Low-carb diet: How healthy is a low-carb diet?

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The low-carb diet is trendy: some people want to lose weight with this diet, others see it as having benefits for their health. But how healthy is a low carb diet? Can you lose weight and stay healthy in the long term? Or are there risks you should be aware of? You can find out this and much more here.

What does a low carb diet look like?

The term “ low carb ” comes from English and is the abbreviation for “low carbohydrate”. This means “few carbohydrates”.  Low carb is therefore a diet that hardly contains any carbohydrates. In some cases people even try to avoid them completely avoid (“ No Carb ”).

People who follow the low-carb diet consume less than 26 percent of their food per day in the form of carbohydrates. For comparison: The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends an intake of over 50 percent. How many carbohydrates are consumed on a low-carb diet depends on the different forms. Less strict low-carb diets are at 45 percent, very restrictive ones at less than ten percent.

The concept of losing weight on a low-carb diet is not new. The low-carb diet is at the heart of many different nutritional trends , such as: 

  • Atkins diet
  • Slim in your sleep
  • Paleo diet
  • Dukan diet
  • Keto diet
  • LOGI method
  • South Beach Diet 

However , supporters of the low-carb diet are not just concerned with losing weight or generally avoiding carbohydrates. Effects that are still said to be low carb include: improved blood and inflammation levels as well as fewer hunger attacks, metabolic fluctuations and intestinal problems. Single and disaccharides in particular are left out.

What are carbohydrates? Carbohydrates, along with protein and fat, are one of the three main sources of energy. They are made up of sugar molecules. A distinction can be made between single, double and multiple sugars:

Simple sugars : These contain a single type of sugar, glucose (dextrose) or fructose (fruit sugar). They provide energy quickly because the body can easily use them.

Disaccharides : They consist of two types of sugar. Sucrose – also called table sugar – is made up of glucose and fructose. Sweets, but also many types of fruit, fall into this category. Disaccharides are also quick sources of energy, but satiety doesn’t last long. One consequence can be cravings. However, some types of fruit can also be consumed safely on a low-carb diet, e.g. E.g. strawberries.

Polysaccharides : These are complex carbohydrates. They consist of many linked mono or disaccharides. The body therefore takes longer to break them down. That’s why they fill you up more slowly but more sustainably. Polysaccharides are mainly found in cereals, whole grain products, potatoes and vegetables. They are part of a healthy diet.

With a low-carb diet, complex carbohydrates should still be on the menu.

What foods should you eat on low carb ?

The body prefers to use carbohydrates to generate energy. If no or hardly any carbohydrates are consumed, he has to attack his fat reserves in order to produce the necessary energy. In this way, body weight can decrease.

Foods rich in carbohydrates are primarily replaced by foods rich in fat in the low-carb diet plan.

Popular low carb foods include: 

  • Eggs
  • Meats such as beef, chicken, lamb and pork
  • Fish and seafood such as salmon, trout, sardines, tuna and lobster
  • Dairy products such as yogurt, quark and cheese
  • Low-carb vegetables such as broccoli, cucumber, asparagus, onions, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, eggplant, spinach and zucchini
  • Mushrooms such as button mushrooms, chanterelles and porcini mushrooms
  • Low-carb fruits such as tomatoes, avocado, olives, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and apricots (not dried)

Why not all types of fruit are suitable for a low carb diet

Fruit is considered healthy. Since, compared to vegetables, it usually contains a lot of carbohydrates in the form of fructose, low-carb diets usually consist mainly of low-sugar types of fruit. Canned fruit and dried fruits in particular are not suitable because they are usually sugary.

How high can the carbohydrate content be in my low-carb diet?

If you’re not concerned with rapid weight loss, but with reducing carbohydrates in general, a maximum of 150 grams of carbohydrates per day is a good rule of thumb. Such a form of nutrition can reduce weight slowly but sustainably without risking nutritional deficiencies. Stick to complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrate sources from foods such as potatoes, rice, bread and pasta are recommended in small quantities at most when following the low-carb principle. The so-called “free sugar” is largely avoided. This is not only contained in sweets and many baked goods, but is also often hidden in finished products such as packet soup and frozen pizza. Fruits and vegetables do not contain any free sugar.

How to recognize hidden sugar in finished products

Sugar is not always immediately recognizable. There are around 70 different terms for sugar. These include glucose-fructose syrup, fruit sweetener, malt, sweet whey powder, dextrose and fructose. Pay attention to the ending “-ose”. It usually signals that sugar is contained in the product in question.

How much fat is in a low carb diet?

The body primarily uses carbohydrates to generate energy. If he gets less of it, he has to change his metabolism and rely on his fat reserves. It forms so-called ketone bodies in the liver, which are created when fatty acids are broken down and become energy suppliers. That’s why we often talk about a ketogenic diet.

Depending on the type of diet, the fat content of the daily diet can be up to 60 percent. However, it depends on the type of fat: you should consume as little as possible of saturated fats such as butter, sausage, lard and coconut fat. Instead, prefer unsaturated vegetable fats such as avocado, rapeseed, olive and linseed oil. These contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids are sunflower and corn oil.

When it comes to proteins, you should also rely more on plant sources. These include, for example, pumpkin seeds, tofu and other soy products, nuts, legumes and oat bran.

Advantages of the low carb diet: Who is it suitable for?

Many people use low carb as a diet to lose weight . But there are even more reasons to critically question the consumption of carbohydrates. Above all, avoiding mono and disaccharides generally has a positive effect on blood sugar levels. The insulin level also remains more constant.  A low-carbohydrate diet also makes sense for people with diabetes . However, it is fundamentally important to make sure you consume enough fiber and keep an eye on your fat intake.

Accordingly, low-carbohydrate diets are a suitable approach to a healthier life if you focus primarily on vegetables, fruits and grains. However, it is not necessary to buy special low-carb or high-protein products as long as you pay attention to protein-rich foods in your low-carbohydrate diet.

Disadvantages of the low carb diet

The biggest disadvantage of the diet is certainly that this form of nutrition can lead to quick weight loss results, but requires discipline in the long term. Otherwise there is a risk of a yo-yo effect here too. This means that a low-carbohydrate diet is no different from other diets. This is especially true for strict low-carb forms.

Other disadvantages of low carb can be:

  • Monotony: The choice of tasty meals can be very limited – especially if you aim for a very low carbohydrate intake. If you want to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, your choices are even more limited. That’s why many people return to their previous diet.
  • Performance:  Since carbohydrates are also important for the energy metabolism of the organs – the brain of an adult alone needs 120-140 grams of glucose daily – both mental and physical performance may suffer from a low-carbohydrate diet.
  • Mood: Carbohydrates are important for the production of serotonin – a messenger substance that is also popularly known as the “happiness hormone”. A low-carb diet could therefore also have a negative impact on mood and emotions.
  • Culture and habit: The bread, which is valued in Germany, becomes a challenge with a low-carb breakfast or “evening meal”. There is a special protein bread that contains particularly few carbohydrates. However, it often contains more calories, which in turn makes weight loss more difficult. In addition, the added soy or lupine protein can  be problematic for people with allergies .

Tip: Bake your low carb bread yourself

If you are not sure which bread is suitable for a low-carb diet, simply bake one yourself. Here is our recipe for a low-carb, low-calorie flaxseed bread:

You need the following ingredients:

  • 300 grams of low-fat quark
  • 100 grams each of ground linseed and almond flour
  • five tablespoons of spelled bran
  • a tablespoon of psyllium seeds
  • a packet of dry yeast
  • four eggs
  • a cup of water
  • some salt as well as spices, seeds and kernels to taste

That’s how it’s done:

  • Mix the curd, eggs, flour, linseed, bran, psyllium, salt and some of the water.
  • Then add the yeast and the remaining water.
  • Let the dough rest covered for an hour.
  • Put the dough in a loaf pan, sprinkle it with kernels or seeds and let it rest for another ten minutes.
  • Bake your bread in a preheated oven at 150 degrees for 90 minutes. 

Bon appetit!

How healthy is the low carb diet?

The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) is responsible for nutritional recommendations for disease prevention. She does not consider a strictly low-carbohydrate diet to be recommended in the long term. According to the DGE  , the body does not receive enough fiber during a low-carbohydrate diet. In addition, the risk of colon cancer can increase if the low-carb diet is accompanied by a higher consumption of red meat.

The often high fat intake with low carbs can also increase the risk of various diseases such as coronary heart disease  and gout. The DGE also points to a study from the specialist magazine  Lancet Public Health  : The scientists associated both a very high and a very low proportion of carbohydrates in the daily diet with an increased risk of mortality.

The DGE also criticizes the limited choice of food on a low-carbohydrate diet: A very one-sided low-carb diet can lead to a nutrient deficiency and have a detrimental effect on health.

Strict low-carb diets can also cause headaches, digestive problems (especially with low fiber intake), increased uric acid production, bad breath and severe fatigue as side effects.

Who is the low carb diet not suitable for?

People who like to eat pasta, rice and bread will probably have a very difficult time with a low-carb diet, will quickly break off the diet or will only stick to it through suffering.

There are also health restrictions for which a low-carbohydrate diet is not recommended, such as gout or kidney disease . If you suffer from chronic illnesses, are pregnant  or breastfeeding , then it is best to discuss with your doctor whether this diet is suitable for you.

What you should pay attention to when following a low-carb diet

If you have weighed the pros and cons and decided on a low-carb diet, the following tips can help:

  • Avoid an extremely low-carb (or no-carb) diet and an unbalanced diet. This can lead to  nutrient deficiencies and affect your health.
  • If you eat few carbohydrates, you should pay particular attention to their quality. It is better to choose foods with a high proportion of whole grains and fiber rather than products containing white flour or sugar.
  • Excessive intake of animal foods is not recommended. Prefer vegetables and legumes as well as vegetable fats.
  • Be careful with special low-carb foods: Protein bread contains fewer carbohydrates, but in addition to a high protein content, it also contains a lot of fat and therefore calories. In addition, these products are usually significantly more expensive.

FAQ: Frequently asked questions about the low carb diet

What is low carb?

Low carb means “few carbohydrates”. This is a form of nutrition in which a low-carbohydrate diet is followed. This can be found in many different nutritional concepts, such as the Atkins diet, the keto diet, “Slim while you sleep”, the Paleo diet, the Dukan diet and the LOGI method.

What does a low carb diet plan look like?

With a diet plan based on the low-carb principle, “simple” carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar disappear from the menu. Complex carbohydrates are allowed in moderation. The focus of the low-carb diet is on foods rich in protein and fat. The body should get its energy primarily from unsaturated fats instead of carbohydrates.

How many carbohydrates are allowed on low carb ?

The carbohydrate content of a low-carb diet depends on the nutritional concept chosen. There are strict (Atkins diet) and less strict low-carbohydrate nutritional concepts (LOGI method). For many people, a carbohydrate content of 150 grams per day contributes to healthy weight loss. The foods should be complex carbohydrates such as whole grains.

Can I lose weight with low carb ?

With a low-carb diet, weight loss results can often be achieved within a short period of time. However, the dreaded yo-yo effect can also occur with this type of diet : Due to the overall one-sided diet, there is a risk that those who want to lose weight will not be able to stick to the low-carbohydrate diet for long. After returning to your previous diet, the pounds may quickly come back. According to the German Nutrition Society, a low-carb diet poses long-term health risks. Therefore, you should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this diet.

How does low carb work ?

Normally our body mainly uses carbohydrates for its energy supply. With a low-carbohydrate diet, the metabolism changes: the body uses its fat reserves to generate energy and forms so-called ketone bodies in the liver. These are created when fatty acids are broken down and become the new energy suppliers.

What foods can I eat on a low-carb diet?

The low-carb diet plan primarily consists of foods rich in fat and protein instead of carbohydrate sources. These include eggs and dairy products, meat, fish and seafood, but also vegetables with a low carbohydrate content such as asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower as well as mushrooms. Certain types of fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, apricots (not dried) and strawberries are also suitable for the low-carb diet. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains are also allowed, but in moderation.

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