Last updated on November 7, 2021.
Did this happen to you before: You set up your own weight loss plan with grand motivation, went the extra mile to restrict your calories in each meal, exercised vigorously every day. A few days later, you stepped onto the electric balance expectantly only to see that the kilos drop was not up to scratch. It was a heavy blow to your confidence, you felt as though your efforts had gone in vain — all you wanted was a break. In the end, you sabotaged your weight loss goal, reverted to your old ways and even started eating more than usual.
Rings a bell? If you don’t want to fall back into this cycle again, we recommend you to try the low-carb diet. It is a quick, effective way to lose weight without restricting your calorie intake.
What is a low-carb diet?
Simply put, low-carb stands for low carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are the major source of fuel to produce energy in the body. During the digestion process, complex carbohydrates would break down into simple sugars, i.e. glucose, to be released into the bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone responsible for converting excess glucose in the blood into glycogen to be stored in the liver or muscles, or into fat.
With the restriction of carbohydrates intake, a low-carb diet not only accelerates weight loss by metabolizing fat stores to be the energy source, but also proves effective for diabetes and metabolic syndrome management.
According to a study titled Low Carbohydrate Diet, the general idea of a low-carb diet is to limit your daily carbohydrate load to less than 130g (equivalent to 26% of daily macronutrient intake), and balance it off by increasing quality protein and fat consumption.
Note that carbohydrate cannot be completely avoided because it contains essential vitamins, minerals and fiber to maintain good health. Natural carbohydrates of high fiber are preferred (e.g. vegetables, fruits and whole grains), in contrast to foods with added or refined sugars (e.g. sugary drinks, cakes, candies, fruit juices and smoothies).
Methods of low-carb diet
There are different ways to cut carbs. Below are two common low-carb diets:
The Atkins diet
The Atkins diet is characterized by reducing intake of all high-carb foods while consuming as much protein and fat as you wish. It involves a structured 4-step plan:
- Induction: Eat less than 20g of carbohydrates per day for 2 weeks.
- Balancing: Slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables and fruits to your diet.
- Fine-tuning: Add more carbohydrates gradually when you are close to reaching your weight goal until weight loss slows down and becomes stable.
- Maintenance: Eat as much healthy carbohydrates as you wish while maintaining your weight.
Created in the 1920s as a dietary therapy for epilepsy or seizure, Keto diet is the strictest low-carb diet among all.. It is a high-fat, low-carb diet that restricts carbohydrates intake to 20-50g per day.
A daily carbohydrate intake of lower than 50g induces glycogen depletion and ketosis, a state in which ketone is produced from the mobilization of fat in adipose tissue for energy production.
Health benefits of a low-carb diet
Studies have shown that a low-carb diet facilitates a quicker weight loss in the first 6-12 months as compared to other weight-loss approaches i.e. low-fat diet. The proposed mechanism is that a low-carb diet can reduce insulin secretion, which is a hormone responsible for converting excess glucose in blood into a storage form of sugar, i.e. glycogen or even fat. A lower insulin level implies lower fat store, and thus weight loss.
Another hypothesis from scholars in the US explains that a low-carb diet can promote rapid weight loss because high fat and protein in the diet increases satiety and reduces overall calorie intake, creating a calorie deficit that favors weight loss.
Some studies also suggest that a low-carb diet increases the body’s metabolic rate and burns 200-300 more calories than a high-carb diet.
A recent study proves that a 12-month restrictive low-carb diet, i.e. ketogenic diet is effective in lowering blood sugar level, body weight and medication in type 2 diabetic patients. The low-carb diet also improves other cardio-metabolic risk factor markers (e.g. blood triglycerides, cholesterol, blood sugar), and therefore reduces the risk of diabetes complications.
Nonetheless, there is insufficient evidence as to whether a low-carb diet is effective or safe for type 1 diabetic patients. Instead, studies show that carb counting might be a more useful method in matching the carbohydrate intake with the amount of insulin available in the body to prevent blood sugar spike.
Low-carb diet food pattern
Astonishingly, eating or making meals with fewer carbs won’t give you a bigger headache. Most low-carb foods come in diverse forms apart from being highly nutritious and finger-licking:
H3: Food to eat
- Eggs and meats: egg, beef, lamb, chicken, pork, jerky
- Seafoods: salmon, trout, sardines, shellfish, shrimp, lobster, tuna, cod
- Vegetables: broccoli, onions, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, eggplant, cucumber, bell peppers, asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, celery, spinach, zucchini, cabbage
- Fruits: tomatoes, avocado, olives, strawberries, grapefruit, apricots, lemons, kiwis, oranges, mulberries, raspberries
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, coconuts, pistachios, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
- Dairy products: cheese, heavy cream, full-fat yogurt, greek yogurt
- Fats and oils: butter, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, lard
- Beverages: water, coffee, tea, sparkling water
- Others: dark chocolate, herbs, spices and condiments
Food to avoid
- Bread and refined grains: white bread, whole-wheat bread, bagel, tortilla, pasta, cereal
- Some sugary fruits: banana, raisins, dates, mango
- Starchy vegetables: corn, potato, sweet potato, beets
- Fat-free or low-fat foods: dairy products, cereals or crackers with reduced fat but added sugar
- Foods with added sugar: juice, candies, cakes, ice cream, soft drinks, smoothies
- Foods high in trans fat: chips
No, it may not be suitable for everyone, especially for children experiencing rapid growth and development. Common side effects include constipation and bad breath. The cause of constipation might be a lower fiber intake from high-carb food, such as bread and pasta. Whereas bad breath might be due to ketone production, which exhibits an unappealing odor similar to acetone and nail polish remover. Constipation can be managed by incorporating more low-carb, high-fiber vegetables for a sufficient fiber intake, whilst bad breath can be improved by drinking plenty of water. A very low carbohydrate diet, i.e. keto diet, is not recommended for the long term because over-restriction of carbohydrates may result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies and gastrointestinal disturbances. That being said, you can follow a low to moderate carbohydrate diet, which is generally recommended to maintain healthy body weight and lower risk of diabetes and other metabolic syndromes.
Is a low-carb diet suitable for everyone?
Will a low-carb diet cause any side effects?
Can I follow the low-carb diet for a long term?
No, it may not be suitable for everyone, especially for children experiencing rapid growth and development.
Common side effects include constipation and bad breath. The cause of constipation might be a lower fiber intake from high-carb food, such as bread and pasta. Whereas bad breath might be due to ketone production, which exhibits an unappealing odor similar to acetone and nail polish remover.
Constipation can be managed by incorporating more low-carb, high-fiber vegetables for a sufficient fiber intake, whilst bad breath can be improved by drinking plenty of water.
A very low carbohydrate diet, i.e. keto diet, is not recommended for the long term because over-restriction of carbohydrates may result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies and gastrointestinal disturbances.
That being said, you can follow a low to moderate carbohydrate diet, which is generally recommended to maintain healthy body weight and lower risk of diabetes and other metabolic syndromes.