The debate over where carbohydrates fit into our diet doesn’t seem to be dying down any time soon. Studies have shown that a low carb diet is not a definitive weight loss method. Furthermore, whenever an individual chooses to cut down drastically on a particular macronutrient, it has an effect on their bodies, particularly on a digestive system that is accustomed to digesting all three macronutrients in relatively normal quantities.
For the purposes of this article, low-carb diets are diets that contain 50 grams or less of carbohydrate a day. For perspective, a single bagel has about 50 grams of carbs and you wouldn’t be allowed any more than that per day. If we’re talking about the wildly popular ketogenic diet, only 20 grams or less carbohydrates a day are allowed. This means the carb allowance on keto would be the equivalent of about half of a large banana per day. The rest of calories are consumed from purely protein and fat sources such as bacon or butter. New research from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Wright State University has shed some light on how low carb diets affect our gut bacteria. To keep everyone up to speed, we have both good and bad gut bacteria in our intestines. Science has shown us recently that keeping the balance of good and bad is critical to our health and can play a role in all types of aspects from weight management to our risk for some cancers.
This new research used an artificial colon to simulate the human gut and took samples of gut bacteria from human subjects. Researchers then added nutrients from a balanced diet and then nutrients from a low carb diet and examined the results of what happens to the gut as a result of these diets. What they found was that the low carb intestine changed the environment in the gut for the worst. Basically, it decreased the population of the strain of bacteria responsible for releasing chemicals that fight inflammation in the body. This is because these beneficial strains thrive most optimally when they metabolize carbohydrates. Without enough of these carbohydrates available, the low carb guts ended up with a population of gut bacteria that may not be optimal for the health of the host.
More research needs to be done, but this science definitely raises some questions as to the long-term and reach of effects from a low carb diet. Low carb diets also typically suffer from being low in fiber, which is a nutrient found in many carb-rich foods and proven to be very beneficial for digestive health. Therefore, the suggestions of this study that this diet could also be negative to our gut health, which may have an impact on all of our body systems, is something to keep in mind.