What You Need To Know About The Low-Carb Diet

Much like Oprah, we (and Women's Health Magazine) LOVE bread. So naturally, the thought of cutting it out of our lives (along with any other carbs) is terrifying. But then again, if everyone and their mom (and lots of scientific research) claim that quitting carbohydrates is the key to weight loss, there's got to be something to it, right?

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(Photo: Photo Courtesy of Women's Health)

Whether it takes the form of Atkins or the Paleo Diet, the low-carb trend has been around for a long time. But chances are you might not fully understand where it came from, how it works, and why experts are torn on whether this eating plan is smart. Here, Women's Health breaks down all of that so you can decide if carb-cutting in the name of weight loss is worth it.

What low-carb actually means: Depending on who you talk to, there are different definitions of a low-carb diet. Plans can range from 100 grams of carbohydrates per day to zero grams (yikes), says Susan Kleiner, Ph.D, R.D., author of "Power Eating". To put that into perspective, a small piece of fruit has about 15 grams of carbs and a banana contains up to 30 grams.

For the sake of this article, though, we'll talk about a diet containing 100 grams of carbs per day, for someone who exercises three times a week at a moderate pace. For everyone else, a true low-carb diet would be about 50 grams per day, says Kleiner.

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What's considered a carb? Unfortunately for Regina George, butter is not a carb. But according to the USDA’s Nutrient Database, lots of foods, including fruits and veggies, contain high amounts of carbohydrates. Though you probably know potatoes and bananas are packed with the carbohydrates, over 20 grams of the macronutrient are also found in a serving of grapes, apples, pears, and cauliflower. Plus, dried fruits, such as apricots, cranberries, and raisins, have a whopping 80 grams per serving.

>> Read more: 7 High-Protein Low-Carb Dinner Recipes

You’ll find carbs lurking in places other unsuspecting places, too. Frozen yogurt, almond and soy milk, barbeque sauce, and protein-packed beans and legumes (including chickpeas, kidney beans, and baked beans) are all considered high-carb foods.

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How low-carb diets became trendy: According to a 2008 article in the journal "Epilepsia", the ketogenic diet, a high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet, originated as a cure for epilepsy in 500 B.C. and is still used as such today.

The Atkins diet was invented in 1972 as a result of research aimed to help overweight people with hypertension, says Kleiner. Prior to Atkins, doctors were “starving” diseases in overweight patients with ultra low-calorie diets (500-600 calories a day). So when researchers discovered that a high-protein, low-carb diet was just as effective for weight loss, they started using this method so participants could have a normal caloric intake.

The reason these diets have such staying power is because they do help people lose weight, says Keri Gans, R.D., author of "The Small Change Diet". The thing is, people get frustrated with deprivation diets so they give up, she says.

WHY LOW-CARB WORKS WELL FOR SOME

1. No carbs means no-brainer portion control. Weight lossassociated with a low-carb diet is mainly a result of eating less, saysAlbert Matheny, C.S.C.S., R.D., of SoHo Strength Lab and Promix Nutrition. “Carbs aren't bad, they're just over-consumed relative to a person’s activity level,” he says. When you cut carbs, you’re giving up the foods you might be overindulging in, which saves you tons of calories.And it's easy to see why we can't stop, won't stop with the refined carbohydrates, says Matheny. Besides being super satisfying, things like cereal, spaghetti, and rice are cheaper, more convenient, and more frequently advertised than other foods, he says.Plus, portion control is difficult for most people. “It's much easier to eliminate a food group than to learn how to eat it in a healthier way,” says Gans. If you’re a carb overeater, you’ll likely be cutting at least 20 percent of the food you consume, so of course you’d lose weight.

2. It keeps blood sugar in check. A high-carb diet leads to greater variations in blood sugar, says Matheny. These fluctuations make your body physiologically dependent on carbs, so you crave more and more each time your blood sugar drops. This leads to overeating and weight gain, he says. When you lower your carb intake, your blood sugar stabilizes, and your cravings are crushed.

To learn more about the low-carb diet, click here for the original article from Women's Health.