Low-carbohydrate diets have become more popular in the past few decades, but not all low-carbohydrate diets are the same. Low-carb eating plans vary in the number of carbs they allow. Some are quite restrictive, especially in the first few weeks you’re on the diet. Others are more liberal. Most plans restrict carbs to 20 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per day. Cutting carbs isn’t always easy, so why do people go low-carb? Here, David Reagan, an Atlanta-based fitness trainer, answers the question and explains why cutting carbs may affect one’s blood pressure.
The most common motivation to go low-carb is to lose weight. People lose weight upon adopting a low-carb diet, but some of the mass lost is actually fluid and glycogen, and energy stored in liver muscle tissue. One concern is the impact restricting carbohydrates has on heart disease risk factors. On the plus side, a low-carbohydrate eating plan can reduce blood sugar, and that bodes well for heart health.
Low-Carb Dieting and Blood Pressure
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared the effects of a low-carbohydrate diet and the prescription weight loss medication Orlistat on weight loss. They divided overweight individuals into two groups. One took the weight loss medication and ate a low-fat diet while the other followed a low-carb diet and took no medications.
Results? Both groups lost weight, but the group who ate the low-carb diet enjoyed a greater drop in blood pressure. It’s not uncommon for even young people who are overweight or obese to have elevated blood pressure. At least in this study, cutting carbohydrates improved blood pressure readings.
Some people who develop high blood pressure have insulin resistance, meaning their cells don’t respond as readily to insulin and their body must produce more. Too much insulin, along with causing fat storage, can increase fluid retention, causing a rise in blood pressure. Studies show that when insulin levels are high, it can damage the smooth layer of muscle tissue surrounding blood vessels. This may cause a rise in blood pressure and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, we don’t know whether these benefits also apply to healthy-weight people with high blood pressure. The most common cause of hypertension is essential hypertension, which has a strong genetic component. Insulin resistance and elevated insulin are more common in overweight people, so their blood pressures are more likely to respond positively to cutting carbohydrates.
Choose Healthier Carb Sources
You don’t have to go very low carb to get benefits. In fact, dropping your carb intake too low is difficult to sustain. Initially, it can also cause symptoms such as brain fog and fatigue. Why not eliminate refined carbohydrates, sugar, and ultra-processed foods instead? Switching to healthier, fiber-rich carbohydrate sources is beneficial for heart health too and doesn’t require carb counting.
Another advantage of eliminating refined and ultra-processed carbohydrates: many are high in sodium and can cause water retention, and when your body holds on to water, it can raise your blood pressure.
The Bottom Line
Cutting carbohydrates may lower blood pressure, especially in overweight and obese individuals with a high insulin level. You can get some of these benefits by changing the composition of the carbohydrates you eat from processed, refined ones to whole, fiber-rich choices, including nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. For many people, this is a more sustainable approach.
About David Reagan
David Reagan is a NASM Certified personal trainer from Atlanta, GA, specializing in weight loss, personalized workout plans, bodybuilding, and nutrition. He caters to high-end clients and executives, helping them achieve their fitness goals by accommodating their busy schedules. The client’s needs come first, and David’s fitness plan will set you up on the path to success.