Low Carb Diet: What it is, Benefits, Who is it recommended for?

Low Carb Diet: What it is, Benefits, Who is it recommended for?

Today we will answer many questions about the Low Carb Diet (LC from now on): what is it really; who benefits from it; what are the advantages?

Carbohydrate-restricted dietary approaches remain the order of the day. In recent years we have learned a lot from them, and they have gone from being just another “miracle diet” or a passing fad, to a suitable and advantageous dietary option for many people.

Definitions of low, moderate and high carbohydrate ketogenic diet

The first thing we need to do when talking about low-carb diets is to know what we are talking about.

These diets move on a spectrum from ketogenic diets, which would be the most restricted in carbohydrates, to moderate carbohydrate diets, which are the antechamber to the high CHO diets that most consume.

Ketogenic diet

Or very low in CHO is one in which CHOs provide less than 5% of the total kcal (less than 100 kcal in a 2000 kcal diet, for example) or the total net CHO content does not exceed 30-50 grams/day.

Some large or sporty people can remain in ketosis even with higher CHO intakes. Click here to go deeper into this concept.

Low-carb diet

It is the one in which they contribute between 5 and 25% of the total kcal of the diet.

As you can see, you can eat Low Carb and still have an acceptable CHO intake.

For example, on a 2000 kcal diet we could eat 400-500 through CHO and still adhere to the standards of an LC.

Low carb foods

This is the diet that we will discuss in today’s post.

Diet moderate in CHO

It is usually a transition diet between ketogenic approaches and a mixed-balanced diet.

CHOs should provide between 25 and 45% of the total energy in the diet.

A good option for those who have achieved their ideal weight and want to maintain it in the long term without being so restrictive of carbohydrates.

High CHO diet

Any diet in which the energy from the CHOs exceeds 45% of the total energy.

It is basically the most popular diet in the West, and is still recommended by the main dietary guidelines.

What are the advantages of a Low Carb Diet approach?

Here, we have to be honest

The benefits of LC are not the same for everyone and not everyone will benefit in the same way from an LC diet.

Weight

 Just after that we will see who will benefit most from this dietary pattern.

Now let’s see what potential advantages we can attribute to a low-carb diet.

No need to count calories

This type of diet is in most cases prescribed ad libitum.

This means that the patient does not have to be counting calories and portions continuously, an action that causes a lot of anxiety and is the result of abandoning diets. In an LC approach you eat until you feel full.

This only makes it worthwhile for many people to switch to the Low Carb side.

Beware, there will be a minority of people who will not lose weight following this pattern, at least until their hunger-satiety mechanisms are regulated.

Don’t take it as an “open bar” or “I can eat till I die”; better as a “eat till you’re full and then stop”.

High satiety index

Another point for LC is its satiety index, which will allow you to stay full most of the day without constantly remembering to eat.

Increased ketonemia, increased protein and fat consumption are all factors that contribute to this effect.

In this study (1) 17 males were assigned to either a ketogenic diet with 4% CHO, or a moderate CHO diet (34%). Those on the ketogenic diet were less hungry and had lower ghrelin levels than the other group.

Maintenance of lean mass

In an LC diet it seems that on the one hand the protein content and on the other hand the greater number of ketone bodies together with the decrease in inflammation, means that muscle is preserved quite well.

As we have analysed in another post,maintaining lean mass (bone-muscle) is one of the factors that most conditions the success or failure of a dietary intervention.

Less cravings

The number of cravings, that irrepressible feeling of having to eat, which appears suddenly, with an appetite for unhealthy food, is greatly reduced.

Less anxiety about food

Patients who start with an LC have less anxiety about food.

Improvement of digestive symptoms

Many patients report that their irritable bowel syndrome, gastric pyrosis or inflammatory bowel disease improve with this type of diet.

Better blood glucose control

One of the greatest strengths of a carbohydrate-restricted diet is glycemic control.

In both pre-diabetic and type 2 diabetic patients, blood glucose control will be much better.

Think about what we do when there is an intolerance to lactose: we withdraw or reduce the intake of lactose because the body does not tolerate it.

In DMT2 and pre-diabetes (although it is a simplification) there is an intolerance to carbohydrates, because the body does not metabolise them properly.

It is logical then that by decreasing its consumption this condition improves, right?

Cardiovascular benefits

It has also been shown to improve the lipid profile, changing the size of LDL particles from small and dense (more atherogenic) to large and globular (less atherogenic), while reducing triglycerides and increasing HDL.

Possible metabolic benefits

They are more debated, but the scientific community is currently examining in multiple studies the possibility that an LC approach has metabolic benefits beyond those achieved by subsequent weight loss (and this is very important).

For example, it seems that LC diets could increase total daily energy expenditure. In this 20-week study (2) in which 164 participants were assigned to a protein-adjusted diet with 20% or 60% CHO, those in the low carb group spent an average of 200-250 extra calories per day, which in the long term would have a significant effect.

Weight loss

This, which can be negligible, if repeated over days, weeks and months, can achieve significant weight loss.

Who will benefit most?

Those with a lot of anxiety about food

Those whose main problem is binge eating (much more frequent than we think) will benefit from a low hydrate approach.

As mentioned above, being more satiated, avoiding hyper palatable products and the anorexic effect of ketone bodies will contribute to this.

I am overweight or obese

Low CHO or ketogenic diets are a great option for rapid weight loss and maintenance of the loss.

However, we cannot say that they are much superior to other approaches when controlling the amount of energy in studies.

The problem is that in real life the amount of energy is usually not controlled and an approach that makes it easier for the person to take in less energy (as mentioned above) will win out in many situations.

I have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes

As mentioned above, improved glycemic control is one of the strengths of an LC diet.

In situations where there is an intolerance to CHOs (pre-diabetes, DMT2, obesity), restricting them will result in early improvement and increased insulin sensitivity.

I have polycystic ovary syndrome + I am Overweight/Obese

PCOS is invariably associated with a situation of insulin resistance.

If you also have excess body fat, you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.

We tell you more about PCOS and how to treat it in this article.

I have digestive problems + I am Overweight/Obese

Unspecific digestive problems are a great source of suffering and unrest for many people.

Always being bloated or having to go to the toilet every time you eat greatly diminishes the quality of life.

Beyond the low FODMAP diet there are few dietary alternatives for people suffering from these non-specific disorders which often fall under the heading of “irritable bowel syndrome”.

Digestive problems

The fact that many improve their digestive symptoms with a low carb diet may in itself be a strong reason to try it.

I have metabolic syndrome

The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of cardiometabolic risk factors (altered basal blood glucose or diabetes, elevated waist circumference, decreased HDL and elevated BP) that confer increased risk of cardiovascular disease among other things.

A ketogenic or low carb diet improves all the items of this syndrome, which on the other hand is reversible (you may have had metabolic syndrome and not have it now)

I hope this post has cleared up some doubts about low carb diet.

See you in the next one. A big hug and keep on empowering!

Bibliographic Source

  1. Johnstone AM, Horgan GW, Murison SD, Bremner DM, Lobley GE. Effects of a high-protein ketogenic diet on hunger, appetite, and weight loss in obese men feeding ad libitum. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008.
  2. Ebbeling CB, Feldman HA, Klein GL, Wong JMW, Bielak L, Steltz SK, et al. Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial. BMJ. 2018.

Related Entries

  • We tell you all about FODMAP diets in this link.
  • What you need to know about the Ketogenic Diet here.
  • The Metabolic Syndrome is a group of illnesses… keep reading.
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About Borja Bandera
Borja Bandera
Borja Bandera is a young doctor who focuses on nutrition, exercise and metabolism, he combines his professional activity with his vocational dissemination and research.
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