- Cutting Carbs to Lose Weight
- Carbs Are Not the Enemy
- Where you get your carbs matters
- How to use carbs to hit your health and fitness goals
Can I Really Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight?
- The basics of weight loss.
- How much carbohydrate do you need?
- Calculate your body’s carbohydrate intake.
- Daily intake:
- When should you eat your carbs?
- Add carbs to your diet and lose weight.
- MYTH: Banning carbs means giving up bread and pasta
- Myth: All carbs are created equal
- Myth: Carbs are fattening
- Myth: Carbohydrates spike your blood sugar
- MYTH: You can determine whats carbs are healthy by using the Glycemic Index
- Myth: You should look for net carbs on the nutrition label
- How to lose weight with a low-carb diet
- 2. Common low-carb weight loss mistakes
- 3. Frequently asked questions
- 4. The bottom line
- Meal plans
- Why low carb can help you lose weight
- 1. What is a low-carb/keto diet?
- 2. Calories vs. carbs: what should I be counting?
- 3. Eat less without counting calories? How does that work?
- 4. Burning more calories without extra exercise
- 5. Show me the science
- 5. Summary
- Sign up now to start losing weight!
- 21 Unexpected Ways To Eat Fewer Carbs Without Even Noticing
- 1. Cut back on oatmeal portions by adding savory veggies.
- Savory Kale And Crimini Oatmeal With Fried Egg from Jackie Newgent
- 2. When it comes to a delicious bagel, focus on eating the proper serving size.
- 3. Make yellow squash hash browns.
- 4. Try two-ingredient flour-free pancakes.
- Two-Ingredient Banana And Egg Pancakes from Hurry The Food Up
- 5. Switch up your sandwich bread…
- 6. …Or eat your sandwich open-faced.
- Fancy Avocado Toast from Hip Foodie Mom
- 7. Portobello mushroom caps can stand in as burger buns.
- 8. Order the burrito bowl instead of the full burrito.
- DIY Vegan Burrito Bowl from Oh She Glows
- 9. DIY your salad dressing.
- 10. Use veggies as dippers instead of chips.
- Miso Hummus With Veggies from A Spicy Perspective
- 11. Swap regular popcorn for cauliflower popcorn.
- 12. Bulk up your pasta by tossing it with veggies.
- 13. You can ditch the noodles altogether with spiralized vegetables…
- 14. …Or use spaghetti squash as a stand-in for pasta.
- Spaghetti Squash Pasta With Basil Pesto from Minimalist Baker
- 15. You can make low-carb lasagna with zucchini or eggplant.
- 16. Mix tons of grated veggies into your rice or couscous.
- 17. Or swap it out for cauliflower rice.
- Cauliflower Rice from Oh My Veggies
- 18. Cauliflower can be made into pizza crust, too.
- 19. Cut back on potatoes by mixing in other roasted veggies.
- One-Pan Roasted Chicken And Vegetables from The Lean Green Bean
- 20. And use nuts for “breaded” chicken.
- 21. And no matter what you’re eating, switch up your plating order.
- Diabetes and Carbs
- Healthy carbohydrates guide
Cutting Carbs to Lose Weight
We are what we eat. This statement is very common, but it happens to be true. New diets are surfacing at a rapid rate so knowing what works and is healthy is very difficult these days. It is easy to see people who lose large amounts of weight and turn around and gain it all back. Obesity is at an all time high and people are wanting to work on their waistline. Foods that are high in fast absorbing carbohydrates are a huge factor contributing to people being overweight. Ingredients found in chips, pre-made meals, some breads, pastas, fast food, and a variety of snacks contain refined carbohydrates that pack on the calories.
Carbohydrates | Good or Bad
All carbohydrates change into sugar, the importance is the time it takes for them to be absorbed by the body. Unlike the other carbohydrates, fiber is the only one that does not turn into sugar when passing through the body. Fiber actually slows down sugar absorption. There are complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates. A lot of people do not know the difference. The difference between the two is how fast sugar is absorbed by the body. Simple carbohydrates, or otherwise called simple sugars, includes things like candy, muffins, syrup and soda. There are other types of simple carbs such as fruits and milk, but they contain the vitamins, calcium, and fiber that the body needs. Complex sugars are also called starches. Pasta, bread, rice and some vegetables are complex carbs because they take longer for the body to absorb. Fibers include whole grain breads, cereal with 3 or more fiber grams per serving, beans and legumes, brown rice, and fruit.
There are several great reasons to control your carbohydrate intake. Managing diabetes (blood sugar), improving mood, improving energy, and weight loss are a few of these reasons. Cutting carbs is really difficult to do without setting goals and following a plan to help stay on track. People who consume a lot of foods containing sugar, corn syrup, rich flour and other preservatives that they do not recognize tend to snack on them because they are available. It is hard to only eat a few potato chips. Eating half the bag happens before you know it. If these items are in the house people tend to devour them. If they are not available they won’t be eaten. Stocking up on fresh fruits, vegetables and other food items are a much better idea. They are full of nutrients that are healthy for the body and are great snacks during the day. Those labels are put on foods for a reason. Reading them is a necessity when trying to cut carbs to lower calorie intake.
Why does cutting carbs to lose weight work?
Cutting carbs is a great plan for losing weight. It makes sense because eating an excess of carbohydrates will fill the bodies storage tanks and the rest will be stored as fat. Another way to think about it is, many high carbohydrate foods are high in calories and unburned calories are what puts on the pounds. Who eats just one slice of toast. Most people eat two or three. Think about it. Do you over-eat bananas, apples, carrot sticks and celery? Generally, the answer is no. Overeating tends to be the high carbohydrate foods. High Carb foods are high in calories. When the body takes in more calories then it works off then it produces weight gain. It takes burning 3500 more calories than you eat to burn off 1 pound of body fat. Eating too many high calorie carbohydrates makes it difficult to burn off fat to lose weight and very easy to gain weight.
Is cutting ALL carbs a good idea?
Cutting all carbs would be really difficult for most people to do and unhealthy. Having no carbs in the daily diet is extremely restrictive and unsatisfying. For the longterm, learning to control the amount of carbohydrates , eating the right kinds of carbs, and learning how to use them as a tool to burn fat is a much better way to live. It is beneficial to cut carbs, but not remove them entirely. Lowering carbs in the daily diet is a lifestyle change that can be maintained instead of a crash diet where the pounds come right back. Controlling carbohydrate intake is a much better solution. Carbs do turn to sugar, but they also break down into energy quickly. It’s eating the wrong types of carbs, and in excess, that causes weight gain. It makes more sense to eat a diet high in protein and low in carbs in order to build muscle mass and provide higher levels of energy. Eating lots of protein and the right kinds of fat helps a person feel stronger and more energetic. Cutting carbs entirely reduces the nutrients the body needs to be strong and healthy. It is the unused carbs that create the unwanted weight gain. A limited amount of carbs allows the body to actually burn fat while working out and build energy. This is why athletic teams have pasta feasts before competition. A reduction in carbs allows the body enough to use for burning fat while reducing the amount that causes weight gain. Losing weight is a balance of eating right, lowering carbs, and exercise. Without exercise it is very difficult to lose weight. Cutting carbs completely out of the diet will result in weight loss, but it does not allow the body to function properly. The best way is to lower carb intake and eat fiber rich and low calorie foods.
Lower carbs in the daily diet instead of cutting them out entirely. Choosing fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, high fiber, vitamins, and minerals is the healthy and most longterm solution. A healthy diet is not something you do for six months just to lose weight. It is a way of life. Following a diet that a person cannot maintain for life is not the answer. Learn how to eat in moderation and live a happy healthy life.
If you want to lose weight and get healthy, reducing your daily carb intake is one way to go. After more than two decades as a weight-loss transformation expert, I can tell you that it’s one of the most effective ways to take off unwanted pounds.
Yet, embarking on a low-carb journey can be tough, especially when you don’t see that extra weight coming off right away. I often receive emails from patients who say, “I feel good, but I’m not losing any weight! What’s up with that?”
If you’re experiencing the same frustration, know this: When your body gets totally healthy and you ditch the sugary high-carb foods that cause blood sugar swings, inflammation and gut damage, you will eventually begin to lose weight naturally. You just need to give your body time to flip its fat-burning switch to “on” so you become a natural fat burner. The magic will happen!
In the meantime, if you’ve been eating low-carb for a while and feel you still haven’t “taken off,” here are some troubleshooting tips. The first tips focus on what you’re eating, and the last few are all about your lifestyle.
Are you …
1. … eating too much fruit?
Eating too much fruit is easy to do. You push all the junk off your plate in your new eating regimen and replace it with an overload of fruit. Just because fruit is natural doesn’t mean you can go to town. Fruit has fructose, and although some fruit can be very nutritious, consuming too much high-carb fruit can create havoc in the insulin department. A good serving size is a closed handful of berries or chopped fruit, a medium-sized apple, or half of a larger fruit, such as grapefruit.
2. … eating too many nuts?
Just because nuts are on the low-carb “yes” list doesn’t mean it’s time to scarf! A nut serving size is a closed handful. Period. Not half a bag. Nuts will pile on the pounds if you crunch away on them mindlessly. Also, many nuts have an off-balance omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which won’t help you move toward health.
3. … keeping foods on the “no” list in your kitchen?
I think you know where I’m going with this. Don’t keep chips and cookies and other high-carb stuff in your pantry or fridge for a rainy day. Donate, or, better yet, toss them. No need to explain this one.
4. … indulging in low-carb treats too often?
I’m glad you’re eating foods with healthy ingredients. Bravo! And if you want to eat low-carb packaged cookies, breads, treats and sweets once in a while, go for it. Just don’t make it routine or the pounds will start creeping on. Low-carb pancakes, breads, muffins, and cookies are totally yummy, but make sure you’re aware of how much you’re actually eating and how often.
5. … skipping the fat?
Many people have ingrained in their minds that fat is evil. Some fats may be, but healthy fats like coconut oil and avocado oil are anything but evil. Adding the right quantities of fat to your diet actually helps you lose fat. Try it; you’ll see.
6. … eating too much healthy fat?
Again, quantity is an issue here. I love coconut fats, olives and avocados, animal fats, nuts and nut butters. They feed our bodies deep nutrition. But when I first started eating low-carb, I downed too many coconut chips and nuts, and was way too liberal with my drizzle oils. When I adjusted the quantities, I adjusted my weight.
Here’s a good guideline: A serving size is no more than two teaspoons of fats and oils, daily (including coconut oil, coconut butter and drizzle oils like olive and avocado oils). Or a closed handful of coconut chips, olives or nuts. Count one-half of an avocado as a serving. Full-fat coconut milk is best, and one-third of a can is a serving size.
7. … not measuring your food properly?
You probably don’t need to think about portion control all the time, but you should get used to glancing at your food and making sure you’re not getting three times what your body needs. Figuring out how much food you actually need is a real eye-opener for most people.
In addition to the guidelines for fats that I outlined above, here are some additional rules of thumb. Protein should be the size of the palm of your hand. You can fill the perimeter of your plate with non-starchy veggies. And if you need some starchy or dense carbohydrates, a good serving size is one to two cups, depending on your needs.
8. … falling into an automatic eating habit?
After you start feeling and looking better, you may start to relax a little too much and fall into some of your old patterns. Remember why you started this new lifestyle in the first place and make sure that you’re eating low-carb as a rule, not an exception. When you realize you’re having a gelato or a martini one too many times, be intuitive about it. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and shift back to the plan.
9. … not completely letting go?
Letting go of a lot of foods may be pretty easy, but clutching onto that one food or drink you struggle to let go of may be making it hard for your body to dump the weight. People commonly hold onto drinks and snacks with artificial sugars. These foods and drinks are destructive to your weight loss (and health) efforts. It’s time to let go!
10. … not getting enough sleep?
Sleep deprivation causes you to gain weight, while decent sleep helps you to lose weight. Not sleeping enough causes you and your body systems (including important hormones) to become sluggish and inefficient. When your body slows down, you gain weight.
11. … not organized?
If you don’t get organized with meals and pantry updates and planning ahead with regard to what you’ll eat at holiday parties, birthday bashes, etc., you’re asking for trouble. Have lots of “yes” foods on hand at all times. Remember, a starving body can convince you of almost anything and can even rationalize the benefits of a Twinkie! Avoid setting yourself up for grabbing foods on the run that are surely going to keep you from achieving your healthy weight.
12. … expecting results too quickly?
If you expect results fast or even at a moderate pace, you may be disappointed. For some people, it takes a while for weight to normalize. A low-carb diet is by no means a quick-fix diet. It’s a lifestyle diet that leads to forever results. Trust me on this one. It will happen.
13. … not managing stress?
If you or anyone you know is thin yet still has that “tire” around the waist, chances are it’s a cortisol tire Too much stress means too much cortisol is released, giving you a middle-aged gut no matter how old you are! If your goal is weight loss, make stress management part of your plan.
When you get a handle on all of the above, the magic will happen. Be patient and trust that your body will do what it needs to do.
Two weeks before my wedding I did what many brides have done before me and many will do after: I stopped eating carbohydrates. Now when I say carbs, I really mean grains and starchy foods. Broccoli was okay. Sushi rice? No. Sweet potatoes? Sadly, no. Eliminating breads, starches, and baked goods in addition to cutting out alcohol, processed sugar, and dairy—on the advice of my trainer—quickly whittled my waist, chiseled my arms, and sharpened my jawline.
I decided to ghost all the carbs in my life after my final dress fitting at the Saks Fifth Avenue bridal salon. The lace corset top of my Reem Acra gown hugged my chest, causing my back and arms to spill-out. Concerned I wouldn’t feel confident in photos, I made an emergency call to celebrity trainer and author David Kirsch. He not only works with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Kate Upton (who often grace his Instagram page), but he’s also the Director and Curator of Fitness & Wellness Programming at the Core Club. After training with him three to four times a week and following his diet advice, my body was completely transformed.
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A post shared by laurenlevinson (@laurenlevinson) on Jun 2, 2017 at 2:04pm PDT
It’s been a year since I got married, and my goals today are quite different: Mainly, I don’t want to feel like I’m on a permanent bridal diet. I’m a 5 foot one-and-a-half inches tall, 33-year-old woman with an active Equinox membership who eats a mostly organic, plant-based diet and is educated on macros, Weight Watchers points, and Whole30. Basically, I know what I should be eating and how much of it. I was seeking an eating plan that would not eliminate entire food groups, allow for the occasional Levain cookie, and not make me count anything (calories, points, or steps).
I reached out to Kirsch again last month and asked him: “David, how do I live if I am not willing to consume steamed kale and fish for every meal?” For the record, my goal is not about weight loss, but rather achieving an overall slim feeling. I want to debloat while still eating pasta and drinking wine. Do I have to be deprived to feel svelte? What’s the secret?
I want to debloat while still eating pasta and drinking wine. Do I have to be deprived to feel svelte? What’s the secret?
Kirsch’s answer: it’s as simple as portion control and timing. He put me on a 12-day lifestyle plan: I’d workout five times a week (yoga counts!), add in strength training, and stop eating carbs after 2:30 p.m.. The time 2:30 p.m. was chosen as a guesstimate rather than an exact science. We wanted to give my body a chance to burn off any of the carbs I consumed earlier in the day to help me debloat overnight.
“Eating carbs in the morning and throughout the middle of the day helps you fuel properly for the entire day,” says Kirsch. “Because carbs retain water in your body, you start looking fuller. Cutting your carb intake off at a certain point, such as 2:30, gives your body a chance to absorb and drain all of that excess water. It also gives you time to burn them off throughout the rest of the day.”
THE SCIENCE BEHIND CUTTING CARBS
When I consulted with two doctors about Kirsch’s theory, their support was mixed. Dr. Kurt Waples, a functional medicine doctor, doesn’t buy into 2:30 being a magic hour. “Because carbohydrates can spike blood sugar, we want to make sure we aren’t spiking and crashing during the earlier part of the day when we need to focus and drive,” he explains. He’s part of the camp that believes carbs can make you groggy — a feeling you don’t want before giving a work presentation or getting on a Peloton bike.
On that note, carbohydrates may help us sleep better. “Carbs have been shown to increase serotonin uptake,” Dr. Waples says. “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is most optimal to have increased levels of at night as it promotes healthy sleep.” So eating carbs at night could theoretically help you sleep more soundly.
He goes on to explain the relationship between serotonin and sleep — and what that means for how your jeans fit. “Serotonin function is important for sleep in that serotonin is the direct precursor to melatonin, your sleep hormone,” Dr. Waples notes. “Eating carbs at night can boost serotonin, which will convert into melatonin and help support a healthy night sleep. We know from studies on lack of sleep that one bad night can lead to eating hundreds of calories more the next day, which would lead to increase cortisol, fat gain, and ultimately an unhealthy state.”
Dr. Keith Berkowitz, an MD who specializes in diet and health, has a different view of how carbs impact sleep. “Your energy needs and demands are much lower at night than during the day when you’re more active,” he says. “So if you have a high-carb meal at 8 p.m., the excess calories will be stored. When stored, it can lead to weight gain. Plus, If you are having more carbs and spiking more insulin, it is going to affect sleep negatively.”
We know from studies on lack of sleep that one bad night can lead to eating hundreds of calories more the next day, which would lead to increase cortisol, fat gain, and ultimately an unhealthy state.
The same ideas can be applied to bloating. “Most people have their bowel movement in the morning,” Dr. Berkowitz explains. “As they consume food during the day and evening, it’s more of a challenge. The more you’re trying to push in, the more problematic it’s going to be. That’s why people tend to be more bloated at night.” That said, everyone is different when it comes to how carbs affect their bodies and sleep, so talk to your doctor before you start setting a no-carb timer for the afternoon.
HOW EXERCISE AFFECTS CARBS
What both Dr. Waples and Dr. Berkowitz agree on is to pay attention to the timing of carbs before and after exercise. “We treat athletes in the office who perform better with a jolt of liquid carbs before they workout or compete,” notes Dr. Waples. “Others get slow and bogged down by this and do better with sips of carbs intra workout. Still, there is another group who do better with carbs post-workout to help replenish glycogen stores and to recover.”
Dr. Berkowitz is a fan of eating carbs before you workout—even if it’s at night (but just a little, like a Wasa Cracker). “Carbohydrates are better served pre-workout rather than post-workout,” he notes. “Because your energy needs during the workout are higher, you want to burn that.”
Since I worked out with Kirsch in the mornings at around 8:30 a.m., it made sense that I would consume most of my carbs for breakfast and lunch.
THE DIET DETAILS
Not all carbs are created equal, and what you combine them with absolutely matters. “We really should use foods to support blood sugar balance, proper interaction with cortisol, and healthy serotonin regulation, which is important for sleep,” Dr. Waples explains. “This applies to carbs, which have the ability to spike blood sugar if not combined with protein and fiber.”
For my experiment, I focused on mainly eating gluten-free carbs and whole grains, which are easier to digest than complex carbs. “Foods like steel cut oats, lentils, brown rice and quinoa are best to consume before 2:30 p.m.,” advises Kirsch. “These carbs are better for you than breads or pasta because they are rich in the vitamins and minerals you need to gain lean muscle.”
Kirsch also encouraged me to cut my portions down. For example, I’m crazy about sweet potatoes, which are a staple in any healthy diet and high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. But they’re sugary, coming it at approximately 24-27 grams of carbs per potato. Kirsch encouraged me to bake one sweet potato at the beginning of the week and eat it in fourths. Gone were the days of downing one whole potato in a single sitting like a normal person. On the new plan, lunch consisted of throwing homemade grilled chicken, one fourth of a sweet potato, and tons of veggies together in a salad.
“Depending on your weight and lifestyle, the amount of carbs you should eat can change,” Kirsch notes. “There is no set amount of carbs a person should have throughout the day. If you are a male athlete training for an upcoming game or marathon, your carb intake is going to be different than a young woman who works at a corporate job all day.”
Diets are not one-size-fits-all, but for me, this plan worked to flatten my stomach (see the before and after photos above). While I did not weigh myself, since my goal was to debloat rather than shed pounds, my jeans fit dramatically better and my waist felt more contoured.
“What I’ve noticed with weight loss is the more you move your bigger meals to earlier in the day, the more successful people tend to be,” Dr. Berkowitz says. And for me, that theory proved to be true.
I also was less anxious about eating in general. Knowing I could have a slice of whole wheat margherita pizza for lunch (and I certainly did during the 12 days) kept me from feeling deprived. Nothing was off limits, so I was less likely to get cravings and then overeat. When it came to continuing the plan, I adopted the 80/20 rule. That leaves the chance for me to go to Gramercy Tavern with my husband for a Saturday night dinner and go to town on the cheese-infused homemade bread.
What I’ve noticed with weight loss is the more you move your bigger meals to earlier in the day, the more successful people tend to be.
SAMPLE MEAL PLAN
- Black coffee
- One hard-boiled egg
- One piece of Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Crispbread with natural peanut butter
- Or gluten-free oatmeal with flaxseed, chopped almonds (Kirsch says go for the slivers since you feel like you’re getting more crunch but actually eating less), and blueberries
Strength circuit training with Kirsch (his workout videos can be streamed), a hip-hop dance class, a barre class, or yoga
- Salad with kale, radishes, carrots, pumpkin seeds, grilled chicken, a scoop of quinoa or one fourth of a sweet potato, and dressing (EVOO and balsamic vinegar)
- Two pieces of organic dark chocolate
- Sliced crunchy vegetables, such as cucumber, carrots, and peppers with Abraham’s Flaxseed Hummus
- Handful of raw almonds
- Salmon baked in lemon and olive oil
- Roasted broccoli in garlic and olive oil
- Roasted butternut squash with olive oil and a dollop of Vermont maple syrup
- Two glasses of white wine
Carbs Are Not the Enemy
When you train above roughly 70 percent of your VO2 max (the peak amount of oxygen your body can take in and use in a minute), most of your energy has to come from either stored carbs in your liver and muscles, called glycogen, or carbs floating through your bloodstream in the form of glucose, Pritchett says.
While the fitter you are, the harder you’ll have to work to hit your 70 percent VO2 max, most people will reach theirs when doing any high-intensity total-body or compound workouts like rowing, sprinting, or circuits. If you’re too out of breath to carry on a conversation, you’ve likely crossed this threshold—and your body needs carbs to keep your workout moving.
“Carbs also delay fatigue during a workout, optimize endurance activity by helping us maintain glycogen stores, and are important for decision-making during sports like mountain biking or skill-based activities,” she says.
Where you get your carbs matters
Perhaps even more importantly: Carbs don’t occur in isolation. Carbohydrates are simply a macronutrient, and one that comes packaged in foods alongside lots of other nutrients. “Carbs also contain important nutrients and phytochemicals such as vitamin C, potassium, and calcium that we may not find in other fat- and protein-based sources,” Pritchett says.
Of note: Fiber is a carbohydrate, and one that research overwhelmingly shows we need more of for optimal health, including maintaining a healthy weight. One 2015 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that when people simply increase their fiber intake, they end up losing just as much weight as they do when they go on full-fledged diets. After all, women need roughly 25 grams of fiber per day for good health and men need 38 grams, but most Americans only consume about half that amount, according to the American Dietetic Association. One reason for that is because even though as a society we eat plenty of carbs, most of them aren’t from fiber-rich whole grains or vegetables.
No, more often our carbs are coming from ultra-processed foods. One recent study published in BMJ Open found that foods like frozen pizza and soda make up more than half of all the calories Americans consume in a given day. Previous research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that three out of four people in the US get more than 10 percent of their daily calories from high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sweeteners.
That’s not to discount the wonderfulness of donuts and sugary cereals; including them in your diet in moderation is probably a good way to go. Case in point: In 2014, when University of Toronto researchers examined 59 scientific weight-loss articles, including 48 randomized control trials, they concluded that the best diet is the one people can actually stick to over the long term. And the idea of swearing off one food—or one entire macronutrient—isn’t sustainable. Even if you lose a bunch of weight by drastically cutting carbs, as soon as you increase carbs again (and, therefore, total calories), the weight will come back.
Let’s acknowledge for a minute the fact that we’ve all seen plenty of people lose weight by going low-carb. One common scenario is that processed foods were that person’s main source of carbs, and so by cutting carbs they removed these products from their diet—and lost weight. That’s excellent on all counts! But it doesn’t mean that carbs as a macronutrient were the thing standing between this person and their healthiest body.
“When you think of the foods that contain carbs, most people think of desserts, pizza, white pasta, et cetera,” White says. “I think I can speak for everyone when I say these are the foods people love! With that, I think a lot of people have trouble eating these in moderation, so avoiding them altogether is an ‘easy’ solution that usually lends to pretty significant weight loss.
“I have had countless patients tell me that they avoid bread because it makes them gain weight. Could this really be true or is it that most people lack portion control eating these foods, so the excess calories cause weight gain?”
And it’s not just the carb count that matters—it’s what replaces those carbs in your diet, says Scott D. Solomon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and author of the recent meta-analysis. “In our study, we found that low carbohydrate intake was associated with higher mortality if the carbohydrates were replaced with animal fat and protein but not if the carbohydrates were replaced with vegetable fat and protein. So it’s not just low-carb or high-carb, but what replaces that carb that seems to matter.”
How to use carbs to hit your health and fitness goals
Per Solomon’s study, getting roughly half of your daily calories from carbs is a good way to go, longevity-wise. For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, that works out to roughly 250 grams of carbohydrates daily. (Each gram of carbs contains four calories, and in case you’re wondering, and each gram of protein also contains four, while fat has nine.) To help you visualize that amount, there are 43 grams of carbs in every cup of cooked spaghetti, 40 grams in a cup of black beans, 16 grams in a cup of butternut squash, and 12 grams in one slice of wheat bread.
Meanwhile, evidence-based guidelines for athletes suggest prescribing grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. “This amount can be tailored to the individual athlete’s energy needs, and periodized according to phase and type of training,” Pritchett says. “The recommended range is 3 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day.”
So, for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that would equate to 205 to 818 grams of carbohydrates. (There are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.) That’s a huge range, and it’s important to realize that, for a 150-pound person, intake of any more than 200 or 300 grams of carbs per day is typically reserved for elite and professional athletes, according to Pritchett. After all, your body burns through roughly 40 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise.
What’s more, White recommends spreading this intake evenly throughout the day—paired with both protein and fat—to provide a steady stream of energy and nutrients. “Allow for at least half of your carbs to be spread across three meals, and the rest for pre- and post-workout snacks throughout,” he says. And, of course, try to make the bulk of them come from whole food sources: fruits, veggies, whole grains, you know the deal.
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Can I Really Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight?
Do you still think you need to go low-carb to lose weight? We have some good news….
Are you still doing the low-carb thing? What if we told you that you can have carbs in your diet and still lose weight? In fact, some research shows that people who eat carbs lose more weight from body fat than those who go the low-carb route. How can you make carbs work for you?
The basics of weight loss.
To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. That means you either need to consume fewer calories than you’re burning, or make your calorie output greater than your intake. Or a combination of the two. But you get the idea: the key to tapping into stored energy (fat) and losing weight is creating a calorie deficit.
The bottom line is that calories matter most. Not carbs, or any other macronutrient. Get your calories right, and a healthy body will lose weight.
In fact, carbohydrates are lower in calories (gram for gram) than fats. Carbs have 4 calories per gram (the same as protein), but fats have a whopping 9 calories per gram.
But of course that’s not the complete picture (if it was that easy, there’d be no weight loss industry!) Macronutrient balance matters, too. How much protein, fat, and carbohydrate you have in your diet, when you eat it, and what types of foods you eat will all affect your fat loss.
However, the fundamental fact remains: calories are King, and it doesn’t matter if some of them come from carbohydrates.
How much carbohydrate do you need?
Your body loves carbs. In fact, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred form of fuel. Our muscles run on glucose, but carbohydrates are also important for our hormones and brains.
But that’s no reason to eat nothing but carbs. You need to understand how much carbohydrate your body needs on any given day. The more active you are, the more carbs you will need. This is true for people who train hard, doing high intensity exercise. But it’s also the case for folk who lead active lifestyles, on their feet all day or doing a manual job. Think of carbs as fuel. How much fuel does your body need?
Calculate your body’s carbohydrate intake.
If you want to start eating more carbohydrate and still lose weight, try this simple equation. Stick to these numbers for a few weeks, look at your fat loss (and gym performance), and then reassess.
Protein: 2g per kilogram body weight (160g protein for a 80kg person)
Fats: enough for good health and to suit your food preferences (at least 45g)
Carbs: to make up the rest of your intake
Multiply your protein number by 4 (there are 4 calories per gram of protein) and your fat number by 9.
Subtract this from your fat-loss calorie intake.
The number you are left with is the calories you can allocate to carbohydrates.
Divide this number by 4 – that’s the grams of carbohydrate you could eat and still be in your fat loss caloric deficit.
For an 80kg person whose fat loss diet intake is 2,302, that might look like this:
Protein: 2g x 80kgs body weight = 160g. 160 x 4 = 640 (calories from protein per day)
Fats: 70g (health and personal preference) x 9 = 630 (calories from fats per day)
2,302 (daily intake) – 1270 (calories from protein and fats) = 1032 (calories remaining for carbs)
1032/4 = 258
= 2,302 calories – a deficit = fat loss!
When should you eat your carbs?
Theoretically, you can space your carbohydrate calories out throughout the day and still lose weight. Remember, it’s the overall calorie deficit that matters. But carbs are useful to fuel exercise and boost recovery, so it makes sense to eat carb meals around your most active times. This could be pre and post training. Or breakfast, lunch (if you have an active day), and around training.
Add carbs to your diet and lose weight.
Carbs are tasty, satisfying, and low fat. If you’ve been trying to diet on low carbs, why not give this approach a go? Remember, it’s not carbohydrates themselves that cause weight gain. It’s the amount you eat, which lead to a caloric excess. So if you nail your nutritional numbers, get your macros right, and track your intake (and progress), carbs should be your friend.
About the Author
Nicola Joyce has been writing for (and about) sport, fitness, nutrition and healthy living since 2004. She’s also a keen sportswoman: her background is in endurance sport but she now competes as a natural bodybuilder, most recently winning a world title with the INBF. When she’s not writing content, she can be found blogging. Follow her here www.nicolajoyce.co.uk and on Facebook & Twitter (@thefitwriter) too.
The minute a beach vacation, a high school reunion or a friend’s wedding pops up on the calendar, we immediately wage war on carbohydrates.
Definitely no potatoes.
But is banishing carbs really the best plan of attack to slim down, tone up and feel your best? Not to mention, where do carbs come into play when it comes to our overall health? And why have they become the scapegoat for our muffin top?
“People love to say things like ‘I am on a low-carb diet’ or ‘I’m not eating carbs right now.’ Typically, they’re referring to pasta and bread, but what many don’t know is that dairy, fruit and vegetables have naturally occurring carbohydrates!” says Courtney Ferreira, RD, owner of Real Food Court nutrition consulting. “If you are eating broccoli, you are eating carbs.”
So before you ban every carbohydrate from the menu — know the facts.
Carbohydrates are a actually a macronutrient (along with protein and fat) and they play a very vital role to your overall health, productivity and yes, your weight-loss success.
“It’s really important for people to understand that the body’s preferred source of fuel for most everyday activity is carbohydrate. And your brain and red blood cells rely on carbohydrate almost exclusively for fuel,” says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition. “So following a very low-carbohydrate diet can really shortchange your physical and mental performance; you cut down (or out) so many healthy foods … and that limits your intake of many important vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that are critically important to good health.”
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 45 to 65 percent of the calories we eat come from carbs. Since it makes up such a large chunk of our diet, it’s worth it to school yourself on the myths that are misinforming how you consume this important nutrient.
MYTH: Banning carbs means giving up bread and pasta
Fact: Yes … but it would also mean nixing fruits, vegetables and whole grains
Yes, that plate of steamed veggies you ate for lunch contained carbs.
“Carbohydrates vary widely in terms of their nutrient density, so everything from a green bean, which is a good source of fiber, protein to a slice of white bread, which does not offer much other than carbohydrates, is considered a carbohydrate,” says Pegah Jalali, MS, RD, CDN, an NYC-based pediatric dietitian.
Instead of saying, ‘I can’t eat that,’ ask, what is a source of carbs that will provide me with more nutrition?
She recommends that people move away from the obsession with banning all carbs and focus on the types of food they’re eating. “If you are eating mostly fruits and vegetables, then it is fine if your diet is high in carbohydrates,” says Jalali. “On the flip side, if your diet is high in carbohydrates, but you are eating mostly processed foods like packaged breads, cookies and chips then that is a completely different diet.”
Ferreira advises her clients to think about the different foods that contain carbohydrates on a spectrum. On one side are the foods you can eat in unlimited quantities — nutrient-dense, fiber-rich and whole-food carb sources like green veggies and fruit. Towards the middle are nutrient-dense, but also carbohydrate-dense, foods such as white potatoes, that should be balanced out with those at the ‘eat as much as you can’ end, she says. On the other end of the spectrum are foods like breads and pasta. “While these still have a place in the diet, they require balancing out in order to create a diet that provides nutrients we need,” says Ferreira “I really urge people to start looking at carbs in this new way. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t eat that,’ what is a source of carbs that will provide me with more nutrition?”
Myth: All carbs are created equal
Fact: There are simple and complex carbohydrates
“The main reason is that when people think ‘carbs’ they think ‘starch’, like white rice, pasta, potatoes or white bread,” says Bowerman. “While many refined carbs don’t offer up much nutritionally, there are lots of ‘good carbs’ — healthy foods that provide carbohydrates your body absolutely needs every day to function properly.”
In actuality there are three types of carbohydrates: fiber, sugar and starch. Where things get confusing is when we look at specific foods, which can contain different types of carbohydrates. They can either be labeled simple or complex based on their chemical makeup. Complex carbs “contain a complex chain of sugars as well as some fiber, protein and/or healthy fats, vitamins and minerals,” says Rebecca Lewis, registered dietitian at HelloFresh. “The presence of fiber, protein and fats is important because it slows digestion, prevents a spike in our blood-sugar levels, and helps us to feel full and satisfied for longer (i.e. curbs cravings).”
That’s why carbohydrate-containing foods like starchy vegetables, legumes and whole grains are included in many healthy diet plans.
Follow the 10:1 rule: Choose foods where for every 10 grams of carbs, there is 1 gram of fiber.
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The simple carbs, often found in processed foods and drinks, are easier for the body to break down, meaning they don’t keep you full as long and can lead to erratic blood sugar levels.
That’s not to say that simple carbs are always bad for us.
“Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, veggies and dairy — all of which are healthy choices as they also contain good stuff like vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Lewis. “However, simple carbs are also found in less healthy foods like refined grains, processed snacks, sweets, soda and juice, which lack extra nutrients. These foods are very quickly digested, which can cause swings in our blood sugar levels and often leave us hungry for more.”
The trick is to look for foods that have a more robust nutritional profile. That apple may have simple carbs, but it also contains a hefty dose of fiber to slow down the digestion of the sugars.
Supplementing pasta with fiber-rich veggies helps slow the breakdown of sugars in the body.Westend61 / Getty Images
Myth: Carbs are fattening
Fact: It’s not the carbs making you fat, it’s the sugar and calories
“Anything is fattening if you eat too much of it, and not all carbohydrate-containing foods have the same calorie density,” says Bowerman. “This myth persists because many people who eat a lot of refined carbs and sugar do lose weight when they cut back on these foods. But it isn’t because they’ve cut out all of the carbs, it’s because they have cut out a lot of the calorie-dense foods.”
Research actually shows that while low-carb eaters tend to lose more weight at first, after one year, that weight loss levels out and is no different than those who eat a low-fat (moderate carb) diet.
That being said, when it comes to carbohydrate-containing foods and weight gain, sugar and excess calories tend to be the culprit.
“Really the secret behind carbohydrates is to identify and limit the amount of added sugar in your carbohydrate sources; highlight whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains; and pay attention to portion sizing carbohydrates along with your protein and fat sources,” says Amanda Markie, MS, RDN, LD, Outpatient Dietitian at UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center. “Sugar can be found naturally in foods like fruits and milk products, as well as being more concentrated into your processed foods like sodas, candy or baked goods,” explains Markie.
Research shows that while low-carb eaters tend to lose more weight at first, after one year, that weight loss levels out and is no different than those who eat a moderate carb diet.
So you want to ensure that you’re choosing sources of carbohydrates that have this naturally-occurring sugar.
“Also look for higher dietary fiber with a lower amount of added sugar, which you can identify if it is one of the first ingredients on the ingredients list,” says Markie. “Limit those foods that have sugar within the first two to three ingredients.”
And just because you’re choosing the higher-fiber, low-sugar options doesn’t mean you can eat them in unlimited qualities: portions matter.
“Four cups of quinoa will make anyone gain weight. The quantity is the key strategy,” said Monica Auslander, MS, RDN, the founder of Essence Nutrition. “For example, I’ll eat steel cut oatmeal, but only 1/3 cup a day. I’ll eat beans, but only 1/2 cup at a time. I’m a petite person and not an athlete, so I can’t afford to have three slices of Ezekiel bread for breakfast, a sweet potato at lunch, and three cups of quinoa at dinner.”
Myth: Carbohydrates spike your blood sugar
Fact: The right carbs stabilize blood-sugar levels for sustained energy
A 2014 study published in the Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate a high-carbohydrate, high-fiber, vegan diet (they got 80 percent of their calories from carbs) actually saw a drop in average blood sugar, plus lost weight and had significant improvements in blood pressure.
Plus, that glucose that our bodies gleans from digestible carb is needed for the functioning of multiple organs, including the brain. So that sugar in the blood stream isn’t just okay — it’s necessary. The problem is when they are released all at once in high doses.
“One thing that we must all remember is that carbohydrates are essential to fuel your brain, boost our energy and maintain our metabolism. The key is to eat the right kinds of food that contain carbohydrates,” says Meghan Daw, RD, LDN, from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. “These foods contain carbohydrates that are more complex, meaning they contain fiber and other nutrients that take time to digest and allow a slow release of sugar into the body. This slow release does increase blood sugar levels over time but not all at once, preventing some unwanted blood sugar level spikes and symptoms that come along with those spikes.”
MYTH: You can determine whats carbs are healthy by using the Glycemic Index
Fact: Not always … you also need to use common sense.
The Glycemic Index is a system that rank foods based on how much a certain portion increases blood sugar when compared to pure glucose.
“One major setback is that this index measures the body’s response when the carbohydrate is eaten without other foods, but how often are we eating a carbohydrate at a meal on its own?” says Markie.
You may have a baked potato for dinner, but there’s a good chance it’s accompanied by a piece of salmon and some veggies. “Having these foods together can change the speed of digestion and your body’s response,” says Markie.
The Glycemic Index can be a guide in determining which foods are the better choices, she adds. Those lower on the scale may be higher in fiber, which slows digestion. But you need to use common sense to make the final judgement.
“There are other cases in which the Glycemic Index does not direct the consumer toward the most healthful choice,” says Markie. “For example, a soda has a Glycemic Index of 63, while raisins have a Glycemic Index of 64, however that does not mean raisins and soda have the same nutritional value.”
It’s a tool you can use, but it should be one tool out of many, as it doesn’t take into account the other nutritional values of the food, she adds.
Myth: You should look for net carbs on the nutrition label
Fact: The source of those carbs matter
At the end of the day, all carbs are not created equal. So blindly counting net carbs isn’t the best way to establish a healthy diet. But food labels in their current state can be tricky to decode.
“Reading labels will provide you with the quantity of carbohydrate that is in the food, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you about the quality,” says Bowerman. “For example, I have patients who don’t drink milk because of the carbohydrate content, but the carbohydrate in milk is not added, it’s simply the natural sugar (lactose). But it’s hard to tell from a label which carbs are natural and which are added, and unless you read the ingredients list as well, you won’t know the source of the carbohydrate.”
For most packaged items, a high fiber count can be a good sign that a food is a healthy choice. Lewis recommends following the “10:1 rule: Choose foods where for every 10 grams of carbs, there is 1 gram of fiber.”
However, Bowerman caveats that manufacturers can also add fiber to products afterwards, so you should check the ingredients list for a whole food source to ensure the fiber is naturally occurring.
Luckily, deciphering the label is about to get a bit easier. The new food label to be implemented in July 2018 will specifically call out how much of the total sugar in a food is added, making it easier to distinguish between the unhealthy sugars you’ll find in many processed foods and the natural-occurring sugar in whole foods like fruit and milk.
Until then, you can’t go wrong by choosing whole-food sources of carbohydrates that only have one ingredient — themselves!
How to lose weight with a low-carb diet
2. Common low-carb weight loss mistakes
Despite the best of intentions, both newbies and experienced low-carbers sometimes do things that can slow down weight loss. Here are a few common low-carb bloopers:
- Fear of fat: Many people find it hard to give themselves permission to eat fat when they begin a low-carb diet. This is perfectly understandable, since we’ve all heard that fat is bad for our health and that eating fat will make us fat. However, the fat found in natural, unprocessed foods isn’t unhealthy. Just because they’re tasty, doesn’t mean butter and other whole-food sources of saturated fat are not good for you.6 To succeed on a very-low-carb diet, you should lose your fear of fat. There’s no need to add heaps of butter or pour oil on your food, but do include a tablespoon or more during or after cooking. Here’s our list of the top 10 ways to eat more fat.
- Eating too many nuts: Yes, they’re healthy, delicious, and low in carbs, but nuts are also one of the easiest foods to overconsume. Your mind wanders for one second and a whole bowl of macadamia nuts disappears! According to a large review of several trials, overweight people seem to take in more calories overall when they eat nuts.7
- Eating too often or too much: Although low-carb meals can provide a feeling of fullness for several hours, many of us have a habit of snacking frequently. But the advice to eat mini-meals throughout the day may not produce good weight loss results. In fact, eating only two or three times a day — which is often easy to do on low-carb — may be your best bet.8 Also important: Eat only when you are hungry and stop as soon as you begin feeling full.
- Indulging in low-carb treats: Sugar-free ice cream, keto candy, and low-carb baked goods can be very tempting, but — like their high-carb counterparts — they can get in the way of weight loss. The worst offenders are packaged “low-carb” or “keto” bars that often contain sugar alcohols and other additives that may end up impeding your progress.9 Still, even homemade low-carb treats should be minimized because they’re easy to overconsume and may lead to carb cravings.10
- Consuming too many keto-friendly drinks: Although plain old water is the only beverage your body needs, coffee (including Bulletproof coffee), tea, and certain alcoholic beverages can also be enjoyed on a low-carb diet. But keep in mind that drinking too much alcohol or Bulletproof coffee can definitely slow down weight loss.11 To get the best results, limit yourself to just one glass or cup per day.
3. Frequently asked questions
Question: Is low carb safe?
Answer: Yes, low carb is generally a safe and healthy way of eating. Here is an article that addresses the most common concerns people have about low-carb diets: Top 17 low-carb and keto controversies
Question: How fast will I lose weight on a low-carb diet?
Answer: Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how quickly you’ll lose weight on low carb, because it varies a lot from person to person. Some people lose 10 pounds or more the first month, while others — who may be trying just as hard — lose about half that much within the same period of time.12 Generally speaking, the more extra weight you are carrying, the more you will lose at the beginning.13 However, weight loss tends to slow down for everyone after the first few weeks, because part of the initial weight loss is water rather than fat. That’s okay, because it’s no fun to carry around several extra pounds of water weight either! Also, research has shown that weight loss tends to slow down when carb intake is gradually increased during a study, even if people are technically still eating low carb (around 100 grams per day).14
Question: What is the “keto flu,” and how can I prevent it?
Answer: The keto flu or low-carb flu occurs when transitioning from a higher-carb diet to a very-low-carb diet. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. You can prevent or greatly reduce symptoms of the keto flu by following the simple advice in our guide: The keto flu, other keto side effects, and how to cure them
Question: Will I be able to eat more carbs after I lose weight?
Answer: Perhaps, although you’ll probably need to keep your carb intake well below where it was before you started low carb.15 Many people find that they get the best results by eating about 20 grams of net carbs per day and can maintain their weight loss eating twice that much or more, but some prefer to remain close to 20 grams or so most of the time.16 This is something you can experiment with once you’re in maintenance. Net carbs are the portion of carbs that are digested and absorbed by your body. Learn more about net carbs
The science is clear and so is the way forward: low carb can be a safe and effective way to lose weight. And, here at Diet Doctor, you’ll have plenty of company along the way.
Although not everyone experiences major or rapid weight loss on low-carb, this way of eating will allow you to lose weight at your own pace, while enjoying delicious food with no need to go hungry.
At Diet Doctor, we want to support your weight loss journey in any way we can. We’ve created hundreds of low-carb recipes, meal plans, guides, and other tools to help you along the way and available whenever you need them.
Here’s to losing weight on low carb in a healthy, sustainable way!
/ Franziska Spritzler, RD
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Why low carb can help you lose weight
By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, medical review by Dr. Bret Scher, MD – Updated January 19, 2020 Evidence based Are you counting calories, avoiding fatty foods, and exercising every day, but your scale is so stuck on the same number, you’re sure it must be broken? If you’ve been doing everything “right,” maybe it’s your diet — and not your scale — that needs a fix. Fortunately, there’s a way to lose weight that’s effective, sustainable, healthy and even enjoyable: low carb.
Here at Diet Doctor, one of our goals is to offer you guidance about confusing issues about health and nutrition. We strive to make this guidance trustworthy by backing it with evidence — and by explaining that evidence in ways that are easy to understand. Read on to learn why following a low-carb lifestyle can help you lose weight.
If you are looking for a more in depth guided program, check out our 10-week Weight Loss For Good program.
1. What is a low-carb/keto diet?
Carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients found in food. Unlike protein and fat, which have other functions, their only role is providing energy for your body.
Low-carb diets — true to their name — contain very few carbohydrates (affectionately known as carbs), which are mostly found in sugary and starchy foods. These diets also provide adequate protein and more fat than a low-fat diet.
You’d have to be hiding from the internet altogether not to have heard about “keto diets,” but that term is really meant for only the strictest form of a low-carb diet. LCHF (low-carb, high-fat) is another name for these diets. Hearing about other people and celebrities losing weight on low-carb diets might make them sound like they’re just the latest fad, but there’s a lot more to these diets than that.
2. Calories vs. carbs: what should I be counting?
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body requires. True or false?
This statement is, in fact, true. Please don’t shoot the messenger, though. Just because calories count, doesn’t mean you have to count them! As we’ll discuss, the way your body regulates its weight isn’t as simple as adding and subtracting calories.
Calories are units of energy that allow your body to move, breathe, and play games on your smartphone. If you consume more calories than you burn, the excess energy will be stored as body fat. When you take in fewer calories than needed, your body will release some of its body fat stores to be used as energy. That’s the whole point of dieting, right?
Yet trying to create a calorie deficit by intentionally restricting how much you eat often fails to achieve lasting weight loss. For one thing, it’s often very hard to do long term.1 In fact, it may even contribute to weight gain over time, defeating the purpose of counting calories in the first place.2 It’s increasingly clear there are many different things that influence how much we eat and whether the calories we consume are burned or stored. And one of those things is dietary carbs.
The not-so-secret trick is that reducing carb intake can trigger several changes in your body that may help it to burn more energy than it stores.
3. Eat less without counting calories? How does that work?
Rather than turning every meal into a math equation, carb restriction can help you automatically eat less without counting calories, in or out. Here’s why:
Low-carb diets have a long and well-deserved reputation for decreasing appetite. Back in the 1950’s, physician A.W. Pennington demonstrated that keeping carb intake very low allowed overweight people to lose weight without going hungry or deliberating restricting calories.3
There are a number of reasons people might be less hungry on a low-carb diet. Lack of hunger when eating low-carb has been linked to ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body runs mainly on fat — at least some of which is body fat — and fat-like compounds called ketones. Studies clearly show that these diets reduce hunger.4
Although researchers are still learning why low-carb diets reduce hunger, it seems to be connected to an increase in “fullness” hormones like CCK and a decrease in “hunger” hormones like ghrelin.5
Also, a low-carb diet consists mostly of foods that make you feel full without spiking your blood sugar — I’m looking at you, protein, fat, and fiber-filled veggies. Plus, carbs are often a one-way ticket to a blood sugar roller coaster ride that can actually increase hunger.6
For example, in a small study, 10 obese adults with type 2 diabetes who followed a non-calorie-restricted, very-low-carb diet ended up reducing their usual intake by 1,000 calories, on average — even though they were allowed all the fat and protein foods they wanted.7
Fewer “empty” calories
Unlike essential fatty acids in fat and essential amino acids in protein, there are no “essential” components in carbs. Carbs are the decorative throw pillows of food: fun to have, but unnecessary for health.
Although they provide energy, the nutritional profiles of grains and many other foods high in carbs aren’t really that impressive. But when you don’t get enough essential nutrition, especially protein, your body may keep you reaching for more food in an attempt to satisfy those needs.
By contrast, when you eat mainly fish, eggs, cheese, and other high-quality foods, you can end up meeting those essential nutrient needs more easily. Your body might then feel satisfied with fewer calories, and less likely to send you snooping around for snacks every 30 minutes.
Reduced food reward
For many people, eating sweets and other refined carbs in processed foods can light up reward centers in the brain like a pinball machine. This can lead to cravings and can make it hard to eat “just one” of anything sugary or starchy.8
But just because a real-foods, low-carb diet may reduce “food reward” cravings doesn’t mean a low-carb diet doesn’t include food that is rewarding in other ways! A low-carb diet includes many tasty, satisfying foods while discouraging those known to overactivate this food reward system.
Also, eating nourishing low-carb meals may help you feel pleasantly full and ready to move on when you’re done, rather than wanting “just one more bite” (and maybe a nap afterwards).
4. Burning more calories without extra exercise
Although controversial and not yet accepted as settled science by all experts, there’s high-quality research suggesting that low-carb diets can help you burn more calories. This might help you maintain lost weight.
After losing weight, many people experience a decrease in their metabolic rate.9 It seems completely unfair, but our bodies may not be designed to lose weight. Instead, they may decide we are in the middle of a great famine (despite passing 24-hour fast food joints every few miles!) and therefore start to slow down our metabolic rate, so we can use less fuel until the famine is over. The end result is that we have to eat even fewer calories if we want to maintain our weight loss. See what I mean? It’s completely unfair!
But don’t despair. There’s some interesting research suggesting that this metabolic slow-down can be minimized with low-carb nutrition.
In a 2012 study, 21 adults who’d lost weight on a calorie-restricted diet were shown to burn more calories during weight maintenance when they followed a low-carb diet compared to a low-fat diet — an average of around 300 calories per day more, in fact.10 This finding has been referred to as low-carb’s “metabolic advantage.”
According to Professor David Ludwig, one of the Harvard professors who conducted the study, this advantage “would equal the number of calories typically burned in an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity.”11
More recently, a similar but much larger study in 164 people appeared to confirm this effect, with participants who’d previously lost weight burning anywhere from 200 to nearly 500 more calories per day on a low-carb maintenance diet compared to a high-carb or moderate-carb maintenance diet.12
You may want to exercise for other reasons. But on low carb you hopefully don’t have to spend an extra hour on the treadmill just to avoid regaining the weight you’ve lost.
Insulin is a major player
Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, has several important functions, including moving glucose (sugar) out of your blood and into your cells and helping you build and maintain muscle.
When levels are elevated, insulin also directs your body to store any excess calories as fat. Again, this is helpful if there’s a famine right around the corner, but not so helpful when instead it’s a 24-hour Taco Bell.
Eating a low-carb diet is a powerful way to reduce your insulin levels in addition to your total calorie intake.13 This combination allows your body to more easily use stored body fat for energy, which means: fat loss. During maintenance, though, it means you can usually increase your calorie levels somewhat without regaining weight. At that point, your body will burn dietary fat instead of body fat.14
Insulin and appetite
You may have heard that insulin suppresses appetite, which is true at least as a short-term effect.
Then maybe you’re wondering why lowering your levels of insulin won’t make you even hungrier. Good question. The difference is between the insulin that circulates in your body and the insulin that circulates in your brain. Your appetite is, in part, regulated by insulin levels in your brain; higher levels of brain insulin equal appetite suppression.
- Diabetes 2012: Postprandial administration of intranasal insulin intensifies satiety and reduces intake of palatable snacks in women
- Diabetes 2011: Intranasal insulin enhances postprandial thermogenesis and lowers postprandial serum insulin levels in healthy men
Here’s the tricky part: when insulin levels in your body remain high frequently, this may cause insulin levels in your brain to become less responsive. This means high circulating insulin in your body not only leads to fat storage, but it may inhibit appetite control.
By contrast, a low-carb diet can consistently keep insulin levels in your body low. This may allow insulin levels in your brain to remain responsive to meals, creating the kind of win-win situation that lets you lose weight — and maintain weight loss — without hunger.
- Nature Reviews Neurology 2018: Brain insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer disease: concepts and conundrums
- Acta Diabetologia 2014: Evidence for altered transport of insulin across the blood-brain barrier in insulin-resistant humans
5. Show me the science
Although low-carb diets are still sometimes characterized as a “fad,” they’ve been studied as a tool for weight loss for decades.
The most recent studies show a low-carb approach to be at least as effective as — and often clearly superior to — low-fat and calorie-restricted diets for losing weight. What’s more, they nearly always lead to lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and other health improvements, regardless of what happens weight-wise.
Get ready, because here comes the serious science stuff. While it may not be that exciting, it is important to see what the evidence says, so stay with us!
Results of systematic reviews of RCTs
Experts consider randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to be the highest-quality research and the “gold standard” for evidence. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of these RCTs are graded as the strongest, most rigorous evidence.
Researchers set a high standard — such as focusing only on long-term studies — and exclude any studies that don’t meet it, such as studies lasting less than 12 weeks. Then they analyze results from studies all sharing these same high standards.
Within the past five years, several systematic reviews of RCTs comparing low-carb diets to low-fat diets have concluded that low carb results in greater weight loss overall:
- The British Journal of Nutrition 2016: Effects of low-carbohydrate diets v. low-fat diets on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials Learn more
- PloS One 2015: Dietary intervention for overweight and obese adults: comparison of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. A meta-analysis Learn more
- The British Journal of Nutrition 2013: Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
The last review was limited to RCTs lasting at least 12 months, in order to determine whether very-low-carb diets or low-fat diets were more effective for weight loss long term. Again, low-carb was the winner.
In some trials, weight loss outcomes for low-carb or low-fat diets may differ very little, while changes in body composition are more pronounced — especially when very-low-carb diets are analyzed separately from diets with more modest carb restriction. For instance, one systematic review of 15 RCTs concluded that people who consume diets containing less than 50 grams of carbs per day seem to achieve greater fat loss than those who eat low-fat or low-carb diets containing more than 50 grams of carbs per day.15
This is a good reminder that the scale doesn’t tell the whole story! We can learn much more by following body composition.
About individual studies
Although experts think systematic reviews of RCTs are the strongest level of evidence, these reviews can’t provide details about what happened in each study. Also, the outcomes may not look as impressive when averaged among many different studies.
If we take a look at some individual low-carb weight loss studies, we can learn a little more about the diets people followed and the results they achieved.
New England Journal of Medicine 2008: Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet
In a two-year trial, 322 overweight adults were randomly assigned to follow a Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet, or a low-carb diet. Those in the low-carb group consumed 20 grams of carbs per day for the first two months, which was gradually increased to as much as 120 grams of carbs, depending on each person’s weight loss and maintenance goals. Among those who completed the study, the low-carb group lost the most weight. And here is the kicker. They ate as much low-carb food as they wanted. No restrictions! This was compared to the other groups, who had to purposely restrict their calories.16
Annals of Internal Medicine 2014: Effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets: a randomized trial
In this study, 148 overweight men and women were randomly assigned to consume a low-carb diet (less than 40 grams per day) or a low-fat diet (less than 30% of daily calories per day) for one year. Neither group was asked to restrict calories. In addition to losing 7.7 lbs (3.5 kg) more than the low-fat group, the low-carb group also had greater improvements in several heart disease risk factors.17
Journal of the American Medical Association 2007: Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women. The A to Z weight loss study: a randomized trial
One of the most well-known weight-loss trials involved randomly assigning overweight women to follow either a low-carb (Atkins), moderate-carb (Zone), low-fat (Ornish), or low-calorie, portion-controlled (LEARN) diet for one year. The Zone and LEARN diets had specific calorie restriction goals; the Atkins and Ornish diets did not. The low-carb group was instructed to eat 20 grams per day initially and gradually increase their carb intake to 50 grams or less per day.
By the end of the study, the women in the low-carb group had lost twice as much weight (an average of 10.3 lbs or 4.7 kg) as those in the Ornish and LEARN groups and nearly three times as much as those in the Zone group.18
All of the results mentioned above are based on group averages, so your own mileage may vary. But in general, it is safe to say that low-carb diets outperform low-fat, calorie-restricted diets for most people.
Evidence from non-randomized, non-controlled trials isn’t as strong as RCT evidence, but these studies can provide helpful “real world” information about following a certain way of eating. For instance, sometimes these studies allow participants to select between two types of diets. If you’re allowed to choose your own diet, you’ll probably be more likely to stick with it, enjoy it, and achieve better results.19
Frontiers in Endocrinology 2019: Long-term effects of a novel continuous remote care intervention including nutritional ketosis for the management of type 2 diabetes: a 2-year non-randomized clinical trial
Adults enrolled in an ongoing study at Virta Health were given the choice to follow a very-low-carb diet that included frequent nutrition coaching or to receive standard diabetes care. After two years, those who selected the low-carb intervention and remained in the study had lost an average of 26 pounds (11.9 kg). Three-quarters of the group had reduced their body weight by 5% or more, in addition to improving their blood sugar control.20
The results above are all impressive in their own right. But here are some other dramatic weight loss outcomes, although they did not have a self-select option or a control group.
Journal of Medicinal Food 2011: A pilot study of the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet: an effective therapy for the metabolic syndrome
In 2011, researchers studied the effects of a 12-week ketogenic diet in 22 people with metabolic syndrome. The diet provided less than 30 grams of carbs per day in the form of nonstarchy vegetables. By the end of the study, participants had lost an average of 32 pounds (14.5 kg). That’s impressive, but what is even more important is that all of them no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome due to significant improvements in waist circumference, blood pressure, lipids, and fasting blood sugar.21
Experimental & Clinical Cardiology 2004: Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients
In a slightly older, larger study, 83 obese adults followed a ketogenic diet restricted to less than 30 grams of carbs per day. After 24 weeks on the diet, participants had lost 31.5 pounds (14.3 kg), on average. They also achieved a number of health improvements, including lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood sugar, and higher HDL cholesterol.22
Compliance and intention-to-treat studies
Ideally, all participants follow their assigned diet until the end of the study. However, this rarely, if ever, happens. Noncompliance in diet studies is very common, as is dropping out altogether.23 Traditionally, researchers report results for those who follow the diet they’re instructed to eat and complete the trial. However, this practice can set up overly optimistic expectations for outcomes in real life, where many people find it difficult to stick to a diet.
In order to address this issue, researchers often conduct intention-to-treat (ITT) analyses of RCTs in which they report data for everyone, including those who didn’t follow the diet they were assigned to, dropped out of the study, or otherwise didn’t follow the study protocols.
However, ITT analysis can end up underestimating weight loss and other benefits that occur in people who do follow the dietary advice they’ve been given. In fairness, this applies to both low-carb and low-fat studies — and compliance is roughly equal for both diets.24
We know dietary preferences vary a lot among different people. If a certain diet isn’t a good fit for someone – if it feels hard to stick to or if weight loss is very slow – it’s likely that the person won’t end up following the diet.
Fortunately, low-carb diets are a good fit for many — and this may very well include you.
Let’s briefly review the features and benefits of low-carb diets for weight loss:
- Delicious, nourishing foods that help you feel full and satisfied while eating less
- Weight loss at your own pace without consciously restricting calories
- Freedom from the “food reward” cycle triggered by high-carb foods
- Potential long-term health benefits
Why not try a low-carb diet on for size? To learn all about how to lose weight on a healthy low-carb diet, read our complete guide.
/ Franziska Spritzler, RD
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21 Unexpected Ways To Eat Fewer Carbs Without Even Noticing
BRETT STEVENS / Getty Images
Healthy carbs are an essential part of a balanced diet. While fiber-rich, unprocessed foods like quinoa and sweet potatoes are much better choices than refined carbohydrates (think: white bread and white rice), it is possible to overdo it with even nutritious grains and starches. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or focus on eating more veggies and proteins, too many carbs can hinder your efforts.
Of course, let’s be clear–even healthy, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and even some dairy products have carbs, and that’s not a bad thing. They provide your body with energy, and when you’re getting them from nutritious foods, you’re stocking up on vitamins and minerals, too. So you shouldn’t focus on eliminating carbs from your diet, but you can have too much of a good thing (especially when you’re getting them from sources that won’t fill you up or provide nutrients).
But this doesn’t mean you’ve got to ditch all of your favorite foods. “A lot of times when people are cutting back on carbs, that is a big concern—they don’t want to feel deprived,” explains Jenny Beth Kroplin, R.D., L.D.N., C.L.C. By swapping bread, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates with high-fiber veggies and satiating protein, you can make even carb-heavy meals into leaner, more filling choices.
Here are 21 ways you can cut back on carbs without sacrificing, well, anything:
1. Cut back on oatmeal portions by adding savory veggies.
Who says your A.M. oats have to be sweet? “I almost exclusively eat savory oatmeal,” says Jackie Newgent, R.D., culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. “It’s loaded with vegetables, half the oats. I use whatever’s in season—a couple of days ago I made an asparagus-dill oatmeal. Use water or vegetable broth instead of milk, and then instead of adding fruit, add vegetables. It’s like a risotto, but it’s much easier to cook! You cut the vegetables up so you can add it to the water when you add the oats, which take about five minutes to cook.”
If you’re looking for a savory option, try this recipe below.
Savory Kale And Crimini Oatmeal With Fried Egg from Jackie Newgent
Jackie Newgent / via jackienewgent.com
2. When it comes to a delicious bagel, focus on eating the proper serving size.
Bagels tend to blow away normal serving sizes, says Michelle Dudash, R.D., Cordon Bleu-certified chef and creator of Clean Eating Cooking School: Monthly Meal Plans Made Simple. “Have half a bagel, or ‘carve’ it—pull out the center if you like the crust. Cottage cheese is a good topping for bagels, or unsweetened nut butter like peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, or walnut butter. Put your own fresh fruit on top instead of jelly—it’s lower in carbs,” she says.
3. Make yellow squash hash browns.
“Instead of potatoes, you can use yellow summer squash and add whatever you would normally add to hash browns,” says Newgent. “I might add green pepper and onion. It looks just like a hash brown, but you have a fewer carbs .”
4. Try two-ingredient flour-free pancakes.
Bring on the pancake brunch. “I’ve made two-ingredient pancakes with one medium banana, two eggs, and I usually add a pinch of salt,” says Newgent. Even though bananas have carbs, “It’s going to be fewer . I like to do a chocolate version, too, where I add a little cocoa powder. I drizzle them with honey at the end.” Yum!
You can also try this recipe below that adds a cherry and yogurt topping to the morning meal.
Two-Ingredient Banana And Egg Pancakes from Hurry The Food Up
Kat Gröber, Dave Bell, and Howie Fox / via hurrythefoodup.com
5. Switch up your sandwich bread…
Instead of regular bread, opt for what many brands call sandwich thins. “Whole-wheat or whole-grain sandwich thins are great because you get a top and a bottom, and they’re low in calories and carbohydrates compared to a regular white bun,” says Kroplin. Adds Dudash, “It’s doing the portion control for you, and they’re only about 100 calories.”
6. …Or eat your sandwich open-faced.
This may be the oldest trick in the carb-cutting book, but now, it’s actually kind of cool. “Sometimes instead of a regular sandwich, an open-faced sandwich is actually trendier, like a toast or a tartine,” says Newgent. It’s also extra pretty—hello avocado toast Instagrams! You can try one of this blog’s creative avocado toast upgrades—get the recipe here.
Fancy Avocado Toast from Hip Foodie Mom
Alice Choi / via hipfoodiemom.com
7. Portobello mushroom caps can stand in as burger buns.
“What I’ve done instead of hamburger buns is grilled portobello mushroom caps,” says Newgent. While some people use portobellos in place of patties, you can enjoy your actual meat, too, with this swap. “It looks and acts like a bun, although you probably want to use a fork and knife,” she suggests.
8. Order the burrito bowl instead of the full burrito.
“At a Mexican restaurant, I recommend getting the bowl instead of the burrito, because you’re getting the same flavors, but if you’re getting beans, rice, and a tortilla, you’re getting carbs on carbs on carbs,” says Dudash. Another option? Skip the rice and opt for lettuce instead for a flavorful salad. And you can try this recipe below, too.
DIY Vegan Burrito Bowl from Oh She Glows
Angela Liddon / via ohsheglows.com
9. DIY your salad dressing.
Speaking of salad, packaged dressings are notoriously sneaky about sugar content (sugar is a carb). To avoid this, make your own vinaigrette for your lunch salad. “My favorite thing to do is mix balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar with Dijon mustard, maybe a little bit of honey or agave, and then a drizzle of olive oil,” says Dudash. “That’s my formula for most salad dressings.”
10. Use veggies as dippers instead of chips.
Instead of using chips or pita for your favorite dip, swap them out and use veggies instead. Next time you go for hummus, guacamole, or salsa, “you can use romaine hearts, celery, sliced cucumbers, or bell pepper strips—cut them really wide so they’re like planks,” says Dudash. Making homemade hummus lets you get creative with the flavor, like this miso version below.
Miso Hummus With Veggies from A Spicy Perspective
Sommer Collier / via aspicyperspective.com
11. Swap regular popcorn for cauliflower popcorn.
Popcorn can be a good choice when it’s air-popped and not loaded with butter, salt, and oil, but if you’re trying to cut carbs, this switch will give your that same crunchy satisfaction. “I’ve made cauliflower popcorn,” says Newgent. “You cut cauliflower into small bite-sized pieces and just roast it until it’s crispy, and you can use that in place of popcorn. Top it with olive oil, salt, and a little pinch of turmeric, because that’ll make it a little yellow. It has some richness because of the olive oil–it’s an adult version of popcorn. I roast it at 475 degrees for up to 20 minutes, until it’s golden brown.”
12. Bulk up your pasta by tossing it with veggies.
“Cut back on the pasta portion and cooked vegetables,” says Kroplin. “Also toss in your lean protein, like chicken, turkey, or lean ground beef along with your roasted vegetables. That’s a really good way to bulk up the portion without bulking up the carbs.” And top with your favorite sauce (Kroplin likes a tomato and basil or garden vegetable red sauce.) Newgent adds, “I’ll slice bell peppers really thin and toss them in the water at the same time as the pasta, so you’re basically boiling them and it becomes part of the process. It tastes a little bit sweeter but then you can kind of balance it with a little extra spiciness, like red pepper flakes.”
13. You can ditch the noodles altogether with spiralized vegetables…
Spiralized vegetables can be used in almost any pasta dish as a substitute for noodles. “I do pretty much what I would do with my spaghetti noodles—I just add my vegetables and marinara sauce on top, and some lean ground beef.” Try one of these creative spiralized recipes—zucchini, beets, sweet potatoes, and turnips all work well.
14. …Or use spaghetti squash as a stand-in for pasta.
Spaghetti squash is an easy swap for pasta, but it can be intimidating to try and cut through. Kroplin has an easy, no-fuss hack for roasting the veggie: “I wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil, set it on a pan with more aluminum foil, and pop it in the oven at about 400 to 415 degrees. Sometimes it takes 45 minutes to an hour to really cook, but you can kind of forget about it.” When you can pierce the skin with a fork, it’s cooked through—and way easier to slice in half. “Start scooping it out with your spoon and top it with tomato sauce, and you’ve got a great meal,” says Kroplin. If you’re looking for a recipe, this zesty pesto is the perfect topping for the hearty, flavorful base.
Spaghetti Squash Pasta With Basil Pesto from Minimalist Baker
Dana and John Shultz / via minimalistbaker.com
15. You can make low-carb lasagna with zucchini or eggplant.
“You can prep really long strips of zucchini or eggplant and use them in lasagna, so for each layer you can do a layer of thinly sliced vegetables,” says Newgent. “You could do two layers of noodles and then two layers of vegetables, so it’s not an all-or-nothing concept.”
16. Mix tons of grated veggies into your rice or couscous.
Newgent calls this colorful swap ‘confetti couscous.’ “Mix grated, non-starchy vegetables in with a traditional starchier grain, like rice or couscous, so you reduce the carbs but you still have that grain. With couscous, add the grated vegetables right when you stir the couscous into the water because it doesn’t take long to cook (about five minutes). With rice, stir them in towards the end of the cooking process, about five minutes before you’re done, or stir them in when you’re finished making the rice and put the lid on and set it aside for at least five minutes.” She goes for a tricolor combo with grated zucchini, yellow summer squash, and carrot.
17. Or swap it out for cauliflower rice.
“I love to do a cauliflower rice,” says Newgent. “You basically just pulse raw cauliflower in a food processor until it’s a rice consistency, or even a couscous consistency, and then sauté it in a skillet. It has a lot fewer carbs . There’s really no limitation, and you can season it or add herbs according to whatever you’re pairing it with.” Top the cauliflower with whatever you’d normally pair with rice—the recipe below calls for curry vegetables.
Cauliflower Rice from Oh My Veggies
Kiersten Frase / via ohmyveggies.com
18. Cauliflower can be made into pizza crust, too.
Cauliflower pizza crust? So game-changing, and way easier than you’d think. All you need is cauliflower, an egg, cheese, and some salt, and you’ve got the perfect low-carb base for your go-to pizza toppings. Check out the recipe in the video below:
19. Cut back on potatoes by mixing in other roasted veggies.
One-pan meals aren’t only easy—they’re an opportunity to cut back on carb-heavy starches and mix in tasty roasted veggies. “One of my favorite one-pan meal is to take one whole sweet potato, peel it and chop it into chunks, and then add in zucchini squash, carrots, and onion. I scatter that on a pan, , and season it a little bit. I roast it at 400 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, and I add chopped turkey kielbasa sausage and cook for about 10 more minutes.” You can also pair your protein with whatever vegetables you have around.
One-Pan Roasted Chicken And Vegetables from The Lean Green Bean
Lindsay Livingston / via theleangreenbean.com
20. And use nuts for “breaded” chicken.
“When you bread things like fish or chicken, you can cut down on the carbs by using chopped nuts or almond meal instead of flour,” says Dudash. “It’s nice and crunchy and it has a nutty taste. You can just chop nuts up really fine or grind them in your food processor, and then drizzle them in a little oil, spices, and herbs. Then, dip your protein in whisked egg . Cook at a higher temperature, around 450 degrees in a convection oven—for chicken nuggets, I’ll do 10 minutes.”
21. And no matter what you’re eating, switch up your plating order.
This simple mental trick can reduce how many carbs you’re eating without even trying. “Normally, it’s typical to go for the carbs first,” says Kroplin. “Start by filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, then dish up your lean protein, and let your carbohydrate be the last serving you put on your plate. By the time you get to that spot, there’s not a whole lot of room left.”
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You may also like: Looking for a new workout? Try this 10-minute plyometric routine you can do at home:
Diabetes and Carbs
Planning what to eat and when to eat is very important—especially if you have diabetes. Counting carbohydrates, or carbs—adding up all the carbs in everything you eat and drink—can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.
What are carbs?
Along with proteins and fats, carbs are one of three main nutrients found in foods and drinks. The carbs you eat have a direct effect on your blood sugar.
How many carbs should I eat?
There’s no “one size fits all” answer—everyone is different because everyone’s body is different. On average, people with diabetes should get about 45% of their calories from carbs. A carb serving is measured as 15 grams per serving. That means most women need 3 to 4 carb servings (45–60 grams) per meal, while most men need about 4 to 5 carb servings (60–75 grams). However, these amounts depend on your age, weight, activity level, and diabetes medications. Make sure to work with a dietitian to set your own carb goal. If you use insulin, ask about options to match your insulin dose to the amount of food you eat at meals and snacks.
Why should I count carbs?
Carb counting can help keep your blood sugar levels close to your target range, which can help you:
- Stay healthy longer.
- Feel better and improve your quality of life.
- Prevent or delay diabetes complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and lower-limb amputation (surgery to remove a body part).
It may be helpful to count carbs in the foods you eat most often to help you understand how it works.
What foods have carbs?
Common foods with carbs:
- Grains, such as bread, noodles, pasta, crackers, cereals, and rice.
- Fruits, such as apples, bananas, berries, mangoes, melons, and oranges.
- Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt.
- Legumes, including dried beans, lentils, and peas.
- Snack foods and sweets, such as cakes, cookies, candy, and other desserts.
- Juices, soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks that contain sugar.
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, and peas.
Non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, lettuce, and other salad greens, mushrooms, radishes, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini, have fewer carbs than starchy vegetables.
Try to limit foods that have added sugars, like sweets and fruit drinks, or are made with refined carbs, such as white bread, white rice, and most pasta. Instead, choose carbs such as fruit, vegetables, whole grain bread, brown rice, and beans.
Foods with about 15 grams of carbs:
- A small piece of fruit.
- 1 slice of bread.
- 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal.
- 1/3 cup cooked pasta or rice.
- 4 to 6 crackers.
- 1/2 cup black beans or other starchy vegetable.
- 1/4 large baked potato.
- 2/3 cup nonfat yogurt.
Foods with few or no carbs:
- Meat, fish, and poultry.
- Some types of cheese (check nutrition labels on packaged cheese).
- Oils and other fats.
For a more inclusive carb list, see the American Diabetes Association’s Carbohydrate Choice List.
Healthy carbohydrates guide
In the UK, health guidelines for carbohydrates were updated in 2015. This is what the changes mean for you…
DON’T CUT OUT CARBOHYDRATES
50% of your daily calories should come from carbs. But that doesn’t just mean refined carbs. There are three main types of carbohydrates in food: starches, sugars and fibre. The focus of the new guidelines is on switching to wholegrains, increasing fibre and reducing free sugars.
EAT MORE FIBRE
On average, in the UK we consume only around 18g fibre a day whereas the recommended daily intake is 30g a day. As well as being good for our digestive health, eating more fibre can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, colorectal (bowel) cancer and type 2 diabetes.
HOW TO GET ENOUGH
Choose high-fibre breakfast cereals, wholegrain pasta, rice and bread, add lots of beans and veg to recipes, and snack on fruit and unsalted nuts. Read the nutrition info on food labels and, where available, choose those with the most fibre (a food is high in fibre if it contains more than 6g per 100g). To reach your daily 30g target, try these suggestions on the right.
EAT FEWER FREE SUGARS
No more than 7tsp (30g) a day (and children even less depending on age). Find more info and sugar swaps on the back of the card.
Here are 10 easy ways to add fibre to your diet…