Replace that bowl of linguini with shredded zucchini. Swap out that pizza crust for cauliflower. These are just two examples of popular online food hacks for people who want to eat healthier diets. Many popular ones tout low-carb, high protein living as a solution to weight and health issues. But researchers have found that many people who embark on these bread-less quests for health do so armed only with information from the internet and with very little medical guidance.

Susan Besser, MD, told Medical Daily that there aren’t inherent dangers to low-carb diets, but they can be difficult to follow. And, although she agreed that a true low-carb diet might be good for someone with type 2 diabetes, rushing headfirst into a drastic dieting plan might not be the best idea. Dr. Besser is a family practice doctor at the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.

Low-carb Diet Has Many Definitions

Although these diets might work for weight loss, there are some caveats and researchers at the University of Glasgow found that there were many different definitions of ‘low-carb’ among dieters. Cutting out the carbs in starchy vegetables and fruits might actually cut out some good nutrients, they said.

“A low-carbohydrate diet can be an option for weight loss for people with obesity if this diet suits their preference, but a lack of professional guidance may put dieters at risk of nutritional inadequacies,” explained Chaitong Churuangsuk, MD, who worked on the study. “Doctors have an important role to play, and can initiate discussions with their patients, provide information on both benefits and risks associated with particular diets, and refer to diet and weight management specialists.” Dr. Churuangsuk shared his comments in a press release.

It is encouraging that people are seeking to improve their nutritional intake but making the low-carb jump alone might not actually be good for your health. But the researchers found very few people spoke with a doctor about their change in eating habits. Mike Lean, MD, another researcher who worked on the study, explained, “The long-term medical and mental consequences of being overweight are destroying lives and families, especially for younger overweight people, and especially if there is risk of diabetes.” He had reservations about low-carb eating which he shared in the same press release, “Low-carb diets have had a lot of hype from media and celebrities, but they are no better than high-carb diets. Their evidence is generally poor, and our earlier research found low-carb diets are associated with some vitamin deficiencies, with more diabetes, not less.”

Avoid the Word “Diet”

Dr. Besser isn’t a fan of the word diet. “It generally implies a short term solution,” she said. “Anyone can lose weight if they restrict calories (no matter what method they use), [but] the trick is maintaining the weight loss and if you are yo-yoing the way you eat, the weight won’t stay off.” Dr. Besser prefers lifestyle change instead.

Of course, some people love a low-carb lifestyle. “I do think some of us are physiologically predisposed to metabolize foods differently but there really aren’t any good clinical ways of evaluating that yet,” said Dr. Besser. For people who find a low-carb lifestyle easy to maintain and have discussed it with their doctor, it could be a viable option.

There is nothing wrong with a person making changes to improve their health, but proper information and support are crucial to make sure those changes are truly healthy.