After being dismissed for years as a fad diet, a low-carb diet may be better for weight loss and health than originally thought. This diet is not only better at helping people lose weight, but also at improving heart health and retaining muscle mass. If you're considering a low-carb diet to help you get healthy, first talk to your doctor to make sure it's right for you.
Weight Loss on a Low-Carb Diet
When it comes to weight loss, low-carb diets may be more effective at helping you drop pounds than low-fat diets, according to a 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This two-year-long study compared a low-carb diet to a low-fat diet on weight loss in a group of obese people and found that the people following the low-carb diet lost almost twice the amount of weight as those following a low-fat diet. Additionally, the low-carb diet group had an easier time keeping it off, according to the follow-up report on the group published in 2012 in NJEM.
Low-carb diets benefit those trying to lose weight in two ways. First, restricting carb intake forces your body to burn fat instead of carbs for energy. Additionally, this fat-burning state -- referred to as ketosis -- reduces your appetite, making it easy for you to consume fewer calories for weight loss.
Good for Your Heart
When you're allowed to eat foods such as bacon and steak, it's hard to believe that a low-carb diet is good for your heart. But like weight loss, it seems as though restricting your carbs and eating more protein and veggies also helps lower triglyceride levels and increase levels of HDL -- the good cholesterol -- according to the 2008 NJEM study. A 2007 study published in JAMA found similar results when comparing the effects of a low-carb diet against other popular diet plans on heart health in a group of overweight and obese premenopausal women.
A low-carb diet also helps reduce cardiovascular disease markers for inflammation, according to a 2015 clinical study published in Nutrients. Participants in this study were assigned a low-fat or low-carb diet and followed it for a year. The group following the low-carb diet not only lost more weight than the low-fat group, but also showed a decrease in inflammation and an improvement in metabolic factors related to obesity and heart disease.
Preserving Muscle While Losing Fat
When you go on a weight-loss diet, you lose not only fat, but muscle. Muscle contributes to your metabolism, and the less muscle you have, the fewer calories your body burns. A low-carb diet may help you lose less muscle and more fat as you shed weight, according to a 2005 clinical study published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. In this four-month study, the more than 100 participants lost 15 percent of their fat mass and only 5 percent of their lean body mass.
Low-carb diets may offer a number of health benefits, but there are some concerns. Eliminating grains and fruit from your diet may put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your doctor about whether you'll need a multivitamin to ensure you're getting everything you need. Also, if you're taking medication for blood sugar or blood pressure, you'll need to check in with your doctor to see if dosages need to be changed to prevent adverse effects. Many people also complain of constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle cramps or headaches when they reduce their intake of carbs. If you're not feeling quite yourself, contact your doctor immediately for guidance.
- New England Journal of Medicine: Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean or Low-Fat Diet
- New England Journal of Medicine: Four-Year Follow-Up after Two-Year Dietary Interventions
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism
- JAMA: Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women The A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial
- Nutrients: The Effects of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet vs. a Low-Fat Diet on Novel Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Frontiers in Endocrinology: Adipose Tissue Dysfunction and Impaired Metabolic Health in Human Obesity: A Matter of Oxygen?
- Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism: Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate (Low-Glycaemic Index) Diet Induces Weight Loss and Preserves Lean Body Mass in Obese Healthy Subjects: Results of a 24-Week Study
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism