A low carb diet reduces the total number of carbohydrates you are allowed during the day with goals of helping to burn fat and lose weight fast. Athletes, people looking to burn that final 5 pounds, or anyone with more serious weight concerns can use and potentially benefit from a low carb diet.
So does it work? Many diets have grabbed headlines with the promise of transforming lives. So often people start these diets and find themselves failing or not getting the results they were promised. But a low carb diet is different in some key ways. As you’ll see, cutting back on carbs does result in a physiological change in that body that does increase fat burn, but that does not mean it is right for everyone.
How Does a Low Carb Diet Work?
The main goal of a low carb diet is to get the body to burn stored fat. Normally the body converts carbohydrates into sugars (glucose) that are readily available for the body to use as a quick fuel source. When carbohydrates are drastically decreased, the body begins oxidizing fat. The oxidation of fats creates ketones that become the main fuel source for the body and brain; this process is known as ketosis.
But be wary, if there aren’t enough fats available the body will look for other sources of fuel. Muscle, particularly lean muscle, is an ideal source of energy. These muscles give you an athletic look and take time to build. Not maintaining a proper balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and calories can lead to a reduction in the desired muscle mass and a lot of other problems.
So for a low carb diet you’ll want to look to get around 50 percent of your calories from fat. To reach this goal, you’ll need to know what your daily caloric needs are using a calculator, then look to fill your plate with foods that provide a high amount of monounsaturated fats from fish, meats, eggs, coconut, olive oil, nuts, avocados, plus a large variety of vegetables for fiber and nutrients.
The Potential Rewards and Risks
For people looking to lose weight, a low carb diet may provide the best avenue to reach that goal. Since a low carb diet seeks to prioritize the conversion of body fat to energy, people often report optimal weight loss.
Likewise, people looking to maintain a lean, muscular body may use a low carb diet with lots of fats and protein to prevent the body from storing fats that hide muscle definition. If you’ve ever wondered why some people always show a six-pack or abs, it’s a good bet they’ve cut down on carbs in their diet. But make no mistake, athletes will need not only need more calories from fat, but also up to 200 grams or more of protein each day to prevent muscle loss.
Interestingly, some research shows that a low carb diet helps exercise performance during endurance workouts and sports. However, while endurance can improve, these benefits may not occur until the body properly acclimates to a low carb diet, which can take several months.
If you don’t see the need for showing abs or don’t participate in endurance workouts, don’t fret, a low carb diet may provide other potential health and wellness benefit that everyone should desire! But make sure to be mindful of the risks, and always consult a primary care physician if you experience any negative side effects.
- Weight Loss (when done correctly)
- Type 2 Diabetes Management
- Eat more and feel fuller more of the time
- More “good” cholesterol
- Potential improvement to exercise performance
- Better eating habits
- Brain fog
- Decreased work performance
- Mood or behavior problems
- Liver and kidney toxicity
- Fatty acid deficiency
- Vitamin deficiency
- Bad breath
The risks appear to outweigh the rewards, and it’s true that there is a lot to lose if you mishandle your diet. Losing weight or pushing for new fitness goals is never easy and requires preparation, patience, and commitment. Seek out a nutritionist or similar professional if you ever have concerns about your nutrition or aren’t hitting your new goals.
Low Carb Food Ideas With Lots of Energy
- Wild-caught fish – not fried
- Poltry (chicken, turkey, etc.)
- All meat (Avoid cured meats, added sugars and nitrates)
- Fats and oils (avocados, butter, mayonnaise without sugar, olive oil, olives)
- Unsweetened almond or coconut milk
- Nuts and seeds
- Green, leafy vegetables (spinach, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, eggplant, etc.)
- Low sugar fruits (berries and grapefruit)
Foods to Avoid
- Honey or syrups
- Dried fruits
- Starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, etc.)
These foods are just a starting point for your low carb diet. Make sure you set a total daily carbohydrate allowance and track what you are eating. If you aren’t hitting your goals, or are eating too many carbs, make adjustments until you start seeing the results you want.
How to Satisfy Cravings
If you are struggling with satisfying cravings for sugar, you can still enjoy something sweet with fresh berries or stevia, a low carb sweetener. Stevia taste a lot like sugar, but has fewer calories, and may help to maintain blood sugar levels already within the normal range, support healthy weight management, and they let you occasionally indulge without feeling guilty.
If your cravings are the result of stress, anxiety, or a range of other internal challenges, an herb like ashwagandha may help to provide balance in the mind and body. When you feel healthy and confident, it may be easier to adjust to a new diet without succumbing to the empty calories provided by foods in the vending machine.
Other Dieting Options
Not everyone feels that carbs are an enemy of a healthy diet. If you search around, you’ll find information about weight lifting and cardio-intensive programs that recommend a diet consisting of around 40% carbs, 40% protein, and just 20% fats; this compares to a low carb diet that may suggest just 5% of your diet comes from carbs.
The results that people see from these programs are impressive. Everyone looks fit, happy, and healthy. So what gives?
Find What Works Best For You
Low carb isn’t going to be a winner with everyone. There are hundreds of diet programs out there, and doing a quick search for ‘low carb diet’ yields a lot of differing opinions. For some people, the best results come when they worry less about measuring everything, and instead focus on staying active, eating smarter, practicing moderation, getting plenty of sleep, and drinking lots of water.