Giving up an entire food group isn’t usually advisable unless there’s a specific medical reason to, but often that doesn’t stop people – especially when it comes to carbohydrates. Carbs seem to have acquired a bad reputation for making you put on weight, but in reality they’re vital for giving your body the energy it needs.
Frida Harju-Westman, in-house nutritionist at health app Lifesum, always advises to aim for a balanced diet. “Incorporating complex carbohydrates can improve your endurance and alertness,” she explains, noting that complex [most wholewheat carbs] are much more preferable to refined and simple carbs [most white carbohydrates].
If, for whatever reason, you decide to cut carbohydrates from your diet, here’s what you can expect might happen to your body:
1. You could lose weight
And most of it comes down to water weight. “Diets high in sodium and insulin-promoters, like refined carbs, force the body to store more water inside and in-between cells than the body needs,” Frida explains. “This retained water can amount to 10-20 pounds, depending on your diet. When you cut carbs, the body will rid itself of this water, resulting in weight loss.”
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2. But you could also gain weight
Losing water weight is a short-term solution, Frida says, because the weight will eventually get added back on. “It’s common for those who cut carbs to replace their starches with high-fat foods such as nuts, avocados, and cheese. There’s nothing wrong with high-fat foods, and they are essential to your diet,” the nutritionist explains. “Keep in mind, though, that fats are more calorie dense than carbs and so they need to be eaten in moderation.”
3. You might experience constipation
To ensure the body receives all the nutrients it needs, a low-carb diet often means increasing the amount of protein and fats you eat, while reducing your fibre intake. “This could result in constipation,” Frida says, adding: “Ensure you’re eating a balanced diet that does not result in this kind of discomfort.”
4. You might feel more tired than usual
“Your body stores carbs in the form of glycogen, which is easily absorbed in the bloodstream and is your brain’s energy source,” the nutritionist explains. “That means, when you run out of carbs, your mind will need some time to adjust and you will feel tired as well as experiencing physical fatigue.” Frida adds: “As explained before, it will be important to incorporate high-fat foods in moderation to help the body produce fuel from healthy fats rather than sugary carbs. If you are an athlete practicing high-intensity exercise, cutting carbs can take a toll on your endurance, so high-fat foods and protein will be even more important.”
5. Your might get bad breath
Not the most pleasant of side effects, but it is one that’s quite common. Frida explains: “As you cut carbs out of your diet, and the body is ridding itself of the excess water weight, it is common to experience a case of dry mouth.”
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But that’s not the only reason you might get bad breath on a carb-free diet. “When you cut carbs, your body enters a state called ketosis, which is when your body starts to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs,” says the expert. “In addition to being released throughout the body, ketosis is released through your breath and can result in a fruity smell or, in extreme cases, the smell of nail polish remover.”