With so many diets in existence, it can be challenging to differentiate between effective and ineffective. While diets can be used for a variety of reasons and results, the most common reason to start a diet is weight loss. It should be emphasized that adopting a specific diet is not absolutely necessary if weight loss is the goal. Most weight loss diets work by limiting the number of calories consumed each day to cause the breakdown of fat. This article will look at a commonly used weight loss diet – low carb diet. It will provide details about the diet itself, types of priority foods, and the benefits and harms of the diet.
Table of Contents
What is low carb diet?
First we’ll review the macro-nutrient – carbohydrates. We will consider its role in the body and also explain why limiting its intake can often lead to weight loss.
Macro-nutrients are foods that the body needs in large amounts to maintain health and function. There are three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for the body and there are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. The names simply refer to the time taken for digestion, with simple carbs being digested quickly and complex carbs taking longer to break down.
Simple Carbs Vs Complex Carbs
Simple carbs provide the body with a quick burst of energy but are of little nutritional benefit while complex carbs release energy more slowly and are often packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Some examples of simple carbohydrate foods include table sugar, baked goods, white bread, white pasta and confectionery. Complex carb foods include whole grains, oats, brown bread, brown pasta, brown rice and fruits and vegetables.
As you may be able to conclude from the above list, carbohydrate-dense foods make up our daily food intake and the recommendation of many health authorities is that carbs should make up 45 – 60% of our daily caloric intake. By following this recommendation, most of the calories you consume per day will come from carbohydrate sources.
Therefore, the idea behind a low-carb diet is that limiting carb intake will significantly reduce calories. While low-carb diets are primarily used for weight loss, they are often prescribed for individuals with specific medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. However, it should only be applied under the guidance of a medical professional.
Foods included in low carb diet
As mentioned, the diet aims to restrict total carbohydrate intake on a daily basis. Therefore, foods high in carbohydrates should be restricted, while low carbohydrate foods should be preferred.
While it is important that carbs are largely restricted, it is essential not to remove them completely from the diet. Remember that this is a “low” carb diet, not a “zero” carb diet.
Since carbs play a vital role in fueling the body and also nourishing the body with an array of key vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates should be consumed in moderation.
A final consideration that has to be made is the amount of both protein and fat that is consumed in place of carbohydrates.
ways to replace carbohydrates
how to replace carbohydrates with fats
Replacing carbohydrates with fats for weight loss is a very common method called ketogenic diet. The goal of the diet is to promote a process called ketosis, where the body uses fat instead of carbs as its primary fuel source.
While there is research that suggests the ketogenic diet is effective for weight loss, be aware that fat contains 9 calories per gram—the highest of all three macronutrients. Therefore, it is important to check the calorie intake during the diet.
High-fat, low-carb foods include – seafood, avocados, low-carb dairy products, eggs, oils (coconut, olives), nuts and seeds.
how to replace carbohydrates with proteins
High-protein diets can also be beneficial and have likewise been found to encourage weight loss and maintenance. One of the most practical benefits of eating primarily protein is in terms of satiety.
Protein appears to be more satiating than both carbs and fat and will therefore keep you feeling full for longer. Thus, reducing the temptation to overeat or snack. In addition, protein is lower than fat in terms of calories as it contains 4 calories per gram. High-protein, low-carb foods include lean meats (poultry, beef, pork, fish), eggs, nuts, seeds and tofu.
While both have their own unique benefits, preferring fat to protein or vice versa is of secondary importance. If you are going to fully experience the benefits of a low-carb diet, the first and foremost focus should be on properly restricting carbohydrate intake.
benefits of low carb diet
Several studies have been completed over the years that have examined the benefits and uses of low-carb diets. The literature is clear that low-carb diets can serve as an effective method for weight loss.
1. Reduces hunger pangs
The advantage of low-carb diets is that hunger is less of a factor and some studies have indicated that they may help curb your appetite. This makes it much easier to control appetite, thereby increasing nutrition consistency and promoting weight loss.
2. Management of Certain Medical Conditions
As mentioned earlier, a low-carb diet can help with the management of certain medical conditions. For diabetics, a low-carb diet can allow a person to more effectively manage their glucose and insulin levels. Restricting carb intake will reduce the amount of glucose in the body and will consequently affect the insulin dosage required.
3. May Improve Heart Health
The effects of a low-carb diet on heart health have yielded mixed results. Some studies have indicated a positive effect on heart health, blood pressure and healthy cholesterol levels. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Disadvantages of low carb diet
When considering the role of carbohydrates in the body, restricting carbohydrates can have a negative impact on energy levels and resultant muscular and cognitive performance. It can also cause dizziness, nausea, weakness and chronic fatigue.
1. Low Energy Levels
Exercise levels can be affected due to a lack of carbohydrates in the diet. Because energy levels are low, it can be challenging to maintain a steady level of exercise over a long period of time. Therefore, if you are an athlete or a highly active individual, a low-carb diet may not be the best option.
2. May Have Negative Effects on Digestion and Excretion
The body requires an array of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) to function optimally. While many fat and protein-dense foods contain some micronutrients, you can either miss out on some or fail to consume enough of some micronutrients by cutting out carbohydrates.
For example, fruits and vegetables are highly beneficial for health as they contain a large number of micronutrients whereas whole grain products contain high amounts of folic acid which helps in promoting heart health.
In addition, carbohydrates provide the body with fiber which is a non-digestible substance that is essential for digestion. Therefore, removing carbs from your diet can have a negative effect on digestion and excretion as well. As a result, people with digestive issues should avoid low-carb diets.
low carb diet and weight loss
If your goal is to lose weight, using a low-carb diet may be beneficial as research clearly indicates that it can significantly affect changes in body composition. However, it is important to recognize that diet is by no means the only way to lose weight. Ultimately, it is a calorie deficit that is responsible for bringing about these changes and all effective weight loss diets will put the person in a calorie deficit leading to weight loss.
A calorie deficit is created simply when a person consumes fewer calories per day than their body needs. As a result of this deficiency, the body cannot use calories from food as energy and, therefore, must obtain energy from some other source. In the absence of calories, the body resorts to using stored fat as fuel.
Body fat is broken down and the energy released through this process is used to maintain function. Provided that if a calorie deficit is maintained for a long period of time, body fat will be used as energy, reducing the total body fat percentage significantly.
It is important to remember that there is nothing special with dieting and weight loss, results can be achieved without the use of diets. Calorie control exercise is the key to bringing about significant changes in body composition.
Low-carb diets can be implemented effectively to facilitate weight loss and serve as an effective alternative for people with specific medical conditions such as diabetes. However, it is also important to recognize that there are many potential disadvantages associated with the diet including fatigue and interference with digestion.
Whether a low-carb diet is something you want to implement or not comes down to a completely personal preference. However, it must be acknowledged that diets are not essential for weight loss and that calorie control will ultimately determine compositional changes.