- 30 Healthy Low-Carb Foods to Eat
- The Best Healthy Low-Carb Grains
- Low-Carb Proteins
- Low-Carb Snacks
- Low-Carb Vegetables
- Low-Carb Fruits
- Low-Carb Dairy
- Low-Carb Desserts
- Atkins 40: The Easy & Effective Low Carb Diet Plan
- How the Atkins 40® Diet Plan Works
- Acceptable Foods to Eat on the Atkins 40 Diet
- Low-carb meal plan
- Your 7-day low-carb meal plan
- The weekly overview
- About low-carb diets
- Zero Carb Diet
- 10 Popular Low-Carb Diets, and Their Pros and Cons
- 1. A Basic Low-Carb Diet
- 2. The Ketogenic, or ‘Keto’ Diet
- 3. A Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet
- 4. The Atkins Diet
- 5. Low-Carb Paleo
- 6. Whole30
- 7. Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet
- 8. Dukan Diet
- 9. The South Beach Diet
- 10. Zero-Carb Diet
- What can you eat on a low-carb diet?
- No Carb Diet: Menu Plan & Recipes
- No-Carb Low-Carb Basics
- No-Carb Diet Menu Plan
- The No-Carb Diet Menu Week
- No-Carb, No-Sugar Diet Menu
- High-Protein, No-Carb Diet Menu
- Low-Carb Diet and Atkins Diet Options
- Methods of Cooking
- Ask the Diet Doctor: Fueled by Fats Alone
30 Healthy Low-Carb Foods to Eat
If you’re eating a low-carb diet or just looking to cut back on carbs, you may be wondering what foods you can eat. Or how many carbs are in certain foods like quinoa and oatmeal-healthy whole grains that still have carbs, but also pack a lot of nutrition in. Not to mention, what kind of vegetables, fruits and proteins can you eat and how many carbs do those foods have?
Related: The Healthy Way to Start a Low-Carb Diet
The key to not feeling deprived is to consume a variety of foods from all the food groups-even grains can fit nicely into low-carb eating.
At EatingWell, we recommend that on a low-carb diet you get about 40 percent of your calories from carbs, or at least 120 grams of carbs total per day. That amount helps you maintain a balanced diet and get all your nutrients in. It’s also more doable and less restrictive than following super-low-carb diets, like the ketogenic diet.
Here are 30 healthy low-carb foods to eat more of:
The Best Healthy Low-Carb Grains
Pictured Recipe: Quinoa Lasagna
1/2 cup cooked quinoa = 20 grams carbohydrate
Quinoa’s one of the grains with the biggest fanfare, thanks to its protein content (8 grams per cup) and fiber (5 grams per cup). But remember, just because it’s a higher-protein grain doesn’t mean it’s super low in carbs. 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa has 20 grams of carbohydrate, so make sure to plan that into your day and stick to a 1/2 cup serving (get all of our best quinoa cooking tips and nutrition facts here).
1 cup of cooked oatmeal = 28 grams carbohydrate
If you’re going to have a big bowl of carbs-even on a low-carb diet, make it oatmeal. Oats contain beta-glucan, which helps slow digestion. In a study in Nutrition Journal, eating oatmeal helped reduce appetite over four hours better than cold cereal containing the same amount of calories. Whether you’re going for a serving of old-fashioned or quick oats, they both contain 27 grams of carbs per 1/2 cup dry. Make sure you buy plain versions rather than flavored instant oats, which come with a lot of added sugar. (Want to cook like a pro? Here’s the right way to make oatmeal.)
Pictured Recipe: Creamy Polenta
Made from cornmeal, polenta is a staple of Italian cooking. You can whip it up at home or buy ready-to-eat polenta in rolls that you slice. A 3.5-ounce portion (one-fifth of the roll) contains only 15 grams of carbs, quite low when it comes to grains. If you’re gluten-free, polenta also makes a good choice.
Related: Healthy Recipes That Swap Carbs for Veggies
Most proteins are low in carbs, especially animal proteins. The following is a list of healthy proteins you can eat and their carb counts.
Pictured Recipe: Parmesan Cloud Eggs
One large egg packs 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 0 gram carbs all in a nice 72-calorie package. Eat the yolk: new research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that while eggs do contain cholesterol, they don’t increase your risk of heart disease-even if you have a gene that makes you more sensitive to dietary cholesterol. They also pack important nutrients, including vitamin D, lutein and choline.
Pictured Recipe: Cauliflower Tortilla Beef Tacos
Meat is fair game because it’s all protein and no carbs. (Keep in mind, while it has a good amount of vitamins and minerals, meat also contains no fiber. Translation: You shouldn’t overdo it on the meat and crowd out the whole grains, fruits and vegetables that add fiber in your diet.) You know chicken is a lean source of protein, but 20 cuts of beef are also considered “lean” or “extra lean” by the USDA. Smart choices include eye of round roast, sirloin tip side steak, bottom round roast and top sirloin steak.
6. Hemp Seeds
Pictured Recipe: Green Tea-Peach Smoothie Bowl
The best thing about these is that you can sprinkle hemp on foods like yogurt, salads or oatmeal to add a nutty crunch and good source of vegetarian protein. A 3-tablespoon serving contains 9 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber and 170 calories. Plus, they’re a rich source of iron, magnesium and zinc.
Pictured Recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Avocado Pesto & Shrimp
These crustaceans are great to add to meals, especially if you’re looking to lose weight. Three ounces of shrimp offers a whopping 20 grams of protein for only 84 calories. Just make sure to prep them grilled or lightly sautéed-breading and frying add unnecessary carbs and calories.
Pictured Recipe: Thai Coconut Curry Soup
Whether it’s edamame, tofu or soymilk, soy is a good choice when you need ample protein for little carbs. A 3.5-ounce serving of extra-firm tofu packs 10 grams of protein and only 2 grams of carbohydrate. A cup of edamame has 18 grams of protein and is a little higher in carbs with 14 grams. One cup of soymilk has 7 grams of protein and only 4 grams of carbs. If you go for soymilk, make sure you’re drinking unsweetened; sweetened versions pack more than twice the carbs because of the added sugar.
Pictured Recipe: Dan Dan Noodles with Seitan, Shiitake Mushrooms & Napa Cabbage
You might think you have to stay away from seitan-a vegetarian meat substitute made from wheat gluten-because, well, it’s made from wheat. However, a 3-ounce serving offers just 2 grams of carbs and an impressive 12 grams of protein.
10. Peanut Butter
Pictured Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter
Peanuts are technically a legume (the same family as beans), so they do have 7 grams of carbs per serving. But 2 tablespoons of peanut butter packs 7 grams of protein and 16 grams of healthy, satiating fats. Many brands flavor with sugar, including honey and maple syrup. To limit sugar (and carbs), choose those made with only peanuts. Other nut butters, like almond butter, cashew butter and pistachio butter are also great choices.
Pictured Recipe: Homemade Trail Mix
Think almonds (23 whole ones offer 6 grams of protein and 6 grams of carbs), walnuts (14 halves pack 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbs) or pistachios (49 nuts have 6 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbs). The great thing about nuts is that they’re also a stellar source of fiber, another nutrient that gives your meals and snacks staying power. These choices all supply 2 to 4 grams of fiber per serving. (Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day.)
12. String cheese
An easily portable serving of protein, one cheese stick contains just 80 calories for 6 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate. Plus, a small recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that eating cheese may produce good bacteria that keep your gut healthy.
Pictured Recipe: Sicilian Marinated Olives
There’s a reason you may be served a small dish of olives (rather than bread) in countries like Spain and Portugal before your meal: they’re bursting with flavor. Olives are also brimming with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. And a quarter cup is just 40 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrate, plus 1 gram of fiber. Now you can find these in handy snack packs for conveniently toting around.
Jerky recently got a gourmet makeover, and is now available with ingredients like responsibly raised turkey, chicken, beef and bison in inventive flavors (like herbs, citrus and teriyaki). With about 7 grams of protein and just 2 grams of carbs per 1-ounce stick, this is a great way to stave off mid-afternoon munchies without reaching for chips. Just try to find a brand with the least sodium.
15. Hummus and Crudités
Non-starchy crunchy veggies like cucumbers and celery are great picks for dipping into hummus (about 4 grams of carbs per 2-tablespoon serving). The chickpeas in hummus provide protein and ample B vitamins, which are vital for helping your body convert food into fuel. Want another dip? Try salsa or mix Greek yogurt with lemon juice, garlic and herbs.
Related: Eat the Rainbow with This Healthy Hummus Recipe Made 4 Ways
Get our list of vegetables ranked from lowest carb to highest carb.
Pictured Recipe: Cauliflower Pizza Crust
This brassica is having a moment as a popular veggie. Low carbers will appreciate it because it can be mashed like potatoes. Or throw it into the food processor to make “cauliflower rice,” which can then be used in “rice” bowls and stir-fries. Some grocery stores even sell packaged cauliflower rice for easy kitchen prep.
Pictured Recipe: Spiralized Zucchini & Summer Squash Casserole
We love zucchini because it’s so versatile. Using a vegetable peeler or a handy spiralizer, zucchini can be transformed into spaghetti- or linguini-like “noodles” as a low-carb substitute for pasta. Don’t miss our veggie noodle recipes including zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash and more!
18. Spaghetti Squash
Pictured Recipe: Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Tomatoes, Beans & Almond Pesto
Another great pick, spaghetti squash can be baked or roasted and then, using a fork, the “squash noodles” pulled out. Like zucchini noodles, you can top them with pasta sauce. Or, bake these into casseroles or lasagna-the squash is great at taking on whatever flavors it’s paired with. See our delicious spaghetti squash recipes for inspiration.
19. Sweet Potatoes
Pictured Recipe: Sweet Potato Skins with Guacamole
All taters are starchy veggies (along with others like corn and peas), so they have more carbs. A medium sweet spud contains 24 grams of carbohydrate, so pair it with baked chicken or fish and a green veggie like broccoli for a well-rounded meal. The fiber (4 grams) helps slow digestion, and sweet potatoes are bursting with disease-busting antioxidants called carotenoids.
Related: Low-Carb Fruits Ranked From Lowest to Highest Carbs
Get our list of fruits ranked from lowest carb to highest carb.
Pictured Recipe: Raspberry Yogurt with Dark Chocolate
Berries are winners because they’re lower in sugar and high in fiber, so they keep your body on an even energy keel. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are all good picks when you’re hankering for fruit. One cup of blueberries delivers 84 calories and 21 grams of carbs, a cup of blackberries has 62 calories and 14 grams of carbs, sliced strawberries deliver 53 calories and 13 grams of carbs per cup and raspberries have 64 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate in 1 cup.
Pictured Recipe: Orange Fruit Salad
Super-refreshing, this melon ranks lower on the calorie scale of fruits-just 50 calories per cup of cubes, and 13 grams of carbs.
Pictured Recipe: Purple Fruit Salad
These are great because they’re usually on the smaller end, so they have built-in portion control. One fruit contains just 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of fiber. Plus, these are also portable for on-the-go eating.
23. Fresh Fruit
No matter what type of fruit you’re eating, make sure you choose fresh rather than juice or dried fruit. Juice contains no fiber, so the sugar can spike your blood sugar quickly. Dried fruit is often sweetened with added sugars or juices, and cup-for-cup generally contains four times the calories (and carbs).
Related: What Does a Healthy Serving of Carbs Look Like?
24. Greek Yogurt
Pictured Recipe: Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark
Dairy isn’t out just because you’re low carb. Go for Greek yogurt, which has a higher protein content compared to regular yogurt. One 6-ounce container offers 17 grams of protein and only 6 grams of carbs, plus it’s a good source of bone-maintaining calcium. It’s a low-carb choice only if you go plain, though. Fruit blends pack a few teaspoons of added sugar and three times the amount of carbs. Make your own with our DIY recipe for Greek yogurt.
Pictured Recipe: Berry-Kefir Smoothie
While kefir-a tangy fermented milk drink-contains just as many carbs as milk, it’s got the added benefit of probiotics, which help improve your gut health. It’s also lactose-free, so if you have trouble stomaching regular milk, kefir can be a good way to get protein (1 cup provides 11 grams), vitamin D (one-quarter of your daily quota) and calcium (nearly one-third of what you need in a day).
26. Non-Dairy Milks
Pictured Recipe: Blueberry Almond Chia Pudding
Obviously, this isn’t dairy, but if you’re looking for a nondairy alternative to cow’s milk, know they’re not all equal when it comes to nutrition. Low-carb choices include nut (like almond) and coconut milk. Avoid rice and oat milks, which will run you over 20 grams of carbs per cup, and watch out for added sugars.
27. Cottage Cheese
Pictured Recipe: Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
Don’t forget about cottage cheese. It’s a protein powerhouse rivaling Greek yogurt, with 24 grams per cup. Turn to cottage cheese when you want to switch up your breakfast routine, or as a quick snack topped with cinnamon and berries.
28. Whipped Coconut Milk and Berries
Pictured Recipe: Coconut Whipped Cream
We’re talking the stuff from a can (not the nondairy milk substitute). One-third of a cup of “lite” coconut milk contains 50 calories and 1 gram carbs. Scoop out the thick, custard-like milk up top and whip it into a nondairy whipped cream to top berries for a low-carb dessert. See how to make DIY coconut whipped cream.
29. Almond-Flour Baked Treats
Pictured Recipe: Oatmeal-Almond Protein Pancakes
Next time you’re baking a dessert, swap out some regular flour for almond flour (also called almond meal). Made from finely ground almonds, the flour adds vitamin E, belly-slimming monounsaturated fats and some extra protein to cookies, cakes and sweet breads.
30. Avocado Pudding
Pictured Recipe: Chocomole Pudding
You can make avocado pudding by whirling together nut milk, avocado and flavorings like cocoa powder in a food processor. Avocado may be a fruit, but it’s a rich source of good-for-you fats. Careful on the calories here: one whole avocado contains about 320. The upside is that it also packs nearly 14 grams of filling fiber and respectable 4 grams of protein.
Atkins 40: The Easy & Effective Low Carb Diet Plan
Atkins 40 is an easy low carb diet plan based on portion control and eating 40g net carbs per day. If you have less than 40 pounds to lose, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or want a wider variety of food choices from the first day of your diet, Atkins 40 could be a great fit for you. With Atkins 40 you can enjoy a range of food that you choose from. From protein and veggies to pasta and potatoes, there is an extensive list of food to plan your meals around while still losing weight and feeling satisfied.
How the Atkins 40® Diet Plan Works
Start the Atkins 40 program by eating 40 grams of net carbs, 4 to 6-ounce servings of protein and 2 to 4 servings of fat per day. As you approach your weight loss goals, start to increase your carbohydrate portion size. By offering flexible eating options and a variety of food choices, it is simple to follow and easy to lose weight on Atkins 40 from day one. Your daily carbs can come from all food groups and you can choose to eat anything from the Acceptable Foods list below. With Atkins, you have the opportunity to customize your diet plan to achieve your weight loss goals in no time.
Net carbs represent the total carbohydrate content of the food minus the fiber content and sugar alcohols, if any. The net carbs calculation reflects the grams of carbohydrate that significantly impact your blood sugar level and therefore are the only carbs you need spread out between three meals and two snacks in a day.
- How to Calculate Atkins Net Carbs
Acceptable Foods to Eat on the Atkins 40 Diet
Foundation Vegetables – Atkins 40
Full of fiber and nutrients, veggies are one of the best sources of carbohydrates. About 1/3 of your net carbs will come from these foundational vegetables. Choose 6 to 8 servings per day from the list below.
Foundation Vegetables Serving Size Net Carbs Alfalfa sprouts (raw) 1/2 cup 0 Chicory greens (raw) 1/2 cup .1 Endive (raw) 1/2 cup .1 Escarole (raw) 1/2 cup .1 Olives, green 5, each .1 Watercress (raw) 1/2 cup .1 Arugula (raw) 1/2 cup .2 Radishes (raw) 1, each .2 Spinach (raw) 1/2 cup .2 Bok choy (cooked) 1/2 cup .4 Lettuce, average (raw) 1/2 cup .5 Turnip greens (cooked) 1/2 cup .6 Heart of palm 1 each .7 Olives, black 5, each .7 Radicchio (raw) 1/2 cup .7 Button mushroom (raw) 1/2 cup .8 Artichoke (marinated) 1, each 1 Celery (raw) 1 stalk 1 Collard greens (cooked) 1/2 cup 1 Pickle, dill 1, each 1 Spinach (cooked) 1/2 cup 1 Broccoli rabe (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.2 Sauerkraut (drained) 1/2 cup 1.2 Avocado, Haas 1/2 fruit 1.3 Daikon radish, grated (raw) 1/2 cup 1.4 Red/white onion, chopped (raw) 2 TBSP 1.5 Zucchini (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.5 Cucumber, sliced (raw) 1/2 cup 1.6 Cauliflower (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.7 Beet greens (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.8 Broccoli (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.8 Fennel (raw) 1/2 cup 1.8 Okra (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.8 Rhubarb (raw) 1/2 cup 1.8 Swiss chard (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.8 Asparagus (cooked) 6 stalks 1.9 Broccolini (cooked) 3, each 1.9 Bell pepper, green, chopped (raw) 1/2 cup 2.2 Sprouts, mung bean (raw) 1/2 cup 2.2 Eggplant (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.3 Kale (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.4 Scallion, chopped (raw) 1/2 cup 2.4 Turnip (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.4 Tomato, small (raw) 1, each 2.5 Jicama (raw) 1/2 cup 2.6 Portobello mushroom (cooked) 1, each 2.6 Yellow squash (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.6 Cabbage (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.7 Green beans (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.9 Bell pepper, red, chopped (raw) 1/2 cup 3 Leeks (cooked) 2 TBSP 3.4 Shallot, chopped (raw) 2 TBSP 3.4 Brussel sprouts (cooked) 1/2 cup 3.5 Spaghetti squash (cooked) 1/2 cup 4 Cherry tomato 10, each 4.6 Kohlrabi (cooked) 1/2 cup 4.6 Pumpkin, mashed (cooked) 1/2 cup 4.7 Garlic (minced, raw) 2 TBSP 5.3 Snow peas (cooked) 1/2 cup 5.4 Tomato (cooked) 1/2 cup 8.6 My Plans and Groups ” Access free tools today!
Planning Meals on Atkins 40 Diet
Atkins 40 offers you the flexibility to eat a wider variety of foods from the start. View a two week sample meal plan to get an idea of what your new low carb lifestyle could look like.
Low-carb meal plan
Your 7-day low-carb meal plan
Before starting any healthy eating programme, read how to choose your meal plan to make sure you follow the plan that’s right for you.
This nutritionally balanced meal plan is suitable for those wishing to closely manage their carbohydrate intake. It’s also calorie counted for your convenience, and contains at least five portions of fruit and veg per day.
Please note that the full nutritional information and exact specifications for all meals and snacks is available in the PDF only, and not listed below.
We’ve got more information on how to follow a low-carb diet safely.
The weekly overview
Breakfast: Wholemeal toast with scrambled eggs
Lunch: Cauliflower and leek soup
Dinner: Lower-fat cauliflower and broccoli cheese with a medium grilled salmon fillet
Pudding: Greek yogurt with raspberries
Choose from snacks including fruit, nuts and rye crackers with avocado.
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with raspberries and pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Chickpea and tuna salad and strawberries
Dinner: Beef goulash
Pudding: Rhubarb fool
Choose from snacks including granary bread with peanut butter, avocado, Greek yogurt, crudites and nuts.
Breakfast: Porridge with almonds, blueberries and pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Mackerel salsa wrap
Dinner: Chicken casserole with broccoli
Pudding: Greek yogurt with strawberries and blueberries
Choose from snacks including nuts, wholemeal rice cakes with peanut butter and crudites with guacamole.
Breakfast: Mushroom omelette with mushrooms and grilled tomato
Lunch: Creamy chicken and mushroom soup and Greek yogurt with raspberries
Dinner: Beefburger with green salad
Pudding: Summer berry posset
Choose from snacks including oatcakes with light cream cheese, nuts and avocado.
Breakfast: Scrambled egg on granary toast with mushrooms
Lunch: Beef and barley soup and Greek yogurt
Dinner: Italian-style braised lamb steaks with brown rice and broccoli
Pudding: Microwave mug: Chocolate, banana and almond cup with half-fat creme fraiche
Choose from snacks including nuts, cheese and guacamole with crudites.
Breakfast: Wholemeal toast with grilled bacon and mushrooms
Lunch: Bang bang chicken salad
Dinner: Coq au vinwith broccoli
Pudding: Hot chocolate
Choose from snacks including raspberry smoothie and nuts.
Breakfast: Scrambled egg with smoked salmon on granary toast
Lunch: Ham, leek and Parmesan frittata with avocado, celery, cucumber and lettuce
Dinner: Roast chicken, roast potatoes, green beans and gravy
Pudding: Greek yogurt with rapsberries
Choose from snacks including olives, nuts, dried fruit and oatcakes with light cream cheese.
About low-carb diets
A low-carb diet is generally defined as below 130g of carbohydrate a day.
This low-carb meal plan aims to help you maintain a healthy, balanced diet while reducing the amount of carbs you eat. Varying amounts of carbohydrate are shown each day to help you choose which works best for you. You might want to use it to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re overweight, finding a way to lose weight can help you reduce your risk of complications. There are different ways of doing this, and the low-carb diet is just one option. Other options include the Mediterranean diet.
And if you have Type 2 diabetes, we now know that aiming for 15kg weight loss (especially nearer to your diagnosis) can improve your chances of putting your Type 2 diabetes into remission.
If you have Type 1 diabetes, it’s important to know that the best way to keep your blood sugar levels steady is to carb count rather than following a particular diet.
It’s important to know that if you treat your diabetes with insulin or any other medication that puts you at risk of hypos (low blood sugar levels), following a low-carb diet may increase this risk. Speak to your healthcare team about this so they can help you adjust your medications to reduce your risk of hypos.
Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you might need to lose, gain or maintain your current weight but it’s important to make healthier food choices while you’re doing this. Research suggests that the best type of diet is one that you can maintain in the long term, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare professional about what you think will work for you.
Zero Carb Diet
A ketogenic diet is not necessarily a zero carb diet. On a ketogenic diet, you can eat enough green vegetables and even a few berries and stay in a range of 20-50 carbs per day.
Eating a zero carb plan basically means you eat nothing but meat and fat and nothing else. No egg yolks, no dairy, no vegetables or fruit can be included as they contain carbohydrates. And actually, even meat has some carb because of the stored glycogen in the muscle.
It’s a strange way to eat, but there are some people who swear by a zero carb diet and feel it is the healthiest way to eat. For instance, a man name Lex Rooker has been eating a zero carb regimen for several years now, and writes about it here. He insists he has experienced excellent health benefits from eating this way, but be aware he eats nothing but raw meat. He does not cook the meat he eats, as cooking changes the nutritional value of the food.
And this blog is all about eating zero carb by a woman named Kelly who feels it has been very beneficial for her. She started out her journey by eating low carb, and lost 130 pounds. Over time, she has found that zero carb works best for her.
And Mikhaila Peterson has improved her health immensely by switching to an all meat diet.
In addition, the Inuit tribes of Alaska eat a zero carb diet for much of the year, and they have excellent health as well. The difference though, is that the meat they eat is clean. It comes from wild animals which have been fed on natural diets. They also eat the whole animal, and they eat a lot of it in the raw state (meat, organs, the fat, and stomach contents included) not just the muscle meat.
In America, unless you want to spend a small fortune on grass fed meat and chicken, and learn to like all parts of the animals you eat, it may not be the healthiest to go zero carb. Cooking meat destroys much of the vitamin content, so eating meat raw or almost raw is the most likely way you’ll get enough vitamin C and other vitamins.
Zero Carb and Thyroid Issues
Jan Kwasniewski, a Polish physician who has designed a low carb diet which he calls Optimal Nutrition, has written that one should eat enough carbohydrate to avoid heavy ketosis. This post at Hyperlipid discusses Kwasniewski and ketosis.
There is some evidence that zero carb has the unintended effect of causing thyroid issues in converting T4 hormone to T3 hormone. Dr. Ron Rosedale thinks this is a normal response and writes that this slowing of the metabolism is a good thing for slowing aging.
Mark Sisson over at the Daily Apple writes about zero carb here.
In my personal experience, I feel best when my carb intake is between 10-40 carbs. For me, focusing on keeping my insulin low is priority. Some people on a low carb diet report that fasting blood sugar can rise over time via a phenomenon called physiological insulin resistance. This is a normal response, according to Peter over at the Hyperlipid blog.
However, some people do well on zero carb, and I think it’s an individual call. You have to determine what your body response is to long term total carb restriction. I will say that consistency is important in figuring this out. Looping from zero carb to some carbs to lots of carbs is not healthy for anyone, and to really know your body’s response, you have to stay within your chosen carb limit for at least several months to gain accurate knowledge.
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Done with Zero Carb Diet, back to Ketogenic Diet Plan
10 Popular Low-Carb Diets, and Their Pros and Cons
When is a low-carb diet not just a low-carb diet? When there’s a different name to it. And with the popularity of low-carb living for weight loss and health benefits, many people are turning to the diet in all its various forms. Because most Americans eat more than 200 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day, says Kelly Schmidt, RD, LDN, a nutrition consultant in Columbus, Ohio, dipping lower than that is going to be, in a form, a lower-carb diet, she notes.
RELATED: Which Is Better for Health and Weight Loss: Low-Carb or Low-Fat?
And while there are many different types, from the ketogenic diet to the Dukan diet, the name isn’t the biggest thing that matters. “You can put a label on the type of low-carb diet you want to do, but the bottom line — and one reason low-carb diets can be so successful — is you should focus on eating more real food than not,” adds Schmidt.
Here’s a look at 10 popular low-carb plans, plus how to know if one is right for you:
1. A Basic Low-Carb Diet
There’s no official guideline that defines a low-carb diet, says Schmidt. But generally speaking, consuming about 50 to 100 g of carbs a day is considered a basic low-carb diet, she says. That said, it can be more — it’s all about eating fewer carbs than is normal for you. The perk of this plan is it’s individualized, allowing you to eat the amount that best meets your body’s needs. It also gives you leeway to choose what carbs you want to include (fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, nuts, and seeds) rather than being on a plan that tells you what you need to eat and when. It’s best for someone who likes that freedom, and doesn’t want to spend the time counting grams of carbs.
2. The Ketogenic, or ‘Keto’ Diet
This is one of the strictest ways to do a low-carb diet because it limits you to under 50 g of carbs per day, though some experts recommend going to less than 30 or 20 g, says Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, a low-carb dietitian who’s based in Orange County, California. (Specifically, she says most people need to stay under 30 g, but some active folks can go a bit higher.) You’ll also be eating a significant amount of fat — up to 80 percent of your diet.
A keto diet shifts your body’s fuel-burning engine from one that relies on carbs for energy to one that incinerates fat. A big benefit here is that you may lose a significant amount of weight quickly, and that can be initially motivating to see those results so quickly. The downside is that it’s a very limiting diet — you’re eating mostly sources of fat, plus a little protein, and some nonstarchy veggies — so it’s difficult to keep up, and it’s typically intended as a short-term diet, not a lifelong change.
RELATED: What to Eat and Avoid on the Ketogenic Diet
3. A Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet
This sounds similar to keto, but on this plan, you generally eat more carbs (so your body won’t be in the fat-burning state of ketosis, as it is during keto) and less fat. Carbs might comprise about 25 percent of your calories, while fat makes up over 60 percent.
Many people do this for performance benefits during a workout, as it is thought to teach your body to use fat for fuel, which can provide a longer-lasting form of energy during extended bouts of endurance activities. That said, whether it really does boost performance is still up in the air, reported a study published in November 2015 in the journal Sports Medicine. If you’re an athlete interested in this style of eating, your best bet is to consult with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition to see what’s right for you.
4. The Atkins Diet
When it comes to the low-carb craze, the Atkins diet started it all. “Dr. Atkins saw very early on that cutting back on carbs and allowing unlimited protein and fat had such a big impact on appetite and insulin levels,” says Spritzler.
On this plan, you start with a very-low, ketogenic-like intake and then gradually add back in carb sources, like vegetables and fruit. Spritzler notes that one common error is adding back in too many carbs, gaining weight, and then thinking the diet isn’t working. For instance, when you’re in maintenance mode, you probably shouldn’t be eating bread.
That said, this diet also features prepackaged foods and snacks, which are going to be processed fare, regardless of the label “low carb.” The best way to do this diet is to stick to eating whole foods, says Spritzler.
One note: This diet differs from the Eco-Atkins Diet, a diet ranked 22 of 40 in the 2018 US News & World Report Best Diets. The “eco” twist is that it focuses on plant-based proteins and unsaturated fats with a greater carb allowance; you’ll likely eliminate most animal products and saturated fats.
RELATED: What’s the Difference Between Keto and Atkins?
5. Low-Carb Paleo
The caveman-eating style focuses on eating fat and protein with fewer carbs. That said, just because you cut out grains, legumes, beans, sweets, and dairy doesn’t make it automatically low carb, as you can still eat starchy veggies and fruits, which can add up. “A paleo diet can contain a number of carbs ranging from keto to normal carb levels,” says Spritzler. The benefit of a paleo eating plan is it emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, she says. It can feel meat-heavy if you normally prefer a more plant-based diet. To make sure it stays low-carb, focus on vegetables that fall naturally lower on the carb spectrum, like cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers.
The Whole30 is another diet (which bills itself as more of a program) that’s not specifically designed to be low in carbs. For 30 days (no cheating!), you’re asked to eat meat, seafood, veggies, fruits, and fats and stay away from added sugar of any kind — alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy.
It can be a radical approach for someone who’s used to eating the standard American diet — which is low in fruits and veggies, and high in added sugar and fat — and it may help you lose weight, says Spritzler, adding that the freedom to eat as many carbs as you want may makes it a poor fit for people with type 2 diabetes. Because this is designed as a short-term (30-day) challenge, it’s supposed to be tough. You have to weigh your stick-to-it-iveness before you start, and then plan out what you’re going to do after the 30 days is up.
RELATED: The Best and Worst Low-Carb Snacks for People With Type 2 Diabetes
7. Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet
This one wins big points for health from Spritzler. “I personally feel this is the ideal diet to follow, as it delivers all the benefits of both a Mediterranean and low-carb diet,” she says.
The difference from other low-carb diets is that you’re going to swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats — a plus if you have type 2 diabetes, which leaves you more at risk for heart disease, or if you have a personal or family history of heart disease yourself. That means rather than butter, cheese, and cream, you’re eating olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado as your main sources of fat.
The big pro to this diet is that it’s very heart-friendly; the con is that for some people, the lure of a low-carb diet is often the ability to eat highly palatable foods, like bacon and cheese. Research analyzing the benefit of a low-carb Mediterranean diet on diabetes, such as one study published in July 2014 in the journal Diabetes Care, have advised participants to keep carbohydrates to no more than 50 percent of their daily calories and get at least 30 percent of their calories from fat, focusing on vegetables and whole grains as carb sources.
8. Dukan Diet
On this diet, you’ll be led through four phases. First, you’ll focus on foods high in protein, and then add vegetables back in, followed by gradually introducing more carb-containing foods foods, like fruit and whole-grain bread, plus an allowance of two celebration meals per week. In the final phase, you’ll aim to maintain your weight loss results by eating foods from all food groups, supplementing with oat bran, and fitting in fitness daily.
According to US News & World Report, the Dukan Diet is ranked 39 of 40 in terms of best diets overall — that’s pretty low. Why? There are a lot of rules to follow and you have to eat a lot of protein, something their panel of experts say can compromise health.
RELATED: U.S. News’ Best Health and Weight Loss Diets for 2018
9. The South Beach Diet
Unlike some of the other types of low-carb diets, which focus on health benefits, this one bills itself as a pure weight loss diet. While you focus more on lean protein and healthy fats, the Mayo Clinic notes, the South Beach Diet isn’t necessarily a strict low-carb diet. In fact, you eat “good carbs” — especially after the first phase.
On the diet, you can get frozen and ready-to-eat South Beach Diet meals, along with some meals you make on your own. They also encourage you to buy South Beach Diet–branded snacks. The upside is that they’ll tell you what to eat all day and there’s little cooking involved (great if you hate your kitchen); the downside is that you have to buy your food through them, and the choices can become limiting. Plus, when you’re buying packaged foods, you’re not getting the full nutritional benefit you would from eating whole foods.
10. Zero-Carb Diet
If you look around the web, you’ll see that many people have taken on the challenge of a zero-carb diet, which involves eating only meat and fat. The downside of this diet is that it can be exceptionally high in saturated fat and contains no fiber, something that helps digestion, and no vegetables or fruit, which provide critical vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Considering that experts recommend talking to your doctor even before going on a ketogenic diet — and this is a much more severe form — you need to consult a medical professional before attempting the zero-carb diet!
RELATED: What’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs?
For more advice on following a low-carbohydrate diet, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “How to Do Very Low Carb, Very Easily”!
What can you eat on a low-carb diet?
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.
1. Knowing what foods are low-carb
Low-carb foods include:
- lean meats, such as sirloin, chicken breast, or pork
- leafy green vegetables
- cauliflower and broccoli
- nuts and seeds, including nut butter
- oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, and rapeseed oil
- some fruit, such as apples, blueberries, and strawberries
- unsweetened dairy products including plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt
2. Know the carb counts and serving sizes of foods
Most low carb diets only allow for 20 to 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day. Because of this, it is essential that people following low-carb diets choose foods that have a lower carb count but a high nutritional value per serving.
The foods in the quantities listed below all contain approximately 15 g of carbs:
- 1 tennis ball sized apple or orange
- 1 cup of berries
- 1 cup of melon cubes
- ½ medium banana
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 8 ounces of milk
- 6 ounces of plain yogurt
- ½ cup corn
- ½ cup peas
- ½ cup beans or legumes
- 1 small baked potato
- 1 slice of bread
- 1/3 cup of cooked rice
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.
3. Make a meal plan
Share on PinterestA meal plan can help a person organise their food for the forthcoming week.
A meal plan can help make things easier.
Anyone trying to follow 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.
Knowing what they are going to eat for lunch and dinner can help a person avoid making unhealthful food choices, such as stopping at a fast food restaurant.
4. Meal prep
Planning is one thing, but preparing meals ahead of time can also help. Meal prep can help a person:
- avoid making unhealthful food choices
- save time during busier times of the week
- save money
Some people like to prepare a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches ahead of time and store the meals in containers, so they are convenient and ready to go. It is possible to freeze some meals too, meaning people can prepare even more food in advance.
Having lots of pre-prepared meals on hand can help people avoid choosing less healthful options.
Popular low-carb meals to prepare in advance include:
- egg muffins
- Greek yogurt bowls
- protein pancakes
- chicken lettuce wraps
- protein and vegetable stir fry with no rice
5. Carry low-carb snacks
Low-carb snack options for between meals include:
- hard boiled eggs
- unsweetened yogurt
- baby or regular carrots
- handful of nuts
It is essential to regulate portion size of any snacks to avoid overeating.
6. 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 to their doctor or nutritionist first.
7. Not all carbs are created equal
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.
People who are starting on a low-carb diet need to think about reducing their intake of refined and processed carbs. Avoiding these carbs will be beneficial for reaching an ideal weight and for health in general.
However, not all simple carbs are created equal. Fruits include fructose, which is a simple carb, but eating fruit is recommended in a low-carb diet, as it is loaded with nutrients and is a whole-food source of carbs.
Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, as they need to be broken down into a simpler form. 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.
8. Be aware of alternatives
Share on PinterestLettuce leaf tacos are a recommended low-carb alternative.
Substituting high-carb foods for low-carb or no-carb foods can help reduce carb intake.
Some low-carb substitutions include:
- lettuce leaves instead of taco shells
- portobello mushroom caps instead of buns
- baked butternut squash fries
- eggplant lasagna
- cauliflower pizza crust
- spaghetti squash instead of noodles
- zucchini ribbons instead of pasta
9. Exercise appropriately
Exercise is an important part of overall health. People should avoid a sedentary lifestyle but refrain from excessive exercising.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults do moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week for a minimum 10 minutes at a time for moderate health benefits. For optimal health benefits, the CDC recommend 300 minutes of exercise. The CDC also suggest that people lift weights or do other strength training exercises to improve overall health.
Those on low-carb diets may want to avoid long periods of intense activity such as distance running. This is because people who are doing a form of exercise that requires extra endurance, such as marathon training, will need extra carbohydrates to fuel their bodies.
10. Use common sense
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:
- nutritional deficiencies
- loss of bone density
- gastrointestinal problems
Some people should not follow a low-carb diet unless instructed to do so by a doctor. These groups of people include those with kidney disease and teenagers.
Not everyone will benefit from, or should even consider, a low-carb diet. Anyone thinking about doing a low-carb diet should speak with a doctor before starting.
No Carb Diet: Menu Plan & Recipes
People of all shapes and sizes are turning to low-carb and no-carb diet options to help them lose weight. These diets typically have very restrictive eating plans—reducing or eliminating carbohydrates from their menus. Many people try a no-carb diet menu, lose weight, and keep the weight off for quite some time. The plan does require careful attention to what is on your plate, though many different menu options are available for those looking to primarily cut fat, build muscle, or enjoy a combination of the two. A few no-carb diet menu ideas can help keep you on track during your diet.
No-Carb Low-Carb Basics
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. When you consume carbohydrates, a portion is converted to glucose in your bloodstream. A hormone called insulin carries the glucose to the body’s organs and cells to give them the fuel that they need. Excess glucose is stored away in the body as fat.
When you deprive your body of carbohydrates, it goes into a state of ketosis and begins to break down that stored fat to provide your body with the energy it needs. When there is no more body fat, it begins to break down muscle for fuel.
Carbohydrates are primary found in:
- Sugar and products containing added sugars and many sweeteners
- Milk and other dairy products
- Bread, cereals, baked goods, and grains
No-Carb Diet Menu Plan
A no-carb diet plan requires that you eliminate carbohydrates from your daily menu. The high-protein consumption that often accompanies a no-carb diet menu enables the body to quickly use up stored body fat while preventing it from consuming important muscle components to meet energy needs. Vegetables, meats, poultry, eggs, and seafood make up the bulk of a no-carb dieter’s selection. Breads, rolls, and most wheat or grain products are often prohibited, as are sugary fruits and alcohol. By limiting intake of foods that are high in carbohydrates, dieters also eliminate many high-calorie dining options, ensuring the plan can work to help dieters lose weight.
The No-Carb Diet Menu Week
The standard week for someone on one of these no-carb diets includes a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner devoid of carbohydrates. There is a focus on lean meats and seafood, and many participating in the diet plan choose to have a light breakfast and a heavier dinner. This may promote fullness in some people, but it is always best to listen to your body and schedule your eating and workout habits to match your specific needs. Some dieters may find that a hearty no-carb diet breakfast menu that supplies most of their protein needs for the day works well before a workout, and lean meats and vegetables offer a light alternative lunch option before another hearty meal at dinnertime. Snacks on the plan are limited and mainly consist of cut vegetables and cheese with herbal teas.
A typical day’s menu might include:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat and cooked egg whites
- Lunch: Grilled chicken or seafood, vegetables or salad (Read about the incredible health benefits of spinach)
- Dinner: Tuna salad or egg-white omelet, vegetables, side salad
- Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks: Carbohydrate-free whey protein and raw or cooked vegetables
- Evening snack: Protein shake
Hearty green vegetables deliver many of the nutrients unavailable through protein sources, and many vegetables have no effect on blood sugar levels. Spinach and other leafy greens make a great side to help jumpstart your day. Vegetarians looking for a hearty meal may try some of the low-carb or no-carb meat alternatives while paying close attention to the actual carb levels in these products.
No-Carb, No-Sugar Diet Menu
Along with elimination of carbohydrates, many diets also greatly restrict or strive to eliminate additional sugar intake. While the body converts carbohydrates into sugar in the bloodstream, consumption of excess carbohydrates, such as sugar, can lead to excess body fat. A standard selection from this menu includes a variety of lean meats, cheese processed without sugar or added carbohydrates, nuts, seeds, and many different leafy green vegetables. Fruit and alcohol are expressly forbidden due to their innate sugar contents. This diet is a good choice for those who are looking to primarily cut fat from their bodies instead of focusing on new muscle creation.
High-Protein, No-Carb Diet Menu
Bodybuilders and those looking to increase muscle mass while losing weight are likely to turn to a high-protein version of the no-carb diet. Unlike other diets, which rely on vegetables as ready sides and even main courses, the high-protein variety relies heavily on protein-rich nuts, seeds, and meats. These provide the protein necessary for exceptional muscle growth and deny the body access to carbohydrates that may otherwise be used for fuel instead of body fat.
A menu selection for high-protein, no-carb dieters should include many different fish, such as tuna and salmon, as well as lean meats such as chicken and turkey. Supplements and protein shakes may be consumed to maintain nutrition levels, and many leafy green vegetables are still allowed in small portions. The addition of fish can help promote muscle growth and lean body mass by adding essential oils for extra nutrition.
Low-Carb Diet and Atkins Diet Options
Small portions are one of the keys of the Atkins diet. This popular low-carb option for dieting does not deny dieters access to carbohydrates outright, but rather it allows only a small amount of foods that contain carbohydrates each day. Many other low-carb plans follow a similar setup. The plan revolves around net carbohydrates, the amount the body takes in after digestion, and allows twelve to fifteen grams of the substances during the early phases. Vegetables and meat are promoted heavily under these options as well as some dairy products such as cottage cheese and baked cheese varieties.
Methods of Cooking
The type of cooking method you use, as well as the temperature, cooking time, and amount of liquid used, can influence the sugar and carbohydrate levels in certain foods?particularly vegetables. Although the changes are usually negligible, you may find that vegetables that are boiled or steamed may contain less starch and sugar than those that are roasted or grilled.
Grilled, poached, and boiled foods are great for those on low-carb or no-carb diets. Breaded foods should be avoided as the outer coating is often made of cornstarch, flour, or other high-carbohydrate materials. This also applies to fried foods that have an outer coating. Similarly, foods cooked in heavy syrups or with sugar glazes typically add many additional carbohydrates to a diet. Spices of all sorts are allowed under most no-carb plans, allowing dieters to enhance flavor without introducing additional carbs.
Sample No-Carb Recipe: Skillet Dijon Chicken
This simple no-carb chicken dish uses just a handful of ingredients and cooks up in 20 minutes or less.
- 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 ounces white cooking wine (nonalcoholic)
- 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Place each piece of chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or heavy frying pan until 1/2-inch thin or less. Place the olive oil in a fry pan over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken and cook until it is nicely browned on both sides, turning at least once.
Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. When the chicken is browned, reduce the heat to medium-low and pour the mixture over the chicken. Cook until the chicken is completely cooked through and the internal temperature has reached a minimum of 160 F. Spoon some of the sauce over the chicken when serving.
Avoid fat to be skinny?
For years, people were advised to curb fats, which are found in foods including meat, nuts, eggs, butter and oil. Cutting fat was seen as a way to control weight, since a gram of fat has twice as many calories as the same amount of carbs or protein.
Many say the advice had the opposite effect by inadvertently giving us license to gobble up fat-free cookies, cakes and other foods that were instead full of the refined carbs and sugars now blamed for our wider waistlines.
Nutrition experts gradually moved away from blanket recommendations to limit fats for weight loss. Fats are necessary for absorbing important nutrients and can help us feel full. That doesn’t mean you have to subsist on steak drizzled in butter to be healthy.
Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University, said the lessons learned from the anti-fat fad should be applied to the anti-carb fad: Don’t oversimplify advice. “There’s a constant look for an easy way out,” Lee said.
Which is better?
Another big study this past year found low-carb diets and low-fat diets were about equally as effective for weight loss. Results varied by individual, but after a year, people in both groups shed an average of 12 to 13 pounds.
The author noted the findings don’t contradict Ludwig’s low-carb study. Instead, they suggest there may be some flexibility in the ways we can lose weight. Participants in both groups were encouraged to focus on minimally processed foods like produce and meat prepared at home. Everyone was advised to limit added sugar and refined flour.
“If you got that foundation right, for many, that would be an enormous change,” said Christopher Gardner of Stanford University and one of the study’s authors.
Limiting processed foods could improve most diets by cutting down overall calories, while still leaving wiggle room for people’s preferences. That’s important, because for a diet to be effective, a person has to be able to stick to it. A breakfast of fruit and oatmeal may be filling for one person but leave another hungry soon after.
Gardner notes the study had its limitations, too. Participants’ diets weren’t controlled. People were instead instructed on how to achieve eating low-carb or low-fat in regular meetings with dietitians, which may have provided a support network most dieters don’t have.
So, what works?
In the short term you can probably lose weight by eating only raw foods, or going vegan, or cutting out gluten or following another diet plan that catches your eye. But what will work for you over the long term is a different question.
Zhaoping Li, director of the clinical nutrition division at the University of California, Los Angeles, says there is no single set of guidelines that help everyone lose weight and keep it off. It’s why diets often fail — they don’t factor into account the many factors that drive us to eat what we do.
To help people lose weight, Li examines her patients’ eating and physical activity routines to identify improvements people will be able to live with. “What sticks is what matters,” Li said.
Ask the Diet Doctor: Fueled by Fats Alone
Q: Can I really cut out carbs completely and still exercise at a high level, as some proponents of low-carb and paleo diets suggest?
A: Yes, you could cut out carbs and rely on fats alone for fuel-and it is completely safe. Certain nutrients in your diet are absolutely essential, including a couple different fats, a handful of amino acids, and lots of vitamins and minerals. No sugars or carbohydrates make the “must-eat” list.
In order to function without carbs, your body does a very good job either making the sugars it needs or finding alternate energy sources. For example, when you drastically reduce or eliminate carbs from your diet, your body is able to make sugar to store as glycogen.
RELATED: Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet
Your brain is notorious for being a sugar glutton, as it requires a lot of energy and sugar is its preferred source. But despite your brain’s love affair with carbohydrates, it is more in love with survival. As a result it adapts and thrives, fueling itself with ketones (a byproduct of excessive fat breakdown) when carbs are not around. In fact, your brain may have switched to this alternate fuel source without you even knowing it if you have ever eaten a very low-carb or ketogenic diet, where you consume 60 to 70 percent of your calories from fat and only 20 to 30 grams (g) of carbs per day (eventually upwards of 50g a day). These diets are very effective for fat loss, reducing certain risk factors for heart disease, and treating diabetes and epilepsy.
So yes, if you wanted to, you could completely cut out carbs, power your body with fats, improve your health, and exercise at a high level. But the question becomes: Do you really need to? From an application standpoint, a very low-carb diet is restrictive when it comes to food choices-20, 30, or even 50g of carbohydrates is not much, and you can only eat so many mushrooms, asparagus, and spinach.
Here’s an alternative, more customized approach to carb cutting that will progressively have your body rely more on fats, and then, if need be, almost exclusively on them. I created this “hierarchy of carbohydrates” to provide a user-friendly guide for consuming and restricting carbs based on individual needs.
RELATED: The Best Carbs for Weight Loss
This simple hierarchy is based on the fact that since not all carbs are created equal, there is a spectrum in which you can restrict them. Foods at the top of the list are more carb- and calorie-dense while containing fewer nutrients. As you move down the list, foods become less carb- and calorie-dense while containing more nutrients-these are the foods you want to pile on your plate. In other words, consume more spinach (at the bottom in the green vegetable category) than soda (at the top in the added sugar category).
1. Foods containing added sugars
2. Refined grains
3. Whole grains/starches
6. Green vegetables
Try to reduce and/or eliminate foods and drinks from the top two positions, and if you need to further lower your carb (or calorie) intake to elicit greater fat loss and better control blood sugar, then work to reduce and/or eliminate foods in the next group on the list. Adopting this approach to carb restriction will help you focus on more nutrient dense carbs while also getting you to restrict the level of carbs that is appropriate for you and your daily needs.
- By Dr. Mike Roussell @mikeroussell