In addition to their role in providing energy, carbs also help regulate blood sugar, insulin metabolism and support cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism. When there is an overabundance of carbohydrates in the diet, these bodily functions can be thrown out of whack.
Dietary carbs can be divided into the following categories:
- Simple carbs, such as soda and candy, which cause a rapid rise in blood sugar
- Complex carbs, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which have a more gradual effect on blood sugars due to their fiber and nutrients
- Fiber, the non-digestible part of complex carbs that supports gut health
Dietary guidelines recommend individuals fill 45-65% of their diet with carbohydrates, with a focus on having an optimal fiber intake and limiting simple carbs.
Low-carb diets typically provide around 20 to 130 grams of carbs per day and anywhere from less than 10% to 44% of calories from carbs. Some of the more popular low-carb diets include the following:
Ketogenic (Keto) Diet
Keto diets typically include 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day. “[This] diet gained attention in the early 20th century when physicians discovered the beneficial effects of carb restriction on the symptoms of epilepsy in children, therefore, these diets were used for the treatment of epilepsy,” says Alma Simmons, a registered dietitian nutritionist and maternal fetal medicine dietitian and diabetes educator at Ohio Health Hospital. “However, when people started realizing that low- carb diets could also help with weight loss, the popularity increased drastically,” she adds.
The goal of the keto diet is to induce ketosis. Typically, the body prefers carbs as its main fuel source, but when there aren’t enough carbs available, the body is forced to burn stored fat for energy. Ketosis is the name of this fat-burning process.
It’s important to note that a keto diet designed for an individual living with epilepsy is quite different from one designed for someone who does not have the condition. Most notably, individuals with epilepsy are routinely advised to go on a more restrictive, very high fat diet so their body goes into ketosis quickly.
Established in 1972 alongside Dr. Robert Atkins’ book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, this diet is based on the idea that a low carb intake—as opposed to the conventional low calorie diet—is superior for weight loss. Today, there are variations of the Atkins diet, ranging from 20 to 100 grams of carbs per day. Typically, the Atkins diet is less restrictive when it comes to fruits and vegetables, which may make it a good choice for increased consumption of vitamins and minerals.
Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet
Proponents of the paleo diet claim that the foods eaten by hunter-gatherer groups from the Paleolithic era are best for human health. The diet contains about 25% carbs and excludes all grains, legumes, dairy, sugar and processed foods.
Different people may respond differently to low carb diets; just because a certain low carb diet works for one person really well (i.e quicker weight loss), doesn’t mean it will work the same way for another person—a distinction often due to genetics. Additionally, individuals living with extra weight and obesity may find that it takes them longer to reach ketosis than individuals who are not living with those conditions.