7 Myths About Low-Carb Diets

Low Carb Misconceptions Debunked by Research and Common Sense

Close up of fresh seafood salad in lettuce cups
Close up of fresh seafood salad in lettuce cups. Getty Images/Trinette Reed

Low-carb diets need some demystifying as there are many misconceptions that persist despite information to the contrary. Anti-low carb information often draws an image of people eating very unhealthy diets, with no vegetables or fruits, guzzling cream and eating bacon dipped in butter all day. People on these diets are supposedly courting heart disease and are on a dangerous road to poor health. Time for a reality check.

The truth is that low-carb diets focus on nutritious, healthy food, and it turns out that research into reducing carbs continues to show more and more positive results. From losing weight to improved outcomes for people with chronic diseases, there's a lot to love about low-carb diets. Here are the common myths about low-carb diets and the truth behind them.

Myth: Low Carb Means No Carb

This misconception is the idea that a low-carb diet must be really low in carbohydrates. You will read that low-carb diets attempt to “eliminate carbohydrates” for example. That's simply not the case. Here's the truth:

  • Not one low-carb diet author advocates a no-carb diet. Even Atkins Induction, which is very low in carbohydrates, is not “no carb,” is only meant to last two weeks for most people, and actually can be skipped altogether, according to the Atkins website.
  • Diet authors who recommend reducing carbs have different target levels for carbohydrates.

Myth: Low-Carb Diets Discourage Eating Vegetables and Fruits

Because the calories in vegetables and fruits mainly come from carbohydrate, people believe that they are not allowed on low-carb diets. The opposite is true.

Here are the facts:

  • Non-starchy vegetables are usually at the bottom of the low carb pyramids meaning they are the “staff of life” of the diet, replacing grains in that role.

  • People who follow a low-carb way of eating almost always eat more vegetables than the general population.

  • For the most part, vegetables and low-carb fruits are the main sources of carb eaten when following a low-carb way of eating.

Myth: Low-Carb Diets Have Inadequate Fiber

The reasoning goes that since fiber is a carbohydrate, a low-carb diet must be low in fiber. But here's the truth behind this assertion:

  • Since fiber remains undigested (in fact, it lessens the impact of other carbohydrates on blood sugar), it is encouraged in low-carb diets.
  • Lots of low-carb foods are high in fiber, and on diets that encourage carb counting, fiber does not enter into the calculation.

Myth: People Eating Low-Carb Diets Are Courting Heart Disease

Rather than contributing to heart disease, there are health benefits of low carb diets that are associated with heart health.

  • Study after study shows that blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and other markers for heart disease risk improve on low-carb diets.
  • Even low-carb diets with a lot of animal fat and protein haven't been shown to raise the risk of heart disease.

    Myth: Low-Carb Diets Will Damage Your Kidneys

    The reasoning here is that because people with kidney disease are usually encouraged to eat low protein diets, a diet that is higher in protein will cause kidney disease. The confusion here is where your kidney health was when you started the low-carb diet.

    A low-carb diet is often not higher in protein than the latest recommended levels. While many Americans get much more protein than needed, there's no correlation with protein compromising kidney health in otherwise healthy individuals on a low-carb diet.

    Myth: Low-Carb Diets Will “Suck the Calcium Out of Your Bones”

    This is based on the idea that low-carb diets are always high in protein.

    People on higher protein diets tend to have more calcium in their urine. But this turns out to be a red herring.

    Studies have shown that protein, rather than causing bone loss, actually protects our bones from bone loss, thus low-carb diets can support bone health even if they are relatively high in protein.

    Myth: Atkins "Died of His Own Diet"

    Many people still think that the death of Dr. Robert Atkins, the originator of the Atkins Diet, was because of his diet, but here is the rundown:

    • Atkins died from head injuries resulting from a fall.
    • What's more, he was not obese when he died, but took on a lot of fluid in the hospital while in intensive care that had him gain weight after his injury.

    Bottom Line: Don't Believe the Hype

    You don't have to look far in the media (especially on the Internet) to find "facts" about low-carb diets similar to these. It's important for your health to go beyond the myths and find out what is the best way to eat for your own health.

    Sources:

    Bonjour J-P. Protein Intake and Bone Health. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 2011;81(23):134-142. doi:10.1024/0300-9831/a000063,

    Brinkworth GD, Buckley JD, Noakes M, Clifton PM. Renal Function Following Long-Term Weight Loss in Individuals with Abdominal Obesity on a Very-Low-Carbohydrate Diet vs High-Carbohydrate Diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(4):633-638. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.12.016.

    Noakes TD, Windt J. Evidence that supports the prescription of low-carbohydrate high-fat diets: a narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;51(2):133-139. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096491.

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