Low carb diets limit the number of carbohydrates a person eats. Some people may find that low carb diets aid weight management, but others may find them unsustainable long-term.
Carbohydrates or carbs are one of three main food types that the body needs to work properly. The other two are protein and fat. Carbs are an essential energy source, but if a person consumes more than they require, the body stores them as fats.
This article covers different low carb food options and tips for creating a sustainable diet plan.
Typically, a low carb diet involves a person getting
- lean meats, such as sirloin, chicken breast, or pork
- leafy green vegetables
- nuts and seeds, including nut butter
- low carb fruits, such as apples, blueberries, and strawberries
- unsweetened dairy products, including plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt
Many people find following a low carb diet challenging, particularly at the beginning of the diet. The following low carb diet tips might help people stick to their diet and may help them lose weight successfully.
Learn about the different types of carbs
Carbs come in different forms. Simple carbs consist of easy-to-digest sugars. Refined and processed carbs, such as white sugar and white flour, are simple carbs.
Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, as they need to be broken down into simpler forms. Complex carbs are found in more nutrient-rich foods, such as beans, whole grains, and fiber-rich fruits, such as bananas.
Complex carbs also have the added benefit of making a person feel full faster, which might prevent them from overeating. Complex carbs also make people feel full for longer, which might help them avoid snacking between meals.
Substituting low carb or no-carb foods for high carb foods can help reduce carb intake.
Some low carb substitutions include:
- lettuce leaves instead of taco shells
- spiralized zucchini in place of spaghetti
- cauliflower rice
Know the carb counts and serving sizes of foods
When eating a low carb diet, it is important to choose foods that have a lower carb count but a high nutritional value per serving.
The foods in the quantities listed below all contain
- 2 slices of reduced-calorie bread
- 1/4 of a large bagel
- 1 6-inch corn or flour tortilla
- 1/2 a cup of oatmeal
- 3 ounces (oz) of baked potato
- 1 cup of squash
- 1 oz of tortilla chips
- 1/2 cup of black, kidney, or garbanzo beans
- 1 small apple (4 oz)
- 1 cup of diced melon
- 1 cup of milk
- 6 oz of yogurt
While the foods listed above all contain roughly equal amounts of carbohydrates, they are not all nutritionally equivalent. The dairy products on the list contain protein and vital nutrients, such as Vitamin D and calcium in addition to the carbohydrate content.
The fruit and vegetables also contain essential vitamins and minerals. Choosing whole-grain varieties of bread and rice will provide more nutrients than white varieties, even though the carb content is similar.
Make a meal plan
A meal plan can help make things easier. Anyone following a low carb diet could try mapping out their week and plan all meals before heading to the grocery store.
Planning meals in advance can help people stick to the diet.
Planning is one thing, but preparing meals ahead of time can also help. Meal prep can help people stick to their diet plan and save time in busier periods.
Having many pre-prepared meals on hand can help people avoid choosing less healthful options.
Popular low carb meals to prepare in advance include:
Carry low carb snacks
Low-carb snack options for between meals include:
- hard-boiled eggs
- unsweetened yogurt
- vegetable sticks
It is essential to regulate portion size of any snacks to avoid overeating.
Consider carb cycling
Carb cycling involves eating very low carb foods for a set amount of days, followed by one day of eating higher-carb meals. This helps the body avoid fat-burning plateaus that can develop after weeks of low carb dieting.
Carb cycling is not for everyone, and anyone considering it should talk with their doctor or nutritionist first.
Regularly take stock of health
People should know about potential health risks before starting a low carb diet.
Short-term health risks caused by a low carb diet may include:
- high cholesterol
- brain fog
- lack of energy
- bad breath
- reduced athletic performance
Long-term health risks caused by a low carb diet may include the following:
People following a vegetarian or vegan diet may need to take additional steps to ensure they maintain adequate nutritional balance if reducing carb intake. For example, some popular plant-based protein sources, such as chickpeas and lentils are naturally high in carbohydrates.
Many people follow low carb diets to lose or maintain weight. Carbs are the body’s primary energy source, so reducing carb intake can lead the body to burn stored fats for energy instead.
Below are frequently asked questions relating to low carb diets.
What food can I eat on a low carb diet?
Eating a varied diet rich in nutrient-dense, filling foods is important when making any diet changes. Examples of healthy low carb foods include:
- broccoli and cauliflower
- lean protein sources, such as eggs and chicken breast
- leafy green vegetables
- sources of healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and oily fish
How many carbs are OK on a low carb diet?
Different people will aim for different carbohydrate levels in their diets. However, it is essential to eat enough carbohydrates to support healthy bodily processes, so it is not advisable to fully remove carbohydrates from the diet.
What foods should you avoid on a no carb diet?
A no-carb diet is not advisable. Carbohydrates are essential for properly working the body, and fully excluding them can be dangerous. People wishing to reduce their carbohydrate intake should limit their intake of high-carb, low-satiety foods such as sugary snacks and drinks. These products are high in carbohydrates but often low in nutritional content and are typically not very filling.
What are the 3 main types of low carb diet?
There are many different types of low carbohydrate diets, including the paleo, keto, and Atkins diets. These diets vary in their exact nutritional composition, but all three prioritize proteins and fats over carbs.
A low-carb diet can have some benefits, including weight loss. With some planning and appropriate substitutions, most people can follow a low-carb diet. However, a low-carb diet may not be the best way to achieve long-term or sustainable health goals.
When following a low carb diet, it is essential that people eat healthfully and do not overeat certain foods, such as very fatty meats.
People looking to lose weight or considering going on a low-carb diet should speak to their doctor or nutritionist before making any significant changes.