7 Myths About Low-Carb Diets

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 because there are misconceptions and myths that persist in the media despite solid scientific information to the contrary.

For example, images abound of people courting heart disease by guzzling cream and eating bacon dipped in butter while avoiding fruits and vegetables. But it is time for a reality check as to what can lead to poor health.

The truth is that a low-carb lifestyle can focus on nutritious, healthy food, and it turns out that research into reducing carbs continues to show positive health benefits.

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.

Low Carb Means No Carb

Some people believe that you need to eat zero carbohydrates on a low-carb eating program. You might read, for example, that low-carb diets attempt to “eliminate carbohydrates.” That's simply not the case.

Here's the truth:

  • Not one low-carb diet author advocates a zero-carb diet. Even Atkins Induction—which is very low in carbohydrates—includes some carbohydrate. This phase is only meant to last two weeks for most people and it can be skipped altogether, according to Atkins sources.
  • Diet authors who recommend reducing carbs have different target levels for carbohydrates. These targets may be based on factors including size, gender, and activity levels.
  • Almost all low-carb diets call for carbohydrate levels to be adjusted to the individual. In many cases, low-carb eating plans recommend that you work with your healthcare team to get personalized recommendations

Low-Carb Diets Discourage Fruits and Vegetables

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

Here are the facts:

  • Non-starchy vegetables are usually at the bottom of the low carb pyramid. That means that they provide the foundation of the diet, often times replacing grains.
  • 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 carbohydrate consumed when following a low-carb eating plan.

Low-Carb Diets Don't Provide Fiber

The role of whole grains and specifically of fiber has been widely promoted in the media. For many people, whole grains and fiber can provide a benefit. There is a concern that low-carb programs eliminate fiber because they generally limit grains. Again, this is not accurate.

Here's the truth behind this assertion:

  • Since fiber remains undigested in the body, it is encouraged in low-carb diets. In fact, it lessens the impact that other carbohydrates may have on blood sugar.
  • Many low-carb foods are high in fiber, such as leafy greens and other vegetables. And on diets that encourage carb counting, fiber does not enter into the calculation.

People Eating Low-Carb Diets Get Heart Disease

There is some evidence regarding an increased risk for heart disease in people who consume diets high in saturated fat. But there is also evidence to the contrary.

But most experts agree that some fats are healthier than others. If you are on a low carb diet, you have the option of choosing healthier fats—such as poly or monounsaturated fats.

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.

Low-Carb Diets Will Damage Your Kidneys

Some people have heard that low-carb eating causes kidney damage. 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. But what matters is where a person's kidney health was when they started a low-carb diet.

A low-carb diet is usually not higher in protein than the latest recommended levels. And protein recommendations vary based on a wide variety of factors. 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.

Low-Carb Diets Can Suck Calcium Out of Bones

There is a lesser known belief that low-carb eating damages your bones. This is based on the idea that low-carb diets are generally higher 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.

A Word From Verywell

You don't have to look far in the media to find misguided facts about low-carb diets similar to these. It's important for your health to go beyond the myths and find the best way to eat for your own health.

A personalized approach to nutrition is always best, so consider different factors when choosing an eating plan. Talk to a registered dietitian and your healthcare provider to see how different eating styles will affect your health and your risk for disease. Then choose a program that you can stick to for the long-term.

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