If you're looking for a way to lose weight and keep it off, you'd be hard-pressed to find a method more studied than a low-carb diet. Research on the effects of cutting carbs has been conducted since the early 2000s, with findings suggesting that a low-carb diet can lead to greater weight loss than a low-fat diet and even boost your metabolism. And if your BMI is already within a healthy range, there are other benefits to limiting your carb intake, as long as you do it the right way. Here, experts share how to make a low-carb diet work for you and your health goals.
Why Is a Low-Carb Diet So Beneficial?
"Low-carb diets are effective for weight loss because, for most people, eating fewer carbs cuts out a lot of junk food from their diets," Monali Y. Desai, MD, a cardiologist based in New York City, told POPSUGAR. "It could help reduce your risk for diseases like diabetes because you're cutting unhealthy high-carb foods from your diet, which helps lower your blood sugar levels. But if you replace the carbs you're cutting with foods high in unhealthy fats, you can increase your risk of heart and vascular disease long-term."
In order to lose weight and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease, make sure you're eating low-carb fruits and vegetables and healthy fats like nuts in place of carbs you'd normally consume. (Here's a cheat sheet of everything you can eat on a low-carb diet.)
Is a Low-Carb Diet Difficult to Maintain?
That's the catch. Depending on how much you restrict your carb intake (most experts recommend between 50 and 100 grams of net carbs per day), you may find it difficult to stick to your plan long-term. "Carbs are the preferred source of energy for our bodies and our brain," Alyssa Tucci Krober, MS, RDN, CDN, director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners, told POPSUGAR. "This can make extreme carbohydrate restriction difficult to stick to for most people."
Once you've reached your goal weight, Alyssa recommends shifting to a moderate-intake plan, focusing on healthy carbs like fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables, while still making a point to eat fewer refined grains and sugar. You may gain a little weight back, but you should maintain the majority of your weight loss, and the extra carbs will prevent you from falling off the wagon (and into a pile of bagels).
How to Get Started on a Low-Carb Diet
Both experts recommend cutting carbs from your diet slowly. "Have a goal of changing one food each week, like cutting out cookies or eating broccoli at dinner instead of a starchy carb," Dr. Desai said. "This is easier to maintain because you have time to troubleshoot along the way." Alyssa also suggests keeping an arsenal of low-carb staples in your kitchen, including celery, cucumber, asparagus, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, leafy greens, and healthy fats including avocados, nuts, plant oils, and seeds.
"Foods filled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats are digested more slowly and won't cause your blood sugar to spike quickly the way refined carbs do," Alyssa said. It's that jolt in your blood sugar levels that makes you feel hungry and tired after eating high-carb foods, causing you to crave even more in order to get your energy back up. "Instead, the nutrients in these low-carb foods will keep you full between meals, helping you reduce how much you eat in a day overall," she explained.