Pictured recipe: Shrimp Scampi Zoodles
The low-carb craze is back and bigger than ever, as keto dieters share their #progresspics all over social media. While some of these weight loss stories are pretty impressive, going low-carb—especially as low as 5 percent of your daily calories on keto—can have some negative effects on your health.
Our current dietary guidelines advise getting 45-65% of our daily calories from carbs, so opting for 40% or less can have a major impact on the way your body functions. Carbs are our body's fuel for metabolism, energy, digestion and many other important activities, and eating too few could be consequential.
"Since lots of people think about carbs in terms of grams, anything lower than 100 grams daily is pretty low," says Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D., nutrition editor at EatingWell. "Since carbs have 4 calories per gram, that would be 400 calories, or only 20% of your daily calories on a 2,000 calorie diet."
If you're on a low-carb diet, you may want to pay attention to these signs and symptoms.
1. You're Always Tired
Since we've established that carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for our body, slashing your intake can have a major impact on your energy level. Carbs are converted to energy more efficiently than protein or fat, so you may start feeling a little sluggish throughout the day on a low-carb diet. Weakness and fatigue—sometimes called "keto flu"—are common side effects of a low-carb diet.
This can also have a negative impact on your workouts, as you may not feel like you have the strength to push through a sweat session like you used to. It may be worth upping your carb intake a little bit to ensure you have the ability to make it through each day—and your exercise regimen!
2. The Bloating Is Real
Carbs often get a bad rap for causing bloat, but that temporary bulge is probably caused from refined sugars or white flour. Reducing your carbohydrate intake often means reducing the amount of fiber you eat in a day, as fiber is most concentrated in carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains and fruit.
Going low-carb means it's that much more important to ensure the carbohydrates you are eating are high-quality. Simply swapping your white bread for whole-wheat or adding a handful of berries alongside your morning omelet could make a huge difference in reducing your bloat.
3. It's Becoming Difficult to Concentrate at Work
Following a low-carb diet can reduce your energy levels, impair your concentration and even make you feel grouchier than normal (sounds like a blast!)
High-quality carbs like sweet potatoes, whole-wheat bread, berries and quinoa are essential for not only giving you the energy you need to get through your workday, but their protein-fiber combo helps to lower blood sugar spikes and prevent you from crashing. Instead of reaching for yet another cup of coffee at 2 p.m., it might be worth strategizing your carbohydrate intake to allow for a little high-fiber afternoon snack.
4. The Scale Is Starting to Creep Up
There are few things worse than going on a diet and seeing your weight actually increase. Unfortunately, this can be the case for low-carb dieters because your body is reacting to this decreased carbohydrate intake by producing sugar on its own. Even worse, your body may start to store this sugar as fact in an effort to "prevent starvation," when you're really just reducing your carb intake!
Not only that, but any kind of restrictive diet is likely going to lead to cravings, and trust us, bread withdrawals are a very real thing! It may be worth reconsidering your weight loss efforts if you're becoming too tired to exercise and have lots of cravings, as it will likely cause the scale to go up and won't be sustainable for much longer.
5. You Don't Feel Satisfied for Long After a Meal
Surprisingly enough, carbs can actually help suppress your appetite, as they assist in regulating your hunger and fullness cues. Our bodies need fiber to help slow down the digestion process, and we often skimp on this important nutrient when cutting carbs.
Going low-carb can also put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies, which can also throw your hunger and fullness cues out of whack.
A 2011 study found those who consumed more fiber actually had smaller appetites and ate fewer high-calorie foods. The participants who followed a higher fiber diet were more likely to eat fewer calories each day and even saw slight weight loss without any dieting attempts.
Related: How to Get More Fiber In Your Diet
6. You're Experiencing Some Pretty Irregular Digestion
We keep coming back to this whole "fiber" thing. Unfortunately, a side effect of low-carb diets—especially ketogenic diets—is constipation. Our bodies are missing out on fibrous, hydrating foods when we slash our carbohydrate intake, and both fiber and water are essential for regular digestion. This is not only annoying but can also lead to bloating, diarrhea and other GI issues down the road.
Veggies are an important food source for anyone trying to eat healthy, but they are even more crucial for those following a low-carb diet. Try upping your intake of your favorite veggies as well as adding some fresh fruit and whole grains into your daily eating regimen to keep things moving.
7. Your Breath Reeks
Keto dieters have an extra-long list of potential consequences to their diets, one of them being some seriously bad breath. When your body goes into ketosis and stops using carbohydrates as fuel—switching to fat instead—it produces acetone, which starts to build-up in the body and is responsible for your stink.
If you're experiencing chronic bad breath, it may be a sign your body needs some carbs. The vast majority of health professionals agree that unless you are under a very specific circumstance, the keto diet should not be a long-term eating pattern.
The Bottom Line
"When you cut out carbs, you're not just cutting out soda and cake," Valente says. "You lose fruits, whole grains and lots of vegetables, which all deliver fiber but also vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to your diet. These can be hard to make up for on a low-carb diet."
While achieving a balanced diet is certainly easier said than done, it's important to eat from every food group for optimal health. There is so much more to your health than the number on the scale, and weight loss should be done in an effort to protect your health instead of dropping pounds.
If you do decide to go low-carb, it's important to ensure you're getting enough fiber each day, prioritizing healthful carbohydrates sources when possible. It's also vital to make sure most of your fat intake comes from omega-3's, mono- and polyunsaturated fats to properly fuel your body. Check out our Low-Carb Diet Center for tips, recipes and resources to help you get started on a nourishing eating plan that doesn't leave you with any of the negative side effects listed above.