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Debunking Low-Carb Myths

When I began working with Dr. Atkins in 1974 all I heard from my friends was how dangerous his diet was. It was supposed to damage kidneys and the liver, cause heart attacks, osteoporosis and worse. Decades later we are still subject to this misinformation. We can thank some practitioners who are closed minded, others who are unaware of research, and the media that loves to create controversy for their own marketing purposes.

It’s time to set the record straight and debunk the myths surrounding a low-carb lifestyle especially since the many research studies that have been published support low-carb as being safe and effective.

Myth: Dietary carbohydrates are essential for health and proper brain function.

healthy brain foodFact: According to the Institute of Medicine there is no minimum daily dietary intake of carbohydrates necessary. However, there is a minimum level of essential fats and proteins recommended. The brain functions very efficiently without dietary carbohydrates. In fact, the brain’s preferred source of fuel is ketones.

Myth: Ketones are dangerous.

Fact: Ketones are the by-product of utilizing fat for energy. When restricting dietary carbohydrates to less than 50 to 60 grams daily one will be in “in ketosis”. You will burn dietary fat and excess body fat. By utilizing dietary fat one can prevent further fat storage and by accessing fat stores for energy one can get thinner and healthier.

Medical personnel confuse dietary ketosis with ketoacidosis, an abnormal state, usually found in a person with out of control type 1 diabetes or severe alcoholism. They are not the same metabolic condition.

Myth: A low carbohydrate diet is low in nutrients. This criticism is often made because a low-carb plan is often presented as a no-carb plan.

Fact: A low-carb diet is a whole foods diet. The heavily processed foods low in nutritional value, typically eaten in this country, depletes the body of nutrient stores. When consuming minimally processed whole foods a person is restoring vital nutrients and improving their nutritional state for easy use at the cellular level. Even on the lowest 20 gram per day stage of a low-carb plan, low glycemic-load vegetables and salads are included. Fruits such as tomatoes, olives, and avocado are encouraged.

If one experiences constipation during a low-carbohydrate program, drinking more water or adding a fiber supplement can be used to enhance bowel comfort. Regardless of diet, a good quality multivitamin/mineral will go a long way to restore nutrient levels. This is especially necessary if your previous diet was heavily skewed to sugary and processed foods or you regularly take prescription medications. It’s not widely known that medications, including those taken by people with diabetes can deplete a variety of essential nutrients.

Myth: A high protein diet can damage healthy kidneys.

Fact: A low-carb diet is a moderate protein diet. It is well within the Institute of Medicine’s range for a healthy protein intake. People with diabetes are cautioned to keep protein intake lower since many eventually get kidney disease. However, any kidney complications of diabetes are due to the damaging effects of high insulin and blood sugars. To achieve true protection of the kidneys, sugar and refined carbohydrates should be avoided. There is no evidence in any of the research studies that show low carbohydrate diets cause kidney damage even in people with diabetes. Nor is this seen in decades of clinical practice.

Myth: A low carbohydrate plan causes bone loss.

Fact: This myth began decades ago when a very short term study was done measuring calcium loss on a poor quality protein powder. This was extrapolated to mean a low-carb diet, even containing good quality protein food, would produce the same result eventually causing osteoporosis. No research studies using a properly formulated low-carb diet have shown any increased risk for osteoporosis. In fact, good quality protein in adequate amounts are need to maintain healthy bone mass especially in the elderly.

Myth: A high fat diet causes cancer.

Fact: Consuming natural fats does not cause cancer. Avoid foods with manufactured trans fats and those high in omega 6 fatty acids (seed oils). Carrying excess body fat the most likely result of eating the wrong types and too many harmful carbohydrates predisposes one to cancer and poorer cancer outcomes. Excess body fat is metabolically active producing a number of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Inflammation is a part of the cancer process. Some of the cancers associated with obesity are prostate, esophageal, stomach, pancreas, colon, ovarian and breast.

People with type 2 diabetes are more prone to cancer. They have chronically high insulin levels and blood sugars. High insulin is associated with higher levels of insulin-like growth factor that can stimulate cell proliferation. Cancer cells utilize glucose (carbohydrates) but some cannot use ketones for fuel. The use of ketogenic diets for various cancers is one new exciting area of research as to how diet can influence cancer.

Myth: Low-carb diets damage the liver.

Fact: On the contrary, a low-carb diet can actually reverse fatty infiltration of the liver common in obese people, including kids, and is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This condition can lead to serious and even fatal health consequences. In the many thousands of people participating in research studies based upon a low-carb diet, liver disease was not a concern.

Myth: Low-carb diets cause heart disease.

Fact: It is not the intake of natural fats but rather the intake of high glycemic foods such as sugary drinks, processed flour products, fruits juices and starchy foods that create the metabolic disruption that leads to heart disease. All of these foods disrupt the blood sugar and insulin mechanism, increase fat deposition, inflammation and free radical activity, which plays a role in blood vessel damage. Recent research has begun to overturn the myth that natural fats are bad. The recent nutrition guidelines are finally acknowledging the mistakes of the past by liberalizing their stance on cholesterol and fats. Eventually even the negative perceptions about saturated fats will change.

Published research on properly formulated low-carb diets demonstrate numerous improvement in cardiovascular markers: improving insulin and blood sugar regulation, lowering triglycerides, increasing HDL, decreasing inflammatory markers, lowering blood pressure and edema, improving the processing of saturated fats, increasing fat oxidation and shifting LDL particles to larger, less atherogenic (tending to promote the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries) size.

tired foodMyth: People need sugar for energy that’s why people on low-carb are tired.

Fact: Once one is adapted to a low carbohydrate intake many common symptoms improve – especially an increase in energy. Energy is more stable and much higher than before.

The adaptation stage means that the body is changing from a sugar burner to a fat burner – a healthier and more stable state. This cross-over in fuel sources for cellular energy usually takes a few days, though in some people it may take longer.

Myth: No one can follow low-carb for a lifetime.

Fact: People can and do all the time. To be successful for a lifetime one must make permanent changes to keep from regaining weight and losing all of the health benefits of weight loss. Low-carb makes this easier by offering a wide range of satisfying and healthy whole foods. Low-carb controls hunger and cravings, does not require calorie counting and can be personalized to each person metabolic needs. For ideas on low-carb foods and recipes, see The Low-Carb Diabetes Solution Cookbook, The Official Cookbook of HEAL Diabetes and Medical Weight Loss.

Thanks to the accumulating published research and the increasing numbers of practitioners using the low-carb approach who find it to be safe and effective, we can dismiss these myths and replace them with proven facts.

In the next article I’ll focus on the many advantages of a low-carb lifestyle used by HEAL practitioners.

If you have a question that needs a response from a member of our team, please CONTACT US. Messages left in the comment box below may not be answered directly.


  1. Avatar

    Why, if you’re giving health advice, does it say “disclaimer:this website does not provide medical advice or treatment”. Surely if you’re to be believed, there would be no harm in starting this diet?

    • Jacqueline Eberstein RN

      Legal disclaimers are placed on websites and blogs not because the information is bad but because following the advice may affect some individuals in unexpected ways. For example, people taking blood-glucose-lowering medications or insulin are advised to consult with their medical providers on how to manage dosages in response to the positive effects of following a low-carb diet and lifestyle. That is, our website’s information is not medical advice, which would be considered practicing medicine. The practice of medicine is a highly regulated and litigated field, and the last thing we want to do is appear like our website is trying to do this.

  2. Avatar

    How is the best way to get magnesium and how much if u take a multivitamin as well.?


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Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice or treatment. Follow the guidance of a physician before embarking on any diabetes-management or weight-loss program, especially if you are on dialysis, pregnant, nursing or under the age of 18. If you are taking medications, changing your diet under the HEALcare® program may require a change in their dosages. Follow your doctor’s orders on all medications, especially if you are taking diuretics or medication for blood pressure or diabetes. Individual results may vary. The testimonials referenced in this website are not promises or guarantees that you will achieve similar results.

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