Low-carbohydrate diets: nutritional and physiological aspects

Obes Rev. 2006 Feb;7(1):49-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00222.x.


Recently, diets low in carbohydrate content have become a matter of international attention because of the WHO recommendations to reduce the overall consumption of sugars and rapidly digestible starches. One of the common metabolic changes assumed to take place when a person follows a low-carbohydrate diet is ketosis. Low-carbohydrate intakes result in a reduction of the circulating insulin level, which promotes high level of circulating fatty acids, used for oxidation and production of ketone bodies. It is assumed that when carbohydrate availability is reduced in short term to a significant amount, the body will be stimulated to maximize fat oxidation for energy needs. The currently available scientific literature shows that low-carbohydrate diets acutely induce a number of favourable effects, such as a rapid weight loss, decrease of fasting glucose and insulin levels, reduction of circulating triglyceride levels and improvement of blood pressure. On the other hand some less desirable immediate effects such as enhanced lean body mass loss, increased urinary calcium loss, increased plasma homocysteine levels, increased low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol have been reported. The long-term effect of the combination of these changes is at present not known. The role of prolonged elevated fat consumption along with low-carbohydrate diets should be addressed. However, these undesirable effects may be counteracted with consumption of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, low-fat diet, because this type of diet has been shown to induce favourable effects on feelings of satiety and hunger, help preserve lean body mass, effectively reduce fat mass and beneficially impact on insulin sensitivity and on blood lipid status while supplying sufficient calcium for bone mass maintenance. The latter findings support the need to do more research on this type of hypocaloric low-carbohydrate diet.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Reducing*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Lipids / blood
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / etiology
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Insulin
  • Lipids
  • Glycogen