Low carb diet : Go high on fats and low on carbs for a leaner body!

low carb diet meal

Last Updated June 12th, 2019

What is a low carb diet?

Low-carb diets are dietary programs that restrict carbohydrate consumption.

The usual diet, which has easily digestible carbohydrates namely sugar, sugary foods, bread, and pasta are limited and replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of fats and protein namely meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, most salad vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard, collards, and fruits such as berries.

There are many different types of low-carb diets, and studies show that they can cause weight loss and improve health.  The amount of carbohydrate allowed varies with different low-carbohydrate diets.  The different types of low-carb diets include Keto diet, Paleo diet, and Atkins diet.

Types of low-carb diet

  • Keto Diet

low carb diet bacon eggsOr Ketogenic diet is a diet, which pushes our body into the natural metabolic state of ketosis, which means burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Generally, the diet works by cutting back on carbohydrates and replacing with mostly fat and a moderate amount of protein. Ketogenic diet helps people suffering from type 2 diabetes.  It helps to lose weight and manage blood sugar levels.

A ketogenic diet is designed in a way that a person gets 60% to 80% of energy from burning fat and only a small amount of energy is obtained with the help of carbohydrates.  Keto diet, which limits carbs can be effective for weight-loss, but they are typically not recommended for all people and special care has to be taken with people suffering from diabetes. 

Studies have suggested that low-carb diets were effective at managing blood sugar, decreasing weight, and managing cardiovascular risk in individuals with type 2 diabetes in the short term, but the benefits were not sustainable over the long term.

  • Paleo Diet

Or paleolithic diet is a diet, which consists of non-processed food, which was the diet, followed by early humans and paleo diets cut out on dairy, refined sugar, and grains. Low-carb paleo includes removing the following from the diet, which includes rice, pasta, and legumes from the diet completely, and the carbs consumption include fruit, beets, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens, such as spinach and kale. 

The paleo diet also cuts out processed food plus foods allowed on other low-carb diets, including milk and cheese, and are comparatively easier to follow when more carbs are included. 

People following a modified, low-carb paleo diet have experienced reductions in levels of A1C (A1C test is a blood test that reflects our average blood glucose levels), triglycerides (a type of fat found in our blood), and diastolic blood pressure (pressure in blood vessels when the heart rests between beats).  The paleo diet has also the ability to increase the levels of LDL (low-density lipoproteins).

  • Atkins Diet

This is a diet which works in four stages namely induction (eat high-fat, high-protein, with low-carb vegetables like leafy greens, which kick-starts the weight loss process), balancing (slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables and small amounts of fruit back in the diet), fine-tuning (when the ideal goal weight is achieved, add more carbs to the diet until weight loss slows down), and maintenance (here we eat as many healthy carbs as our body can tolerate without regaining weight).

This low-carb diet, in general, focuses on reducing carbohydrates by eating certain vegetables, proteins, and fruits.  Eating fat sources such as avocado and coconut oil, as well as full-fat yogurt, butter, and cheese.  The diet includes avoiding sweets and foods like pasta, rice, and processed food.

What are the advantages of a low carb diet?

Consuming a low carb diet can possibly protect you from these chronic conditions:

Type 2 diabetes

low carb diet mealType 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas.  Consuming carbohydrates has the biggest impact on our blood sugar and insulin levels.  Restricting carbohydrates in our diet has a direct impact on lowering the sugar levels and insulin needs.

Studies have shown that a low-carb diet is a natural diabetes treatment, which also lowers the risk of diabetes complications including obesity and heart disease.  A low-carb diet also helps in regulating dyslipidemia (having blood lipid levels that are too high or low) and metabolic syndrome (group of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels), as well as control of blood pressure, postprandial glycemia (plasma glucose concentrations after eating), and insulin secretion.

Metabolic Syndrome and Heart Disease

A metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.  Heart disease is a term covering one or more disorders of the heart including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, peripheral artery disease, and stroke.

Low-carb diets have a beneficial impact on lowering the heart disease risk factors and specifically, they reduce triglycerides, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and increase the concentrations of HDL (high-density lipoproteins).  Low-carb diet helps in reducing blood sugar, insulin, inflammation in the body, and reducing the weight.  All these factors can contribute to damaging the heart and hence a low-carb diet overall helps in reducing metabolic syndrome and reducing the risk factors for a heart disease.

Cognitive Function

Healthy fats are needed for proper brain function, mood control, and hormone regulation.  A sugary or high-carb meal might make one feel awake and alert initially but quickly can have a reverse effect like feeling tired, grumpy, and irritable.

Sugar consumption has dramatic effects on the brain, especially with cravings, anxiety, and fatigue.  However, healthy fats and cholesterol act like antioxidants and precursors to some important brain-supporting molecules and neurotransmitters, which are helpful in the daily aspect of life including learning, memory, mood, and energy.

The brain is mainly made up of fatty acids and requires a steady input of fats from our diet in order to perform optimally.  Studies have shown evidence of impaired cognitive function with a diet high in sugar, but low in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids.

One of the main functions of insulin is acting as a vasodilator, which increases blood flow to promote glucose delivery to the muscles and organs, including the brain.  This vasodilator function is stopped when one develops insulin resistance over time from a high sugar and carb intake.

Cancer

low carb diet dark chocolateA diet, which is high in carbohydrates and sugar, contributes to free radical damage, which in turn feeds cancer cells, possibly helping them multiply faster.  A diet containing low-carb can cut down sugar levels and might act as a natural cancer treatment, which improves immunity as oxidative stress goes down.

In the process of cutting the supply of energy to cancers, healthy cells are preserved, as they are able to use fat for energy.  Cancer cells thrive on sugar whereas they cannot metabolically shift to use fat to multiply faster.

Additionally, a low carb diet can help you attain these conditions which are beneficial for your overall health.

Satiety

Eating healthy fats and proteins in place of sugar and carbohydrates can help turn off ghrelin, which is called the hungry hormone.  Low-carb diets increase satiety due to the balanced blood sugar levels they promote.  A diet comprising low-carbs minimizes the blood sugar and insulin spikes throughout the day.  Due to the satiety-promoting effects of dietary fat, a diet high in healthy fats definitely can keep cravings away.

Digestion

A diet containing high sugar and carbs can lead to development of a virus in the gut called as Candida, which can lead to medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (common condition, which affects the digestive system. It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation) and leaky gut syndrome (increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability).

A low-carb diet containing vegetables, quality proteins, and healthy fats can act as fat-burning foods, which help nourish the digestive tract and reduce bacterial growth, which can lead to optimal digestion and normal stool habits.

Weight Loss

low carb diet green vegetablesOne of the main positives of a low-carb diet is when it helps to fasten the weight loss process.  Low-carb diets have a very high reputation for producing fast weight loss without feeling hungry or needing to count calories. 

Diets containing high amounts of sugar and carbohydrates helps in the release of a hormone called insulin as a reaction and can lead to elevated blood glucose (sugar).  Insulin is a fat storing hormone, which signals cells to store as much available energy as possible.

This energy is initially stored as glycogen from the glucose found in carbohydrates.  When carbohydrates are eliminated or minimally consumed in our diet, it helps in keeping the body’s glycogen stores low, and by this, we can prevent insulin from being released and storing fat.  Due to this process, the body is forced to use up all of its glycogen stores, which is present in our adipose tissue for energy, which in turn leads to fast weight loss.

Disadvantages of a low-carb diet

Frequent urination

Burning up the extra glycogen in the liver and muscles and breaking down glycogen can release a lot of water.  Since the carb intake and glycogen stores are low, kidneys will excrete this excess water.  It can also lead to the expulsion of excess sodium in the kidney, which can also cause frequent urination.

Fatigue and Dizziness

Since the kidneys excrete a large amount of urine during low carb intake, it can lead to losing important minerals such as salt, potassium, and magnesium.  Lower levels of minerals can lead to tiredness, lightheaded or dizzy, muscle cramps, and headaches.  Some people may also experience skin itchiness.

Hypoglycemia

As we know that low-carb diet helps in reducing the insulin levels, it should also be noted that excess reduction in insulin can be detrimental and can lead a medical condition called as hypoglycemia where the body experiences low blood sugars.  This condition usually occurs when the body is induced to a ketogenic diet.

Headaches

People may also experience a headache when adapting to a ketogenic diet, which induces a process called as ketosis.  People may also feel lightheaded and can experience flu-like symptoms.

Constipation

Due to frequent urination leading to loss of salt and minerals such as magnesium can lead constipation, but this can be minimized with fluid intake and high fiber content vegetables.

Sugar cravings

Since people following a low-carb diet try to avoid sugar or sugary food intake, it can lead to people craving for sugar sooner or later.  People who can wait it out can experience minimized effect and usually subside with time.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be another side effect of low-carb diet when people do not supplement the low-carb diet with fat intake, which can lead to an imbalance in the metabolism and cause diarrhea, which can be related to a condition called as rabbit starvation.  People may also experience diarrhea just because of the change in diet.

Shakiness and Weakness

Shakiness and weakness are usually related to a medical condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  It could result from low mineral levels.

Muscle cramps

Loss of minerals especially magnesium during frequent urination can lead to a side effect called as muscle cramps.

Sleep disturbances

Few people can also experience sleep disturbance and inability to stay asleep when consuming a ketogenic diet, which is due to low amounts of insulin and serotonin.

Kidney stones

One of the biggest side effects of the ketogenic diet is kidney stones.  Inadequate hydration and high consumption of calcium can lead to kidney stones.  It is also noted that the uric acid level is usually high in people consuming a ketogenic diet.

Low thyroid hormone levels

During a ketogenic diet, the body becomes sensitive to the T3 hormone because of induced hunger and can lead to low T3 thyroid hormone levels.

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations are also called a racing heart.  People may experience heart palpitation during hypotension (low blood pressure), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and loss of nutrients, which are all side effects of a low-carb diet.

Hair loss

Rapid hair loss can be experienced by people usually with any diet change and is not related to any particular diet.

Healthy foods to consume in a low carb diet

 

  • low carb diet meatMeat: Beef, lamb, pork, and chicken.
  • Fish: Salmon, trout, and haddock.
  • Eggs: Omega-3-enriched or pastured eggs.
  • Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.

Low carb diet: A list of things to avoid

  • Sugar and sugary foods including soft drinks, fruit juices, agave, candy, and ice cream.
  • Bread and Grains namely wheat, rice, barley, and rye, as well as cereal and pasta.
  • Starchy foods like potatoes
  • Trans fats: Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Diet and low-fat products:  Many dairy products, cereals or crackers are fat-reduced but contain added sugar.
  • Highly processed foods

Low-carb diets restrict carb intake such as sugary, processed foods, pasta, and bread.  They are high in protein, fat, and healthy vegetables   Consuming low-carb diet not only gives an amazingly fresh, delicious food, but can also improve our health and decrease the risk of illness.  Once we get used to the low-carb diet, we would not want to go back to prior diet.  It should also be noted that a low-carb diet also has some side effects and needs to be consumed only when adequately understood and consulting a medical professional.


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