Low-carb diets are all the rage right now, with the popular keto diet seeming to be taking the lead in first place. But you may be wondering if this type of dietary plan will actually work for weight loss, or if it’s just a passing fad? After all, in order to jump on board with a low-carb diet, you may have to greatly alter your dietary habits – even giving up some wholesome carbohydrates with proven health benefits.
This article will delve into the research on current low-carbohydrate diets and go into detail about the different types of dietary plans available. And it will help answer the question of which is better for weight loss and a long-term healthy lifestyle: low-carb or low-fat?
Table of Contents
There are different kinds of low-carb diets, but they all focus on the same thing: removing a large portion of carbohydrate sources. This isn’t just the bagels, packaged cookies or cakes you already know you shouldn’t be eating. Many low-carb diets require that you also drop or greatly limit typically “good-for-you” carbs like oatmeal, sweet potatoes and other starchy veggies, wheat bread and more.
The allotment of carbs on different types of low-carb diets vary, but on average it’s around 20 to 60 grams daily. Some greatly restrict carbs the whole time while others restrict them in the beginning and then allow them back in. (1)
One of the most restrictive low-carb diets, the goal of this plan is to greatly reduce carbs and increase fat in order to get your body into ketosis. In this state, your body burns ketones for fuel instead of normal glucose. Ketones are thought by many to be a superior source of fuel for brain and body, giving more energy and mental alertness. In addition, being in ketosis helps you burn fat and calories more efficiently. (2)
Main fatty foods to eat in abundance:
Oils such as olive, avocado, coconut and MCT; grass-fed butter and ghee; avocados; olives; bacon
50g or less of total carbs per day, or 20-30g or less of net carbs per day
This diet is a lot like keto except it’s not as restrictive and has a larger focus on whole, unprocessed foods.
Similar to keto, but with more carbs allowed and less processed options encouraged. Those on this diet would not eat the variety of processed low-carb foods such as keto bars, cookies, chips, packaged meals, etc. But they would be allowed to have some healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and oatmeal, in moderation.
20-100 grams total carbs per day
Those on a paleo diet only eat foods from the Paleolithic era (before many of the agricultural trends we utilize today). This includes meat, fish, seafood, eggs, veggies, tubers, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Though there is not an emphasis on a paleo diet to eat low-carb specifically, it naturally ends up being low-carb. This is because it cuts out sugar and all processed carbs and foods.
No set carb limit. As long as you eat balanced meals (with all three macronutrients including fat, protein and carbs), it ends up naturally being low-carb.
Though this low-carb dietary plan has been around since the ‘70s, it’s still popular today. On this diet, you start with a very restricted amount of carbs and then you gradually add them back in.
Many people eat the low-carb packaged Atkins meals, snacks and shakes along with regular whole foods (proteins, fats and low-carbs).
Under 20g of total carbs per day for the first 2 weeks. Then gradually add in more carbs in the next two phases until you get to the maintenance phase. In this stage, you can eat as many carbs as your body will tolerate without regaining the weight you lost.
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most popular dietary plans right now – with potentially the most health benefits. The diet includes the traditional foods of Mediterranean countries earlier in the 20th century – which are thought to be incredibly beneficial for both the body and mind. Above all, the diet is touted as being great for heart and brain health, and protecting from disease.
Typically, a Mediterranean diet is not low-carb, and people eat mostly plant-based foods (fruits and veggies), whole grains, legumes and nuts. In addition, it focuses on healthy oils, moderate dairy and fish, and red wine in moderation.
To make a Mediterranean diet low-carb, simply limit the higher-carb foods like whole grains. In addition, focus on more fatty fish instead of red meat, and olive oil instead of butter.
If you’re still curious whether or not a low-carb diet can help you lose weight, we checked in on the science… which seems to be in favor of cutting the carbs. Research continues to show that when you reduce the amount of carbs you consume, it increases the metabolism and fat-burning processes in your body, accelerating weight loss.
In a recent study in the journal BMJ, 164 people who were overweight or obese were put on high, medium or low-carb diets for 20 weeks. The results showed that those on the low-carb diet burned roughly 250 calories more per day than those on the high-carb diet – even though their weights were controlled and kept the same for the entire study. (3)
Another study aimed to show which worked better for weight loss, a low-carb or low-fat diet? The study included 132 people who were obese and had a high prevalence of diabetes or metabolic syndrome. They were each assigned to a low-carb diet or a low-fat/low-calorie diet for six months.
The final results showed that those on the low-carb diet lost more weight than those on the low-fat diet. The low-carb group also had a greater decrease in triglyceride levels and improvement in insulin sensitivity, showing an improvement in health and disease prevention.
When following a low-carb diet, you eat more fats and protein – two food groups which are highly satiating, and keep you full for longer. In addition, you don’t get the blood sugar spikes and drops that you do with many refined carb products. Finally, research shows that being on a low-carb diet plan may help regulate ghrelin and leptin, two appetite-regulating hormones. (4)
Research shows that sugar may be just as addictive as some of the most addictive drugs! And in general, processed foods of all types are simply bad for you. When you cut out the sugar and processed carbs, you stop the addictive cycle, which is bound to have major health benefits for the long-term.
When you reduce your carb intake, it results in lower blood sugar levels – and less glucose for your body to use as energy. Therefore, your body digs into your fat stores to use that for energy instead.
Though initially many people may balk at the idea of going low-carb, many typically start to like it after a few weeks, when their body adjusts.
However, when you first start to reduce the amount of carbs in your diet, you should do it slowly, to avoid unwanted side effects. If you drop the number of carbs you eat too quickly, you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms as a result.
Some of these side effects may include:
In addition, on any low-carb diet, one of your biggest concerns should be making sure you’re getting enough fiber and whole food nutrients. A good low-carb, sugar-free meal replacement shake can help you do that. Also, low-carb does not mean low veggie; In fact, vegetables can provide a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber on many low-carb diets, even the most restrictive.
Let us know in the comments below if there’s a low-carb diet you swear by or you’ve tried in the past… We’d love to hear from you!