While zero carb might sound like the mythical unicorn of diets, it's very real.
It's no secret that popular low-carb, high-protein plans (like the Atkins or ketogenic diets) tout carb-slashing as the fast track to weight loss.
And to a certain degree, they're on to something: Cutting out refined carbohydrates, such as cookies, doughnuts, and white bread, stabilizes your blood sugar levels, curbs your cravings, and helps you drop water weight.
But if dropping your carb count can be good for weight loss, can cutting it down to zero be even better?
And is that even possible to do without landing yourself in a hospital bed?
While zero carb might sound like the mythical unicorn of diets, it's very real (well, kind of), and it even has a fan base (albeit a small one).
Whether or not going carb-less is a good idea, however, is a totally different story.
For one thing, if you enjoy having a variety of flavors in your food (which is pretty much everyone), you may want to sit this one out, says Liz Blom, R.D., a Minnesota-based nutrition and wellness coach.
When you wipe out every trace of carbs from your daily regimen, including veggies, fruit, whole grains, and most dairy, basically all that's left on your plate is animal protein and fat.
The focus of the diet is on eating an unlimited amount of fatty meat, without counting calories. "Anything from the animal kingdom is fair game," says Blom.
"Zero carb-ers eat beef, pork, bacon, sausage, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, and hard cheese," she says.
"They'll also add extra butter, lard, ghee, or tallow to fill up if the meat is too lean."
Any fare that contains significant amounts of carbohydrates, however, is nixed from the menu: This includes milk, yogurt, and plant-based foods (e.g., herbs, spices, coconut oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables).
But what zero-carb fanatics might not realize is that going strictly carnivore doesn't necessarily mean that literally no carbs are entering your body: "There is a small amount of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in some animal foods, so claiming that a diet is zero carb is somewhat of a misnomer," says Blom.
Aside from being misleading, extremely limiting, and downright boring, carb-eliminating diets also ignore the fact that carbohydrates are essential to human health.
"Carbs are the main source of energy for our body," says Keri Gans, R.D.N., nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet.
"Without carbohydrates, your body cannot function," says Gans. "Our brains particularly rely on glucose, which comes from carbs, to function properly."
That means by dramatically reducing your carb intake to basically zero, you'll likely become tired and cranky.
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Another big part of carb-rich foods is their fiber content, which keeps you full and helps you poop. Going on a meat and cheese-only diet is setting you up for constipation, says Gans.
Plus, carbohydrates help us build proteins, process fats, and build bone, cartilage, and nervous system tissue, all of which are as important as they sound.
Moreover, drastically restricting carb intake can lead to decreased thyroid output, hormone imbalances, muscle breakdown, and impaired function of the immune system.
"There is nothing positive about it," says Gans.
So is it possible to follow a no-carb diet? That's a big fat nope, says Blom.
Besides the fact that even meat contains some carbs, reducing your carb intake to zero puts your health at risk, she says.
Plus, in reality, people aren't losing weight because of the types of carbohydrates they're eating, not because of carbohydrate consumption alone, says Blom.
Gans agrees. She believes that getting to know your carbohydrates and sticking to a balanced diet that you can maintain for the long haul is the best way to lose weight.
"Choose carbs that provide nutritional benefits, and practice portion control," says Gans.
Carbohydrate sources such as fruit, veggies, whole grains, dairy, and legumes are packed with vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
"And at the end of the day, it is a balanced meal that matters most," she says. "No one food group is the winner or loser."