A low-carb diet: The pros and cons

Low-carb diets such as the Keto Diet seems to be all the rage right now. To carb or not to carb? Many people ask me this question at my practice. There’s so much conflicting information about carbohydrates, so I want to clear the confusion with some science-backed evidence. In this blog, I will evaluate the pros and cons of following a low-carb diet, so you can make an informed decision.

What is a low-carb diet?

A low-carb is a diet that gets relatively high energy from fat and protein and low energy from carbohydrates. A low-carb diet provides only 50 to 130g of carbohydrates per day. In a Ketogenic diet, you will take a maximum of 50g of carbohydrates per day- this is extremely low. 

For comparison: the average adult woman eats about 225g of carbohydrates per day, and this is a normal amount.

The pros of a low-carb diet

  • You can still eat great tasting high-fat and healthy foods in moderation, such as butter, cream, mayonnaise, cheese, steaks etc.
  • Proteins can make you feel fuller for longer.
  • Low-carb diets may result in weight loss due to the way in which water is stored alongside carbohydrate stores.
  • Some studies show an improvement in insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control.
  • Some studies show an improvement in cholesterol levels but, only when saturated fat is also restricted.

 The cons of a low-carb diet

  • Carbs are found in many different kinds of foods. These foods include cereal, and even some fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Eliminating or limiting these food groups in order to reduce the total amount of carbohydrate may result in less intake of key vitamins and minerals.
  • A lack of carbohydrates can affect your concentration and mood.
  • Muscle loss can occur as the body looks to use protein for fuel.
  • Fewer carbs can lead to reduced exercise tolerance (from reduced glycogen stores in the muscles)
  • Low carbohydrate diets are usually low in fibre and antioxidants, which may increase your risk of certain cancers.
  • Low carbohydrate diets that advocate high protein can cause damage to your bones and kidneys. 

 

To carb or not to carb?

At the end of the day, it all boils down to controlling the number of calories that you consume, whether these come from carbohydrates, protein or fats. 

An ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to carbohydrates tends to be difficult to maintain long-term. Controlled portions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the best way to follow a balanced diet. 

For most people, this means moderately reducing carbohydrates. As a rule of thumb, a portion of carb-rich foods is about the size of your fist. Include healthier carb options, such as wholegrain cereals and bread, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables, and unsweetened low-fat dairy products. These foods will make you feel full without adding unwanted calories. The end result will be healthy and long-term weight loss. 

Also, choose foods that have a lower energy density. These are unprocessed foods that contain lots of vitamins and minerals and are low in calories, fats and sugars.

Pro Tip: Always consult a Doctor or Dietician before starting a new diet

Deciding whether to go on a low-carb diet is a difficult decision that requires a lot of thought. My advice is to seek the help of a registered Dietitian or Doctor to help you make an informed decision about whether a low-carb diet is a right choice for your specific nutrition and health needs. If you need help choosing the correct diet for your needs, contact me, so we can set up a nutrition plan that works for you. 

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