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Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet

By Jill Corleone ; Updated July 18, 2017

After being dismissed for years as a fad diet, a low-carb diet may be better for weight loss and health than originally thought. This diet is not only better at helping people lose weight, but also at improving heart health and retaining muscle mass. If you're considering a low-carb diet to help you get healthy, first talk to your doctor to make sure it's right for you.

Weight Loss on a Low-Carb Diet

When it comes to weight loss, low-carb diets may be more effective at helping you drop pounds than low-fat diets, according to a 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This two-year-long study compared a low-carb diet to a low-fat diet on weight loss in a group of obese people and found that the people following the low-carb diet lost almost twice the amount of weight as those following a low-fat diet. Additionally, the low-carb diet group had an easier time keeping it off, according to the follow-up report on the group published in 2012 in NJEM.

Low-carb diets benefit those trying to lose weight in two ways. First, restricting carb intake forces your body to burn fat instead of carbs for energy. Additionally, this fat-burning state -- referred to as ketosis -- reduces your appetite, making it easy for you to consume fewer calories for weight loss.

Good for Your Heart

When you're allowed to eat foods such as bacon and steak, it's hard to believe that a low-carb diet is good for your heart. But like weight loss, it seems as though restricting your carbs and eating more protein and veggies also helps lower triglyceride levels and increase levels of HDL -- the good cholesterol -- according to the 2008 NJEM study. A 2007 study published in JAMA found similar results when comparing the effects of a low-carb diet against other popular diet plans on heart health in a group of overweight and obese premenopausal women.

A low-carb diet also helps reduce cardiovascular disease markers for inflammation, according to a 2015 clinical study published in Nutrients. Participants in this study were assigned a low-fat or low-carb diet and followed it for a year. The group following the low-carb diet not only lost more weight than the low-fat group, but also showed a decrease in inflammation and an improvement in metabolic factors related to obesity and heart disease.

Preserving Muscle While Losing Fat

When you go on a weight-loss diet, you lose not only fat, but muscle. Muscle contributes to your metabolism, and the less muscle you have, the fewer calories your body burns. A low-carb diet may help you lose less muscle and more fat as you shed weight, according to a 2005 clinical study published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. In this four-month study, the more than 100 participants lost 15 percent of their fat mass and only 5 percent of their lean body mass.

Safety Concerns

Low-carb diets may offer a number of health benefits, but there are some concerns. Eliminating grains and fruit from your diet may put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your doctor about whether you'll need a multivitamin to ensure you're getting everything you need. Also, if you're taking medication for blood sugar or blood pressure, you'll need to check in with your doctor to see if dosages need to be changed to prevent adverse effects. Many people also complain of constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle cramps or headaches when they reduce their intake of carbs. If you're not feeling quite yourself, contact your doctor immediately for guidance.

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