What can I eat on a no-carb diet?
Sugar from carbohydrates can be an important source of energy when it is needed. If the body does not need all of the energy from carbs immediately, it stores it as glycogen in the liver and muscles.
If a person eats more carbs than can be used or stored, the body converts these to fat cells for use later. If this energy is not needed either, it stays in the fat cells. A buildup of this excess from each meal may lead to weight gain over time.
There are some simple ways to remove carbs from a diet without feeling as if the diet is restrictive. Here are a few simple tips and tricks to help cut carbs.
1. Limit refined bread and grains
People can use cauliflower as a pizza crust alternative.
One of the first things that may come to mind when people think of carbohydrates is bread.
Bread today, especially white bread, tends to be high in refined flours, low in fiber, and a source of simple carbohydrates.
But, as a study posted to Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy notes, these highly refined grains may be more unhealthful than carbs from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables.
Cutting out refined and processed bread and grains can be one of the hardest steps to take, but it may also be crucial for people who are looking to lose weight by cutting carbs.
People may find it difficult to give up bread and associated products cold turkey, and it may help if they take it step-by-step.
An example of how someone might do this is to stop eating packaged snacks, such as crackers and biscuits, in their first week of dieting.
In the second week, they may also try giving up baked goods that could include cookies and muffins. In the third week, they can remove bread, and so on until they have eliminated all bread products from the diet.
2. Find alternatives such as vegetables
A lot of the time, what people miss is the function of bread more than the food itself. After all, bread and flour make up the base for everyday items such as pizzas, sandwiches, and pasta.
Luckily, there are some low-carb vegetable versions of each of these that may eliminate the need for bread.
For instance, shredded zucchini or yellow squash make for a good base for pasta. Mashed cauliflower can resemble a low-carb version of mashed potatoes. Cauliflower can also make a pizza crust alternative.
3. Find alternatives to flours
There are some flours available to low-carb dieters.
Flours made from nuts, including almonds, acorns, and hazelnuts may be perfect for a low-carb diet. Many people on a low-carb diet also use coconut flour as a replacement.
These low-carb flours are flexible, and people may want to try using them to make everything from fried chicken and pizza crusts to muffins and pancakes, to be able to include these in their diet.
4. Limit added sugars from beverages
Eliminating carbs from food is one thing, but sugar slips into many beverages, some of which may be unexpected. Sugar-sweetened drinks include:
- energy drinks
- iced teas
- fruit cocktails
- sports drinks
Even seemingly healthy drinks, such as fruit juice, may contain a large amount of sugar.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are unhealthy in general. As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages may influence:
- weight gain and obesity
- heart disease
- kidney disease
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes
- tooth decay
Researchers from an article posted to The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology also noted that liquids do not make the body feel full as solid foods do.
A person who drinks liquid calories from sugary beverages may not even recognize that they are having extra calories and may still be hungry. Still feeling hungry after consuming empty calories may lead to overeating and weight gain.
One of the easiest ways to cut unnecessary carbs out of a diet is to eliminate sugary beverages altogether.
5. Find alternatives to sugary drinks
Flavored water is an alternative to sugary drinks.
Water contains zero calories or carbohydrates, but there are also numerous ways to flavor water and give the taste buds a change.
People can try replacing sugary beverages with unsweetened drinks, such as sparkling water, or infuse water with berries for a natural sweetness that also provides vitamins and minerals.
Many herbs, fruits, and vegetables may add some of their flavors to water if people leave chopped pieces in a jug of water overnight.
Suggestions for fruits and herbs that do this include:
- orange slices
- lemon slices
- grapefruit slices
- lime slices
- mint leaves
- basil leaves
After soaking the ingredients overnight, strain the flavored water and pour it into a bottle to drink throughout the day. These fruit infusions can be a flavorful alternative to sugary drinks.
6. Avoid packaged snacks
Packaged snacks can be disastrous on a low-carb diet. Most dried, packaged goods will contain flour, sugar, or refined starchy ingredients, for example, potato or corn.
As tempting as they may be, it is probably best to avoid packaged snacks unless they come from whole-food sources, such as a bar that has only fruits and nuts.
7. Find low-carb snacks
When looking to cut carbs, a lot of people face the difficulty of what to snack on.
Most packaged snacks are going to be high in carbs from ingredients that include potatoes, grains, and corn. Having low-carb options on hand may help to resist the urge to snack on less healthful foods.
Some healthful snacks to have on hand include:
- hard-boiled eggs
Eggs may be especially helpful as part of a breakfast or early snack. Eggs are low in carbs and high in protein, which may help a person feel full for longer throughout the day.
A study posted to the journal Nutrition Research found that overweight males who ate a breakfast that included eggs ate fewer calories throughout the day than people who ate breakfast without eggs.
Other helpful tips
The following tips may help people stick to low-carb diets:
Order protein style
Ordering a burger without a bun is a simple way to reduce carbs.
Since cutting carbs has become a popular way to lose weight, some terms have popped up to describe certain dietary preferences.
For instance, ordering a burger or sandwich without a bun — also called ordering protein style — is a simple way to reduce the carb load of a meal by a significant amount.
Many restaurants will offer lettuce leaves or other greens as a replacement for bread, which may still give a sandwich its handy, on-the-go feel.
Ordering protein-style may also cover options for sides. Most places can easily remove starchy or carb-rich sides, such as potatoes or toast, and add additional vegetables to the plate.
Ask for extra lemon at restaurants
At a restaurant, there may not be many low-carb drink options, and an individual's cravings may be high. Lemon wedges or slices of lemon are a few simple alternatives that many restaurants have on hand.
If someone asks for extra lemon to add to a glass of plain or carbonated water, it can transform their experience in a positive way. The lemon delivers some flavor, and the acids may also help digest the meal.
When a strong craving hits, a low-carb sweetener, such as xylitol or erythritol, may add a sweet sensation to the drink and instantly create a low-carb lemonade.
Read food labels
Food labels provide all the basic information about a particular food, making it much easier for people to understand what is going into their bodies.
Reading these labels and weighing them against a carb-cutting diet plan may make it easy to see where carbs might be hiding.
When looking at a food label, people should take the total carbs and subtract the amount of fiber. This gives the net or "real" amount of carbs.
By comparing the real carbs to a person's dietary recommendations, it may help eliminate the guesswork and make it easier to see what foods fit into a diet.
A low-carb diet may be difficult to navigate at first, but for many people, it becomes a matter of familiarity or habit.
Learning how to make tasty alternatives or having low-carb snacks or suitable options on hand may make cutting carbs easier and can make the transition to a low-carb diet much smoother.
It may also be helpful for people to talk to a dietitian about the best way to eat in a low-carb way, and how to eventually transition back to a more sustainable and balanced diet later.