Carbs are generally looked down upon, but they’re not as detrimental as you may think. Many still want to know, though, can a low-carb diet actually help you lose weight?
“The short answer is yes—but as with most things, a simple yes or no won’t suffice,” said Katie Goldberg, M.C.N., R.D.N., L.D.N., a Chicago-based registered dietitian specializing in weight management, diabetes, postpartum nutrition and wellness.
“Many studies have tried to address the question of whether a low-carb or a low-fat diet is better for weight loss. In 2003, a randomized control trial published by the New England Journal of Medicine gave the edge to the low-carb in the short-term (six months). In 2014, a meta-analysis (i.e. compiling data from many studies) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also gave a slight edge to low-carb diets in the short-term, but over the long-term the differences became negligible.”
So, once again, as Goldberg explained, “the answer is truly about which of the diets patients adhere to over the long-term.” In other words, it’s about determining which is more manageable for you.
Goldberg went on to explain the pros and cons of low-carb diets.
The good of low-carb diets: “For the typical American, cutting out carbohydrates really boils down to cutting out a lot of low nutrient foods like sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts,” she explained. “There is always a benefit to cutting these foods out of your diet—or at least limiting them. Low-carbohydrate diets focus on protein and fat, which provide satiety. In short, you feel satisfied. When it comes to hunger, almost no one feels deprived on a low-carb diet.
The bad of low-carb diets: “Carbohydrates are often cut out unilaterally, without taking stock of what nutrients are involved. For many people, low-carb diets end up meaning high-meat diets.” Goldberg said. “When I see patients cutting out entire food groups, I start to get nervous. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy all provide key nutrients that meat cannot provide. Also, food cravings often take over and make the low-carb diet unsustainable in the long-term."
Goldberg continued, “One very significant thing to keep in mind is that your body requires carbohydrates to function. Specifically, carbs are your brain’s preferred source of fuel. Sometimes a low-carb diet can leave you feeling fuzzy-headed. Carbohydrates are also the first source of fuel that your muscles use when you are active. You could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts if your low-carb diet keeps you feeling a little sluggish, makes you cut out of the gym early, or if your form suffers while you work out. Athletes should be especially cautious in cutting out carbohydrates without talking to a dietitian.”
Ultimately, Goldberg explained, you can't go wrong when you’re choosing high-quality, real foods that are minimally processed. “The exact ratio of each of those foods is customizable. A registered dietitian can help you find that balance to optimize weight loss without sacrificing enjoyment of food.”