you consume to avoid side effects.
  • Ignore or neglect vegetables or less sugary fruits – Vegetables, according to many diet tips, should constitute a major percentage of your every meal. Don’t forget that. Also, choose some fruits to include in your low-carb diet for better health.
  • Going low on fats is – Big mistake. Instead, stick to healthy fats. It is healthy and will also help you feel satiated.
  • Forget dietary fiber – While limiting your carbohydrate intake, ensure that the few you have are from fiber-rich whole grains – (such as quinoa, oats, faro, and barley, but this depends on your tolerance level) legumes, and vegetables. Fiber is good for digestion. Chia and flax seeds are also high in fiber.
  • Not planning – To avoid cheating or properly follow a low-carb diet and have a few successful cheat days, make a shopping list that doesn’t include most of the junk food you are used to. Always know what you are going to eat and have the ingredients ready.
  • Get into a rut – Have a variety of food recipes to avoid eating the same thing every day. Have a menu for the whole week!
  • Not exercise – No diet alone is perfect for losing weight without workouts. So, never forget to do some physical activity to help you reach your goals faster.

Unsurprisingly, some of these products may contain added sugars, and additives, among others.

Always remember, don’t substitute carbohydrate-rich foods with a ketogenic junk diet. Always watch out and don’t fall for creative marketing strategies.

Above all, supplement your low-carb diet for weight loss with exercise. That is if you want to keep it sustained.

Bottom Line:

A low-carb diet is simple – reduce carbohydrates and eat fish, eggs, meat, natural fats, and many types of vegetables. The carbs to avoid for weight loss include those from processed foods like beans, rice, pasta, corn, and other sugary meals.

However, the diet alone is not enough to lose weight. Exercise and ensure to keep your health in check. If you have a medical history, talk to your doctor, a nutritionist, or a health expert before attempting it.

Share article?