Low-carb diets tend to be pretty polarizing. Some people think they’re ineffective, while others believe that they encourage bad habits like eating fatty bacon cheeseburgers.
But low-carb, high-protein diets can yield real health benefits if you take the right approach to them.
In fact, a study published this month in the journal Pediatrics found that low-carb diets could possibly help Type 1 diabetes patients control their blood sugar.
For starters, it’s important to know that low-carb isn’t the same thing as no carb. A low carb diet simply means you’re reducing the amount of carbs you currently eat, Beverly Hills-based physician Dr. Nancy Rahnama tells MensHealth.com.
Unless you’re doing something like the Keto diet, which is a relatively extreme low-carb diet, you can eat anywhere between 25 grams of carbs a day to 150 grams of carbs a day, she says. (For comparison, most active people consuming about 2,000 calories per day eat between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates per day.)
When done smartly and safely, going on a low-carb diet can have tons of benefits. Here’s just a few of them.
1) It’ll help you avoid eating processed foods, which will help you live longer.
First things first: going on a high-protein, low-carb diet does not mean swapping out that heart-healthy oatmeal for a plate of greasy sausage.
“You want to keep things as natural as possible,” Rahnama says. “[Eat] things that grow.” The focus should be on good carb sources like whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, not white sugar, white bread, or anything found in the snack food aisle.
A low-carb diet effectively forces you to stop eating processed foods that are empty in nutrients, but high in calories, says Bobby Hold, physician assistant at the Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Health, tells MensHealth.com.
“[Going low-carb] allows you to fit into a parameter that’s already going to be healthier without putting too much thought into it,” he says. “If you say you’re going to reduce the amount of white flour you eat, that itself is going to be a step in the right direction.” And this, in turn, may help you live longer: in April, a study from Harvard University concluded that avoiding processed foods and eating higher quality foods, like salmon, leafy greens and nuts, was one of the five habits that could add 12 years to your life.
2) It could help you manage Type 1 Diabetes.
A new study has revealed that people who followed low carb diets for two years required less insulin to manage their blood sugar levels. A 2012 study also previously determined that low carb diets could help Type 1 diabetes patients stabilize their blood sugars quickly.
3) It’ll help you lose weight.
Arguably the sexiest benefit to going low-carb, reducing the amount of carbs you eat will, in fact, probably help you lose weight – it just might not help you lose significantly more weight than other diets might.
When you eat tons of starches, “they convert easily and quickly into sugar,” says Hold – and when you eat lots of sugar, it often gets stored in the body as fat. Going low-carb could not only help you avoid packing on the pounds, it could also help you eat less overall, because protein keeps people fuller for longer periods of time than carbs do, says Hold.
That said, there’s a caveat to all of this: a 2009 review of dieting studies found that while low-carbohydrate diets helped people lose weight faster than other diets did, they did not necessarily lose more weight. So while going low-carb might be an effective way of losing weight, it’s far from the only way.
4) You’ll Reduce Inflammation
Your body processes starchy carbs quickly, essentially dumping sugar into your system. Sugar then promotes inflammation in the body, which can up your risk of cancer or atherosclerosis.
Going low-carb could be a good way of reducing inflammation. If you have an inflammatory disease like Crohn’s disease and you want to keep your symptoms in check, a low-carb diet could be particularly helpful, says Rahnama.
“I think any condition that’s worsened by inflammation could be improved by going low carb,” she says.