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Is a Low-Carb Diet Healthy?

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Updated April 25, 2014

A healthy low-carb diet consists mostly of fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, lots of greens and colorful vegetables, and nuts and seeds.

 But a low-carb diet full of processed meats, excess cheese, unhealthy fats, and the low-carb snacks sweetened with alcohol sugars is not a healthy diet. 

Red meat and low-carb snacks like pork rinds are very high in saturated fat, which is the type of animal fat that is associated with inflammation and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sausage, bacon, hot dogs and some sliced meat have nitrites that may combine with other substances to form N-Nitroso compounds in the body. Research on nitrites and health is conflicting (they may be rendered harmless by an adequate vitamin C intake), but these compounds may be part of the reason why eating processed meats has been associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Low-carb snacks are fine to eat occasionally, but many of them are sweetened with alcohol sugars that tend to cause gas, abdominal cramps and they can still be fairly high in calories.

One big positive component of low-carb diets is the removal of added sugar and refined carbohydrates, such as candy, sugary sodas, white bread, and pastries, from the diet. Sugary foods generally have a lot of calories and not much nutritional value.

Some possible problems with low-carb dieting are a lack of dietary fiber, not getting enough fruits, and a good chance of being deficient in calcium and vitamin C. A low-carb diet with lots of low-carb vegetables and berries will take care of the fiber and vitamin C need, but taking a calcium supplement may be beneficial if you don't consume enough dairy.

Tips for a Healthy Low-Carb Diet

  • Eat lots of green vegetables daily like asparagus, broccoli and green beans
  • Try several varieties of delicious greens and lettuce with low-carb dressings such as bleu cheese and italian dressings
  • Choose fish over red meat that is high in saturated fat
  • Drink plenty of water (add a slice of lemon or lime for variety
  • Berries make a terrific low-carb dessert
  • Consider taking a daily multivitamin and calcium supplement
  • Avoid processed meats that contain nitrites and saturated fats

Source:

Ward MH, Cross AJ, Divan H, Kulldorff M, Nowell-Kadlubar S, Kadlubar FF, Sinha R. "Processed meat intake, CYP2A6 activity and risk of colorectal adenoma." Carcinogenesis. 2007 Jun;28(6):1210-6. Epub 2007 Feb 2.

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