Q & A: Is a low carb diet necessary for weight loss?

Feb 16 2:42pm | Abby McWaters, Registered Dietitian | @amcwaters | Comments (1)

Written by Natalie Johnson, a Mayo Clinic dietetic intern

A low carbohydrate diet limits intake of carbs, which are found in grains, fruit, and vegetables. There are many kinds of low-carb diets and some often focus on foods high in protein and fat. Low-carb diets are usually used for weight loss, but are they necessary?

Most people can lose weight if they limit their calories and increase their physical activity! In order to lose 1-1.5 pounds (0.5 to 0.7 kg) per week you need to eat 500-750 fewer calories each day. Low-carb diets may help with short-term weight loss, however a majority of studies find that at 12-24 months the benefits of following a low-carb diet are not very large.

Some ways to keep carbs in your diet while aiming for weight loss are to:
1. Focus on complex carbs (sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, beans, brown rice)
- these kinds of carbs digest slowly and have less effect on blood sugar
- they offer fiber, which can increase satiety
- make sure to use portion control, about the size of your fist for grains

2. Increase intake of vegetables (spinach, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower)
- these carbs contain vitamins/minerals and fiber that are good for your health
- they also offer a large volume and are not calorie dense, so you can add them to meals
to feel fuller without the extra calories

3. Decrease your intake of refined carbs (cookies, cake, soda, white breads)
- these carbs are often added to processed foods
- they usually contain simple sugars that increase blood glucose and are calorically dense
without added nutrients

Long term restriction of carbs may lead to reduced intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Low carb diets also increase fat intake, which when eaten in large amounts can increase your risk for heart disease or certain cancers.

If you still wish to follow a low-carb diet for weight loss, consider choosing protein and fat sources that are low in saturated and trans fat such as:
● Plant-based proteins (nuts, tofu, lentils)
● Fish high in omega-3’s (sardines, tuna, salmon)
● Low-fat dairy products (skim or 1% milk, yogurt, & cheese)


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For 50 years I have used a low carb diet to lose weight and maintain a satisfactory weight. It works, no ifs ands or buts. It is important that you count your carbs every day and stay away from them, however. Keep carbs at around 20 grams (that’s very low, granted) and you will be successful. I eat lots of meat, sausage, veggies, cheese, eggs. No bread or starch, no sugar. I am very healthy and I stay active. I try to walk every day and get those steps done. Easy. Get a carb counter booklet, and write down each day. It only takes a few days to get in the swing. There’s always something you can eat when you get hungry on a low-carb diet. Sugar craving goes away after a day or two. Don’t listen to the naysayers. It is healthy and gets good results!

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