Nutrition for Weight Loss: Is a Low-Carbohydrate Diet Right for Me?

Last Updated August 2022 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

The foods you eat contain calories made up of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. There are more carbs in foods that have starches and sugars. This includes things like bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and sweets. A low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diet is based on eating less of these foods.

Path to improved health

Eating fewer carbs can have several health benefits, such as:

  • Losing weight. You do this by eating fewer, and healthier, calories than your body uses. Low-carb diets often are paired with smaller meals and exercise. Most people who begin a low-carb diet for the first time will lose weight in the first 6 months. After that, you can maintain your weight with a low-carb diet.
  • Preventing or reversing type 2 diabetes. Your body breaks carbs into sugars during digestion. Sugar can raise your blood glucose levels, which produce more insulin. This hormone tells your body to store fat instead of burn it. When your body burns good nutrients in place of fat, you feel hungry. This creates a bad cycle that can lead to issues, such as type 2 diabetes. If you eat a low-carb diet, you can reduce your insulin. Doing this can prevent type 2 diabetes, or even reverse the effects if you already have type 2 diabetes.
  • Protecting against chronic diseases. Maintaining a low-carb diet can help you prevent certain conditions. It can lower your cholesterol level and blood pressure. If you already have these, a low-carb diet can improve them. A healthy diet also can lower your risk for heart disease.

When you replace carbs with healthy fats, it’s called a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet. You also should avoid eating low-fat or no-fat products. Instead, choose foods like:

  • Vegetables (fresh or frozen)
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Healthy fats, such as butter, cream, olive oil, and nuts

Things to consider

You might have side effects when you switch to a low-carb diet. Usually, these are mild and don’t last long. Common side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Change in mood
  • Bad breath
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Talk to your doctor before starting a new diet. This especially is true if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a health condition. Your doctor can make sure you get enough nutrients. They might recommend taking a daily multivitamin or fiber supplement. One example is Metamucil.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is a low-carb diet meant to be short-term or long-term?
  • Should I take vitamins or supplements while I’m on a low-carb diet?
  • Can kids follow a low-carb diet, too?
  • What are the side effects of switching to a low-carb diet?


DietDoctor: A Low-Carb Diet for Beginners

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Carbohydrates