It’s clear what side fans of the low-carb diet falls on. The low-carb diet has been popular for decades, and has gone through numerous changes and trendy rebrandings along the way.
In essence, a low-carb diet is one that encourages eating less carbohydrates and more fats and proteins. This means eliminating bread, milk, and pastas from your diet and eating more foods like meat and eggs.
For decades, the low-carb diet has been used for weight loss. In recent years, however, studies have been at work linking it to other health benefits.
It’s also been adopted and re-tooled by newer movements such as the Keto and Atkins diets. For our purposes we’ll stick to what’s traditionally called the “typical” low-carb diet.
What Constitutes a Low-Carb Diet?
A low-carb diet replaces carbohydrates with fats and proteins. A carbohydrate is a macronutrient that can exist in simple, complex, natural, and refined forms, meaning it’s trickier to avoid than it may appear. Common sources of carbs include:
- Starchy vegetables
- Refined carbs occuring in white breads, soda, candy, and other sugary and processed foods
If you’re starting a low-carb diet, the foods you’ll want to limit include:
- Wheat, rice, bread, pasta, and other refined grains
- Certain fruits such as bananas, mangos, and pears
- Potatoes, beets, corn, and other starchy veggies
- Lentils, peas, chickpeas, and other beans and legumes
- Sugary products like soda, fruit juice, breakfast cereal, ice cream, and sweets
- Highly processed foods
Instead, the low-carb diets favors fats and proteins. A low-carb diet encourages eating:
- Vegetables with high-fiber content
- Natural fats
On average, a low-carb diet reduces intake of carbs to about 50 grams a day. That number can vary, though, depending on your weight loss goals and the state of your overall health.
What are the Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet?
So far, low-carb diets have been used primarily for weight loss. Avoiding carbs can cause a drop in insulin levels, and since insulin stores fat, a lower insulin level can promote weight loss by burning stored fat at a quicker rate.
Though most acknowledge that eating less carbs can help you shed pounds, the diet has earned criticism from some in the nutritional field. Some detractors believe that unprocessed carbohydrates play a productive and even vital role in our diets, and shouldn’t be eliminated along with unhealthy carbs. Others base their argument on the fact that focusing on fats and meat can increase the risk of disease and other cardiovascular problems. Critics suggest that those who do take up low-carb diets make sure to focus on healthy meats and proteins.
Supporters of the low-carb diet received a boost from Harvard Health Publishing, a journal of Harvard Health School, which weighed in with some good news regarding low-carb diets and weight loss. According to the journal, a series of randomized control trials showed conclusive evidence that low-carb diets are more effective than low-fat diets in helping people lose weight.
Making a Low-Carb Diet Part of Your Life
It’s important when undergoing any dietary change to structure your eating habits accordingly. This way you can account for any deficiencies and augment your diet with vitamins and nutrients that are necessary for proper nutritional health.
To maintain proper equilibrium, experts suggest differentiating the good carbs from bad. Processed foods and sugary snacks can be safely eliminated, but carbs with high fiber count shouldn’t be dismissed outright.
The Harvard article cited above also suggests that it’s important when following a low-carb diet to choose healthy proteins. While proteins are the same regardless of where they come from, the “protein package”—which includes the fats, carbs, vitamins, and other nutrients surrounding it—is unique to each protein source.
Plant-based proteins are healthier for the heart and general diet and followers of a low-carb diet are encouraged to avoid or at least balance their intake of red meat with these healthier proteins.
Low-carb diets have proven extremely popular in the past few decades, and it’s easy to understand why—they help you lose weight and ditch some of the more unsavory parts of a diet such as starchy and sugary foods. Some health experts caution against throwing good carbs out with the bad, however, and warn against focusing on unhealthy fats and proteins. As always, the carbohydrate stands stubbornly amidst the debate, a source of energy one on side, a source of empty calories on the other. Most agree that an informed, balanced approach to a low-carb diet is the ideal way to reap the fat-burning benefits while ensuring your body is getting what it needs to maintain ideal nutritional health.