Does low carb diet reduce belly fat, a dietitian weighs in


If there is one thing that can frustrate even the fittest among us, it is that stubborn layer of belly fat that refuses to budge no matter how much exercise we do.

Where individuals store their body fat is largely a matter of genetics but it can also be hormonal and influenced by the nutrient balance of the diets we routinely consume. As a general rule, high carbohydrate diets, in particular diets that are relatively high in refined and processed sugars can lead to increases in the release of the hormone insulin. High levels of insulin result in fat being stored, and specifically stored around the abdominal area. As such diets that are lower in carbs, such as Paleo and keto should in turn be associated with reductions in belly fat, as long as we get the balance right.

A keto diet shifts the body’s natural energy burning system to one that burns fat as its primary fuel as opposed to glucose that comes via carbohydrates. For the keto diet to work, several days of extremely low carbohydrate eating is required (think no fruit, no bread, no dairy, no cereal and very few vegetables) to keep total carbohydrate intake below 20% of total energy – roughly 50g or less of carbs. When this is achieved, fat will be metabolised relatively quickly leading to weight losses of 1-2kg or more each week.

When considering keto as a diet to specifically target belly fat, the potential benefit is that unlike traditional diets that focus on a calorie deficit, shifting metabolism to target fat stores via a different mechanism may target fat stores that have not previously been mobilised for metabolism. When it comes to achieving changes in body composition, ie specifically targeting body fat, significant change to either/ or diet or exercise is often the shift required to see results. As such committing to keto for a good period of time may be the significant change that finally reduces the belly fat that has previous remained stagnant.

One of the most important conditions for keto to be successful is to ensure that you get the fat balance right. Not only does keto require carbs to be low, but the balance of fats and proteins too needs attention. Following keto does not mean you can eat unlimited quantities of protein and saturated fats from meat, cheese, cream and ghee. Rather protein needs to be controlled, at 20% or less of energy or roughly 60-80g per day whilst good quality fats from seeds, nuts, avocado and olive oil need to fill the remaining 60-70% of energy. This balance ensures that extra saturated fat, or the type of fat more likely to be stored is not overconsumed. An excessive intake of saturated fat may reduce the chance that abdominal fat that has been stored for some time is metabolised.

There is not one dietary approach that can specifically target belly fat but lower carb regimes are associated with reductions in insulin levels and indirectly abdominal fat. For this reason keto, when adhered to strictly may support belly fat reduction by helping to reduce insulin levels but also mobilise fat stores that have been stagnant for some time. The keto to success with keto is getting your macronutrient balance right, which is easier said than done. To help ensure optimal results, enter your macros in a program such as ‘myfitnesspal’ to successfully achieve a balance of