A beginner’s guide to a low-carb diet. Let’s get one thing straight: going low-carb doesn’t mean you’ll be devouring steaks left and right. Nope, there’s more to it than that. So, why should you consider a low-carb diet? Let’s explore the topic and why it could be a healthy option for you. We’ll even touch on which foods you should consume more of and which ones you should cut back on, all while maintaining a healthy approach to reducing carbs.
Now, picture this: your neighbor decided to embark on a low-carb diet plan and achieved impressive weight loss. Or perhaps you caught wind of a celebrity who went down the low-carb road to shed post-pregnancy pounds or prepare for a role. Whatever sparked your interest, it’s easy to see why a low-carb diet might appear as the ultimate weight loss solution.
But here’s the million-dollar question: does it actually work? The answer is a bit nuanced. Yes, it does work, but only sometimes better than a low-fat diet.
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According to a thorough review published in the prestigious BMJ journal in 2020, both low-carb and low-fat diets exhibited similar outcomes in terms of weight loss and blood pressure reduction after six months. Surprisingly, low-carb diets didn’t have as much impact on reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels as low-fat diets did. On the flip side, low-carb diets showed a propensity for raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol, while low-fat diets didn’t have the same effect.
Reasons to Start a Low-Carb Diet
When it comes to low-carb diets, weight loss takes the front seat, according to Cassie Bjork, RD, the proud owner of Redefined Weight Loss. But hold on, there’s more! Cutting back on carbs also comes with the bonus of taming those pesky sugar cravings. Since carbs transform into sugar in our bodies, reducing carb intake can actually help curb those cravings and contribute to shedding those pounds.
But here’s the thing, my friends: simply slashing carbs from your life won’t automatically guarantee weight loss. The key lies in maintaining a well-balanced meal plan that ensures your body receives all the necessary nutrients to stay healthy and satisfied.
Amy Gorin, M.S., RDN, and the brain behind Plant-Based with Amy in Stamford, Connecticut, weighs in on the matter. She reminds us that following a low-carb eating regimen doesn’t always translate to shedding those extra pounds. No matter what diet you’re following, it’s crucial to ensure you’re nourishing your body with a well-rounded diet that provides adequate nutrients like protein, fat, carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. And let’s remember those sneaky excess calories that can lead to unwanted weight gain. Gorin adds a word of caution: be mindful not to go overboard with calorie-rich indulgences like burgers and cheese.
So, how do we embark on a low-carb journey responsibly? Well, my dear readers, it’s not about going on a wild feast of cold cuts, steaks, and cheese, as much as our hearts may desire. And here’s the plot twist: carbs are not our enemies; we can still enjoy them!
The daily carb intake recommendation can vary significantly depending on the program you’re following. Here at EatingWell, on a low-carb diet, approximately 40 percent of your total calories should come from carbs. That means a minimum of 120 grams of carbs per day. This amount allows for a well-rounded diet that covers all your nutritional needs. Plus, it’s more sustainable than those super-restrictive low-carb diets that can drain the joy out of eating. Remember, food should bring you joy!
However, if you’re pursuing a low-carb diet to manage diabetes, it’s best to team up with a healthcare practitioner and/or a registered dietitian. They can guide you on the appropriate daily carb intake and provide helpful tips on how to monitor them effectively.
Let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of low-carb eating and determine which foods pack those pesky carbs. Armed with this knowledge, you can then construct your plate with confidence and wisdom.
First up, we have grains. Yes, those beloved bread and rice varieties are major carb sources. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn and legumes such as kidney beans also fall into the carb-rich category. Oh, and let’s not forget about fruits and milk—they also contribute their fair share of carbs. On the other hand, nonstarchy veggies like leafy greens, broccoli, and bell peppers contain some carbs, but they usually aren’t the main offenders for most people. As for protein-packed foods like chicken, fish, seafood, beef, and eggs, delectable fats like butter and oil get a free pass because they do not contain carbs.
Now that we know the carb-laden suspects let’s talk about the ones you should keep in your diet. Whole grains, dairy options like plain yogurt and milk, and a rainbow of fruits and veggies should find their place on your plate. Why? As our expert, Amy Gorin, points out, these wholesome choices provide something magical called fiber. Not only does fiber keep you feeling satisfied, but it also works wonders on cholesterol levels. So, make sure to give it the attention it deserves!
Instead of going on a ruthless carb elimination spree, Gorin suggests a more balanced approach. Focus on reducing unhealthy carb sources like added sugars and refined carbs. Think of the usual culprits: cookies, soda, and sugary cereals. When sweetening your oatmeal, for instance, opt for the natural sweetness of fruits instead of reaching for that maple syrup bottle. And if you want to jazz up your sweet potato at dinner, a dollop of almond or peanut butter can replace the need for brown sugar.
Here’s a common mistake to avoid: neglecting the inclusion of good fats in your meals. It’s a misconception that low carb means feasting on steaks all day long. According to Cassie Bjork, incorporating plenty of healthy fats into your diet is a crucial but often overlooked aspect. These fats keep you feeling full and satisfied and take the place of some of the carbs you used to consume. So, don’t skimp on the avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil—they’re excellent examples of these nourishing and delightful fats.
Remember, one of the main reasons people get hungry and fall off the wagon, diving headfirst into granola bars and snack mixes, is due to a lack of sufficient healthy fats. Let’s avoid that pitfall, shall we? Embrace the power of healthy fats and pave the way for a more satisfying and sustainable low-carb journey.
How to Put a Low-Carb Diet Together
It’s time to master the art of carb distribution throughout the day, my friends, as advised by the insightful Amy Gorin. Carbs serve as the glorious provider of glucose, the fuel that keeps our brains firing on all cylinders. By spacing out your carb intake, you can ensure that you feel at the top of your game, keeping that dreaded brain fog at bay.
When constructing your plate, Gorin has a stellar recommendation: aim for a meal with four essential components. First, we have the protein powerhouse—succulent chicken or savory salmon. Next, let’s welcome the hero of healthy fats to the stage. Then, add a pop of freshness and nutrition with a serving of fruit or a nonstarchy vegetable. Finally, complete the ensemble with a choice between a whole grain or a starchy vegetable. This symphony of flavors and nutrients will leave you satisfied and energized.
Of course, if you’re watching your carb intake, some adjustments may be necessary. Opt for a sensible half-cup portion instead of indulging in a full cup of brown rice. And when it comes to that tempting sweet potato, go for a smaller size rather than a colossal one. These subtle modifications will help you control your carb intake while relishing the flavors and textures that make each meal delightful.
How to Count Carbs
Looking to keep tabs on your carb count, especially if you have a specific daily goal in mind? Well, I’ve got you covered with some handy general guidelines.
- Starch (grains, beans, starchy veggies) and fruits contain around 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
- Milk has 12 grams per serving.
- Meats, fats & oils contain zero grams of carbs.
- Nonstarchy veggies (think broccoli and kale) have around 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Utilizing a food diary app such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! can be valuable in monitoring your daily carb consumption. Initially, it may seem bothersome to keep track of those carbs, but with practice, you’ll develop your own preferred carb distribution for meals. Before you know it, it’ll become second nature, allowing you to bid farewell to count altogether.
Avoid Going Too Low
While embarking on a low-carb diet can contribute to long-term weight loss, it’s important not to go to extremes. Remember to include carbs from nourishing sources such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. To spark some culinary inspiration, give our 7-day healthy-carb swaps dinner plan a whirl, where the spotlight shines on vibrant vegetables instead of starchy carbs.
While a low-carb diet can be a suitable option for certain individuals, it’s crucial to strike the right balance. Going excessively low in carbohydrate intake can lead to undesirable effects like fatigue, mental fogginess, and dissatisfaction. Before delving into a low-carb lifestyle, conducting thorough research is essential.
Educate yourself on which high-carb foods can be replaced with lower-carb alternatives and discover strategies that allow you to reach your goals while still experiencing satisfaction and enjoyment from your meals.
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