Benefits of Low Carbohydrate Diets: a Settled Question or Still Controversial?



Purpose of Review: The purpose of this review was to provide an update on the available data on the benefits of low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diets for weight management and type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and determine if low-carb diets were a settled question or still controversial. Recent Findings Most of the recent published literature in this area consists of reviews of past trials, with a relatively smaller number of recent trials. Low-carb is most commonly compared to low-fat, with problematically inconsistent definitions of both. There are numerous challenges in trying to draw clear conclusions about efficacy and effectiveness. Short-term vs. long-term effects can differ, which is likely impacted by adherence. Adherence is very different between metabolic chamber or feeding studies vs. free-living. Body weight alone is a crude measure that fails to capture potentially important differences in lean-mass, fat-mass, and body water. Benefits for glycemic control need to be balanced with impacts on non-glycemic outcomes such as LDL-cholesterol, the microbiome, and inflammation. It is important to differentiate between low-carb and very-low carbohydrate diets (VLCD). To date no large-scale long-term clinical trials have been conducted testing whether low-carb diets can prevent T2DM.

Summary: Many issues regarding benefits and risks of low-carb diets remain controversial or unresolved, particularly for VLCD. Some of the recent, better studies highlighted in this review suggest strategies for resolving these controversies