Are Low Carb Diets Healthy? The Keto Diet Might Not Be For You, New Study Suggests

As far as I can tell, most popular diets are often built on extremes — but whatever happened to eating everything in moderation? Take the keto diet, for example: When you go keto, you’re essentially saying buh-bye to most of the carbohydrates in your diet (things like bagels, cereal, pasta, bagels, cookies, cake, and did I mention bagels??), and adding in a lot of healthy fats instead (think avocado, peanut butter, and coconut oil). The goal is for your body to reach something called ketosis, which is when you'll start generating energy from fat storage. But are low-carb diets healthy — I mean really healthy — in the long run? Low-carb diets definitely have their advantages, sure — the keto diet offers a ton of health benefits like mental clarity and a boost of energy — but carbs are one of the big three macronutrients your body thrives on, and if that’s the case, should you actually make the sacrifice that is giving up bagels and all of those other carbs you know and love?

TBH, there’s a lot about the keto diet that doesn’t sound appealing to me: For example, there’s something called the keto flu, which is basically when your body goes haywire if it isn’t adjusting well to the diet initially and hits you with all the same symptoms of a typical winter flu. You might also experience some major stomach issues as you adjust to the diet, and you could even have a significant lack of energy while your system figures out how to break down fats instead of glucose sugars, since you basically pulled a fast one on your body and erased carbs from your meals. To me, it just sounds like a lot of physical suffering and emotional stress I’d rather not put myself through, and according to a new study, you really don’t have to, either.

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For the study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explored whether low-carb diets are healthy by observing the dietary habits of over 15,400 American adults between the ages of 45 and 65, BuzzFeed News reports. The research began between 1987 and 1989 when participants were asked to answer questions about their eating habits. Six years later, they were given a follow-up survey, which also asked questions about the participants' general eating habits. And now, about 25 years later, the researchers have followed up once more. According to their paper, published in the medical journal The Lancet Public Health, over 6,000 participants have died since the beginning of the study, but here's where the carb kicker is: According to the data, those whose diets consisted of roughly 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates were more likely to live longer than those who approached carbs in more extreme ways, like with high-carb or low-carb diets. In other words, you know that phrase "everything in moderation"? Well, apparently it applies to your carb intake, too, and it could mean that the keto diet, which focuses on a low-carb way of eating, may not actually be doing your body any favors.

Judging by this study alone, it would seem as though science has found a happy medium that lets you eat your carbs and stay healthy, too. This isn’t to say you should eat three slices of cake every day for the rest of your life, but it does indicate that complex carbs like oats, potatoes, and whole grain breads are totally fine to fit into your diet. Keep in mind, though, that the amount of carbs your body needs to thrive on a daily basis is going to be different than the amount of carbs my body needs, or anyone else's. Every body is different, which means maybe low-carb or high-carb can work for you. Before committing to a low-carb, high-carb, or even moderate-carb way of eating, though, it's best to talk to your doctor to figure out what’s actually ideal for your health goals.

On that note, because every body is so different, there’s really no one-size-fits all, definitive numeric answer to how many carbs you should be eating in order to live a healthier, longer life. However, if you’re interested, it can’t hurt to talk to a nutritionist or dietitian, who can help you narrow it down. Personally, though, I think you can save yourself a doctor’s visit and figure out how to eat carbs in moderation all on your own, just by paying close attention to the food groups represented on your plate from meal to meal.

I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of you have some sense of control over what you eat every day. So the next time you sit down to eat a meal, take a moment to stop and actually look at the different foods you’ve chosen for yourself. Do this for a couple of days, and write down what you've consumed. If the bulk of your diet seems to consist of carbs, scale it back a bit. For instance, I’ll generally eat about one to two bread-y carbs in a day — think toast for breakfast, a cookie for dessert, or one or the other — and fill the rest of my diet with fresh produce, healthy fats, and protein. So for you, maybe that means, instead of eating leftover pasta for lunch and a panini for dinner, you swap either dish for a salad topped with lean protein. But, if you’ve got the opposite issue — aka you’re not eating enough carbs and notice you’re absolutely starving most days — maybe you can try having a bagel for breakfast once in a while, or start taking that complimentary whole wheat roll with your salad at lunch.

Either way, your body knows what types of foods make it feel good, and as long as you're listening to it, it will cue you when something you eat doesn’t agree with you. Paying attention to these cues will help you to better understand what your body needs to thrive. From there, you can decide for yourself whether a high-, low-, or moderate-carb way of eating works for you.

As far as I can tell, the keto diet — and really, any popular diet you come across — can be healthy, but it can also be unhealthy, too. It all depends on your body, so if your doctor says it's A-OK to eat a ton of carbs, by all means, go for it.