and how to maximize them
Why should you consider eating fewer carbs? There are many potential benefits, at all ages (although there’s hardly ever a reason for healthy kids to do a strict low-carb diet).
Here are some of the main benefits, and how to adapt a low-carb diet for your specific needs, to maximize the positive effects on your health.
The four most common benefits
More common benefits
Possible, less certain benefits
Other potential benefits
There’s even science-based speculation that a ketogenic diet might increase longevity and potentially help treat or reduce the risk of cancer.1 It’s also being used as an experimental treatment for some people with Parkinson’s disease.2
There are many other disorders that people often report improvements in, but where there’s still no reliable science to prove an effect. This includes many pain disorders, fibromyalgia, and snoring/sleep apnea.
Whether these common improvements are all due to weight loss (which often has a positive effect) and reduced tissue swelling (low carb has a well-known diuretic effect) is hard to say.
Losing weight on low carb
Avoiding carbs usually results in weight loss, without hunger.
Low carb has been used as a weight loss method for at least 150 years, and modern studies confirm that it is more effective than other diets.3 Lots of people have experienced it.
So why does it work and, more importantly, how can the effect be maximized?
It’s hardly a coincidence that avoiding carbohydrates – like sugar and bread – has a special effect, beyond just focusing on calories. Carbohydrates, more than other foods, stimulate the release of the hormone insulin. And insulin is the body’s main fat-storing hormone.
This means that to lose excess body fat your number one goal should be reducing insulin levels. And to do this, the first and most important thing is to eat fewer carbs – a low-carb diet. For many people this is enough to reach their goal weight.
Here’s a story of success, including the best tips and tricks.
How it works
Weight loss is often simply thought of as a question of calories – eat less, and burn more, and you’ll lose weight. This is true in theory, but not very practically useful – as evidenced by a massive obesity epidemic during the period when people believed this.
The big problem with focusing on calories is that it ignores hunger. It ignores the body’s regulation of its fat stores. It ignores the fact that we do not eat calories, we eat food. And food is so much more than just calories. Some food (usually low carb) makes you feel satisfied. Other things (like soda) just make you even more hungry.
The basic idea of low carb is to work with the body, instead of against it. Instead of wasting time and willpower by restricting calories, exercising and enduring hunger, we do something else. We make the body want to eat less, and burn more of any excess.
This is done by altering the hormonal balance. And one hormone above all others is fundamental to do this: the fat-storing hormone insulin.
Lowering insulin increases fat burning, enabling the release of stored body fat. In the long run, this results in reduced hunger and even increased energy expenditure, even without exercise.
Learn much more here:
The full guide
If you want to maximize your weight loss on low carb, or if you hit a weight plateau without reaching your goal, then check out our full weight-loss guide below.
Reverse your type 2 diabetes with low carb
Low carb is very effective for reversing type 2 diabetes. This has been demonstrated in a number of modern high-quality studies.4
It’s very unsurprising that low-carb diets work well for reversing type 2 diabetes. The main problem in diabetes is too high blood sugar levels – and the sugar in the blood comes from the carbohydrates that we eat.
So, if you eat fewer carbohydrates, it’s very logical that it becomes easier for the body to control its blood sugar levels.
Lots of people have tried low-carb diets and reversed their type 2 diabetes (or controlled their type 1 diabetes). And many doctors have experience in treating their patients with unbelievably good results – here are a few of them:
Here are two success stories, including their best tips and tricks.
The full guide
If you want to learn more about how to reverse your type 2 diabetes on low carb, or troubleshoot if you run into any problem, check out our full guide below. Alternatively choose the Quick start guide with only two simple steps!
There are more than 300 posts on diabetes and low carb on the Diet Doctor blog. Get all the news here
Most popular success stories
Calm your stomach using low carb
It’s extremely common to experience less stomach problems on low carb. Specifically there’s usually a lot less gas, stomach cramps and less risk of diarrhea. Many people also experience less heartburn.
On the other hand, the risk of constipation may increase. If this turns into an issue, check out our guide to avoiding constipation.
Beat your sugar cravings with low carb
A low carb diet without sweeteners is very effective at reducing sugar cravings. Not only will you feel satisfied, but also your cravings for sweets will also be significantly reduced.
For many people this is enough to stay away from sweets, enabling weight loss, type 2 diabetes reversal and other health benefits. But if you’re truly addicted to sweet foods then low carb is just a necessary start. You may also need to learn about other tools and tricks to stay sugar free and reap the benefits.
Here are stories of success and our video course with a food addiction expert.
MEMBERS ONLYMEMBERS ONLY
Watch our sugar addiction video course, part 1
Reduce acne problems with low carb
Many people experience improvements in acne on low carb.
This is very likely no coincidence, as modern studies show a probable connection between high-glycemic (high-carb) diets and acne.5
This may be caused by the effect on growth hormones like insulin and IGF.
To improve acne, your best bet is a fairly strict low-carb diet – ideally one that is also low in dairy products. Here are our relatively strict and dairy-free low-carb recipes.
Learn more in our full guide: Can low-carb or keto diets cure acne?
- “For the first time in 15 years I’m free of acne”
- Maria got rid of acne and 44 pounds with LCHF
- Acne (and IBS) vanished with a diet change
Ketogenic diets can vastly increase your physical endurance, by giving you constant access to all the energy of your fat stores.
The body’s supply of stored carbohydrates (glycogen) only lasts for a couple of hours of intense exercise, or less. But the fat stores carry enough energy to easily last for weeks or even months.
The problem is that when your body is used to burning primarily carbohydrates – as is the case with most people are today – your fat stores are not easily available, and they can’t fuel your brain. This results in your constantly having to fill up by eating before, during and after longer exercise sessions. Or even just to fuel your daily activities and avoid “hanger”.
On a ketogenic diet this problem is solved. As the body and brain can easily be fueled 24-7 by your powerful fat stores, you can keep going forever, like the Energizer Bunny.
Whether you are going for a physical endurance feat, or just staying focused on reaching some other goal, your body has the fuel it needs to keep you going and going.
So, why do most people believe that carbs are necessary to perform exercise? There are two reasons. To unlock the power of ketogenic diets for physical endurance, and not instead suffer reduced performance, you need:
- Enough fluid and salt. When starting low carb, it is very important to drink a large glass of water with a half teaspoon of salt 30–60 minutes before exercising. This can make a huge difference in performance.
- Two weeks of adaptation to burning fat – it does not happen instantly. The second cause of reduced early performance is not as quickly fixed. It simply takes time for the body to transition from being a sugar-burner to burning primarily fat for energy, even in the muscles. This may take takes weeks or a even a few months. The more you exercise while on a low-carb, high-fat diet, the quicker this will happen. The end result has many benefits (see below).
While transitioning to a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet often reduces early physical performance, there are many long-term benefits. This is something that has only recently begun to be appreciated. In fact, a lot of elite athletes are now experimenting with LCHF diets, and in some cases they are crushing the competition.
The benefits of LCHF diets in sports are mainly seen in long-distance running and other endurance events. The body’s fat stores are huge and dwarf the minuscule glycogen stores. This means that once an athlete has transitioned to burning fat instead of carbohydrates, he or she will be able to perform for long periods of time without needing much (if any) additional food for energy.
This frees the athlete from having to activate his or her gastrointestinal organs during activity. Instead, a large amount of blood flow can instead be directed to the muscles. This also minimizes the risk of stomach problems during the activity.
Another benefit comes from the reduction of body fat that usually occurs on low carb. This reduction in body fat percentage and lightening of the body is a huge bonus for most sports.
Do you want to learn much more about maximizing your physical performance on low carb? Then check out our interviews with several of the world’s leading experts on the topic, as well as movies and advice from people with their own experience to guide you:
Control epilepsy with fewer or no drugs
The ketogenic diet (a strict low-carb diet) is a proven medical therapy for epilepsy, used since the 1920s. It’s mainly been used for children with uncontrolled epilepsy despite medication.
More recently, it has also been tested successfully on adults with epilepsy, with similar good results. There are many high-quality studies proving how effective the ketogenic diet is at decreasing seizures in patients with epilepsy.6
A key benefit of the ketogenic diet in epilepsy is that it generally allows people to take fewer anti-epileptic drugs, and still control the epilepsy. It’s not unusual for them to be able to completely stop taking these drugs while staying seizure-free.
As all of these medications have side effects – like drowsiness, reduced concentration, personality changes or even reduced IQ – being able to take fewer or no drugs can be hugely beneficial.
A ketogenic diet for beginners
Here are five stories from people who have experienced the benefits of low carb for epilepsy:
- How the editor-in-chief became free of epilepsy
- “Without a doubt, definitely the best decision I have ever made”
- “Butter and cheese saved my son”
- “The verdict was medication for at least 10 years”
- How a diet change can free people from epilepsy
The Ketogenic and Modified Atkins Diets: Treatments for Epilepsy and Other Disorders7 – Book by Eric Kossoff, MD, and collaborators.
Reduce symptoms of ADHD with low carb
Do kids get hyperactive by eating too much sugar and junk food? Could it even contribute to problems with ADHD?
Parents everywhere seem to believe it, but some experts still claim that it’s a myth. It’s too early to say for sure – the science is not really settled yet.
A new review recommends more studies on long-term sugar intake and the risk of ADHD. And a large well-designed study published in 2011 clearly showed that a diet change (including less sugar and processed food) reduces symptoms in most kids with ADHD.
Thus, it should be possible to – at least – reduce symptoms of ADHD with a diet change.
According to scientific studies it may not be enough to just reduce sugar intake. But a reduction in all rapidly digested carbohydrates may have an effect – many parents experience reduced or eliminated symptoms of ADHD in their kids on low carb. This also happens in adults. Below are a couple of stories.
There are scientists who believe that ADHD symptoms are similar to withdrawal symptoms from drugs and thus may present because the child is addicted to junk food/sugar. If you remove this food, the problem would soon diminish, which seems to be a common experience among parents and teachers.
Another possible explanation is that large amounts of processed carbs may induce large swings in blood sugar. As the blood sugar goes down rapidly again (an hour or two after a meal) the body may have to release stress hormones like adrenaline to avoid low sugar. This may accentuate symptoms associated with ADHD. Avoiding processed carbs may stabilize blood sugars and thus avoid this problem.
Observational studies give more support to the idea that processed carbohydrates may be at the root of the ADHD problem.
A recent study showed that American children who drink lots of soda have more issues with aggressive behavior and attention problems.
As many as 20 percent of boys in America are diagnosed with ADHD, usually resulting in medication with amphetamine-like stimulants. The rates of ADHD in US states have uncanny similarities to the rates of obesity (and drinking soda).
Omega-3 as a bonus?
Beyond a low-carb diet, supplementation with omega 3 fats may have a positive effect in many kids with ADHD according to a 2011 review of earlier studies.
There are reasons to believe that a low-carb diet may help many people with ADHD-like symptoms. Many people have experienced this and there are possible explanations for how it could work. Finally at least one high-quality study proves that similar dietary changes can have major positive effects in ADHD.
Have you tried it? Do you have experiences to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Keep reading about Common questions and answers about low carb
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NOTE: This is only an experimental additional treatment of selected cancers, with highly limited evidence. Many conventional cancer treatments (surgery, chemo etc.) are highly effective and they often offer excellent chances of a cure when used in early stages of the disease. To turn down such treatment would be a mistake that could easily be fatal. Also note that the information we provide at DietDoctor.com is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional. Full disclaimer
Here are two pilot studies where a ketogenic diet was used in cancer patients. The conclusions are that an insulin-inhibiting diet may be feasible in selected patients with advanced cancer, but there is a lack of clear evidence of a positive effect.
Journal of Nutrition 2012: Targeting insulin inhibition as a metabolic therapy in advanced cancer [very weak evidence]
Nutrition & Metabolism 2016: Modified Atkins diet in advanced malignancies – final results of a safety and feasibility trial within the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System [very weak evidence]
In brain cancer the ketogenic diet looks like a potentially promising addition to other treatments. This review article describes the theory behind it:
Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 2016: Tumor metabolism, the ketogenic diet and β-hydroxybutyrate: novel approaches to adjuvant brain tumor therapy ↩
A recent eight-week RCT found that people with Parkinson’s disease who ate a ketogenic diet had greater improvement in symptoms than those who ate a low-fat diet:
Movement Disorders 2018: Low‐fat versus ketogenic diet in parkinson’s disease: a pilot randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]
A small pilot study of five people with Parkinson’s disease showed an improvement of symptoms on a ketogenic diet. There was no control group, so a placebo effect can’t be ruled out.
Neurology 2005: Treatment of Parkinson disease with diet-induced hyperketonemia: a feasibility study [very weak evidence]
For example Shai 2008 or Bazzano 2014.
Full list of studies with the most important findings explained ↩
For example Daly 2005, Westman 2008 and Tay 2014.
Here are a randomized controlled trial and a new review article, if you want to dig into the details.
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2007: The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial
- Advances in Dermatology and Allergology 2016: Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris
There’s also a study showing that acne improves on a low-glycemic diet (with fewer carbs) with added Metformin (a type 2 diabetes drug targeting insulin resistance):
Clinical and Experimental Dermatology 2015: Low glycaemic diet and metformin therapy: a new approach in male subjects with acne resistant to common treatments
One more recent review article summarizing the science on the topic:
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology: Nutrition and Acne: Therapeutic Potential of Ketogenic Diets (2012) ↩
These two articles show how the ketogenic diet can be used to treat children with epilepsy:
- Kosoff, EH et al. Ketogenic Diets: An Update for Child Neurologists. Journal of Child Neurology, 2009.
- Kosoff, EH et al. Optimal Clinical Management of Children Receiving the Ketogenic Diet: Recommendations of the International Ketogenic Diet Study Group. Epilepsia, 2009.
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