Low-carb diet

A Beginner’s Guide to Low-Carb Diet

Low carbohydrate or low-carb diet is a diet that drastically reduces carbohydrate intake and replaces it with fat. There are many different types of low-carb diets, and studies show that they can lead to weight loss and improve health.

Low-carb diets are not a new phenomenon. They have been around for quite some time but appear to have had a revival in recent years. In fact, they are currently generating a lot of public interest and media attention. Reasons for this popularity are an excess of low-carb diet books, the promotion of these diets by celebrities, and the acceptance of these diets by fitness enthusiasts.

Additionally, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes means that physicians and diabetes specialists are increasingly recommending low-carbohydrate diets. A growing number of trials are showing the benefits of these diets in helping people lose weight. More and more people are adopting these diets because they see them as healthier.

History of Low-Carb Diets

Low-carb diets have been around for centuries. A Victorian-era undertaker William Banting who suffered from obesity and other health issues associated with obesity adopted a low-carb diet on his physician Dr. William Harvey’s advice. Dr. Harvey advised Banting to eliminate butter, milk, bread, sugar, beer, and potatoes from his diet. Banting was able to shed a lot of weight by following this diet. In 1863, Banting recorded this low-carb diet in a booklet. The diet came to be recognized as Harvey Banting Diet or just the Banting Diet. 

In 1923, Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic created a low-carb diet to treat epilepsy. It is considered the original Ketogenic Diet.

In 1958, Dr. Richard Mackarness, in his book “Eat Fat and Grow Slim” proposed that carbohydrates were the culprit in weight gain and praised healthy low-carb, high-fat primitive diets. 

In 1972, Dr. Robert Atkins published his book “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” which encouraged foods high in fat and moderate in protein.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Atkins published his second book “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution”. To date, the Atkins’ Diet remains popular all around the world. 

Since then, there have been many incarnations of the low-carb diet, including the Eco-Atkins, Keto, Paleo, and the Zone diet, but they all have a similar principle – cutting down on carb-rich food and piling up on fat and protein. 

What Are Low-Carb Diets?

A low-carb diet is a diet that limits carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary and starchy foods, processed foods, pasta, and bread. It is high in protein, fat and healthy vegetables. When you cut down carbs, blood sugar and insulin levels generally decrease.

Low-carb diets typically limit the consumption of carbs to less than 100g of carbs a day that means you get less than 25 percent of your total calories from carbs. You need to get the rest of your daily calorie intake from fats and proteins. 

 This might seem very simple, but for most people it would be a drastic change from their regular diet. We usually get 45 to 65 percent of our calories from carbs. So, adapting to this diet is not as easy as it sounds. It takes proper planning, dedication, and commitment to derive maximum benefits from this diet. 

Studies show that a low-carb diet might help you lose weight by keeping your blood sugar in check and keep your insulin level low. These diets also improve other health markers, such as good cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides.

Why Cut Down on Carbs?

The basic principle of all low-carb diets is cutting down on carbs. But carbs are essential for our body. Glucose or blood sugar, a monosaccharide carb, is the body’s primary fuel source. It is converted into energy when our body needs it. If glucose is not converted into energy, it is converted into glycogen to be stored. Glycogen is converted into fat if there is more sugar available than is needed. This is how you gain weight. 

Cutting down on carbs helps in burning off the body’s fat stores. 

However, it is not healthy to cut all carbs from your diet. Cutting carbs can be beneficial only if the right carbs are cut and at healthy levels. Dieters should eliminate processed, fried, and sugary foods and include legumes, beans, and whole grains in the diet. 

How Do Low-Carb Diets Work?

When you cut down carbs from your diet, you cut back on a lot of calories. If you consume more calories than your body uses, you cannot lose weight. Cutting out just sugary beverages, potato chips, and candies can reduce your overall calorie consumption drastically.

But what do carbohydrates do exactly? When you consume carbs, your body breaks them down into simple sugars, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. As the sugar level increases in your body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin moves sugar from the blood into the cells, where it is used as a source of energy.

When you eat sugary foods/beverages (e.g., candies, colas, glazed donuts, chips), this process is fast, and you’re more likely to crave food again soon. When you eat whole grains and other healthy carbs, the process occurs more slowly, and you feel satisfied longer.

The carbs in sugary foods cause the blood sugar level to rise more quickly than others. Your pancreas responds by producing insulin to quickly get rid of this excess sugar. The quick release of insulin causes your blood sugar to drop suddenly. The sudden drop in blood sugar can lead to weakness, fatigue, and hunger pangs. This cycle where our blood sugar constantly rises and falls can lead to overeating and eventual weight gain.

When you eat healthy carbs, your body uses the glucose produced by carbs for energy. But when your blood glucose levels constantly rise and fall, your pancreas overproduces insulin leading to a condition called insulin resistance – often a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

If you limit sugary food and eat healthy carbs like whole grains, veggies, and oatmeal, your blood sugar levels stabilize, and the insulin levels drop. This helps to burn off fat and may make you feel more satiated, thereby naturally reducing food consumption and promoting weight loss.

There are many different ways in which you can restrict your carbs. Some diets recommend extreme restriction of all carbs, while others limit carbs to only a small extent. Each diet definition of what’s considered “low” is different.

Types of Low-Carb Diets

Atkins Diet

The diet advocated by Dr. Robert Atkins is one of the most widely used low-carb diets. In this diet, unlimited consumption of fat is allowed. Typically, the diet involves four steps: a two-week ‘induction’ period, during which the goal is to eat under 20g of carbs per day.

In the second step, a dieter needs to add more nuts, low-carb veggies, and fruit. In the third step, a dieter adds more carbs until weight loss becomes slower. Finally, a dieter is encouraged to eat as many healthy carbs as their body tolerates while maintaining weight loss.

Eco-Atkins Diet

The Eco-Atkins diet is a vegetarian version of the popular Atkins diet. This diet encourages the consumption of plant foods that are high in protein, such as nuts, soy, beans, seeds, and healthy fats. In this diet, 30% of the calories come from proteins, 45% from fats, and 25% from carbs.

According to a study, the Eco-Atkins diet is better for weight loss and reducing heart disease risk factors than a high-carb vegetarian diet.

Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet

It is based on the traditional foods commonly consumed in the Mediterranean countries. People living in the Mediterranean region historically have low levels of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

This diet focuses on eating fruits, veggies, legumes, olive oil, fatty fish, and modest amounts of meat and cheese. Studies show that the diet can reduce cardiovascular risk and may help prevent cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. In this diet, a dieter gets 70% of calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 10% from carbs.

The goal of the keto diet is to take a dieter’s body to a metabolic state called ketosis. When dietary carbohydrates are in limited supply, the body will utilize its reserves of fat stores for energy production.

Most of these fat stores are exhausted within 24 to 48 h of carbohydrate restriction. A lot of these fatty acids are transferred to the liver, which turns them into ketones. This means that the body burns fats and produces ketones. Ketones, the water-soluble molecules, supply energy to the body. This physiological state is known as ketosis. 

Traditionally used to treat some form of drug-resistant epilepsy in children, the keto diet may also benefit other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is modeled on the prehistoric human diet – it encourages consuming foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed. The diet involves eating lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds – foods that our ancestors hunted for and gathered in the past. 

While not exactly a low-carb diet, the Paleo diet tends to be low in carbs because it eliminates processed foods, corn, potatoes, rice, and sugar.

Some small studies indicate that the paleo diet may be linked to weight loss, improved blood lipid levels, and lower blood pressure.


Whole30 is a month-long clean-eating diet plan. It involves eliminating sugar, dairy, legumes, grains, and alcohol from your diet for 30 days. 

The diet advocates that these food groups may negatively affect your health, and therefore eliminating these foods from your diet helps your body recover from the harmful effects and promote long-term health.

Strict adherence to this diet plan may aid in fat loss, reduced food cravings, and improved athletic performance.

What Can You Eat on A Low-Carb Diet?

What to eat and what not to eat will vary with the type of low-carb diet you choose to follow. Additionally, how healthy you are, how much you exercise, and how much weight you have to lose will determine your food choice.

Foods you can eat include –

  • Meat – chicken, turkey, red meat, and sirloin – preferably grass-fed
  • Fish – Salmon, trout, haddock
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, onions, zucchini, spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, asparagus and artichoke
  • Fruits – blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cantaloupe
  • Nuts & seeds – pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds
  • High-fat dairy – yogurt, full-fat cheese, butter, heavy cream, and cottage cheese
  • Healthy oils – olive oil, coconut oil, and rapeseed oil
  • Zero-carb drinks – coffee, herbal tea, water, sparkling water

Foods to avoid -

  • Sugar – soft drinks, sodas, packaged fruit juices, candy, and ice cream
  • Gluten Grains – wheat, barley, and rye. Also breads and pastas made from these grains
  • Trans Fats – hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
  • Vegetable Oils – cottonseed, sunflower, grapeseed, soybean, corn, and canola oils
  • Artificial Sweeteners – saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, and cyclamates
  • Products Advertised as low-fat – cereals, crackers, and some dairy products
  • Highly Processed Foods – avoid anything that is not natural and is made in a factory


Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet

Research on the long-term benefits of a low-carb diet is still ongoing, meaning there’s still a lot to learn about their impact on health.

However, studies conducted over the years have shown some health benefits of low-carb diets. Several studies have shown that a low-carb diet aids in weight loss.

Low-carb diets have a positive impact on triglycerides – levels of triglycerides decrease when on a low-carb diet. A low-carb diet may also benefit your heart health. Going low-carb could help improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

For a long time, keto diets have been used in the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy. Keto diets have shown potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Drawbacks of Eating A Low-Carb Diet

Though the low-carb diet offers several health benefits for many, it does have its flaws. You should be aware of potential health risks before starting a low-carb diet.

Your body needs carbohydrates – they are the best source of energy for your brain and body. Switching to a very low-carb diet may cause ‘keto flu,’ which involves headaches, fatigue, brain fog, nausea, cramping, palpitations, and rashes. However, these side effects are temporary.

Long-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal problems. A potential lack of fiber in the low-carb diet could lead to gastrointestinal issues. Moreover, nutritional deficiencies may occur if the ratio of macronutrients is not proper.

So, dieters should focus on consuming an adequate intake of fiber from non-starch-containing foods, a fair amount of calcium (from low-fat dairy products), and supplements to counter vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may potentially exist. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is also essential.

It is advisable to talk to a registered dietitian or a doctor before starting on a low-carb diet. They can help you to draw a plan that works for you.


No diet will work if you do not do any kind of physical activity. You should avoid a sedentary lifestyle but desist from excessive exercising.

If you’re on a low-carb diet, you should avoid intense and grueling physical activity. A moderate exercise for 300 minutes a week is shown to offer optimal health benefits.


Low-carb diets have caught the fancy of people in the last few years. People are looking at various low-carb diets like Atkins, Eco-Atkins, Paleo, and Ketogenic for improving overall health and fitness.

A low-carb diet can offer several health benefits, with weight loss being the prominent one. With appropriate planning and choosing suitable (healthy) alternatives, most people can follow a low-carb diet.

You should pick the low-carb plan that suits your lifestyle, food preferences, and personal health goals.

What works for you may not work for others, and so on. So, the best diet for you is the one you can adhere to. You must eat healthfully and refrain from an unlimited amount of fat and meat.

It is best to speak to your doctor or dietitian before making any significant changes. If you’re dealing with any health issues, it is best to take your doctor’s advice before starting a low-carb diet. Be sure to incorporate exercise in any low-carb diet you take up.

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