top ten health benefits of the low carb diet

Top Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet

A low-carb diet is a healthy weight loss solution that avoids all of the pitfalls associated with common fad diets. It works by causing the body to shift from burning carbohydrates to burning stored fat instead. There also happens to be a number of powerful health benefits that go along with this diet. Here are ten of the most significant benefits.

1. Reducing “Bad” Cholesterol

cholesterol chemical structure

Inside the body is widely debated waxy substance known as cholesterol. It comes in two major varieties called HDL and LDL cholesterol. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein and it is often labeled as the “bad” cholesterol.

In reality, the existence of the cholesterol itself is not bad. It is actually essential for our bodies to survive.

However, high concentrations of LDL greatly increases the risk for heart disease caused by plaque build up in the arteries.

Most of the cholesterol in our bodies is produced within the body itself.

Our dietary habits influence just how much cholesterol we produce and the types of lipoproteins that transport them.

That cholesterol is then used to aid in the production of hormones, vitamins, and other substances required by our digestive systems.

The lipoprotein is the structure used to transport the cholesterol through the bloodstream. A major difference between HDL and LDL is the density of that lipoprotein.

However, a second difference between the two is the size of the cholesterol particles.

Many studies are discovering that the size of the particles is more important than the quantity of the particles. Small LDL particles are very likely to increase the risk of heart disease while larger LDL particles provide little-to-no risk at all.

But how does all of this relate to a low carb diet? A low carb diet actually improves LDL in the body in two ways.

First, it eventually reduces the overall volume of LDL cholesterol. Second, it increases the size of the LDL particles.

a doctor shares his test results with a patient

In combination, these two changes greatly reduce the risk of developing a heart disease caused by plaque in the arteries.

It’s important to note that many people experience an increase in LDL levels at the starting point of a low carb diet.

This increase in LDL may last for about 4 months and is not a serious problem. It is believed this happens because the body is releasing dissolved cholesterol that was stored in fat cells.

As you are losing weight, the cholesterol from those fat cells enters the bloodstream.

Your LDL levels will steadily decrease following the 4-month mark.

2. Boosting “Good” Cholesterol

If LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol, then high-density lipoprotein(HDL) cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol.

The terms LDL and HDL don’t actually refer to the cholesterol themselves, but rather the lipoproteins used to transport them. LDL transports the cholesterol from the liver to various parts of the body.

HDL transports cholesterol from those parts of the body back into the liver.

That same cholesterol can be used again or it can leave the body as waste.

LDL is linked to increased risks in heart disease while HDL is linked to reduced risk of heart disease. Thus, it makes sense that we would want to decrease our LDL levels while simultaneously increasing our HDL levels.

To accomplish this, we need to consume diets that are low on carbs and high on fats. These diets are often referred to as low-carb diets, low-carb high-fat diets, or ketogenic diets.

There are certain types of dietary fats that are better than others. It’s a good idea to know what these fats are so that you can make healthy choices when reading nutrition labels.

As a matter of fact, there are some dietary fats that increase LDL. Saturated fats and trans fats can both increase LDL while lowering HDL.

The healthiest dietary fats to look for are omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are often found in plant-based oils, fatty fish, and various other healthy food choices.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid trans fats altogether and limit saturated fats as well as carbohydrates.

3. Control Sugar Cravings

a pile of jelly beans

A well-rounded low carb diet can actually reduce your cravings for sugars and other sweet treats. Many people don’t realize that food cravings aren’t actually a part of hunger.

It’s not the stomach that controls your cravings, as with hunger, but it is your brain. In most cases, a particular craving is your brain’s way of telling you that it needs something.

Interestingly enough, a craving for sugar can actually mean that you are lacking protein. By increasing your protein intake you can actually severely reduce your sugar cravings.

One specific low-carb diet, the ketogenic diet, is labeled as low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein. It is a great example of a low-carb diet with enough protein intake to control sugar cravings.

Though, in general, if you are consuming low-carb meals with plenty of healthy meats and vegetables, then you should be taking in enough protein to control those cravings.

Consuming fats is another way to quickly reduce sugar cravings. As mentioned, most low-carb diets are high-fat diets.

This is because the fats are used to replace carbohydrates as the primary energy source for the body. Thus, by simply eating a low-carb, high-fat diet, you will reduce cravings and be able to eliminate them immediately if they do occur.

The benefits of craving less sugar are obvious. Sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes 2, inflammation, and insulin resistance.

4. Skin Benefits

There are a number of factors that influence acne. One of the biggest factors is our diet. Over the years, a number of studies have been conducted to determine what types of foods are most likely to cause acne breakouts.

Some of those studies have pointed to foods that are high on the glycemic index(GI).

The GI rating of a particular food illustrates the impact on your blood sugar that food will have. It’s not related only to the number of carbs that a food has, but also how fast the body will turn those carbs into glucose.

a woman with beautiful skin

Foods that have a high GI score above 70 are considered bad because the body will quickly convert them into glucose causing a spike in blood sugar and insulin.

Most foods that are in low-carb diets have low GI scores as well.

People on low carb diets rarely suffer from hyperinsulinemia, which is characterized by large spikes of insulin in the bloodstream. Those acne studies mentioned previously often linked hyperinsulinemia to the production of acne.

If you put these factors together, it means that people who stick to low-carb diets are less likely to experience insulin spikes that lead to acne outbreaks.

5. Can Lower Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is another crucial component to observe when considering heart health. Another one of the many ways that a low carb diet can improve heart health is by lowering blood pressure.

When coupled with some of the other benefits, such as lowering LDL and increasing HDL, a low-carb diet becomes one of the most effective tools for reducing heart disease.

a person has their blood pressure checked

Blood pressure is represented as two number: one above the other. Systolic pressure is the top number in the fraction and it represents the pressure that exists within the arteries during heart contractions.

The systolic pressure is the maximum pressure that the heart exerts on the lining of the vessels.

The lower number in the fraction is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure that exists in the arteries between heartbeats. The diastolic pressure will always be lower than systolic pressure because less force is being exerted between heartbeats.

When these numbers rise too high it can lead to hypertension. This is when blood pressure is regularly above 140/90 mm Hg.

Constant hypertension can lead to some very serious medical conditions. Luckily, the risk of hypertension and thus the risk of those conditions can be reduced by consuming a low-carb, high-fat diet.

A 12-month study was conducted to determine the impact of various diets on these numbers. It was noted that participants in the low-carb diet group noticed the greatest reduction in LDL, body mass, triglycerides, and blood pressure.

6. Drop Water Weight

Weight loss is a big benefit, but not all weight loss comes from fat. We actually carry a lot of excess weight in the body in the form of extra water.

It’s not uncommon for a person to carry a few pounds of water weight at any given time. Ironically, someone who is dehydrated is going to have more water weight than the average person.

The kidney is the organ that decides if you should keep water or expel it as waste. Your insulin levels help influence whether the kidney will store or release water.

A salty meal combined with unhealthy insulin levels will result in the kidney storing excess water. The best way to regulate insulin levels and prevent your kidneys from storing water is by eating a low-carb diet.

7. Better Physical Endurance

a man goes for a long run

As mentioned at the start of the article, the body has two primary sources of energy.

However, those sources of energy are not created equal. The body can only rely on carbohydrates for a few hours of serious exercise. Meanwhile, the body could be fueled by its fat stores for weeks or even months. That’s a huge difference.

Most humans have become so adept at burning carbohydrates that the body is not able to easily burn fats. Even worse, those fat stores cannot be used to fuel the brain at first.

That’s why they must return to eating more and more carbohydrates prior to exercise.

There comes a point after sticking to a low-carb high-fat diet that the body bypasses this barrier and is able to efficiently burn fat and to use that fat to fuel the brain. This results in a fat-burning machine with high levels of physical endurance.

That’s likely why so many endurance athletes are turning to diets like the ketogenic diet.

8. Better Triglyceride Numbers

We’ve already covered multiple ways in which a low-carb diet can improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease, but there is another: reducing triglycerides.

A triglyceride is a very particular fat molecule. It may seem odd that we want to reduce them considering we are consuming diets that are high in fat, but these fat molecules are not good for the body.

Ironically, a low-fat diet causes a spike in triglycerides while a high-fat, low-carb diet causes a decrease in triglycerides.

The reduction that occurs when shifting to a low-carb diet is very dramatic and causes a serious reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.

9. Epilepsy Management

This benefit may not matter to everyone, but it is significant nonetheless. One of the most well-known low-carb diets, the ketogenic diet, was developed for the purpose of treating epilepsy.

It can lead to a fifty percent reduction in seizures in patients who experience dozens of seizures on a daily basis. There are children suffering from epilepsy who do not benefit from medications but can be treated with a low-carb, high-fat diet.

The ketogenic diet works by causing the body to break down fats instead of carbohydrates. Those fats are converted into ketone bodies, which fuel the body as well as the brain.

Over time, as these ketones build up in the bloodstream, the body enters a state of ketosis. This leads to several mental and physical benefits. One of those benefits is a reduction in seizures.

10. Fat Loss

checking to see how much weight she lost

The final benefit and the one that most people look for when starting a diet is weight loss. There are a number of ways in which a low-carb diet increases weight loss.

Some of those ways have already been mentioned, such as controlling sugar cravings and reducing water weight. It also helps control insulin levels, which causes the body to purge extra sodium stored in the body.

Which Low-Carb Diets Work Best?

There are a number of different routes you can take when selecting a low-carb high fat diet that fits your dietary needs, and will help you reach your weight loss or health goals.

South Beach Diet (learn more here), the ketogenic diet, and Atkins are just a few that come to mind. All of them have been found to produce pretty incredible weight loss results, but each brings its own set of pros and cons, so be sure to do your research, before selecting one and diving in.

Final Thoughts – LCHF Requires Commitment

A low carbohydrate diet requires a serious commitment. The first few weeks will be difficult because the body is adjusting to a new fuel source.

LDL levels will also spike for the first few months. However, once that initial time period has passed, the body will be healthier, will operate more efficiently, and will possess more energy than ever before.

If you have the patience and are willing to commit to a low carb diet it could greatly improve your health.

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