Low Carb Diets and Gender Differences

Health Writer

“We’re on the same diet, so why is he losing more weight than I am?” Women often bemoan the fact that when they go on the same diet as a man in their life, they often lose less weight and weight loss is much slower. It’s not clear if this is always the case because there are so many variables involved in dieting, but when it comes to low carb diets, they may be right. According to a study published in the May 2018 edition of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, overweight men may indeed shed more pounds on a low carb diet, compared to women. But don’t despair — women come out ahead on a different health benefit.

The importance of carbohydrates

Many Americans are consuming large and frequent portions of processed grains on a regular basis. Obesity rates among children and adults are at an all-time high, and according to the CDC, one out of three Americans are living with a higher than normal blood sugar level (prediabetes). When it comes to prediabetes and diabetes, carbohydrates require some heavy focus because they break down into sugars when digested. Put simply, we are eating too many of the wrong types of carbs.

There’s been a closer focus on low carb diets to help lower blood sugar levels by introducing less sugar in the daily diet and the goals with this type of diet are weight loss and lower blood sugar levels. It’s important to remember that if you develop diabetes, you also have a higher risk of heart disease. In fact, avoiding diabetes is important to heart health and kidney health.

Measuring weight loss and circulation

In this study, 20 middle-age prediabetic overweight men and women were given two weeks’ worth of carb-restricted meals provided by the health center where the study was conducted. They were then given instructions to prepare an additional two weeks’ worth of low carb meals at home. At the end of the four weeks, male participants on average lost 6.3 percent of their body weight, while the women lost 4.4 percent. It seems clear that the diet seemed to nudge greater weight loss in men.

The researchers noted, however, a second outcome. Using an arterial stiffness measurement called the pulse wave velocity, the women showed reduced blood flow speeds, while the men showed no changes. Vascular stiffness, which impairs normal circulating blood flow, is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. So, improving arterial health and making arteries more flexible is a desirable health goal.

The low carb diet improved the arterial stiffness (including aortic stiffness) in the small group of women participants and allowed better blood flow. Specifically reducing aortic stiffness influences and improves overall heart health.

The researchers suggest that it would be worthwhile to further explore the impact that low carbohydrate diets can have on the heart health of women, especially given that there are far fewer studies done on women’s health compared to men.

Variations of low carb diets

The most common sources of carbohydrates include: Grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Limiting carbs forces your body to burn stored fat for energy. There are a number of different approaches to a low carb diet, but they are not necessarily safe or healthy. Here’s a rundown of the different approaches and some features to consider:

Low carb diet – It’s a common term used by many people when they simply cut down on the number of carbs that they’ve been eating. It’s a non-specific diet and it can include cutting down on fruits, vegetables, grains, or a combination of those food groups. If you are consuming a healthy, balanced diet, then fruits and vegetables are crucial to overall health because of the nutrients they provide. Limiting and carefully selecting minimally processed grain products should be the goal. If you are going low carb to lose weight, the standard goal would be to consume about 50 grams of fruits, vegetables, and grains daily (200 calories). Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a range of 45 to 65 percent of total daily calories in the form of carbs. If you consume 2000 calories daily, that would translate into 900 to 1300 calories from carbs. “Very” low carb would be a goal of below 50 grams of carbs daily – very difficult to sustain.

Ketogenic diet – The goal is to go very low carb and to balance that with significantly higher fat intake. The aim is to get the body to go into a state of ketosis so that insulin levels go down and fatty acids are released from fat stores, hence, you lose weight. Ongoing research continues to explore the benefits but also the dangers of this dietary approach.

Low carb paleo – The common Paleo diet involves eating meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts, and seeds. Some individuals cut the carb offerings significantly.

The Atkins diet – This diet was popular decades ago and has resurged with some modifications. The current approach drastically limits all carbs initially (20 grams daily), allowing all the protein and fat the individual wants, and then moves through some carb reintroduction phases as you continue to lose weight. The goal is to maintain weight by only consuming healthy unprocessed carbs and to cut down on them if you begin to gain weight.

Zero carb – This diet only includes foods from the animal kingdom. That essentially includes meat, fish, eggs, and animal fats (butter). Largely unsustainable, most individuals gain weight back quickly when they abandon the diet.

It’s important to discuss any diet you want to try with your healthcare provider. You may benefit from a low carb approach if you are overweight, diagnosed with obesity, and especially if you are prediabetic. Focus on eliminating processed carbs and manage portions of your grain choices. Fruits and vegetables should be the primary sources of your carbs. It’s important to also focus on the nutrient quality of your diet so that you don’t sacrifice or impair your overall health for one single health goal.

See more helpful articles:

Here’s How a High Protein Diet Aids Weight Loss

Are Processed Foods Killing Us?

Diet Products: Waistline Friend or Foe?