Carbs are a controversial macronutrient in the modern-day. Are they good, are they bad, and are there any benefits to a low carb diet?
Some carbs aren’t really the best for your body, so following a low carb diet can help weed them out. This results in weight loss and a healthier you.
On a low carb diet, you aim to cut out:
- Refined grains.
- Trans fats.
- Low-fat and diet products.
- Processed food.
- Starchy, high-carb vegetables.
As we move forward, we’ll examine the benefits of cutting these ingredients out of your diet. Plus, we will go over what you should be eating instead.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s a taster of the low carb diet benefits:
- Appetite reduction.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Weight loss.
- Reduces bad cholesterol.
- Increases good cholesterol.
- Regulates insulin and blood sugar levels.
What Are Carbs?
Carbohydrates are hidden inside many of the foods we love and consume regularly, or at least semi-regularly. They’re in:
- Dairy products.
Carbs are one of the primary sources of energy and calories for most people—alongside protein and fat.
Specifically, carbs make up the starches, sugars and fibers within the aforementioned food groups, and they’re vital in a balanced and healthy diet.
Complex vs Simple Carbs
If carbs are so vital, why do so many trendy diets exclude them? Plus, why are we supplying a guide on how to go low-carb?
It comes down to the type of carbs you’re consuming. There’s a big difference between the carbohydrates in doughnuts and those found in vegetables.
Whether carbs are good or bad comes down to what they fall under: simple or complex.
Complex carbs are digested and absorbed slowly, and only contain a small number of sugars. These sugars are typically galactose in dairy and fructose in fruits.
As the sugars are found in healthier foods, they’re going to be better for the body overall. Plus, as they’re processed gradually, the energy release mirrors this pace. They provide plenty of fuel over a long period of time. This is what people need to function in their day-to-day life.
These slow-processed, slow-release carbs usually contain several other nutrients, too.
Here are the basics on complex carbs:
- Low to moderate calorie content.
- Lacking in refined sugars and grains.
- Low sodium content—although a certain amount of sodium is important, so you’ll want to be getting it in other ways.
- Very little saturated fat—a fat that leads to heart disease and worse.
- Little to no trans fats or cholesterol content.
You may get a short burst of joy and dopamine when you eat pizza, doughnuts and drink soda. Simple carbs live a similar life.
These carbs are processed fast in the body. They also release energy rapidly—like a sugar rush, giving you a quick burst of energy that leads to a crash shortly after.
Here are the traits that simple carbs share:
- High in calories.
- Contain copious amounts of refined sugars—to name a few, corn syrup, fruit juice, honey and white sugar.
- High refined-grain content—white flour is one example.
- Lacking nutritional value.
- Contains very little fiber.
- Sodium-rich, but sometimes to an unhealthy level.
- High levels of saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol.
Low Carb Diet Benefits
Now that we’ve examined the details, let’s look at the different benefits. Cutting out these extraneous carbs has many, besides the obvious weight loss that will come from consuming less calorie-rich foods.
Hunger is often the worst part of every diet, but not on the low carb diet. When consuming low carbs, your appetite automatically reduces.
With consistent results, studies reveal that eating more protein and fat makes people more satisfied. As a result, they eat fewer calories.
More Initial Weight Loss
Not all weight loss comes from fat. Fluid retention is a massive contribution culprit in a higher number on the scale.
Low carb diets let you shed all this water, so the numbers drop rapidly in the first few weeks of the diet.
Greater Abdominal Fat Loss
People carry their weight differently. Depending on where the fat is stored, it can determine how it impacts your risk of certain diseases, and your overall health.
Many people carry this weight in their abdominal cavity, which lodges around your organs—visceral fat. This can result in insulin resistance and inflammation. Both of these can cause metabolic dysfunction.
Low carb diets are great for reducing body fat in the abdominal cavity, which is beneficial in the long term.
Drastically Lowers Triglycerides
Triglycerides are molecules of fat. They tend to be in your bloodstream.
Unfortunately, these molecules put you at a high risk of heart disease. Cutting carbs reduces triglycerides and this risk.
Increased HDL (Good) Cholesterol Levels
Like carbs, there’s good and bad cholesterol. HDL is “good” because the higher your HDL level, the lower your risk of developing heart disease becomes.
Low carb diets often contain a lot of healthy fats. Hence HDL levels rise.
Reduced LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Levels
Paired with higher HDL levels, LDL levels drop.
People with high levels and quantities of LDL cholesterol are at a higher risk of heart attacks.
Low carb diets, however, decrease the number of LDL particles. Instead, they increase the size of the particles, which is healthier.
Reduced Insulin and Blood Sugar Levels
Reducing carbohydrate intake can lower your insulin and blood sugar levels, which is good news for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
In fact, this study shows that type 2 diabetics on low carb diets were able to eliminate or reduce medication within just half a year.
Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure isn’t healthy for you and can increase the chances of developing several diseases.
A low carb diet can reduce your blood pressure. As a result, you lower your risk of such ailments. This can help you achieve a longer lifespan.
Fights Metabolic Syndrome
The symptoms of metabolic syndrome are:
- Low HDL levels.
- High triglyceride content in the body.
- Increase in blood sugar levels, even when fasting.
- High blood pressure.
- Obesity, especially around the abdomen.
Low carb diets have proven effective in treating and alleviating each of these.
Helps Brain Disorders
Low carb diets (specifically keto) help children with epilepsy where medication is ineffective.
Now researchers are studying the impact of a low carb diet surrounding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Low Carb Diet Side Effects
No diet is perfect, so naturally, there are going to be side effects. Luckily, the adverse reactions a low carb diet brings are temporary.
The side effects will occur if you cut out carbs suddenly. If you do it gradually, they may not be quite so severe. Here are the main low carb diet side effects:
- Muscle cramps.
- Feeling of weakness or dizziness.
- Unpleasant breath.
If you cut carbs too drastically, the side effects can be much worse. You may not be getting enough vitamins or nutrients. That’s why you should concentrate on cutting out the bad carbs and starchy vegetables that don’t do much for you.
Cutting daily intake to less than 20 grams of carbohydrates is safe, but you shouldn’t go much below that—you don’t need to.
When you cut down to under 20 grams, you end up in ketosis, which also helps you lose weight. The temporary side effects of this safe, natural process are similar to the above, but with nausea also included on the list.
Low Carb Diet Foods
The last thing we want to discuss is low carb foods—namely, what you can eat on a low carb diet and remain healthy.
Earlier, we mentioned the types of foods to avoid. Now we’ll get specific. You should avoid:
- Soft drinks—sodas, energy drinks and similar.
- Fruit juice—unless pure and natural, like orange juice, you squeeze yourself and add nothing to.
- Candy and ice cream.
- White rice.
- Bread, white and brown.
- Cereal of all types.
- Pasta and noodles of all kinds.
- Hydrogenated oils.
- Anything with “low fat” or “diet” on the label—they often contain added sugar to replace the reduced fat.
These are the “green light” foods, packed with plenty of protein and healthy fat content.
- Meats—beef, pork, lamb and chicken—preferably grass-fed as that’s better for you.
- Wild-caught salmon, haddock and trout.
- Pasteurized or Omega-3 enriched eggs.
- Low-starch, non-root vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms.
- Fruits—strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears, oranges.
- Seeds and nuts.
- Dairy with high-fat content—cheese, cream, yogurt, butter.
- Natural oils and fats—olive oil, fish oil, coconut oil, lard.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes.
- Brown rice.
- Black and pinto beans.
- Dark chocolate in moderation—organic, with a minimum of 70 percent cocoa content.
- Dry wine with no carbs and no added sugars in moderation.
- Teas (black).
- Coffee (without milk).
- Sparkling water.
- Water with homemade fruit infusions.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of a low carb diet are numerous, from weight loss to longevity. So long as you don’t go too far below 20 grams of carbs consumed in a day, the side effects should be minimal and temporary.
If you like this article, check out our other food guides:
The Paleo 101 Guide
The Keto Diet Guide
The Banting Diet Guide
The Intermittent Fasting Guide
The Gluten Free Diet Guide
The AIP Diet Guide
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