Low-Carbohydrate Diet Pros & Cons

A Low-Carbohydrate Diet may seem like a modern trend, but at one point, it was the go-to treatment for obesity and diabetes.  While there have been many testimonials of weight loss and health improvement success stories, the question is whether or not it is sustainable long-term.

In this article I list a few pros and cons of low-carbohydrate diets, something for which Don and I have had direct experience.

Many attribute the escalating rates of common diseases of 'Western Civilization' to be a result of increasing availability of processed carbohydrate-rich foods ~ especially refined grains and sugars.  However, this belief may be too simplistic. Not all carbohydrates ~ or plant foods ~ have the same net effect on blood sugar balance, and overall health.

It is, however, highly possible that the increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, and starchy carbohydrates ~ grains, pastas, breads, cookies, cakes, crackers, etc. ~ are indeed contributing to increased health problems, but for reasons other than what are being discussed in main stream outlets.

"Today it seems that the only medically accepted hypothesis about nutrition and disease is that fat is responsible for all that ails us.  There is great pressure to conform to this theory, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.  Carbohydrates have been completely ignored as a potential problem in human diets."
~ From Life Without Bread

In Life Without Bread ~ How A Low-Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life, cowritten by Christian B. Allan, Ph.D., and Wolfgang Lutz, M.D., linked here, and below.  

It is an enjoyable and interesting read, with explanations of why  low-carbohydrate diets were effective at helping thousands of Dr. Lutz's patients overcome a wide range of diseases. I was convinced it was carbohydrates ~ the total grams of any and all carbs consumed in a day ~ that was underlying many health problems.

Dr. Lutz successfully treated adult and childhood obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, heart disease and hypertension, endocrine disorders, digestive disorders including gas, constipation, diarrhea, diverticulosis, and Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and much more with a low-carbohydrate diet.

While that is all well and good, we don't know how long his clients sustained their low-carbohydrate diet, and the health improvements long term.

After reading some of the research of biologist, Ray Peat, Don and I now have a better understanding of why a low-carbohydrate diet may not be ideal long-term.

Primarily, while increased carbohydrate consumption may be part of the rise in obesity, diabetes, and other modern diseases, not all carbohydrates have the same negative consequences.  According to Peat, fructose is an essential missing component in diabetics, as it is fructose that helps glucose be metabolized appropriately into blood sugar.

Can you get optimal levels of vitamins and minerals on a low-carbohydrate diet?  

Of course if someone is selling you on the idea that a low-carbohydrate diet ~ or even a 'zero carb' diet devoid of all plant foods is best ~ they will no doubt respond to this question by explaining that you can get adequate vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin C, from animal foods, especially if you consume organ meats. Or, they will explain why they do not require as much since they are not eating carbs!

According to the authors of Life Without Bread, "While we do get some vitamins from fruits and vegetables, we can get most of them from animal foods."  

"Even more importantly, there are many vitamins and cofactors that we only get from animal foods.  This means that if you don't eat any animal foods, you will probably develop a deficiency in some vitamins."

This is true to an extent, however, as we discuss in Meats & Sweets ~ A High Vitality Diet an adequate amount isn't necessarily an optimal amount! We believe you want want is optimal to live a healthy, high vitality life! 

As an example, many believe that we should be consuming at least 3 to 4 times as much potassium to sodium for optimal health. Instead, many now consume more sodium than potassium, rather than the other way around. Processed foods are often very high in sodium, and very low in potassium.

Low-carbohydrate diets tend to be deficient in potassium as people avoid fruits and other potassium-rich foods, while consuming larger quantities of more sodium-rich meats  Our soils are also far less mineral rich than 50 to 100 years ago as well.

Meats and fruits, aka 'sweets' are an ideal  complement with meats supplying higher sodium, and many important vitamins and amino acids, and fruits, honey, and dairy supplying higher potassium, minerals, polyphenols, carotenoids, and more  to ensure getting a good range of all the known vitamins and minerals (and possibly many not yet recognized) to best optimize your health. That is what will give you a leg up on living a fruit-full life! 

If striving to maintain a low-carbohydrate diet, you can boost your Vitamin C intake by adding what you enjoy (and well tolerate) of seasonal berries, citrus, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, or even rose hips and/or hibiscus tea to your diet.  Better still, try Meats & Sweets!

Pros & Cons of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet

Potential Benefits of following a low-carbohydrate diet:

  • Fast weight loss (fast isn't necessarily safe nor sustainable)
  • Elimination of many potential food triggers found in many plant foods, including phytates, lectins, oxalate acids, and more which inhibit absorption of important minerals, and lead to other GI disturbances and health imbalances when consumed in excess
  • Minimizing undigestible fibers and olygosaccharaides 

Potential Cons to low-carbohydrate diets:

  • Muscle cramping which can get intense!
  • Increased cravings for sweets, especially over time
  • Depresses (versus speeds up) metabolism
  • Can lead to sluggish thyroid over time, especially if over consuming cabbage family vegetables which can suppress thyroid hormone
  • According to Ray Peat, the body requires fructose, which is also found in amniotic fluid and seminal fluid (which says something!)
  • Insomnia or poor sleep
  • Increased irritability or poor moods
  • Increased body odors 
  • Deficiency of many minerals and micronutrients

Don and I experienced fast fat loss and body recomposition, decreased gas and bloating, and better skin when we switched from a high-carb, plant-based diet to a low-carbohydrate diet. Don's psoriasis seemed to clear the more he eliminated most plant foods from his diet.

While we felt great at first, our results changed over time. I had increasing cravings for sweets. We both were not sleeping as sound through the night, and Don was dealing with muscle cramping that became a bit debilitating. 

After being woken up nightly, and even several times in one night from cramps, we started to do more research, and add fruits back, returning to our 'meats & sweets' approach that we followed when first transitioning away from eating an entirely vegan diet for five plus years.

As always, when you trust your true nature, the results are usually fruitful!

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