Is a Low Carb Diet Healthy?

Low carb diets have been popular for several years. You might be wondering what a low carb diet is or how to start a low carb diet. Before you go on a diet, it can help to know what it entails and if it’s safe or not. This can help you make the right choice for you.

What is a Low Carb Diet?

A low carb diet is a diet that limits and restricts how many carbs and the type of carbs you eat. These diets are a way to lose weight. [1] There are many different types of low carb diets, such as the Keto diet. Each low carb diet may have a different protocol in terms of what you can and can’t eat.

What Can You Eat on a Low Carb Diet?

There are different types of low carb diets. Each diet has guidelines around how many carbs you can have each day and what types of carbs are allowed. One example of a low carb diet is the Atkins diet. On the Atkins diet, these foods are allowed: [us health and news]

  • Protein, such as beef, poultry, eggs, and fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fats, such as olive oil and cheese
  • Non-starchy vegetables, like radishes or mushrooms

If you are following this diet, then the following foods are not allowed: [2]

  • White bread, pasta, and other non-whole-grain wheat products
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol

While the following foods are allowed, they’re meant to be limited. These are: [2]

  • Fruit, such as berries, cherries, and melons
  • Legumes, such as beans or lentils
  • Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn
  • Whole grains, like quinoa or oatmeal

Diet Culture

Is a Low Carb Diet Safe?

It depends! Researchers and health professionals are not entirely sure of the long-term consequences of low carb diets. However, there are certain health risks that doctors and researchers are aware of. These are: [1,3,4]

  • Ketosis- Ketosis is a metabolism change that occurs when you start burning fat instead of glucose. This can be dangerous if it goes on for too long. This can lead to side effects like nausea, dizziness, headache, fatigue, and bad breath.
  • Cholesterol problems
  • Kidney issues
  • Constipation
  • Increased risk for osteoporosis
  • Increase blood levels of uric acid, which can cause gout
  • Liver problems
  • Nutrient deficiencies

Low Carb Diet & Yo-yo Dieting

Yo-yo dieting is a term that refers to weight cycling. Weight cycling is when someone has a cycle of losing and regaining weight.

This can happen for people who diet because they are restricting certain food groups. Extreme restriction like this isn’t sustainable, so people go off their diet and then regain the weight they lost.

In fact, research shows that about 95% of people regain the weight they lost within one to five years. [5] Research shows that weight cycling can have a negative impact on your health. [6] In fact, maintaining a stable weight may be important for overall health than losing weight. [6]

Related Reading:

How do I Know if I Should Go on a Low Carb Diet?

It can be confusing to try and figure out what type of diet and food habits are healthiest for you. There are several factors that go into determining what foods are best for you. It’s important to consider the physical and emotional impact of food choices.

For example, if a food makes you feel bad, then it may not be a healthy food for you. However, if you eat a diet of all “healthy” foods, but your meals don’t ever bring you joy, then something important is missing. Eating should be physically and emotionally satisfying.

Low Carb Diets & Medical Issues

Sometimes people go on low-carb diets for medical reasons. For example, people with diabetes type two or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may be told that they would benefit from low carb diets.

However, research shows that even for people with these conditions, extremely restrictive low carb diets may not be helpful. [1]

Low Carb Diets & Diet Culture

In Western culture, thin bodies are believed to be the best. This belief and worship of thin bodies creates a diet culture. Diet culture is a culture which values appearance more than overall well-being.

Diet culture leads people and societies to become obsessed with dieting as a way to be thin. Going on fad diets, such as low carb diets, with the intention to lose weight can be a result of diet culture.

Diet Culture & Eating Disorders

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Diet culture is a known contributor. [5] Diet culture can create or feed into someone’s struggle with negative body image. Negative body image can lead someone to feel the need to diet in order to become thin.

While it’s true that not everyone who diets will develop an eating disorder, it’s true for about 20 to 25% of people. [5] If you are considering going on a low carb diet or you already are on one, it’s worth asking yourself why you are. Was the motivation to lose weight? If so, why is that important to you?

These questions are especially important to ask if you are currently recovering from an eating disorder. People who have struggle with restrictive forms of disordered eating might unknowingly find themselves trying diets as a way to restrict certain food groups, such as carbohydrates.

It’s worth talking to an eating disorder-informed treatment provider, such as a doctor, therapist, or registered dietitian (RD). These professionals can help you sort through your intentions for going on a low carb diet.

Flowers with Coffee

Good vs Bad Food Mentality

A key aspect of eating disorders and diet culture is a good and bad food mentality. This mentality means you view certain foods as either good or bad. While carbs are allowed in restricted quantities on a low-carb diet, diets like these unknowingly send the message that carbs are bad for you.

This can create anxiety and shame when you eat these foods. Sometimes it can even make you feel like you’re a bad person for eating “bad” foods. This isn’t true, as all foods have something to offer. In fact, carbs are necessary for our bodies to function optimally. [7]

Ultimately, what you do with your body is up to you. If you are going to go on a low-carb diet, it’s worth talking to a doctor and RD. These providers can help you figure out your unique nutritional needs to make sure your body is getting adequate nourishment.

Related Reading


[1] Oh, R., Gilani, B., Uppaluri, K.R. (2021, July 12). Low carbohydrate diet. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved March 31st, 2022 from

[2] U.S. Health & News. (n.d). Atkins diet. Retrieved March 29th, 2022 from

[3] Brazier, Y. (2020, January 30). Atkins diet: What is it, and why should I try it? Medical News Today. Retrieved March 29th, 2022 from

[4] Mahdi, G. S. (2006). The Atkin’s diet controversy. Annals of Saudi medicine, 26(3), 244-245.

[5] National Eating Disorders Association. (2005) kNOw dieting: Risks and reasons to stop. Retrieved March 26th, 2022 from

[6] Rhee, E. (2017). Weight cycling and its cardiometabolic impact. Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome, 26(4), 237-242.

[7] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d) Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss. Retrieved March 23rd, 2022 from

Author: Samantha Bothwell, LMFT
Page Last Reviewed and Updated on April 20, 2022 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC