Woman measuring waistline while wondering about the benefits of a low carb high protein diet

Benefits of A Low Carb High Protein Diet

Medically reviewed on December 19, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Improving your well-being can feel overwhelming, particularly when it comes to deciding what and how to eat. But whether you’re determined to get to a healthier body size or are managing a chronic health condition, nutrition is a keystone in lifelong well-being.

Low-carb, high-protein diets are typically recommended to individuals who need to lose weight or manage diabetes or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).[1] They can be highly restrictive, curbing “carb” consumption to <10% of a person’s daily diet, to relatively flexible (eating just under the recommended 45 percent daily amount).[1]

If you’re considering a low-carb, high-protein diet, it’s important to know why and how it works to advance particular wellness goals. Understanding its benefits and potential disadvantages can help you make more informed choices about your nutrition and overall health.

Understanding Macronutrients

Decades of diet fads have given many people the impression that carbohydrates are harmful to health. In reality, carbohydrates are one of three essential macronutrients derived from food [2]:

  • Protein, which breaks down into essential amino acids your body needs to function. Protein is most important for supplying the building blocks of muscle tissues.
  • Fat, which can also be used as an energy source. Fat also enables your body to absorb critical micronutrients, like vitamins.
  • Carbohydrates, which is where your body most easily mines its energy. After digestion, carbs are turned into glucose (sugar) and passed into the bloodstream for use.

Carbohydrates can be divided into four sub-categories, some considered healthier than others [3]:

  • Complex natural carbohydrates (like sweet potatoes)
  • Complex refined carbohydrates (like white rice)
  • Simple natural carbohydrates (like fruit sugars, or fructose)
  • Simple refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar)

Eating large quantities of simple carbohydrates regularly can be damaging to your health. Because they break down into sugar quickly, they can cause surges in blood glucose and insulin, the hormone that tells your cells to use or store sugars. Over time, this pattern can result in:

  • Weight gain
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes

Humans need all three “macros” to maintain a state of health.[2] Even people prescribed a very low-carb diet need a small amount of carbohydrates for balanced nutrition. But to make a low-carb diet effective for the stages of weight loss or diabetes management, you should eat mostly complex carbohydrates.

What Is The Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet?

Despite the popularity of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, there is currently no clinical consensus on how to define them.[1]

Experts usually designate a high-protein, low-carb diet in one of two ways:

  • By calculating a person’s daily “carbohydrate load” in measured units.
  • By calculating the percentage of carbohydrates consumed in proportion to other macronutrients (protein and fat).

For those who aren’t dieting, the standard recommended quota for daily carbohydrates is about 45 to 65 percent of their meals. [4] On a low-carb diet, you may have [1]:

  • less then 10 percent carbohydrates (a very low-carb diet)
  • more then 26 percent carbohydrates (a low-carb diet)
  • between 26 and 44 percent carbohydrates (a moderate-carb diet)

Reducing your carbohydrate intake means you’ll need to compensate for that loss of energy by eating more fat or more protein. The ketogenic diet is one example of a diet that reduces carbs and increases fats (a standard “keto” diet involves eating 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 10 percent carbs).[5]

The alternative is a high-protein diet.[1] On a normal diet, most health experts recommend adults get approximately .8 grams of protein for each kilogram of their body weight (slightly more for people who exercise frequently or lead a highly active lifestyle).[6] On a high-protein diet, you may have more.

What Are The Advantages Of A Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet?

The greatest advantage of a low-carb, high-protein diet is its efficacy in encouraging weight loss, especially in people who are overweight or obese.

Research indicates that low-carb diets are remarkably effective at maximizing weight loss within the first 6 to 12 months of starting the regimen.[1] Evidence on the connection between high protein intake and weight loss isn’t as conclusive, though one study showed people who increased their protein intake while dieting lost more weight than those who didn’t.[7]

Apart from losing weight, the low-carb, high-protein diet may offer:

  • Enhanced muscle repair – If you’re working on advancing your fitness as well as losing weight, a high-protein, low-carb diet could be an excellent choice, as protein is crucial for repairing and rebuilding muscle.[8]
  • Increased satiety – Because carbohydrate-rich diets can cause blood sugar to spike and plummet, it’s common to feel hungry often and overeat during meal times. High-protein diets can help enhance feelings of satiety, diminishing many people’s tendency to overindulge.[9]
  • More stable blood sugar – Maintaining balanced blood glucose is important whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with insulin resistance or diabetes. Stable blood sugar levels help ensure a steady source of fuel for your body, with fewer chances of energy “crashes” throughout the day.

Low-Carb, High-Protein Diets And Ketosis: What’s the Connection?

If you’ve been looking into low-carbohydrate diets, you’ve likely come across the term ketosis.

Ketosis is a metabolic state that can ensue if you’ve drastically restricted carbs from your diet.[10] When your body ceases to use carbohydrates (sugars) as a source of fuel, it relies on ketones, which your liver supplies when it taps into stored reserves of fat.[10]

  • Kidney and liver problems – Both the kidneys and liver play crucial roles in metabolizing the food you eat. Fats and proteins are much more difficult to digest than carbohydrates, and some keto diets can overtax them or aggravate existing conditions.
  • Slow digestion – Stalled digestion and constipation may be side effects of ketogenic diets. Carbohydrate-rich foods typically supply the majority of the body’s fiber, and slashing them may make it more difficult to have regular bowel movements.
  • Slow digestion – Stalled digestion and constipation may be side effects of ketogenic diets. Carbohydrate-rich foods typically supply the majority of the body’s fiber, and slashing them may make it more difficult to have regular bowel movements.

Finally, severely reducing your total carbohydrate intake through low-carb meals can make it difficult to obtain the vitamins and minerals contained in complex natural carbohydrates like whole produce. If you’re considering trying any form of the keto diet, be sure to explore the keto diet’s advantages and disadvantages and consult with a healthcare provider beforehand to ensure you’re able to meet all your nutritional needs.

Who Should Try A Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet?

Some people may benefit more from low-carb, high-protein diets than others. Healthcare providers typically recommend this nutritional approach for [1]:

  • People who are overweight or obese
  • People who are at risk of developing metabolic syndrome
  • People who have or are at risk of developing insulin resistance
  • People with type 2 diabetes

For people with diabetes, low-carb foods are an essential part of their treatment program. By focusing on high protein instead of high fat intake, people with diabetes may also lower their risk of ingesting trans and saturated fats, which can be harmful to their health.[12]

Are There Any Drawbacks To A Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet?

Currently, there’s no conclusive data to suggest low-carb, high-protein diets may be damaging to your well-being.[1] Limited research posits some low-carb diets could heighten some people’s risk of developing cardiovascular illness, but few studies have demonstrated a definitive link.[1]

That said, if you’re working toward losing weight, there are some points to consider before diving into this diet:

  • Kidney health – If you’ve dealt with kidney damage or disease in the past, consult with your healthcare provider before trying any high-protein diet. Eating large quantities of protein regularly can tax the kidneys and heighten the risk of developing kidney stones.[6]
  • Long-term nutrition – Low-carbohydrate diets are largely recommended as a short-term plan for people who want to reach a healthy goal weight.[1] Unless you are diabetic or expressly advised by a healthcare provider, they aren’t meant to be a lifelong approach to eating.[1]
  • Convenience – For some people, low-carb, high-protein diets may simply be unapproachable due to the amount of effort involved in tracking macronutrients.[1] That said, working with your healthcare provider and a dietician can make embracing a low-carb, high-protein diet much simpler than you think.[1]

Dial In Your Ideal Diet With Everlywell

No one diet is right for everyone. The ideal approach to nutrition depends on a variety of factors, from your health history to your fitness ambitions.

If you’re deliberating on what diet can help you advance to your next stage of well-being, the online weight management program via Everlywell can help. We’ll set you up with a 1:1 virtual visit with a licensed clinician to guide you and suggest the right tests, nutrition, and lifestyle changes for your goals.

But we don’t stop supporting you after the first visit. In the Weight Care+ program, we’re a part of your team—for the long haul. Gain regular support, curated lifestyle content, and an on-demand app for a 360-degree view of your wellness journey.

Everlywell Weight Loss Support

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  1. Low-Carbohydrate Diet. Statpearls - NCBI Bookshelf. URL. Accessed December 15, 2023.
  2. Venn, Bernard J. Macronutrients and Human Health for the 21st Century. Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 8, 2020, p. 2363. URL. Accessed December 14, 2023.
  3. Low-carb Diet: Can It Help You Lose Weight? Mayo Clinic. November 15, 2022. URL. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  4. How Many Carbs Do You Need To Lose Weight? Cleveland Clinic. October 26, 2022, URL. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  5. Shilpa, Joshi, and Viswanathan Mohan. Ketogenic Diets: Boon or Bane? Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol. 148, no. 3, 2015, pp. 251-253, URL. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.
  6. When It Comes to Protein, How Much Is Too Much? Harvard Health Publishing. March 30, 2020. URL. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  7. Campos-Nonato, Ismael, et al. "Effect of a High-Protein Diet versus Standard-Protein Diet on Weight Loss and Biomarkers of Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial." Obes Facts, vol. 10, no. 3, 2017, pp. 238-251. URL. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.
  8. Nutrition Rules That Will Fuel Your Workout. Mayo Clinic. February 23, 2021. URL. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  9. Lonnie, Marta, et al. Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 3, 2018. URL. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.
  10. Nutritional Ketosis with Ketogenic Diets or Exogenous Ketones: Features, Convergence, and Divergence. Current Sports Medicine Reports, vol. 19, no. 7, 2020, pp. 251-259, URL. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.
  11. Should You Try the Keto Diet? Harvard Health Publishing. August 31, 2020. URL. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.
  12. Diabetes Diet: Create Your Healthy-eating Plan. Mayo Clinic. April 13, 2023. URL. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.

Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Physician. Since completing her residency training in 2010, she’s been practicing full-scope family medicine in a rural setting. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s practice includes caring for patients of all ages for preventative care as well as chronic disease management. She also provides prenatal care and delivers babies. Dr. Foglesong Stabile completed a teaching fellowship in 2020 and teaches the family medicine clerkship for one of her local medical schools. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s favorite thing about family medicine is the variety of patients she sees in her clinical practice.

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