Are Low-Carb Diets Healthy in the Long Run?

Have you heard of, or maybe considered, going on a low-carb diet? There’s been a lot of buzz about this lately. Some say they are amazing for weight loss. Others warn that they can increase your risk of heart disease. So, which is it? Low-carb diets may help some people lose weight and/or manage their […]
are low-carb diets healthy in the long run

Oct 26, 2022

Have you heard of, or maybe considered, going on a low-carb diet? There’s been a lot of buzz about this lately.

Some say they are amazing for weight loss. Others warn that they can increase your risk of heart disease.

So, which is it?

Low-carb diets may help some people lose weight and/or manage their blood sugar levels. They also may do these a little better than low-fat diets.

But, are low-carb diets healthy in the long run?  

This article will go over what exactly is a low-carb diet, possible benefits and risks, and whether or not it’s something you should consider.

What Are, ”Carbs,” and Are They Bad?

NO.  Carbs are not inherently bad.  (More on this below.)

Carb is short for carbohydrate.  Carbs are one of the three macronutrients, meaning they are large components of your diet.  Just like protein and fat, carbs give you the energy you need to achieve optimal health.  Many foods contain at least two of these essential macronutrients.  

Carbs can definitely be part of a healthy diet.  They are found in many foods that also contain many essential vitamins and minerals. Just like in fats and proteins, carbs can also be found in many foods that contain less nutrients.  When considering your carbohydrate sources, it is best to choose foods such as:

  • Whole grains
  • Dairy
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Carbs are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  It is best to choose whole grains instead of refined grains.

Just as in other macronutrients, carbs contain calories.  Eating or drinking too many carbs can add to your daily calorie count, especially if they are not found in foods that are abundant in other nutrients.

How Do Different Types of Carbs Affect Your Health?

There are three different forms of carbs:  

  • Sugars are the smallest form and are the main source of energy for your body.
  • Starches are broken down into sugars so that they can be easily absorbed by your body.
  • Fiber provides bulk to help you feel full and to be regular

Foods that are highly processed or are less nutritious tend to contain large amounts of added sugar.  If you eat or drink foods that are high in added sugar, then you may have a higher risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and dental cavities.  When you eat or drink foods that are high in added sugar, then they are absorbed quickly, which may cause your blood sugar to go up quickly, or spike.  You may become hungry again a short time after once your body lowers your blood sugar levels.  

When you eat starches, your body takes a little bit more time to break them down into sugars.  As a result, your blood sugar is less likely to spike, and it can stay lower for a longer period of time.    

Fiber, on the other hand, is not digested.  They do, however, help you to feel full while contributing to a healthy gut by feeding your friendly gut bacteria.  People who eat a lot of fiber tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and digestive issues.

What Is a Low-Carb Diet? 

Low-carb diets emphasize eating more protein and fat as well as non-starchy vegetables.  This means more meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

While the amount of carb-rich foods is reduced, it is not eliminated.  This means you would eat less sweets, grains such as bread or pasta, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes.  

The lowest amount of carbs to eat is not specifically defined.  The typical low-carb diet recommended 50 – 150 grams per day of carbs.  This is equivalent to 200 – 600 calories per day.  However, this is in contrast to the recommendation set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is about 225 grams, or 900 calories, per day from carbs.

Possible Benefits of Low-Carb Diets

While low-carb diets may have a slight advantage over low-fat diets when it comes to weight loss, studies show that after 12 months the benefits are not that great.

Low-carb diets may help with managing diabetes, high blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. They may also help improve cholesterol and blood lipids.

However, these may occur not because of eating less carbs, but because of the quality of food choices made when eating a low-carb diet.

Are Low-Carb Diets Healthy in the Long Run?

Following a low-carb diet may help you to lose weight.  However, research shows that following a low-carb diet may also be harmful to your health.

Possible health implications of following a low-carb diet include:

  • Increased risk of kidney stones
  • Digestive issues
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Very low blood sugar
  • Decreased bone density
  • Increased risk of heart disease and death

While research indicates that these may be possible health risks that come with following a low-carb diet, more research is needed to fully understand the potential, long term, health risk associated with following it.  Following a well-balanced diet with regular physical activity still remains as the primary recommendation for healthy weight loss.

Should I Consider a Low-Carb Diet?

Studies show the overall quality of a food or diet is more important than focusing on just one nutrient, such as carbs.

There are a few things to consider.

While a low-carb diet may help you to lose weight, it only lasts for a short time.  It is very difficult to stick to a diet for the long-term.

Be careful when you restrict any major food group. This is because you may be restricting key vitamins and minerals. Restricting whole food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies and long-term concerns, such as bone loss, gut problems, and chronic diseases.

Because low-carb diets are restrictive and may not provide all necessary nutrients, this diet isn’t recommended for most people, especially adolescents, pregnant women, or women that are breastfeeding.  

Most of the research that has been done on low-carb diets is short-term.  Therefore, we don’t know all of the possible health effects that may happen after eating like this over the course of many months or years. 

Nutrition Tips When Following a Low-Carb Diet

When replacing carbs with proteins and fats, be sure to choose ones that contain plenty of essential vitamins and minerals.  

When choosing proteins, choose them from sources such as poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts and beans.  Limit your consumption of red meats, such as pork and fish. 

When it comes to fats, focus on foods that are rich in omega-3s and unsaturated fats.  Choose foods that are lower in saturated fats and hydrogenated oils. 

When making drastic changes to your diet, you may experience symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Skin rashes
  • Digestive issues headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, skin rashes, and digestive upsets.  

If you experience any of these, consult with your doctor. 

When you restrict carbs too much, you can put your body into ketosis.  This is because your body will change its energy source to fat as a result of you not consuming enough carbs.  Keep in mind that this may also affect your body’s metabolism and, eventually, your ability to lose weight.

A low-carb diet may not be for you if you:

  • Crave carbs
  • Experience gut issues or other bothersome symptoms
  • Don’t enjoy eating anymore

Final Thoughts

A diet is how you eat on a regular basis.  It should not be something you, “go on,” in order to achieve a certain result.  As stated by Harvard Health, “The best diet is the one we can maintain for life and is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle.  People should aim to eat high-quality, nutritious whole foods, mostly plants (fruits and veggies), and avoid flours, sugars, trans fats, and processed foods (anything in a box).”

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