Is No/Low Carb Eating the Best Way to Lose Weight?
The traditional way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories while you eat low-fat.
The most popular way to lose weight is currently by embracing fats and removing the carbohydrates from the diet.
Fats are no longer the enemy but carbohydrates.
But is not much carbohydrate food healthy and does it really work as well as the stories would have you believe? After all, we all grew up with the idea that you become fat and that they also cause heart and vascular diseases.
I dived into the scientific databases for you to find answers to these questions. I will share this with you in this article.
What you will learn in this article:
- Why low-carbohydrate diets are so effective
- Why you do need carbohydrates
- Why the choice of type of carbohydrates is important
- How that is with fats
Do you wonder if eating low carbohydrates is the best way to lose weight? Let me start to answer this question.
In short, the answer to this question is: Yes!
If you want to lose weight in a responsible manner then you will, of course, have to stay at least as healthy as you are now. Or rather: become even healthier!
Only when you lose (fast) weight and you can also maintain or improve your health, can you talk about a good way of losing weight.
Tip: you can quickly fall off while supporting your health in my extensive article about the low-carbohydrate diet. In that article, you will also find a product list, weekly menu and recipes so that you can start right away.
A crash diet (a diet with large calorie restriction) is an example of a bad way of losing weight; you may fall off quickly, but your health also decreases.
In addition, with this kind of diets, you also get to deal with the yo-yo effect. Which is not the case with (good) low-carbohydrate diets.
No Carbs At All
If you are wondering whether or not eating carbohydrates is the best way to lose weight, then the answer is: no!
If you do not eat any more carbohydrates then you will quickly lose weight but you also feel bad so you will not last long. You will not then reach your target weight.
In addition, your body needs carbohydrates and nutrients from carbohydrate sources to stay healthy. Not eating carbs at all means no more eating fruit and vegetables and that is unhealthy. Never start with this!
Why Low-Carbohydrate Diets Are So Effective
The biggest problem of traditional diets such as low-fat diets with a calorie restriction is hunger.
If you continue to eat the same type of food as normal and you only screw the amounts back, you can expect your body to get hungry. The body will try to keep its weight by making you hungry.
This means that a diet of calorie restriction can not be sustained for long. No matter how big your will power is, at some point, everyone will give in to the hunger. And look there: another failed attempt to achieve the target weight.
A characteristic of low-carbohydrate diets is that you can reduce the amount of carbohydrates without having to pay attention to calories!
Many studies on low-carbohydrate diets have even been set up in such a way that the participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted as long as they kept on limiting carbohydrates.
As I indicated in the introduction, I went into the scientific databases to find out whether eating low carbohydrates is the best way to lose weight. Time for hard data!
Research # 1: Low Carbohydrate Diet in People With Severe Obesity
This study involved people with severe obesity (BMI> 43). The group was divided into people who had to follow a low-fat and low-carbohydrate diet. The low-fat diet group was not given a calorie restriction imposed on the low-carbohydrate group.
After 6 months, the low-carbohydrate group had lost 3 times as much weight (on average 5.8 kilograms) than the low-fat group (on average 1.9 kilos) (source).
In the low-carbohydrate group, insulin sensitivity improved while it deteriorated slightly in the low-fat group. The insulin values in the low-carbohydrate group decreased by 27% while they increased slightly in the low-fat group.
In the video below I discuss what works better, the low-fat diet or the low-carbohydrate:
In this study, the participants were divided into a group that ate low carbohydrate and ate a low-fat group. The group that ate low fat was also given a calorie restriction.
The participants who ate low carbohydrate lost 7.3% of their body weight in 12 months and the participants who ate low fat lost 4.5% (source).
Interestingly, the low carbohydrate group showed more improvements in blood triglyceride levels and good HDL cholesterol. This while they ate much more fat than the low-fat group.
Research # 3: Effects of Low Carbohydrates in Healthy Women
After 6 months, the low-carbohydrate group had lost more than twice as much weight. They lost an average of 8.5 kilos while the low-fat group lost an average of 3.9 kilos (source).
In both groups, there was a slight improvement in good HDL cholesterol, while in the low carbohydrate group the blood triglyceride levels also improved.
Adolescents with overweight were divided into a low-fat and low-carbohydrate group.
After 12 weeks, the low-carbohydrate group had lost more than twice as much weight. They lost an average of 9.9 kilos while the low-fat group lost an average of 4.1 kilos (source).
The researchers concluded that the low-carbohydrate diet is effective for short-term weight loss without this worsening the lipid profile.
With a ketogenic diet, you eat so few carbohydrates (<20 grams per day) that your body gets into ketosis. Your body will then burn ketones instead of glucose. Ketones are produced by the liver as a result of fat burning.
You can see a ketogenic diet as an extreme form of the low-carbohydrate diet where you get the most calories from fats.
In this study, the participants were divided into a ketogenic and a low-fat group. The ketogenic participants lost an average of 9.4 kg after 24 weeks while the low-fat participants lost 4.8 kg (source).
The ketogenic participants not only lost more weight, but they also found the ketogenic diet easier to sustain than the participants in the low-fat diet.
The blood levels of the ketogenic participants also showed more improvement.
The triglyceride levels decreased and the good HDL cholesterol increased. Keep in mind that a ketogenic diet consists of about 70% fat, which means that the results of this research (and many other studies) are at odds with the low-fat recommendations from agencies such as the Nutrition Center.
Research # 6: Ketogenic Diet With Calorie Restriction
Most studies do not have a caloric restriction for the low-carbohydrate group while they do use it for the low-fat group.
The researchers of this study were curious about what happens if you also limit the number of calories in addition to carbohydrates. You guessed it, the participants lost weight badly in a short time.
In this study, the male participants from the ketogenic group were allowed to eat 1855 kcal/day and the participants from the low-fat group 1562 kcal/day.
The ketogenic participants lost no less than 8.1 kilos in 50 days and the low-fat participants 4.3 kilos (source). And to top it all off, the ketogenic participants lost 3 times as much belly fat as the low-fat participants.
The female participants in this study followed the diets for 30 days so they did not lose as much weight as the male participants. The ketogenic women lost 3.0 kilos compared to 1.1 kilos for the low-fat participants.
Research # 7: With Which Diet Are People Less Hungry?
In this study, among premenopausal women, the participants were divided into a group on a low-carbohydrate diet and a group on a low-fat diet.
The group that was allowed to eat low on carbohydrates reported less suffering from hunger (source). They also lost more weight.
Research # 8: Low Carb VS Mediterranean VS Low Fat
At the Mediterranean diet, you eat like people eat traditional food around the Mediterranean Sea.
The diet is characterized by unprocessed food, many vegetables, fruit and fish but little (red) meat and dairy. And of course the generous use of olive oil and fresh herbs in, for example, the salads.
The Mediterranean diet followers also did well with an average of 4.6 pounds of weight loss.
The low-fat group was left with 3.3 pounds of weight loss (source). It concerns the participants who finished the research.
In the case of low-carbohydrate eaters, the lipid profile improved the most. For the Mediterranean eaters, the blood glucose was best checked.
A number of participants in the study had diabetes. They were able to better control the glucose and insulin values with the Mediterranean diet than with the low-fat diet.
Research # 9: Effects of Fewer Carbohydrates in The Metabolic Syndrome
In metabolic syndrome, there is an imbalance between food intake and physical activity. This is due to eating too many wrong things and insufficient exercise.
Metabolism is disrupted in the metabolic syndrome and all kinds of disorders are associated with each other. For example, there is often an increase in blood glucose, too high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This also means overweight or obesity.
Chronic diseases that fall under the metabolic syndrome are cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and a non-alcoholic fatty liver.
If someone is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The metabolic syndrome can be reversed by losing weight to a healthy weight.
40 participants who had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease were divided into 2 groups. She followed a low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet for 12 weeks.
The low-carbohydrate group lost an average of 10.1 kg during these 12 weeks while the low-fat group lost 5.2 kg during this period (source).
Both groups received the same amount of calories. Despite the same amount of calories, the low-carbohydrate group lost almost twice as much weight. But not only that, but also a number of important blood values showed more improvement.
For example, in the low carbohydrate group, the good HDL cholesterol increased while it decreased in the low-fat group. The LDL cholesterol particles became larger (which is good) in the low carbohydrate group, whereas in the low-fat group they became smaller (which is poor).
The triglyceride levels also decreased in the low carbohydrate group while it decreased significantly less in the low-fat group.
Summary Of The Above Studies:
In the majority of the above studies, the low-carbohydrate group was not subject to caloric restriction, while the low-fat group received it. In spite of this, the low-carbohydrate group lost 2 to 3 times as much weight in most studies.
This is due to the fact that insulin levels go down by reducing carbohydrates. Insulin is a hormone that ensures that glucose from the blood can be absorbed by the cells but also gives the body the signal to store fat.
Furthermore, it was striking that the low-carbohydrate groups lost significantly more visceral fat (belly fat) than the low-fat groups. Visceral fat is a hazard because it plays a role in the risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
In the studies presented here, the low-carbohydrate diet is better off in all cases than low-fat diets.
Whether I have done cherry picking here? Nope. A large meta-analysis among the studies (from the period 1966 – 2014) on PubMed also shows that the low-carbohydrate diet is superior to the low-fat diet (source).
All in all, it can be concluded that eating low carbohydrates causes a rapid loss of weight.
Why You Do Need Carbohydrates
If you eat a low carbohydrate, you will always have to eat carbohydrates. Only less than you are used to.
Eating very little or no carbohydrates are dangerous for the following reasons:
- You become tired and slow
- Possible psychological problems
- Muscle pain due to an insufficient recovery of muscles
- Insufficient fruit in the diet
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Iodine deficiency (bread is the main source of iodine for many people)
- Delayed thyroid due to low insulin levels
You can read the explanation of these dangers in my article about the low-carbohydrate diet.
How Much Carbohydrates?
Normally 45% of our calories in our diet come from carbohydrates. The average Western Europe man eats 280 grams of carbohydrates per day and Western Europe woman 225 grams of carbohydrates.
If you want to eat low in carbohydrates then you can divide this into 3 levels:
- Normally low in carbohydrates; suitable to lose weight at a reasonable pace or to stay on weight while you become healthier – 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates/day
- Fairly low carbohydrate; suitable for quickly losing kilos – 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates/day
- Extremely strict low carbohydrate; your body gets into ketosis (fat burning) so you lose weight quickly, not suitable for the long term, because you can no longer eat fruit and legumes – 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates/day
Do you want more background information about how many carbohydrates you can eat? Then read my extensive article about low-carbohydrate food.
Not eating carbohydrates at all is actually something you do not see in practice. There are no diets that advise not to eat carbohydrates at all, and no research is done on the irresponsible way of losing weight.
Losing weight by eating low carbohydrates is based on the principle of reducing insulin levels.
After all, high insulin values give the signal to store fat and to retain fat. If we want to lose weight, we will have to put the body in a mode in which it can easily burn fat.
By eating the wrong type of carbohydrates, peaks in blood glucose can still occur, which means that a lot of insulin will be produced. This is despite the fact that we eat low carbohydrate.
Certain carbohydrates have an effect on blood glucose much faster than other types of carbohydrates. The most notorious in this are sugars and refined (processed) carbohydrates. With refined carbohydrates, you can think of flour and foods made from them such as pasta, pizza and cake.
Flour is made by clearing grain from their membranes (the dietary fibers) and by grinding it fine. This makes it very easy for the body to break down into simple carbohydrates (glucose) so that it will quickly increase the blood sugar.
In order to get the most out of the low-carbohydrate diet, it will, therefore, be necessary to opt for carbohydrate sources that are slowly digested. As a result, there is no peak in blood glucose and less insulin is needed.
Responsible carbohydrate sources are:
- Whole grain cereals such as oatmeal or brown rice
- Sweet potato
Many foods contain sugars and/or refined carbohydrates. It is best to avoid these altogether if you want to lose weight and/or stay healthy.
Foods containing sugar and/or refined carbohydrates:
- Bread (with the exception of wholemeal bread)
- Baked or fried potato
- Pasta, noodles
- Cake, pastry, cake, cake
- Crackers, toasts, rusks, gingerbread
- White rice
- Chips, pretzels, cocktail nuts
- Soft drink, fruit juice
- Most breakfast cereals
Do you want to know exactly which foods you can eat if you want to eat low in carbohydrates? Then read my article 16 Tips for Eating Without (too many) Carbohydrates
By eating more fats, eating little carbohydrates will also be easy to maintain. Fats are much better for a feeling of satiety so you do not have to feel hungry.
In the studies on low-carbohydrate diets versus the low-fat diets, which were discussed in this article, it was already apparent that it was precisely the low-carbohydrate diets that were most effective and not the low-fat diets.
In these studies, important health markers in the blood showed more improvements in low-carbohydrate groups than in low-fat groups. In some cases, deteriorations could be seen in the low-fat groups.
Now it is not the case that we have to embrace every type of fat. Certain types of fatty acids are actually healthy for us while others increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
And so every scientist agrees with the statement that trans fats actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are found in many frying pans and frying products (if there is something along the lines of ‘hardened fats’ on the packaging), processed meats, fried food and pastries.
Certain types of fatty acids fit well within a healthy and responsible low carbohydrate diet and others do not. In my article on low-carbohydrate food, you will find here a complete list of good and bad fatty acids.
And if you are talking about fats and cardiovascular diseases, then, of course, you think of cholesterol. Cholesterol in our diet, such as eggs, does not cause cardiovascular disease at all.
How exactly that is with cholesterol can be read in my article Top 16 lies of institutions and regular media about nutrition. Here I invalidate the # 1 myth that fat and cholesterol are bad and make you fat. And here you can read how you can lower high cholesterol.
Did you know that research shows that 1 in 3 just gains from a diet instead of losing weight? (source)
Discover how you lose several kilos per week with tasty and easy to make slimming recipes!
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