Low-carb diets may help prevent or improve serious health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In fact, almost any diet that helps you shed excess weight can reduce or even reverse risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Most weight-loss diets — not just low-carb diets — may improve blood cholesterol or blood sugar levels, at least temporarily.
As low-carb dietitian Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, who’s based in Orange County, California, points out, when you cut back on carbs, blood sugar and insulin levels generally go down, which can be a good thing for some people. “Carbs are broken down into glucose, which raises your blood sugar and prompts your pancreas to produce insulin to drive sugar into your cells,” says Spritzler. “When you’re overweight or obese, your blood sugar goes up and your pancreas sends out insulin, but your cells may not be responsive, leading your pancreas to overproduce insulin,” she says. High insulin increases hunger and prompts fat storage, she explains.
As for if you’re dealing with health issues, you really have to defer to your doctor. For instance, if you have kidney disease, you also want to talk to your doctor about appropriate protein intake. If you have heart disease, you can still go low carb, but you may be better off opting for monounsaturated fats (avocados, nuts, and olive oil) over saturated fats (butter and red meat). Everyone’s cholesterol levels respond differently on a low-carb diet, so if yours are going up, switch to unsaturated sources of fats, Spritzler recommends. “In general, this is a diet most people can do. If you have a chronic condition, work with a doctor who understands low-carbohydrate diets to monitor you,” she adds.
That said, you don’t have to jump in with both feet. Schmidt recommends trying to eat under 200 g of carbs a day initially (a moderate-carb diet) and then adjust lower based on how you feel. “If you start paying attention to the carbs in your diet, you’ll eat fewer processed foods,” she says. And it’s those whole foods that are the basis of good health.