When and why carbohydrate restriction can be a viable option

Nutrition. 2014 Jul-Aug;30(7-8):748-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2013.11.021. Epub 2013 Dec 4.


There is a significant amount of controversy related to the optimal amount of dietary carbohydrate. This review summarizes the health-related positives and negatives associated with carbohydrate restriction. On the positive side, there is substantive evidence that for many individuals, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets can effectively promote weight loss. Low-carbohydrate diets (LCDs) also can lead to favorable changes in blood lipids (i.e., decreased triacylglycerols, increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and decrease the severity of hypertension. These positives should be balanced by consideration of the likelihood that LCDs often lead to decreased intakes of phytochemicals (which could increase predisposition to cardiovascular disease and cancer) and nondigestible carbohydrates (which could increase risk for disorders of the lower gastrointestinal tract). Diets restricted in carbohydrates also are likely to lead to decreased glycogen stores, which could compromise an individual's ability to maintain high levels of physical activity. LCDs that are high in saturated fat appear to raise low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and may exacerbate endothelial dysfunction. However, for the significant percentage of the population with insulin resistance or those classified as having metabolic syndrome or prediabetes, there is much experimental support for consumption of a moderately restricted carbohydrate diet (i.e., one providing approximately 26%-44 % of calories from carbohydrate) that emphasizes high-quality carbohydrate sources. This type of dietary pattern would likely lead to favorable changes in the aforementioned cardiovascular disease risk factors, while minimizing the potential negatives associated with consumption of the more restrictive LCDs.

Keywords: Cardiovascular risk factors; Insulin resistance; Low carbohydrate diets; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted* / adverse effects
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Syndrome / diet therapy*
  • Weight Loss*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins