Here’s what you need to know about the low-carb diet, plus tips and a meal plan if you decide it’s for you. If you look on Instagram in particular you’d be forgiven for assuming there’s a worldwide shortage of pasta, bread and rice. Low-carb diets are incredibly popular and they have a great deal of vocal support online – but then so do cats playing pianos, so we were keen to check if the idea of cutting carbs is backed up by vigorous scientific standards. For the low-down on low-carb diets, we spoke to dietitian Duane Mellor of the British Dietetic Association. And if you like what you hear, we’ve got a seven-day low-carb meal plan to get you started. What is the evidence regarding the effectiveness of low-carb diets for weight loss? There is good evidence for low-carbohydrate diets in the short term – up to three months. In longer studies there are no clear benefits over other types of reduced-calorie diets. There are some concerns about low-carbohydrate diets that are not well planned, because they can limit the intake of some nutrients. This can be avoided by carefully planning a low-carbohydrate diet. One key challenge is defining what a low-carbohydrate diet is. Some say less than 45% of energy, others 130g per day, and others less than 50g per day. The lower the carbohydrate intake, the greater the typical reduction in energy intake and the more rapid the weight loss. What are the positives of a low-carb diet? It can be very effective for some people with respect to weight loss, and it can also help some people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood glucose levels. These benefits are often reported by individuals and are less obvious in clinical trials. This is perhaps because when people consciously choose to go on a low-carbohydrate diet, they also make healthier food choices all round. What are the negatives? The low-carb diet can, like many types of diet, result in low intakes of key nutrients like B vitamins and fibre if not carefully put together. Some people also report flu-like symptoms when they initially go on a very low-carbohydrate diet like the ketogenic or “keto” diet, which normally pass. With the keto diet in particular, lots of people report bad breath or body odour. If fibre is reduced, this can increase the risk of constipation. Are there any situations where you would recommend a low-carb diet? It would be part of a discussion for people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in line with the Diabetes UK nutrition guidelines. It is about carefully discussing a person’s health, personal preferences and goals. Lower-carbohydrate diets can be one of many approaches that can help people achieve their health goals. Why do you think it has become such a popular style of diet? It helps to reduce calorie intake and it also has a number of famous advocates and vocal supporters on the internet. However, the focus on nutrients and not foods is not helpful. We eat food, not carbohydrate, and perhaps understanding the food we eat better may help us improve the quality of our diets, improve our health and lose weight – if that is our goal. Would you recommend it to an average person looking to lose weight or just eat healthily? It is an option, but I would encourage them to think about it carefully and seek advice. It can, like any diet, have side effects. It can help focus a person’s mind on making better food choices. However, this can be done more simply by reducing intake of foods with added sugar, refined starches and fats.