Followers of the low-carb diet craze once declared carbohydrates the ultimate villain, but they’re not out to get you. Actually, experts recommend that the largest percentage of your daily calories come from this food group. Eating the right carbs — and fewer of them — can completely change your body. These changes aren’t necessarily what you’re expecting, though. Here are some of the great, and not so great, things that can happen when you reduce your carb intake.
1. You’ll burn more fat
When you eat fewer carbs, fat loss is an almost automatic — and wonderful — side effect. Carbs are the first nutrient your body breaks down for fuel after a meal. The problem is, once your body has all the energy it needs for the time being, any leftover sugar has nowhere else to go. So your body stores the leftovers as fat. This becomes problematic when you proceed to eat more carbs before your body has a chance to burn through the ones you’ve stored up from before. Over time, this is how excess fat builds up (usually in all the places you’d rather it not). Eating fewer carbs allows your body to burn through the fat it’s theoretically saving for later.
Trimming down your carb intake isn’t the only way to burn body fat, though — especially all on its own. Losing fat takes a combination of the right foods (especially healthy fats!) and a fitness routine that works your whole body at once. Women’s Health suggests maintaining a diet high in fiber and protein helps discourage you from eating foods high in salt and sugar, which can increase body fat. Fat-burning exercises, in addition to a diet full of healthy carbs, will also help you burn more fat.
2. Your blood sugar will stabilize
Eating foods high in sugar causes a surge of glucose in your bloodstream. This sudden flood can result in a blood sugar spike — followed by an equally sudden and drastic crash. Not only does this leave you feeling fatigued and foggy, but it also sends your pancreas into overdrive. The same way your heart can give out when your blood pressure is too high for too long, your pancreas can stop functioning correctly in response to chronically high blood glucose. If you don’t change your diet, this can eventually turn into an unwanted diabetes diagnosis.
Eating the right foods, especially foods high in fiber, causes a much slower release of sugar into your bloodstream, which significantly decreases your risk of type 2 diabetes. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, cutting out simple carbohydrates — sugary drinks, processed sugars and meats — is an important step in preventing the chronic disease. When you do eat carbs, choose whole grains, and say no to refined sugars like white bread.
3. You’ll lower your ‘bad’ cholesterol
The concept of cholesterol can be confusing, because doctors look at two different numbers: your HDL (good) cholesterol, and your LDL (bad) cholesterol. It’s up to your good cholesterol to pick up the bad cholesterol hanging around in your blood and carry it away. When you have too much bad cholesterol, and not enough good, that’s when problems arise. The result? Probably heart disease.
While there are plenty of foods that can raise your LDL cholesterol, it turns out cutting back on certain carbs — especially added sugars — can have a positive effect. According to Mayo Clinic, eating the right types of carbs, like fiber, can decrease the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. Replacing processed foods with quality protein and healthy fats can also improve your cholesterol.
4. You’ll lose water weight
The premise of low-carb diets is that you’ll eliminate some of the worst foods from your meals and snacks — and supposedly lose weight in the process. Cutting carbs does result in rapid weight loss — at first. This change won’t last if you keep it up, though. Unfortunately, reducing your carb intake is not an effective strategy for long-term weight loss. You may end up depriving your body of energy, which can mess with your metabolism. Besides, the weight loss you’ll notice in the beginning of your low-carb endeavors is mostly water weight. You may lose a few pounds, but your weight will plateau fairly quickly.
If you’re truly set on losing weight, cutting processed sugars and replacing them with fiber is only one piece of a very complex puzzle. Many people take the low-carb mindset too far, thinking all carbs are bad and have no business in their bodies. Reducing your intake of refined carbs can have major health benefits, but going to the extreme can have rather unpleasant consequences.
5. You might have digestive problems
Eliminating even the healthiest carbs can take a major toll on your digestive tract. While it’s true that refined pastas, breads and junk foods aren’t the best options you could choose, saying no to whole grains, fruits, and vegetables has a major downside. According to Everyday Health, fiber, a key feature of all these foods, is an essential component of digestive health. If you don’t get enough of it, you could end up damaging your colon.
This is why it’s important to maintain your intake of dietary fiber while cutting back on sugar. Replace white rice with brown rice, sugary cereals with oatmeal, and as many snack foods as possible with high-protein options like fruits and plenty of veggies.
6. Your energy levels might drop
Many people who cut back on carbs find they have more energy than they did before. This is likely because refined and high-sugar foods only provide short bursts of energy. When you stop overloading your system with excess sugar, and replace it with carbs your body can digest slowly, you’re left with energy that actually lasts.
However, if you don’t eat enough carbs, you could have trouble maintaining your energy levels. Restricting carbs could leave you feeling just as fatigued as a sugar crash. In addition, Eat This, Not That! warns that too few carbs can also affect your memory and concentration. You can still eat carbs and maintain a healthy diet. In fact, cutting them out completely is not only next to impossible — it’s seriously unsafe.
7. What would happen if you stopped eating carbs?
Have you ever noticed there are carbs in basically all your favorite foods? That’s because meat and fish are pretty much the only zero-carb foods that exist. Could you live on beef alone? Probably not. Foods that contain carbs are also full of essential vitamins and minerals, which you need for survival. Ditching carbs would surely help you shed pounds, but at what cost?
It would be extremely difficult to consume a sufficient amount of calories without carbs. According to Livestrong.com, you’d not only lose fat on a no-carb diet, but muscle mass, too. Without enough energy, your metabolism would slow down, affecting the number of calories your body burns. You’d be doing more harm than good, which is why even a low-carb diet isn’t suitable for everyone. Focus on choosing better carbs, and taking out the least healthy ones, instead of trying to cut ties with carbs for good.