What Is a Low Carb Diet?
A low carb (low carbohydrate) diet is one that focuses on limiting carbohydrates to help the body burn fat instead of sugar for fuel. With a low-carbohydrate diet, dieters typically consume between 60 and 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, compared to a standard diet that contains 200 to 300 grams of carbohydrates.
Popular low carb diets include:
- Atkins Diet plan
- South Beach Diet plan
- Keto diet
- Paleo diet
What Do You Eat on a Low Carb Diet?
Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains (breads, rice, pasta, and cereal), alcoholic beverages, and dairy products. Meat, poultry, and fish are low in carbohydrates.
Anyone following a low carb diet should focus on eating healthy fats and proteins such as fish, nuts, and beans. Some low carb diets allow for foods high in saturated fats, such as found in butter and red meat, which can increase cholesterol levels and raise the risk of heart disease.
In general, foods to eat on a low carb diet include:
- Fish and shellfish
- Oils, butter, mayonnaise
- Some cheeses
- Low sugar fruits such as berries, cherries, and melon
- Unsweetened yogurt
- Whole grains
- Legumes such as lentils and beans
- Unprocessed high fiber whole grains
Foods to avoid on a low carb diet include:
- Foods with added sugars such as processed cake, cookies, candy, pastries, and soft drinks
- Simple carbohydrates such as in juices, breads, cereals, and dried fruit
- Starchy foods such as simple carbs like bread, pasta, rice, and chips
- Starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes
- Any sugars, including honey, maple syrup, and agave
- Fat free salad dressings, which often have added sugars and carbs
What Are Advantages of a Low Carb Diet?
Low carb diets may help with:
- Weight loss
- A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the Atkins Diet, a popular low carb diet, to other popular diets (Zone, Weight Watchers, and Ornish) for weight loss and found each diet modestly reduced body weight and several cardiac risk factors at 1 year
- Lowering triglycerides
- Boosting HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Increasing heart health, but only when protein and fats come from healthy sources such as vegetables
- Low carb diets high in animal fats and proteins do not offer as much protection
What Are Disadvantages of a Low Carb Diet?
Low carbohydrate diets can have some health risks, such as:
- Low blood pressure
- Kidney stones
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Increased risk of heart disease
- “Keto flu” which includes symptoms such as upset stomach, dizziness, decreased energy, and mood swings caused by the body adapting to ketosis
Low carb diets may not be sustainable for many people, resulting in weight gain if they stop following the diet and start eating more carbohydrates.