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Low-carbohydrate diets or low-carb diets are dietary programs that restrict carbohydrate consumption primarily for weight control. Foods high in digestible carbohydrates are limited or replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of proteins and fats.


1. Low-carbohydrate diets in general are both a safe and effective means of losing weight and improving and maintaining proper health.
2. Low-carbohydrate diets in general offer significant advantages (in terms of weight loss and general health) over diets which do not emphasize low intake of carbohydrates.


1. Journal of the American Medical Association: 1926

Lieb et al., 1926[1] conducted a case study of Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an anthropologist and explorer who lived with the Inuit eating a diet consisting almost entirely of meat, fish, and fat. A research team studied Stefansson's health looking for signs that his "unusual" diet had adversely affected his health. The team was unable to find any health problems in Stefansson and noted that the Inuit themselves also were quite healthy.

2. Annals of Internal Medicine: 1965

A study conducted in 1965 at the Naval Hospital Oakland (Oakland, California) used a diet of 1000 calories per day, high in fat and limiting carbohydrates to 10 grams (40 calories) daily. Over a ten-day period, subjects on this diet lost more body fat than did a group who fasted completely (Benoit et. al. 1965). Some advocates of low-carbohydrate diets have termed this the metabolic advantage of such diets.

3. New England Journal of Medicine: 2003

Two important NEJM studies from this year are mentioned here. Samaha et al., 2003[2] completed a study of 132 obese subjects comparing the efficacy of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. The conclusions of the article state the following.

Severely obese subjects with a high prevalence of diabetes or the metabolic syndrome lost more weight during six months on a carbohydrate-restricted diet than on a calorie- and fat-restricted diet, with a relative improvement in insulin sensitivity and triglyceride levels, even after adjustment for the amount of weight lost. This finding should be interpreted with caution, given the small magnitude of overall and between-group differences in weight loss in these markedly obese subjects and the short duration of the study. Future studies evaluating long-term cardiovascular outcomes are needed before a carbohydrate-restricted diet can be endorsed.

Foster et al., 2003[3] performed a similar study of 63 obese men. Their conclusion was the following.

The low-carbohydrate diet produced a greater weight loss (absolute difference, approximately 4 percent) than did the conventional diet for the first six months, but the differences were not significant at one year. The low-carbohydrate diet was associated with a greater improvement in some risk factors for coronary heart disease. Adherence was poor and attrition was high in both groups. Longer and larger studies are required to determine the long-term safety and efficacy of low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diets.

4. Journal of Child Neurology: 2003

Evangeliou et al., 2003[4] completed a 6-month study of 30 autistic children following a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet. The paper stated the following conclusions.

Of the remaining group who adhered to the diet, 18 of 30 children (60%) [the rest did not complete the study], improvement was recorded in several parameters and in accordance with the Childhood Autism Rating Scale. Significant improvement (> 12 units of the Childhood Autism Rating Scale) was recorded in two patients (pre-Scale: 35.00 +/- 1.41[mean +/- SD]), average improvement (> 8-12 units) in eight patients (pre-Scale: 41.88 +/- 3.14[mean +/- SD]), and minor improvement (2-8 units) in eight patients (pre-Scale: 45.25 +/- 2.76 [mean +/- SD]).

The authors state clearly that the study was limited and the results are preliminary.

5. Journal of the American Academy of Neurology: 2003

Kossoff et al., 2003[5] conducted a small study of six epileptic patients studying the effects of the Atkins diet. The abstract states the following.

The ketogenic diet is effective for treating seizures in children with epilepsy. The Atkins diet can also induce a ketotic state, but has fewer protein and caloric restrictions, and has been used safely by millions of people worldwide for weight reduction. Six patients, aged 7 to 52 years, were started on the Atkins diet for the treatment of intractable focal and multifocal epilepsy. Five patients maintained moderate to large ketosis for periods of 6 weeks to 24 months; three patients had seizure reduction and were able to reduce antiepileptic medications. This provides preliminary evidence that the Atkins diet may have a role as therapy for patients with medically resistant epilepsy.

In a 2004 Lancet article,[6] Dr. Kossoff also stated that

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet that has been used for the treatment of intractable childhood epilepsy since the 1920s ... Although less commonly used in later decades because of the increased availability of anticonvulsants, the ketogenic diet has re-emerged as a therapeutic option.

6. Annals of Internal Medicine: 2004

Two significant studies can be found in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2004. Yancy et al., 2004[7] completed a study of 120 overweight, high-lipid-count subjects comparing the efficacy of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. The conclusions of the article state the following.

Compared with a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate diet program had better participant retention and greater weight loss. During active weight loss, serum triglyceride levels decreased more and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level increased more with the low-carbohydrate diet than with the low-fat diet.

Stern et al., 2004[8] conducted a one-year study of 132 obese adults. The conclusions state the following.

Participants on a low-carbohydrate diet had more favorable overall outcomes at 1 year than did those on a conventional diet. Weight loss was similar between groups, but effects on atherogenic dyslipidemia and glycemic control were still more favorable with a low-carbohydrate diet after adjustment for differences in weight loss.

7. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: 2004

Romieu et al. 2004[9] completed a survey-based study of a selected group of 475 women against a control group of 1391 correlating diet and breast cancer rates. The study concluded the following.

In this population, a high percentage of calories from carbohydrates, but not from fat, was associated with increased breast cancer risk.

8. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: 2005

Yancy et al., 2005[10] completed a study of 28 overweight subjects with type 2 diabetes. The conclusion of the study was the following.

The LCKD [low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet] improved glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes such that diabetes medications were discontinued or reduced in most participants. Because the LCKD can be very effective at lowering blood glucose, patients on diabetes medication who use this diet should be under close medical supervision or capable of adjusting their medication.

The article lends support to the argument that low carbohydrate diets can be at least a partial remedy for some forms of diabetes (and may lend support to the argument that some forms of diabetes may in fact be caused by high carbohydrate diets).

9. New England Journal of Medicine: 2006

Halton et al., 2006[11] completed a study analyzing the long-term (20 years) health effects of low-carbohydrate diets. The study was limited to women and followed 82,802 subjects. Based on questionnaires, the study determined the correlation between the carbohydrate intake and coronary heart disease risk.

The conclusion in the article states the following.

Our findings suggest that diets lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein and fat are not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease in women. When vegetable sources of fat and protein are chosen, these diets may moderately reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

This study refutes the argument that low-carbohydrate diets necessarily cause heart disease, at least in women. Perhaps more significantly, it suggests that the low-carbohydrate diet can be part of a healthy, long-term lifestyle.

Notably, this article answers the one concern raised in the conclusions by Samaha et al., 2003 (mentioned above).

10. International Journal of Cancer, 2006

Bravi et al., 2006[12] completed a study of 2301 subjects, 767 with renal cell carcinoma (cancer of the kidneys), analyzing the effects of various types of foods on the risk of developing the cancer. The authors of the paper concluded the following.

A significant direct trend in risk was found for bread (OR = 1.94 for the highest versus the lowest intake quintile), and a modest excess of risk was observed for pasta and rice (OR = 1.29), and milk and yoghurt (OR = 1.27). Poultry (OR = 0.74), processed meat (OR = 0.64) and vegetables (OR = 0.65) were inversely associated with RCC [renal cell carcinoma] risk.

This, in effect, says that bread consumption was strongly correlated with increased risk of this carcinoma whereas the consumption of meats and vegetables decreased the risk.

11. Meta-analytic summaries

Meta-analysis is a method to succinctly summarize and combine the results from multiple individual studies. The following meta-analyses of low carbohydrate diets are limited to randomized controlled trials that directly compare low carbohydrate diets to other diets. Some of the studies listed above are randomized controlled trials and are included in these meta-analyses.

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2002 concluded[13] that fat-restricted diets are no better than calorie restricted diets in achieving long term weight loss in overweight or obese people.

A more recent meta-analysis that included randomized controlled trials published after the Cochrane review[14][15][16] found that "low-carbohydrate, non-energy-restricted diets appear to be at least as effective as low-fat, energy-restricted diets in inducing weight loss for up to 1 year. However, potential favorable changes in triglyceride and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol values should be weighed against potential unfavorable changes in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol values when low-carbohydrate diets to induce weight loss are considered."[17] Although studies from Stanford University and Duke University were not meta-analytic, their results favored the low-carbohydrate approach,[18][19] as opposed to the aforementioned study which questions which is better.

Contrary Evidence and Arguments

1. The Lancet: 1956

Kekwick and Pawan, 1956[20] conducted a study of subjects consuming 1000-calorie diets, some 90% protein, some 90% fat, and some 90% carbohydrates. Those on the high fat diet lost the most, the high protein dieters lost somewhat less, and the high carbohydrate dieters actually gained weight on average.

2. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: 1997

Holt et al., 1997[21] performed a study of glucose and insulin responses for test subjects to a variety of foods, both high- and low-carbohydrate. The conclusions state the following.

Our study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that the postprandial insulin response was not necessarily proportional to the blood glucose response and that nutrients other than carbohydrate influence the overall level of insulinemia ... The results of this study confirm and also challenge some of our basic assumptions about the relation between food intake and insulinemia. Within each food group, there was a wide range of insulin responses, despite similarities in nutrient composition ... As observed in previous studies, consumption of protein or fat with carbohydrate increases insulin secretion compared with the insulinogenic effect of these nutrients alone (22, 30-32) ... However, some protein and fat-rich foods (eggs, beef, fish, lentils, cheese, cake, and doughnuts) induced as much insulin secretion as did some carbohydrate-rich foods (eg, beef was equal to brown rice and fish was equal to grain bread).

This study challenges the general assertion that only carbohydrates significantly impact insulin production.

3. Journal of the American Medical Association: 2003

Bravata et al., 2003[22] conducted a literature search study of low-carbohydrate diet studies conducted between 1966 and 2003. The paper stated the following conclusion.

There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among participants older than age 50 years, for use longer than 90 days, or for diets of 20 g/d or less of carbohydrates. Among the published studies, participant weight loss while using low-carbohydrate diets was principally associated with decreased caloric intake and increased diet duration but not with reduced carbohydrate content.

The study determined that carbohydrate reduction did not significantly contribute more to weight loss than simply reducing calories. The article does state that

Low-carbohydrate diets had no significant adverse effect on serum lipid, fasting serum glucose, and fasting serum insulin levels, or blood pressure. [supporting the claim that such diets are safe]

4. American Journal of Epidemiology: 2005

Ma et al., 2005[23] completed a one-year study of 572 healthy adults monitoring their diet and physical activity. The study concluded the following.

In conclusion, results from our study suggest that daily dietary glycemic index is independently and positively associated with BMI [Body Mass Index]. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that with increased glycemic index, more insulin is produced and more fat is stored, suggesting that type of carbohydrate may be related to body weight. Our data did not support the current public trend of lowering total carbohydrate intake for weight loss or of lowering glycemic load for weight loss, as suggested by other researchers.

This study refutes the suggestion that total carbohydrate consumption directly correlates with weight loss but does support the notion that the glycemic index of foods consumed correlates with weight loss. The study does not specifically distinguish between nutritive and non-nutritive carbohydrate consumption nor is it clear that any of the diets was ketogenic (a key factor for most low-carbohydrate diets).

5. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006

Johnston et al., 2006[24] completed a study of 20 subjects over a 6-week period comparing ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets (i.e. very low carbohydrate) and non-ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets (i.e. moderate carbohydrate). The authors of the paper concluded the following.

KLC and NLC diets were equally effective in reducing body weight and insulin resistance, but the KLC diet was associated with several adverse metabolic and emotional effects. The use of ketogenic diets for weight loss is not warranted.

This study suggests that ketosis has no real benefit and is potentially harmful in a diet regimen.


  1. Lieb, Clarence W. (1926). "The Effects of an Exclusive Long-Continued Meat Diet".
  2. Frederick F. Samaha, M.D., Nayyar Iqbal, M.D., Prakash Seshadri, M.D., Kathryn L. Chicano, C.R.N.P., Denise A. Daily, R.D., Joyce McGrory, C.R.N.P., Terrence Williams, B.S., Monica Williams, B.S., Edward J. Gracely, Ph. D., and Linda Stern, M.D. (2003). "A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity". New England Journal of Medicine 348:2074-2081.
  3. Gary D. Foster, Ph. D., Holly R. Wyatt, M.D., James O. Hill, Ph. D., Brian G. McGuckin, Ed. M., Carrie Brill, B.S., B. Selma Mohammed, M.D., Ph. D., Philippe O. Szapary, M.D., Daniel J. Rader, M.D., Joel S. Edman, D.Sc., and Samuel Klein, M.D. (2003). "A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet for Obesity". New England Journal of Medicine 348:2082-2090.
  4. Evangeliou A, Vlachonikolis I, Mihailidou H, Spilioti M, Skarpalezou A, Makaronas N, Prokopiou A, Christodoulou P, Liapi-Adamidou G, Helidonis E, Sbyrakis S, Smeitink J. (2003). "Application of a ketogenic diet in children with autistic behavior: pilot study.". Journal of Child Neurology.
  5. Kossoff EH, Krauss GL, McGrogan JR, Freeman JM. (2003). "Efficacy of the Atkins diet as therapy for intractable epilepsy.". Journal of the American Academy of Neurology 61.
  6. [1]
  7. William S. Yancy, Jr., MD, MHS; Maren K. Olsen, PhD; John R. Guyton, MD; Ronna P. Bakst, RD; and Eric C. Westman, MD, MHS (2004). "A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia". Annals of Internal Medicine 140.
  8. Linda Stern, MD; Nayyar Iqbal, MD; Prakash Seshadri, MD; Kathryn L. Chicano, CRNP; Denise A. Daily, RD; Joyce McGrory, CRNP; Monica Williams, BS; Edward J. Gracely, PhD; and Frederick F. Samaha, MD (2004). "The Effects of Low-Carbohydrate versus Conventional Weight Loss Diets in Severely Obese Adults: One-Year Follow-up of a Randomized Trial". Annals of Internal Medicine 140 (10): 778–785.
  9. Isabelle Romieu, Eduardo Lazcano-Ponce, Luisa Maria Sanchez-Zamorano, Walter Willett, and Mauricio Hernandez-Avila: Carbohydrates and the Risk of Breast Cancer among Mexican Women, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, Vol. 13, 1283-1289, August 2004.
  10. William S Yancy, Jr, Marjorie Foy, Allison M Chalecki, Mary C Vernon, and Eric C Westman (2005). "A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes". Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2.
  11. Thomas L. Halton, Sc. D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr. P.H., Simin Liu, M.D., Sc. D., JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., Dr. P.H., Christine M. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., Kathryn Rexrode, M.D., and Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph. D. (2006). "Low-Carbohydrate-Diet Score and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women". New England Journal of Medicine 355:1991-2002.
  12. Francesca Bravi, Cristina Bosetti, Lorenza Scotti, Renato Talamini, Maurizio Montella, Valerio Ramazzotti, Eva Negri, Silvia Franceschi, and Carlo La Vecchia (October 2006). "Food Groups and Renal Cell Carcinoma: A Case-Control Study from Italy". International Journal of Cancer 355:1991-2002.
  13. Pirozzo S, Summerbell C, Cameron C, Glasziou P (2002). "Advice on low-fat diets for obesity". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (2): CD003640. PMID 12076496.
  14. Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, et al (2003). "A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity". N. Engl. J. Med. 348 (21): 2074–81. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa022637. PMID 12761364.
  15. Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al (2003). "A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity". N. Engl. J. Med. 348 (21): 2082–90. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa022207. PMID 12761365.
  16. Dansinger ML, Gleason JA, Griffith JL, et al (2005). "Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial.". JAMA 293 (1): 43-53. doi:10.1001/jama.293.1.43. PMID 12761365.
  17. Nordmann AJ, Nordmann A, Briel M, et al (2006). "Effects of low-carbohydrate vs low-fat diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials". Arch. Intern. Med. 166 (3): 285-93. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.3.285. PMID 16476868.
  19. Study Shows Low-Carb Diet Improves Cholesterol
  20. Kekwick, A., Pawan, G.L.S. (1956). "Calorie Intake in Relation to Body-Weight Changes in the Obese".
  21. SH Holt, JC Miller and P Petocz (1997). "An insulin index of foods: the insulin demand generated by 1000-kJ portions of common foods". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66.
  22. Dena M. Bravata, MD, MS; Lisa Sanders, MD; Jane Huang, MD; Harlan M. Krumholz, MD, SM; Ingram Olkin, PhD; Christopher D. Gardner, PhD; Dawn M. Bravata, MD (2003). "[h Efficacy and Safety of Low-Carbohydrate Diets]" 289.
  23. Yunsheng Ma , Barbara Olendzki1, David Chiriboga, James R. Hebert, Youfu Li, Wenjun Li, MaryJane Campbell, Katherine Gendreau and Ira S. Ockene (2005). "Association between Dietary Carbohydrates and Body Weight". Annals of Internal Medicine 161: 359–-367.
  24. Carol S Johnston, Sherrie L Tjonn, Pamela D Swan, Andrea White, Heather Hutchins and Barry Sears (May 2006). "Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83.


Based only on the evidence provided on this page, do you believe low-carbohydrate diets in general are both a safe and effective means of losing weight and improving and maintaining proper health?

The poll was created at 15:54 on March 24, 2008, and so far 1 people voted.
Based only on the evidence provided on this page, do you believe low-carbohydrate diets in general offer significant advantages (in terms of weight loss and general health) over diets which do not emphasize low intake of carbohydrates?

The poll was created at 15:57 on March 24, 2008, and so far 1 people voted.