Do low carb diets really work

Low carbohydrate diets, from keto and Atkins to Primal and Paleo, are enjoying a moment in the spotlight. But do low carb diets really work?

Plenty of people find that they lose weight and body fat on a low carbohydrate diet. But why does this happen, is it sustainable, and what do we mean by low-carb anyway?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients, the other two being protein and dietary fat. Carbohydrates aren't just foods like pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. A lot of foods have a carbohydrate content, such as vegetables, fruits, seasonings, chocolate, all types of sugar (even natural ones), nuts and seeds. If you are interested in lowering or controlling the amount of carbs you eat, get used to reading food labels and using some sort of recording tool (like an app) to record total carbohydrates in everything you eat. Not just slices of bread and bowls of cereal!

Why does lowering your carbohydrate intake often lead to weight loss? As the name suggests, carbohydrates bind with water (hydrates), so for every gram of the macronutrient carbohydrate we eat, we also take on around 4g water. Carbohydrates also keep our glycogen stores (in muscle tissue and in our livers) topped up. Reduce carbs, and not only will your glycogen stores become depleted, but you will literally lose water weight. This is why people can often drop significant amounts of weight, and look smaller, from just a few days of dropping their carbohydrate intake.

But is it body fat, or water weight? To lose body fat using a lower carbohydrate approach takes a slower and more long term nutritional overhaul (like any sustainable diet). Here's why low carb could lead to better body composition and less body fat in the long term.

Protein makes you feel fuller

When you cut carbs, you will naturally increase protein and dietary fat in your diet. Both of these make you feel nice and full, giving a sense of satisfaction which lasts longer than simple carbohydrates.

Protein has a higher rate of thermogenesis

Protein is highly thermogenic, meaning your body actually has to work harder to process and digest it than it does with carbs. Although both macronutrients have the same calorie count (4 kcalories per gram for both carbs and protein), protein takes more effort for your body to digest, process and use.

 

Carbs can lead to cravings

Have you ever eaten a lot of carbs - whether it's "bad" carbs like biscuits, or "good" carbs like rice or oatmeal - and immediately wanted more? Some people are very sensitive to carbohydrates, and find that even the healthiest and most natural carbs lead to cravings not unlike classic sugar cravings.

It's easy to overeat on carbs

It's also pretty easy to overeat on carbs. They just don't seem to fill us up very well. It's far easier to eat 1000 extra calories of bread, cereal, potatoes, pasta or rice cakes than it is to eat 1000 extra calories of protein such as meat, fish, eggs, yoghurt or cottage cheese.

All carbs are not created equal

Remember when we said to be aware that carbs are in a lot of foods, not just the obvious ones? It's not wise nor necessary to cut out all carbs, unless you really are going on a strategic ketogenic diet. If you want to minimise your carb intake, start by cutting out the highly-processed, manmade stuff (bread, pastries, cakes and cookies, crackers, cereals). But don't cut out nature's great carb sources such as vegetables (particularly leafy greens, dark green vegetables, and brightly coloured veggies, berries and fruits).

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