The Effects of a Low-Carb Diet on Your Body

Low-carb diets became popular because of the weight loss they seem to produce. However, is it good to stop eating carbs? It's important to consider the effects of a low-carb diet on your body. Find out more here!
The Effects of a Low-Carb Diet on Your Body
Anna Vilarrasa

Written and verified by the nutritionist Anna Vilarrasa.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Low-carb diets have become fashionable as a way of losing weight and improving some aspects of our health. The great publicity that they’ve received has made many people think that carbs are harmful to our health and shouldn’t be included in our diets. But what are the effects of a low-carb diet on your body?

Are carbs really that bad for your health? What happens to your body when you stop eating carbohydrates?

Carbohydrate-rich foods provide our bodies with energy, and our bodies need them to function normally. If we stop eating them completely, then it could harm our health. On the other hand, a very high carb content in our diets can have negative effects as well. Therefore, what we need to do is find a good balance and know how to choose the most appropriate sources.

The effects of a low-carb diet on your body: The benefits

Low-carb diets haven’t only sparked interest in people. They’ve also become a topic of research, as attempts have been made to determine whether they’re beneficial to health.

Because of the research that has been carried out on this subject, the known effects of a low-carb diet are good results in weight loss and other general health improvements.

The main changes are the following:

  • The body shifts to using fat as an energy source, since the immediate availability of glucose from carbohydrates decreases.
  • There are favorable effects on weight loss. At first, there’s a loss of liquids, and then lipid deposits begin to decrease.
  • The risk of cardiovascular disease decreases. Although experts need to carry out long-term studies, they found immediate positive results in the body mass index, abdominal circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides, and insulin in the blood.
  • Improvements in the management of type 2 diabetes appear, as concluded in this review of studies on the topic.
  • There’s a reduction in appetite due to the increased presence of fat and protein.
The effects of a low-carb diet.

Why not have a look at: 7 Daily Menus for a Low-Carb Diet

The effects of a low-carb diet

Following a diet with fewer carbohydrates can be carried out in different ways. The reduction can be very strict (as is the case with ketogenic diets), or, at the other end of the scale, there can be just a moderate decrease. In all cases, studies show the appearance of a series of annoying symptoms and small imbalances in the body.

The most common are the following:

  • Headache and confusion
  • Irritability
  • Leg cramps (these usually appear due to the loss of magnesium and other minerals; it’s not serious, but can be painful)
  • Dehydration due to increased water loss
  • Constipation as a result of less fiber and adaptation of the digestive system
  • Bad breath (if the diet is very low in carbohydrates)

However, in the above-mentioned studies, possible negative effects have also been found when the diet is continued for a longer time. Expert’s main concerns are the following:

  • There are no long-term studies on the safety of the ketogenic diet, the most restrictive form of carbohydrate reduction.
  • If dehydration occurs and any form of physical activity is initiated, there may be poorer performance, fatigue, increased body temperature, or changes in blood pressure.
  • Very low carbohydrate intake, combined with high protein, increases liver glucose production and decreases tissue response to insulin. These two conditions are markers of insulin resistance.
  • Cardiovascular health can be worsened if there’s an increase in the presence of saturated fats.

Recommendations for a healthy low-carb diet

The effects of a low-carb diet can be beneficial if the person concerned follows certain guidelines to avoid its negative aspects. Also, it can become a varied, healthy, and satisfactory way of eating.

What should we take into account? Let’s take a look.

1. A considerable vegetable intake

In this aspect, there’s no difference in the recommendations for the general population. Since they contain no (or very few) grains, there is more opportunity to eat vegetables. If the guidelines aren’t too strict, then more starchy vegetables can also be added.

2. Beware of excess protein

A low-carb diet doesn’t have to be very high in protein foods. It’s enough to simply follow the standard recommendations and include protein content at each meal. The main sources should be eggs, fish, meat, nuts, and legumes.

Keep in mind that beans, chickpeas, or lentils provide have a certain amount of carbohydrates. If you want to follow a very low carbohydrate diet, you should eat small amounts of them, or suppress them completely.

3. Increase the amount of fat in the diet

When you stop eating carbohydrates, lipids become the main source of energy. These are necessary to maintain good general health, and they provide satiety and make it easier to follow your diet.

These are the most appropriate sources to add daily:

  • Olive oil and olives
  • Avocados
  • Bluefish
  • Nuts
Food with omega-3.

4. Fruits and grains

You should only include fruit and grains in small portions when you follow a less stringent low-carb plan. However, foods and beverages with added sugars and any processed products must be eliminated completely.

5. Monitor salt and water consumption

Reducing the presence of carbohydrates can result in greater water and electrolyte loss, including sodium. This can cause a series of adverse effects that should be avoided. To do this, it’s necessary to drink enough water and ensure sufficient salt intake.

Processed products with high amounts of sodium should be avoided. However, you can cook with this condiment at home, for example with low-carb recipes or broths to drink throughout the day.

Discover more in this article: Four Things You Should Know about Low Sodium Diets

It’s possible to have a healthy diet when you stop eating carbs

Low-carb diets are in vogue due to their positive effects on weight loss. In addition to this, they’ve also shown good results in controlling type 2 diabetes, reducing abdominal circumference, and lowering blood pressure.

Despite this, it’s important to know that there’s also a risk of negative effects. You’ll need to take a series of dietary recommendations into account to carry it out safely. In this sense, it’s advisable to ensure the optimum intake of fresh vegetables, together with sources of fat and protein.

In any case, before adopting this type of diet, it’s best to consult a nutritionist. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that these eating patterns aren’t the most suitable in all cases. A professional nutritionist will determine whether it’s recommended in your case or not.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bilsborough S.A, Crowe T.C. Low-carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short- and long-term health implications? Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003.12(4):396-404.
  • Ebbeling CB, et al. Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial. The British Medical Journal. Noviembre 2018.363:k4583.
  • Hu T, et al. The effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite: A randomized controlled trial. Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. Junio 2016.26(6):476-488.
  • Hu T, et al. Effects of low-carbohydrate diets versus low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. American Journal of Epidemiology. Octubre 2012.176(Suppl 7):S44-S54.
  • Huntriss R, et al. The interpretation and effect of a low-carbohydrate diet in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Diciembre 2017. 72:311-325.
  • Lonnie M, et al. Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients. Marzo 2018.10(3):360.
  • Santos F.L, et al. Systematic review and meta‐analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Reviews. Noviembre 2012. 13(11):1048-1066.
  • Veldhorst M.A, et al. Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Setiembre 2009. 90(3):519-26.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.