We’re giving you the low down on low-carb.
A pasta dish in a grey bowl on a light blue tablecloth with a little bowl filled with basil next to it.

Antipasto Chicken Pasta, a recipe from our new Low-Carb book.

Low-carb isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for so long that people might have forgotten about it. But in a world full of nutrition noise, few diets have undergone the type of rigorous testing and research which still hold true.

With so many variations and options out there, we’re providing a science-based insight into the world of eating low-carb.

You have (low-carb diet) questions, we have answers

What is ‘low-carb’?

Low-carb is often defined as a diet providing less than 130 grams of total carbohydrates per day. In our CSIRO Low-Carb Diet, we’ve classified it as 50-70 grams of good quality unrefined, low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. This is compared to the average Australian eating 225 grams per day (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

In a low-carb diet, approximately 10-14 per cent of your total energy intake each day comes from carbs and 58 per cent from healthy fats. We also use a higher protein approach across our meals, reaching 25-30 per cent of your total energy needs for the day. They’re a lot of numbers, but essentially it is a low-carb, high protein and healthy fat plan.

Aren’t fats bad for me?

Since the ’70s many of us have been told a low fat, high-carb, low protein diet is best. So you would be forgiven for thinking fats are bad. But over time, research has shown that all fats aren’t equal. Eating foods high in good fats, like avocado, nuts, olive oil and fish, can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Replacing carbohydrates with higher levels of good fat in your meals and diet can also help to improve blood glucose control (blood sugar, defined in the next question) and reduce the level of blood glucose spikes after eating.

Why are too many carbs or sugars bad for me?

The lower amounts of carbs and higher amounts of proteins and healthy fats in the CSIRO Low-Carb Diet helps the system by reducing these big increases in glucose levels so the system doesn’t have to work as hard. People with type 2 diabetes could see a reduction in their blood glucose levels.

How does a higher amount of protein help me?

Part of the reason low-carb diets are effective at helping you lose weight is increasing the amount of protein you eat. This helps control cravings and suppress your appetite. Eating higher amounts of protein also helps to maintain your muscle mass, which gets your metabolism burning more calories. Just like fats, replacing carbohydrates with higher levels of protein in your diet can also help to improve blood glucose control and reduce the level of blood glucose spikes after eating.

Do I still have to exercise?

Ideally exercise combined with the nutrition plan is best. Research shows that the level of physical activity you engage in each week is one of the strongest predictors of losing weight and keeping it off. Exercise can also improve your blood glucose control and health and wellbeing, whether you lose weight or not. But if you can’t exercise, the nutrition plan by itself can still make a big difference.

A recipe card for pita bread pizzas with the ingredients around it.

A sample recipe from our Low-Carb book.

So, what’s the science behind it? Why should you go low-carb?

In 2012 we began one of the most significant clinical trials on low-carb and its effectiveness for weight loss and management of type 2 diabetes. The study ran for two years and included one group of people who were given the CSIRO Low-Carb diet, and another group who were given a more traditional high carbohydrate, low protein, low fat diet that had the same amount of calories. All participants had type 2 diabetes and were either overweight or obese adults. Both groups also participated in the same amount and type of exercise (60 minutes of aerobic and weight training, three times a week).

Year one results

Both groups benefitted from reductions in body fat, blood pressure and blood glucose, and improved their quality of life and mood. However, there were striking differences in several important areas.

The low-carb group saw a reduction in their diabetes medication that was twice as large as the high-carb group. The low-carb group also saw an improvement in their glycaemic stability – the peaks and troughs in blood glucose levels across the day being balanced – by three times compared to the high-carb group. This means greater improvements in blood glucose control and reduced risk of health complications associated with diabetes. The low-carb group also had a larger improvement in good fats (High Density Lipoprotein or HDL for short), and a greater reduction in bad ones (Low Density Lipoprotein LDL). This means a greater reduction in the risk of heart disease.

Health measure Average change in the

Low-Carb Diet group

Average change in the

high-carb group

Diabetes medication needs -40% -20%
Glycaemic variability (high and
low glucose levels)
-30% -10%
Blood triglycerides (bad fats, in millimoles) -0.4 mmol/L -0.01 mmol/L
HDL cholesterol (good fats, in millimoles) +0.1 mmol/L +0.06 mmol/L

Credit: CSIRO Low-Carb Diet Quick and Easy

Year two results

The cover for our new Low carb book with a meal of shredded carrot, salad and vegetables in a tomato based sauce in a white bowl on a grey plate. There is a fork next to it

The cover for our new book, released September 24 2019.

After two years on the assigned diets, the health outcomes remained on par with the results at year one. This showed the low-carb diet was a sustainable and long-term option for weight loss, diabetes control and health improvement

Translating years of research from the lab to the public

After years of research and clinical trials on low-carb eating and its effectiveness for weight loss and the management of type 2 diabetes, we released the first CSIRO Low-Carb Diet in 2017. Following the success of book one, we published book two in 2018 with 80 extra everyday low-carb recipes.

Our third book in the series: The CSIRO Low-Carb Diet Quick and Easy, will be in stores from 24 September. In this edition, we provide an update on the science behind low-carb, including new research on the health benefits of a low-carb diet coupled with exercise.  Designed with a busy lifestyle in mind, the new recipes can be prepared in 30 minutes or less with under 10 ingredients.

We’ve also incorporated some easy to grab and go pre-packed supermarket products into the recipes to make mealtime even simpler. If you’re interested in getting a copy, you can order online.

41 comments

  1. Well done for creating this new publication guys. I’m sure its going to help a lot of people lead healthier lives – me included!

  2. Low GI is dead in the water. What you need to realise is the glycaemic load not GI of foods. I suggest you look up Dr David Unwin’s sugar infographics for better information on glycaemic load. Low GI means diddly squat. Ppl with diabetes deserve better advice.

  3. Where is the red meat. There is no evidence saturated fat causes any disease. We need the haem iron. I’m disappointed you do not mention red meats.

    1. Hi Jenny – thank you for your comments. The recipes include a variety of meat choices, including lamb, beef, but also fish, chicken and pork in addition to plant-based protein options. The CSIRO Low carb dietary plan, when used as prescribed, is balanced and inclusive of the recommended dietary intakes for various nutrients, including iron.

      It is acknowledged that there is a growing debate about whether saturated fat in itself is bad for us, and some recent studies have even disputed any association between saturated-fat intake and risk of cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. Nevertheless, most health professionals currently agree that high intakes of saturated fat (more than 10 per cent of total energy intake) could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by promoting insulin resistance, elevating LDL (bad) cholesterol, which leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and impairing blood-vessel function, particularly in the heart. For this reason, the saturated-fat content of the Low-carb Diet was limited to no more than 10 per cent of total daily energy intake.

      Kind regards,
      Kashmi
      CSIRO Social Media Team

  4. Keep your eyes open here. If you’re avoiding carbs (the body’s fuel of choice), you have to get your calories from somewhere, so your daily intake of fat and protein increases to make sure you get enough. And it’s too much fat and protein that accounts for the epidemic of degenerative disease we have today, not too many carbs. Yes, too many complex carbs and empty carb foods are unhealthy (we’re designed to run on simple carbs from nutritious food), but substituting fat and protein for carbs is a recipe for disaster, and it doesn’t matter if it takes 40 years to land you in the hospital, does it?

    I’m both amused and amazed when I hear nutritionists arguing about carbs. One insisting that fruits are simple carbs, and one adamant that fruits are complex carbs. One nutrition expert stating that we’re designed to eat complex carbs, and another saying that it’s simple carbs we’re designed for. Why is there so much misinformation, and worse, disinformation (info presented as truth that’s known to be false by the entity providing it)? If nutritionists are confused about nutrition, and well-intentioned vegan health educators are miseducated, and whole industries disseminate false info, how can you, the consumer, expect to get truthful nutritional information that’s truly in your beset interest?

    Knowing what I know about nutrition, I am appalled by what I see on TV and social media. Food companies taking advantage of people’s taste buds, drug companies taking advantage of your fear of disease and your dislike of symptoms, and weight loss companies taking advantage of your desire to be slim… all for the sake of profit, at the expense of your health. But you can’t blame businesses for caring about profit; it’s not their responsibility to care about your health, it’s yours (it’s their responsibility to maximize profit). And taking the latest medication because some suggestive TV ad said to ask a doctor about it, or eating the way the news reporter said you should, is likely to be in someone else’s best interest, not yours. And miseducated vegan educators and alternative health practitioners make matters worse because we think they are a more accurate source of info than mainstream sources.

    What can you do about it? Start off by adopting the old adage: Let the Buyer Beware. Next, educate yourself. Yes, in a perfect world, you could depend on professionals to give you info that was truly in your best interest. But take it from me, in this world, the food, drug, medical, and health care industries are motivated by self-interest and financial gain (I’m not talking about the people you have direct contact with, I’m referring to the people who make the rules, set the party lines, and influence the curriculums… the ones making six figure incomes).

  5. Again we are given misinformation, in the diet industry again. The carbs we’re not designed to eat are called complex carbs, as in breads, pastas, rice, and junk food. Want proof? Pick a food item. If it’s created from more than one thing, break it down into its individual components and put it to the edible test: Can you make a meal of each one of the components, as it appears in nature, and enjoy the experience. Let’s start with simple carbs: a piece of fruit. No individual components to break down, and Mmmm, yummy. Now take bread or pasta. Can you make an enjoyable meal of wheat? Yeast? No. Conclusion: Just because we figured out a way to take an inedible grain and turn it into something we can eat without gagging, doesn’t mean it’s what we’re supposed to eat. And if it’s not food fit for human consumption, which one of the three possible effects on the human body will it probably have?

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