In the world of macronutrients, carbs get a bad rap, thanks to the interest in low-carb diets like the Atkins, Whole30, and ever-so-popular keto diet. Diets like these limit your carb intake in order to promote weight loss, and sometimes lead to other health benefits, like curbed cravings and lower blood-sugar levels.
While most of these diets try to keep your daily carb count very low, you can still have your plate of pasta here and there. The zero-carb diet, on the other hand, is even more restrictive. Its goal is to near-completely cut carbs out of your diet, meaning everything from starchy vegetables to baked goods like cookies are almost always off limits.
Like most low-carb diets, chances are you will see weight loss on the zero-carb diet, which is also called the no-carb diet. But it’s so restrictive that some experts think the diet is more risky for your health than anything. Carbs aren’t the villain they’re made out to be, and in fact, they play a major role in brain function and help keep your nervous system functioning properly, among a ton of other benefits.
Here’s everything you need to know about the zero-carb diet and its risks, according to registered dietitians.
What exactly is a zero-carb diet?
Generally, a zero-carb diet involves cutting most carb-containing foods from your diet as possible (namely digestible carbs). The name is a bit of a misnomer, since you are technically eating *some* carbs.
“This is the most extreme version of other well-known carb-cutting diets such as the Atkins diet and keto,” says Tamsin Jordan, a registered dietitian in New York specializing in women’s health. Most people limit their intake of carbs found in foods like non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and cheese.
When cutting down on carbs, some people choose to limit digestible carbs in particular. Digestible carbs are those that can be completely broken down into sugar (or glucose). Refined grains, pasta, and starchy vegetables like corn are just a few examples of foods that pack digestible carbs.
“Consuming excessive amounts of highly processed, digestible carbs will lead to sharp fluctuations in blood sugar, causing wild swings in energy, mood, and focus,” says Jordan, who adds that these carbs are also associated with weight gain and sugar cravings.
Unlike digestible carbs, other types of carbs—fiber-rich ones specifically—are not as easily broken down, which is why they have less of an effect on your blood sugar and aid your diet by keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Jordan typically recommends focusing on the quality of carbs that you consume, rather than the quantity. Unrefined carbs are her top choice: “These contain fiber which helps to stabilize your blood sugar and provide an array of vitamins and minerals,” she says.
So how do you know how many digestible carbs are in a food? It’s not an exact science, but a good way to get an estimate is to look at its nutrition label and subtract dietary fiber from total…