The concept of a low-carb diet is a tricky one. The idea is to cut back on carbs, but when they’re a major macronutrient, how does it work? Carbohydrates are also the body’s main source of energy, so it’s important to learn the “why” and “how” behind low-carb diets. With this knowledge, you’ll be more likely to follow through and do it right. Plus, when done correctly, low-carb diets can bring on awesome health benefits. It might be just what you need to adopt more nutritious habits.
First and foremost, know that low-carb diets work only because of what’s popular these days. Our current food industry revolves around refined carbs like potato chips, pastries, and white pasta. And while “good” carbs exist, these “bad” carbs are the highlight of the typical Western diet. That’s where a low-carb diet comes in. By cutting back, you can navigate a culture of refined carbs while enjoying these following benefits.
1. Reduces Sugar
Refined carbohydrates are basically piles of sugar. And while sugar itself isn’t toxic, it’s extremely high in calories. There’s a reason why high sugar intake is linked to weight gain, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. The average American already eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day, or 350 calories. Clearly, we could use some moderation. This is more likely to happen with a low-carb diet. It automatically reduces dangerous foods like pastries, sugary cereal, and commercial granola bars.1
2. Decreases Calories
As you cut back on carbs, you’ll automatically avoid extra calories. Remember, the typical American already eats 350 calories daily in the form of sugar. Instead of a dinner roll, you’ll reach for a side salad. Fries can be replaced with carrots, while potato chips can be swapped for kale chips. With every trade, you’ll eat more micronutrients and fewer calories, a must for successful weight loss.2
3. Increases Protein Intake
Going low carb leaves more room for protein, a nutrient that increases satiety and fullness. It’s essentially natural appetite control! Moreover, protein has a high thermic effect, meaning that it takes more calories to digest and breakdown. This increases energy expenditure, which is great news for people trying to lose weight. However, don’t fall into the trap that all protein is good. Just like carbs, there are “good” and “bad” options, so choose lean sources like skinless chicken and beans. Pair it with whole grains so that the few carbs you eat keeps you full.3
4. Increases Fat Intake
Wait, is eating more fat really a benefit? Considering it slows down gastric emptying when fewer carbs are eaten, it sure is. Fat needs more time to pass through the gut, so you’ll stay full for a longer time. Again, this benefit only holds true with “good” fat choices. Go for unsaturated fats such as avocado, salmon, seeds, and olive oil, and avoid saturated and trans fat in processed and junk food. With a healthy intake of fat, you’ll support cell membranes and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.4 5
5. Breaks Down Fat
Most low-carb dieters have their eye on this benefit. It’s all because of glycogen, the storage form of glucose. The body either burns it off during exercise or converts it into adipose tissue, or in other words, a bigger waistline. Carbs are the body’s first source of energy. When you eat less, glycogen is depleted after 1 to 2 days and fat is broken down for fuel.6
It sounds great, but know that there are two sides of the coin. When fat is broken down for energy, it turns into ketone bodies that the brain and body can use for fuel. Unfortunately, it’s not as efficient as glucose, so you can expect to feel hungry later on.7
Do it right by eating whole grains. The small servings that you do eat should be spaced out throughout the day, so the body has a continuous source. It’s the best way to promote fat breakdown without getting moody!
|↑1||Added Sugars in the Diet. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑2||Astrup, Arne, and S. Bugel. “Micronutrient deficiency in the aetiology of obesity.” International Journal of Obesity 34, no. 6 (2010): 947-949.|
|↑3||Crovetti, R., M. Porrini, A. Santangelo, and G. Testolin. “The influence of thermic effect of food on satiety.” European journal of clinical nutrition 52, no. 7 (1998): 482-488.|
|↑4||Little, Tanya J., Michael Horowitz, and Christine Feinle-Bisset. “Modulation by high-fat diets of gastrointestinal function and hormones associated with the regulation of energy intake: implications for the pathophysiology of obesity.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 86, no. 3 (2007): 531-541.|
|↑5||Total Fat. Food & Drug Administration.|
|↑6||Izumida, Yoshihiko, Naoya Yahagi, Yoshinori Takeuchi, Makiko Nishi, Akito Shikama, Ayako Takarada, Yukari Masuda et al. “Glycogen shortage during fasting triggers liver–brain–adipose neurocircuitry to facilitate fat utilization.” Nature communications 4 (2013).|
|↑7||D’Anci, Kristen E., Kara L. Watts, Robin B. Kanarek, and Holly A. Taylor. “Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets. Effects on cognition and mood.” Appetite 52, no. 1 (2009): 96-103.|