Low-carb diets like Atkins, Paleo and Ketogenic are again becoming popular. All of them offer health benefits, while some are also great for weight loss. Let’s have a look at the many health benefits of low-carb eating.
Low-carb diets are an effective tool for long-term weight loss. Eating food high in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbohydrates is sating and causes fewer cravings.
The following points illustrate the many ways weight loss is achieved on low-carb diets:
No portion control
No need for calorie counting, portion control, extensive exercise or feeling hungry. All you need to be aware of is the amount of carbohydrates in your food. Everything else will just follow naturally. Low-carb diets have shown to induce satiety like no other approach.
Natural appetite control
Low-carb diets are sating and you won’t starve like you would with calorie-restricted diets. Studies have shown that protein and fat are the most sating nutrients, while carbohydrates the least sating. The more nutritious food you eat, the less hungry you’ll feel and the more body fat you’ll lose!
The initial phase of low-carb eating may be difficult to stick to as you may experience symptoms known as “low-carb flu” or “keto-flu”. However, once you go through that phase and get keto-adapted, you will feel great and full of energy.
Eating natural, unprocessed food
Eggs, nuts, grass-fed beef, butter, vegetables and raw dairy – all these are staple foods of healthy low-carb eating.
More calories are burnt
People on low-carb diets generally burn the most calories. Studies suggest that although the metabolic advantage of low-carb diets is not significant, it may help you lose weight.
Fat loss rather than muscle loss
Unlike calorie-restricted diets, low-carb diets have been shown to help preserve muscle tissue. As long as you eat adequate amount of protein, carbohydrate restriction will help you lose fat while preserving or even building muscles.
Low-carb diets are easier to stick to
Based on a comparison of 19 modern scientific trials, low-carb diets are easier to stick to in the long term in comparison with low-fat, calorie-restricted diets.
Combats Metabolic Syndrome
Overconsumption of carbs, especially sugar, causes what is known as metabolic syndrome: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lipid problems, inflammation and hypertension. A systematic review of all major clinical trials of low carb diets showed significant weight loss and improvement of all major risk factors for heart disease. Let’s have a closer look at these symptoms:
Improved insulin resistance, lowered insulin levels and blood sugar
A study from 2004 has examined the effect of low-carb diets on blood sugar. Based on the results, blood sugar has decreased in individuals with diabetes and pre-diabetics. Another study from 2005 shows that low-carb diets decrease insulin and improve insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes.
Lipid problems and cardiovascular disease
Low-carb diets have been shown to improve cholesterol levels. Our body produces cholesterol in response to the type of fats we eat. Generally, if we eat saturated fats, our body produces LDL cholesterol, while it produces HDL cholesterol in response to the consumption of unsaturated fats. Studies have shown that carbohydrate restriction increases HDL cholesterol, which is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease. A 2009 systematic review of randomised controlled studies that compared low-carbohydrate diets to low-fat / low-calorie diets found that measurements of weight, HDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels and systolic blood pressure were significantly better in groups that followed low-carbohydrate diets.
Another study performed by Dr. Volek and his team found that low-carb diet lead to significantly decreased level of triglycerides, which are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Finally, low-carb diets are often scrutinised for encouraging people to eat saturated fat. Let’s make this clear: The true reason for heart disease is inflammation, not saturated fat. There is no evidence that saturated fat raises cholesterol or causes heart disease.
According to Dr. Briffa, the author of best-selling book “Escape the Diet Trap”, carbohydrates that disrupt blood sugar levels provoke inflammation and raise triglycerides. Eating low-carb, real food decreases inflammation in the body. Keep in mind that not everything labeled “low-carb” is anti-inflammatory. Food quality is crucial: artificial sweeteners, refined vegetable oils, char grilling or too much omega 6 all increase the level of inflammation.
Normalising blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is known to be a key factor in heart disease and stroke. A study from 2010 shows that low-carb diets are an effective tool for lowering blood pressure.
Helps autoimmune diseases
Low-carb diets, especially the Paleo diet, are recommended for autoimmune conditions such as Celiac disease or Hashimoto's hypothyroidism. While low-carb diets are generally beneficial, studies show that extreme carb restriction (below 20 grams of net carbs) may not be suitable for people with Hashimoto’s. Dr. Broda Barnes, who spent over 50 years on thyroid research, suggested in his book “Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness” that the minimum amount of carbohydrate intake for patients with hypothyroidism should at least 30 grams of net carbs.
Improves dental health
Sugar significantly alters the pH in your mouth - with less sugar intake, there is less risk of gum diseases and decay. Today, most of the evidence is based on the observations of Weston Price, an American dentist, who spent his life studying the diets of various cultures.
Ketosis used for treating diseases
It is generally accepted, that any diet below 130-150 grams of carbohydrates is regarded as "low-carb". Ketogenic diets are a subset of low-carb diets that induce a metabolic state known as ketosis by restricting carbs to 20-50 grams a day.
Based on studies, ketosis is a beneficial condition for treating cancer. The idea is that when you restrict carbohydrate intake below 20-50 grams, your body runs out of glycogen stores and starts producing ketone bodies. Normal cells can use ketones for energy, but cancer cells cannot and they literally starve to death. Keep in mind that it's still early days to understand how the ketogenic diet may help in treating various types of cancer and more studies need to be done.
Additionally, ketogenic diets have been used for treating: neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, depression, migraines, epilepsy. Also they have shown beneficial effects in chronic fatigue syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (POS) and more.
Low-carb diets have many proven health benefits. However, keep in mind that “low-carb” does not necessarily mean healthy. Food quality and cooking methods are as important as the amount of carbs you eat. It is recommended you first consult your diet plan with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant, nursing or having any health issues such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, etc., as there may need to be an adjustment to the medication you are taking.
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I've originally written this post for CeliacCorner.com: Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet
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