9 Metabolic Advantages of Low-Carb Diets

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    Picture of an Egg - Low Carb Foods Have Several Metabolic Advantages.People are always arguing over which diet is the best.

    Regarding our metabolic health, the simple truth is that humans can exist on a range of different foods.

    Overall, good health largely depends on the overall composition and nutrient-density of the diet.

    However, there are some specific metabolic advantages of low carb diets.

    This article examines and explains these potential health benefits.

    1. Low Carb Diets Result in Greater Weight Loss

    If we review the studies pitching low carb versus low fat, both are effective for weight loss.

    However, the majority show that cutting carbs is favorable for losing weight.

    Over recent years, several studies—including randomized controlled trials (RCTs)—show this to be the case.

    In a calorie-controlled energy-restricted diet (-500kcal per day), a very low carb diet resulted in a significantly greater fat loss than a low-fat intervention (1).

    Graph showing very low carb ketogenic diets versus low fat diets for weight loss.
    (Source)

    Ketogenic diets outperformed low-fat diets in the reduction of body mass, fat mass, trunk fat mass, and lean body mass.

    In this study, very low-carb participants ate a controlled diet with less than 10% of energy from carbohydrate. Low-fat participants were restricted to <25% fat.

    Other studies show that low-carb diets outperform low-fat diets over periods of three, six and twelve months (2, 3, 4, 5).

    Additionally, a systematic review of 17 randomized controlled trials was undertaken featuring 1797 patients. Each of these studies was between 8 months and 24 months in duration.

    The results showed that low carb diets are associated with significantly greater weight loss than low-fat diets. They also resulted in a reduction of predicted risk for cardiovascular events (6).

    Perhaps the greatest factor in any weight loss plan is adherence. And as shown in the above studies, it’s easier to stick to low carb diets.

    Key Point: Studies show that true low carb diets and low-fat diets have beneficial results. However, low carb diets consistently beat low-fat diets in terms of weight loss results.

    2. Low Carb Can Help Manage Conditions Such As Diabetes and Epilepsy

    Picture of a Diabetic Testing Blood Sugar LevelsPossible interventions for medical conditions should always be done under the supervision of a doctor.

    However, very low carb diets appear to offer potential therapeutic benefits for those with epilepsy and diabetes.

    The Benefits of Ketosis For Epilepsy

    Fighting a brain tumor, a young man named Andrew Scarborough experienced great success in using ketosis to reduce the occurrence and severity of his seizures.

    The idea of using a ketogenic diet to help manage epilepsy is not a radical one. Doctors have long been recommending ketogenic diets to help control the condition.

    Classed as a form of ‘anti-seizure diet,’ the foods that ketogenic diets contain (and avoid) help to control the condition (7).

    There is real evidence behind it too. Randomized controlled trials show “promising results” for the use of ketogenic diets in epilepsy.

    However, compliance and side effects can be an issue and, especially in children, they should be undertaken with medical supervision (8, 9, 10).

    Reversing Type 2 Diabetes?

    Sadly, type 2 diabetes is a medical condition that is skyrocketing over recent decades.

    The modern Western diet, high in both processed carbohydrates and fats, is likely the culprit behind the rapidly increasing rates. However, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be a chronic, progressive disease.

    Caloric restriction and low-carb diets have both shown some degree of potential to treat—and perhaps reverse—the condition (11, 12).

    If we pit low carb diets against low fat, the patient outcomes on a low carbohydrate diet appear to be more successful;

    • A randomized controlled trial shows that severe carbohydrate restriction leads to greater weight loss compared to low fat diets (13).
    • Carbohydrate restriction should be the first approach to diabetes management, according to a 2015 critical review of the evidence (14).
    • A systematic review of 20 randomized controlled trials compared 12 different diets, ranging from low carb to vegan. Out of all diets, low carbohydrate and “Mediterranean” diets had the best performance – leading to the greatest weight loss and better glycemic control (15).
    • Directly comparing low-carb and high-carb diets, a systematic review of 10 randomized trials showed that low-carbohydrate diets have a greater effect on glycemic control over one year (16).
    Key Point: Studies suggest low carb diets may be the best option for helping to control epilepsy and type 2 diabetes.

    3. Low Carbohydrate Intake Reliably Reduces Triglyceride Levels

    Triglycerides Test - Low Carb Diets Can Lower Triglyceride Levels

    High triglycerides are a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (17).

    One of the best low carb benefits is that triglyceride levels tend to plummet.

    Excessive carbohydrate is likely the main contributor to high triglyceride levels, especially sugar and fructose.

    In the case of fructose, it appears to impact triglycerides more than other sources of carbohydrate at similar amounts (18).

    Since low carb diets cut out foods containing high amounts of digestible carbohydrate like sugar and fructose, triglycerides fall;

    • A meta-analysis of 5 randomized controlled trials featuring 447 participants found that low carb diets reduce triglyceride levels more than low fat diets (19).
    • Several more RCTs show that carbohydrate restriction results in lower triglycerides than other diets – both short-term and long-term (20, 21, 22).
    Key Point: One of the biggest metabolic advantages of a low carb diet is that they effectively lower triglyceride levels.

    4. HDL Cholesterol Levels Rise Significantly

    Alongside triglycerides, an additional major risk factor for heart disease is low levels of HDL cholesterol.

    High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is protective against cardiovascular disease, and higher levels associate with lower risk (23, 24, 25).

    All foods can have a vastly different effect on our lipid profile, but dietary fats increase HDL levels.

    As low carb diets are typically high in fat, vast increases in HDL is a metabolic advantage these diets have (26, 27).

    While both low triglycerides and high HDL improve cardiovascular health, the ratio between these two compounds is also important.

    Some cardiovascular researchers believe that the ratio of triglycerides to HDL is the single biggest predictor of cardiovascular risk (29).

    Chart showing how the HDL and triglyceride ratio impacts cardiovascular risk.
    (Source: Courtesy of Rogue Health and Fitness)

    As the chart shows, the lower cardiovascular patients keep the ratio of triglycerides to HDL, the lower the risk.

    It appears the same thing is true for prevention.

    Key Point: High circulating levels of high-density lipoprotein is inversely associated with cardiovascular disease. With this in mind, a big advantage of low carbohydrate diets is that HDL levels increase significantly.

    5. Low Carb Diets Quickly Lower Blood Pressure

    Young Girl Testing Her Blood Pressure.In addition to the lipid profile, blood pressure is another major marker of cardiovascular risk.

    Positively, low carb diets are an effective strategy for lowering blood pressure.

    Several RCTs show that low-carbohydrate diets improve blood pressure readings (30, 31, 32).

    Additionally, a randomized trial featuring 126 weight loss patients revealed that low carb diets lower blood pressure more effectively than low fat diets (33).

    Low carb diets likely help reduce blood pressure because of the effect they have on (reducing) insulin.

    There is an interrelationship between insulin and hypertension, and numerous studies show a cause/effect relation between high insulin levels and increasing blood pressure (34, 35, 36)

    Key Point: There is a wide body of evidence showing that low carb diets are effective for lowering blood pressure.

    6. Low Carb Diets Are More Satiating Than Low Fat

    Metabolic Advantages of Low Carb Diets - Less Hunger.In my opinion, a major benefit of a low carbohydrate dietary system is that it is easier to stick to.

    If you think about some low carb foods like steak, full-fat sour cream, cheese, dark chocolate, and avocado – they are all delicious.

    Compare that to low-fat foods like beans, grains, low-fat crackers, and lean chicken.

    Which sounds more appealing?

    Having experimented with low-fat diets during my early 20s, I was never satisfied and always had a craving for fat.

    It seems other people are the same too, and studies show that significantly more individuals feel greater satiation on low carb diets (37, 38).

    Notably, studies suggest that the reason for this might be that low carb has a larger effect on appetite suppression (39, 40).

    There could be several hormonal causes behind these effects, but it’s also worth remembering that protein is the most satiating macronutrient (41, 42, 43).

    Compared to low fat plans, low carb diets tend to emphasize larger amounts of protein.

    Key Point: Low carb diets tend to improve satiety, reduce food cravings, and lower overall calorie intake. For many people, they provide benefits without feeling like a “diet.”

    7. Low Carb Diets May Cut Chronic Disease Risk by Reducing Insulin Levels

    Picture of Insulin and a Syringe.At present, increasing numbers of people are suffering from diabetes and pre-diabetes.

    In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, a combined total of 114 million Americans have either diabetes or prediabetes (44).

    To put it a different way, this figure represents more than 1 in 3 people.

    However, it’s not solely diabetes and prediabetes that can be dangerous.

    Chronically high insulin levels, known by the medical term of ‘hyperinsulinemia,’ are a risk factor for a range of diseases.

    As an illustration, studies show that hyperinsulinemia raises the risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s (45, 46, 47).

    High insulin levels are of course a biological response to high circulating levels of blood glucose, and low carbohydrate intake lowers blood glucose (48).

    For this reason, many individuals manage to reduce their insulin levels by adopting a low carb diet.

    Key Point: Low carb diets effectively reduce blood glucose and insulin levels. As a result, they may lead to a reduced potential risk of several chronic diseases.

    8. Markers of Inflammation Like CRP and IL-6 Fall

    An Inflammatory Marker CRP Test - Low Carb Diets May Reduce Inflammation.Recently, more people are becoming aware of the dangers resulting from chronic, systemic inflammation.

    Inflammation is believed to be a key driver in the etiology of the metabolic syndrome and several serious diseases (49, 50).

    Some measurable health markers of inflammation include the inflammatory proteins CRP (C-Reactive Protein) and IL-6 (Interleukin-6).

    CRP levels increase rapidly in response to inflammation, so a significant amount of this protein is a cause for concern.

    Our body produces IL-6 to stimulate an immune response against inflammation. It is involved in the autoimmune responses associated with the development of diseases ranging from atherosclerosis to prostate cancer (51, 52).

    Some (low levels of) inflammation is essential, protective, and healthy. However, chronic inflammation is not and eventually leads to disease. Interestingly, another benefit of low carb diets is that they appear to reduce these circulating markers of inflammation.

    Energy-restricted low-carb diets lower both CRP and IL-6 inflammatory markers in several intervention studies (53, 54, 55).

    Key Point: Various studies show that low carbohydrate diets can reduce markers of inflammation.

    9. Low Carb Diets Kill Sugar Cravings

    Picture of a Woman With Sugar Cravings - Low Carb Diets Reduce Cravings.Does sugar addiction exist?

    Various people think so, and some even claim it to be as powerful as a drug addiction.

    On the other hand, others vehemently deny that it is an actual addiction and assert that people just can’t control themselves.

    The science right now is somewhere in the middle, suggesting that sugar can exert powerful impacts on the brain’s reward system, but stopping short of naming it sugar addiction (56, 57).

    Regardless of whether it is an actual “addiction,” sugar can be addictive for some.

    A significant advantage of low carb diets is that they often help resolve sugar or carbohydrate cravings.

    One particular study conducted over a period of 2-years compared low carb and low fat diets regarding food cravings.

    The study found that low carb dieters were “less bothered” by hunger than those on a low-fat diet. Additionally, preferences for high-sugar foods significantly decreased in the low carb group as the trial progressed (58).

    Key Point: Many people find low carbohydrate diets helpful for dealing with food cravings, especially in regard to sugar.

    Final Thoughts

    No one diet fits all, but low carbohydrate diets certainly have some impressive metabolic advantages.

    From weight loss to sugar cravings and health markers, a well-formulated low carb diet can have many health benefits.

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    9 COMMENTS

    1. Don’t get too overly enthused with this information. Apparently low carb diets also reduce Testosterone significantly. No bueno.

      • As far as I’m aware, the studies are kind of mixed with some showing an increase and others a decrease.
        This could also be due to the low carb adaptation phase, as physical performance generally declines in the first weeks (adaptation phase) of a low carb diet before recovering.
        Longer term studies would be useful.

    2. i have been an diabitic since past 9 years and inspite of taking medicines and normal food my sugar never came down from 170 to 180. but since past 2 months i am on low carb and high fat diet and now my sugar comes between 90-120. i had to stop my medicine within 3 days after starting this diet as my sugar level starting dropping to 50.

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