Many people swear by low-carb diets, vouching for their ability to improve health and weight. However, the effects of eating too few carbohydrates can be dangerous to your body. Before embarking on a diet that drastically cuts down on carbohydrates, speak with your doctor and learn the symptoms of a carbohydrate deficiency.
Low Blood Glucose
Carbohydrates in your diet supply your blood glucose. Blood glucose is a necessary part of normal human physiology, because it is the means by which your cells gain energy to function, develop and grow. It is the fuel for your gas tank. With an inadequate amount of carbohydrates your cells are left hungry.
A condition known as hypoglycemia can occur if you don't have enough blood glucose. This is characterized by a glucose less than 70 mg/dL, but you wouldn't be able to tell your blood glucose unless you tested it. Otherwise you can look for the symptoms of hypoglycemia. These symptoms include confusion and weird behavior, double vision, blurry vision, heart arrhythmias, nervousness, sweating, hunger and tremors.
Prolonged carbohydrate deficiency can result in a condition known as ketoacidosis. This happens when your body turns to fat stores for energy. Fat, though, takes energy to break down and liberate from its stores. In addition, only some cells can run on the energy produced by fat; certain organs, like your brain, need to have glucose. Your body produces ketones to run your vital processes and reserves the glucose it has for your brain and other cells that only use glucose. Ketones are produced as the energy from fat, but they can raise your blood pH. Ketoacidosis is the condition in which your blood is becoming too acidic, which can be very dangerous, even resulting in death. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include fatigue, dry skin, flushed skin, stomach pain, vommiting, nausea, shortness of breath, fruity-smelling breath, confusion, anxiety and passing out.
The best way to follow a healthy diet is not to eliminate carbohydrates, but to choose the healthier ones. The USDA recommends that adults eat 6 cups of carbohydrates each day. At least half of these should be whole-grain carbohydrates. Whole-grain carbohydrates contain more fiber and generally less refined sugar. Other healthy sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables and legumes.
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Diabetes Overview
- "Exercise Physiology"; George A. Brooks, Thomas D. Fahey, Kenneth M. Baldwin; 2005
- American Diabetes Association: Ketoacidosis
- United States Department of Agriculture"; Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2010"; February 2010