Low-Carb Diets Can Hurt Your Gut

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
February 11, 2022
Low-Carb Diets Can Hurt Your Gut

If you’re overweight, losing weight is definitely a good goal for your overall health. What you don’t eat, however, can affect your overall health, so try not to rule out whole food groups.

It feels good to try something new, and many of us long to weigh less. If you’re overweight, losing weight is definitely a good goal for your overall health. What matters is how you go about it.

If you try any of the currently popular diets, you could change your gut in ways that will actually hurt your health. You should also talk to your doctor before starting one of these diets. Your goal is a diversity of gut bacteria, and the good bacteria need plenty of fiber. Aim for a variety of naturally colorful foods on your place.


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Ketogenic diet

In a ketogenic (or Keto) diet, you cut out carbohydrates. You’ll help your gut if you stop eating white bread and cookies, white potatoes, and other low-nutrient carbs. But fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, and lentils are also carbs, all containing fiber that supports bacteria you need.

The ketogenic diet pushes your body’s metabolism toward ketosis, in which you burn fat. So, the diet can promote rapid weight loss. But you could get fuzzy-headed, lose muscle, get constipation, and increase your risk of kidney stones, among other issues.

Paleo diet

In this diet, you’ll eat lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and seafood but completely cut out salt, refined sugar, grains, and dairy. The theory goes that human beings never fully adapted to modern agriculture, which set in after the Paleolithic era. A small study concluded that people on the Paleo diet did have diverse gut bacteria, but they had more than the usual amounts of bile and fat-loving microbes, which could be a long-term problem.

Lemonade or Master Cleanse

You might have heard that the singer Beyoncé lost weight on the Master Cleanse: a diet consisting of lemon-flavored water, salt water, laxative tea, and extremely limited calories for a week. You’ll lose water weight because of the laxative, but, as soon as you eat more, the weight you lose returns. And, again, cutting out the good high-fiber foods could hurt your gut.

Low-FODMAP diet

The low-FOODMAP diet is intended to stop symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIB0). Don’t be embarrassed — as many as a fifth of the population may have IBS, with common foods giving them diarrhea or constipation. FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are prone to absorb water and ferment in the colon. For some people, they trigger intestinal symptoms, including cramps, gas, and bloating.

The low-FODMAP diet cuts out nutritious carbs, so many doctors recommend trying it for only two to six weeks. The next step is to eat a high-FODMAP food every three days. If a particular food causes you trouble, you can avoid it for as long as you need. But the usual goal is to find high-FODMAP foods that you can eat regularly.

It’s possible to stick to low-FODMAP options and eat nutritiously, but you’ll need to be careful. Low-FODMAP vegetables include kale, squash, yams, bok choy, carrots, cucumbers, and green beans. Low-FODMAP fruit include berries, bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Low-FODMAP grains include oats, quinoa, rice, and corn. You can find a complete list here.

Your best move is to work with a nutritionist and gastroenterologist or primary care doctor who may also prescribe antibiotics for SIB0 or medications for IBS.

Low-histamine diet

Some people react to foods that contain histamine (the same chemical that causes allergies). To avoid histamine, you’ll have to cut out fermented foods, popular vegetables like spinach and eggplant, and popular fruits like citrus and strawberries. Doctors recommend following a low-histamine diet for 4 to 8 weeks, while keeping records on your diet and symptoms. Again, the goal here is to feel better then add foods back in, with the help of a nutritionist. You may need to take antihistamines and other supplements. It’s important to check for food allergies and other causes for your histamine troubles.


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February 11, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN