The purpose of the present review is to describe how human physiology at very low carbohydrate intakes relates to the criteria for nutritional essentiality. Although we did not limit ourselves to one particular type or function of carbohydrates, we did primarily focus on glucose utilisation as that function was used to determine the recommended daily allowance. In the general population, the human body is able to endogenously synthesise carbohydrates, and does not show signs of deficiency in the absence of dietary carbohydrates. However, in certain genetic defects, such as glycogen storage disease type I, absence of dietary carbohydrates causes abnormalities that are resolved with dietary supplementation of carbohydrates. Therefore, dietary carbohydrates may be defined as conditionally essential nutrients because they are nutrients that are not required in the diet for the general population but are required for specific subpopulations. Ketosis may be considered a physiological normal state due to its occurrence in infants in addition to at very low carbohydrate intakes. Although sources of dietary carbohydrates can provide beneficial micronutrients, no signs of micronutrient deficiencies have been reported in clinical trials of low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets. Nonetheless, more research is needed on how micronutrient requirements can change depending on the dietary and metabolic context. More research is also needed on the role of dietary fibre during a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet as the beneficial effects of dietary fibre were determined on a standard diet and several studies have shown beneficial effects of decreasing non-digestible carbohydrates.
Keywords: Dietary carbohydrates; Essential nutrients; Ketogenic diets; Ketosis; Nutrient deficiency.