Diets… diets everywhere! For those of us who want to start eating healthier, a diet is always tempting, and the internet is full of potential options. We all know that a lifestyle change is what we really need to be implementing if we want to maintain healthy habits, but sometimes a quick-fix diet seems tempting. The lastest one making waves on the web? The zero-carb diet. And no, it’s not another name for the keto diet, although the two are very similar. The difference between the keto diet and the no-carb or zero-carb diet is that the latter basically cuts all carbs. So, is this good for your body in the long run? Let’s find out.
What is a zero-carb diet?
According to Healthline, the zero-carb diet is an extreme version of low-carb dieting. This diet eliminates almost all carbs – this means it cuts out foods like whole grains, fruits, and even most vegetables. Le gasp! Many try to justify this very strict diet by pointing out that it has some health benefits, like helping you to shed some weight and promoting your heart health, but so could a normal, healthy, less restrictive lifestyle.
What do dieticians say about it?
According to dietician Cynthia Sass, carbs should be approached the way we do exercise – we know that some workouts could result in injury, but that doesn’t mean that we stop working out at all. We’re just mindful about how we do those specific workouts. The same approach goes for carbs. Yes, there is such a thing as bad carbs, but there are some carbs our bodies actually need to function. Just as we try to engage in the right type and amount of exercise to reap the benefits, we have to do the same with carbs.
The keto diet already got a lot of flak for its restriction of carbs, but cutting out carbs entirely seems very extreme, and according to Sass, it might not be the best idea. She told Health that these kinds of diets aren’t necessary to maintain a healthy weight, nor is it necessary to avoid some diseases like diabetes. In fact, the side effects of these kinds of diets could negatively impact your health and quality of life. How? Well, here’s the tea.
1) You will lose out on very important nutrients
First of all, your focus when it comes to carbs should be quality and balance, not banishment, because the latter could lead to you missing out on important nutrients in your diet. As mentioned before, a lot of vegetables include carbs, and going on a zero-carb diet means that you’ll lose out on the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and prebiotics found in those greens. You could even lose out on some healthy fats. You surely don’t want that, right?
If you’re thinking, “oh, I’ll just drink some supplements” – think again. Sass says that no multivitamin or powdered supplement can make up for what you lose by completely eliminating some foods from your diet. Her exact words on the topic are: “There is no multivitamin or powdered supplement capable of replacing the myriad health-protective nutrients that stop showing up for work in the body. This shortfall can potentially affect immune function, cognitive health, and up the risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s.” Most of us probably did not see that one coming.
Sass adds that people who live in Blue Zones (areas in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives) actually follow a predominantly plant-based diet which is relatively high in carbs as well. Yep, don’t throw those carbs out the window just yet.
2) Your digestive health will suffer
If the above didn’t scare you, the next negative side-effect of the zero-carb diet might – it can lead to poor digestive health. Honestly, there are few things worse than that. The daily recommended fiber intake is at least 25 grams per day and guess which foods are high in fiber? Yep, the foods that contain carbohydrates.
Foods high in fiber are also linked to lowering your risk of heart disease, along with high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses like diabetes and digestive diseases. Some types of fiber also act as prebiotics. This means it serves as food for the good gut bacteria that support your immune system, anti-inflammation, and even mental health. Thinking of fiber supplements? Those are a no-go too. Research has shown that fiber supplements don’t come close to offering the same benefits as the fiber that comes from whole foods.
3) You’ll have to deal with low carb flu
Do you hate having the flu? Of course you do! Well, a diet devoid of carbs could lead to low carb flu. Ever heard of the keto flu? People who go on the keto diet experience flu-like symptoms such as headaches, irritability, brain fog, nausea, dizziness, and muscle soreness. Heck, if that isn’t your body telling you that you need to stop doing what you’re doing, we don’t know what is. So, why does this “flu” roll around the second you cut carbs? Well, it’s all because of your brain. It uses 60% of all the carbs you consume, and once you take that source away, your brain frantically tries to find another fuel source.
Most people adapt fairly quickly after getting the keto flu, but Sass says that just because your body adapts, doesn’t mean the diet is ideal, adding that “it’s not necessary for weight loss or optimal health, so why put yourself through the torture?”
4) It could have negative mental and social side effects
On top of all the physical side-effects, the zero-carb diet might also have negative social and psychological side effects. Imagine going out with your friends for dinner only to find that there’s basically nothing on the menu that fits your diet. It’s enough to make anyone not want to go out and think of feeble excuses for why they can’t make it. This leads to a negative relationship with food, resulting in obsessiveness and even fear.
Those who end up falling off the diet wagon tend to experience feelings of guilt and depression for not following through. Sass adds that jumping on and off the strict diet train can have serious health repercussions, which could eventually morph into eating disorders.
5) It may have a negative impact on your longterm health
Another thing you might want to keep in mind is that no research has been done on the long-term effects of a zero-carb diet. This means that no one has any idea what kind of effect this type of diet can have on your health in the long run. Do you really want to risk that?
If you’re still considering trying the zero-carb diet, keep in mind that a systematic review of 11 studies showed that plant-based diets that include healthy carbs are actually associated with big improvements in people’s emotional wellbeing, including depression.
So, what’s the verdict? It’s pretty simple – you don’t need to go on a zero-carb diet to lose weight or achieve optimal health. Recent research proves that following a plant-based diet that includes foods rich in fiber, monosaturated fats, and plant-based proteins can do even more for your body than a restrictive diet that excludes foods that contain these nutrients.
Another hard-to-believe fact is that plant-based diets that contain moderate to high amounts of carbohydrates actually promote weight loss. It also improves insulin resistance. Honestly, the reasons why you shouldn’t bother with this diet are way more than the few that suggest you should.
Make a lifestyle change
In the end, it’s about making changes to your diet that will last. It’s more of a lifestyle change than a diet change, really. Anytime you want to start a new diet, ask yourself whether you’ll be able to keep it up for the rest of your life. If the answer is no, it’s probably not a good diet to go on. Jumping on and off the diet wagon just confuses your body and metabolism. Chances are good that you’ll just gain all the weight you lost once more the second you stop that diet, and then some. Don’t do that to yourself.
What are your thoughts on the zero-carb diet? Do you think it’s still worth trying? Drop your thoughts in the comments.