While low-carb diets are very popular, it’s also easy to make mistakes on them.
There are many stumbling blocks that can lead to adverse effects and suboptimal results.
To reap all the metabolic benefits of low-carb diets, merely cutting back on the carbs isn't enough.
Here are the 5 most common low-carb mistakes — and how to avoid them.
While there is no strict definition of a low-carb diet, anything under 100–150 grams per day is generally considered low-carb. This amount is definitely a lot less than the standard Western diet.
You may achieve great results within this carb range, as long as you eat unprocessed, real foods.
But if you want to get into ketosis — which is essential for a ketogenic diet — then this level of intake may be excessive.
Most people will need to go under 50 grams per day to reach ketosis.
Keep in mind that this doesn't leave you with many carb options — except vegetables and small amounts of berries.
SUMMARY If you want to get into ketosis and reap the full metabolic benefits of low-carb diets, going under 50 grams of carbs per day may be necessary.
Protein is a very important macronutrient which most people don’t get enough of.
It can improve feelings of fullness and increase fat burning better than other macronutrients (1).
Generally speaking, more protein should lead to weight loss and improved body composition.
However, low-carb dieters who eat a lot of lean animal foods can end up eating too much of it.
This can become a problem on very-low-carb, ketogenic diets and prevent your body from going into full-blown ketosis.
According to some scientists, a well-formulated low-carb diet should be high in fat and moderate in protein.
A good range to aim for is 0.7–0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.5–2.0 grams per kg).
SUMMARY Excessive protein consumption on a low-carb diet can prevent you from getting into ketosis.
Most people get the majority of their calories from dietary carbs — especially sugars and grains.
When you remove this energy source from your diet, you must replace it with something else.
However, some people believe that cutting out fats on a low-carb diet will make your diet even healthier. This is a big mistake.
If you don't eat carbs, you must add fat to compensate. Failing to do so could lead to hunger and inadequate nutrition.
There's no scientific reason to fear fat — as long as you avoid trans fats and choose healthy ones like monounsaturated and omega-3 fats instead.
A fat intake around 70% of total calories may be a good choice for some people on low-carb or ketogenic diets.
To get fat into this range, you must choose fatty cuts of meat and liberally add healthy fats to your meals.
SUMMARY A very-low-carb diet must be high in fat. Otherwise, you won't get enough energy or nutrition to sustain yourself.
Insulin has many functions in your body, such as telling fat cells to store fat and your kidneys to retain sodium (5).
On a low-carb diet, your insulin levels go down and your body starts shedding excess sodium — and water along with it. This is why people often get rid of excess bloating within a few days of low-carb eating.
However, sodium is a crucial electrolyte. Low sodium levels can become problematic when your kidneys dump too much of it.
This is one reason people get side effects on low-carb diets, such as lightheadedness, fatigue, headaches, and even constipation.
The best way to circumvent this issue is to add more sodium to your diet. You can do this by salting your foods — but if that doesn't suffice, try drinking a cup of broth every day.
SUMMARY Low-carb diets lower insulin levels, making your kidneys excrete excess sodium. This can lead to a mild sodium deficiency.
Your body is designed to preferentially burn carbs. Therefore, if carbs are always available, that's what your body uses for energy.
If you drastically cut back on carbs, your body needs to shift to burning fat — which either comes from your diet or your body’s stores.
It can take a few days for your body to adapt to burning primarily fat instead of carbs, during which you will probably feel a little under the weather.
This is called the “keto flu” and happens to most people who go on ultra-low-carb diets.
If you feel unwell for a few days, you may be tempted to quit your diet. However, keep in mind that it may take 3–4 days for your body to adjust to your new regimen — with full adaptation taking several weeks.
Therefore, it's important to be patient in the beginning and strictly adhere to your diet.
SUMMARY On a low-carb diet, it can take a few days to overcome unpleasant symptoms and several weeks for full adaptation. It is important to be patient and not abandon your diet too soon.
However, just cutting back on carbs isn't enough to lose weight or boost health.
Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet and get enough exercise to achieve optimal wellbeing.