The Low Carb Diet

It seems as if everyone is talking about them or is on one type of low carb diet. These controversial eating plans have been propelled into the spotlight by celebrities and other health experts who gush about the results. Ever since the Atkins low carb diet plan emerged in the early 1970’s, low carb diets have received an enormous attention and are quickly becoming one of the most popular diet plans around.

Low carb diets such as the Paleo, the Zone Diet and the Ketogenic Diet, even the Atkins plan is making a comeback with the Atkins 40. All of these eating plans work on the idea that eating a diet that is low in carbohydrates will assist in weight loss. Even Weight Watchers have joined the bandwagon with their new Beyond the Scale program (SmartPoints) , which has a punishing number of points for eating sugar.

There are so many different types of low carb diets; it's hard to keep track of them all! If you have considered going low carb, but are confused by the many choices, you might want to check out this article about how you can choose the best low carb diet.

As low carb diets become an increasingly popular choice, it has also become the subject of combative debate among health experts and dieticians who can't seem to agree on whether low-carb diets are actually a breakthrough in weight loss or a detriment to our health.

Although most scientists agree that there are several factors behind why this works, there are still some naysayers who believe this type of eating plan is nothing more than hype.

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the starches, sugars, and fiber that are found in natural foods, such as fruit and vegetables. Carb's are called macronutrients, which means they are one of the main ways the body obtains energy. There are three macronutrients which are essential for the body to function; protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

What makes carbohydrates important is that they make the organs in the body function properly. However, consuming too many carbs can cause weight gain and high blood sugar levels.

What are Carbohydrates?Rice, pasta and potatoes are all examples of starchy carbs

Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be either 'simple' or 'complex'.

Simple carbohydrates, sometimes called simple sugars, are quickly digested and release sugar quickly into the bloodstream.

Simple carbs, often called refined carbs by many experts, have had most of their fiber and nutrients removed. Foods such as pasta and white bread are really just one step above junk foods and should be considered empty calories since they offer the body little or no nutrition. Sugar filled foods and refined carbs are one of the main drivers behind weight gain, and therefore, serious health problems.

Simple carbs are exactly the way they sound. They are simply addicting and they make up some of our favourite foods. Think about your favourites; sugar, foods that are mainly sugar, such as donuts, white bread, cookies, pie, and sodas. Other examples of simple carbohydrates are candy bars, soft drinks, and packaged fruit juice.

Complex carbohydrates are starches formed by longer saccharide chains. This means that the body takes more time to break them down and use them as energy. The two types of complex carbs are fiber and starch. Fiber is very important to the body as it helps to control cholesterol, as well as encourage healthy bowel movements, which remove fat and toxins from the body.

Most people consume less than 15 grams of fiber per day. A well balanced, low carb diet should contain 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day, according to The American Diabetes Association recommendation.

Examples of complex carbohydrates are whole grain bread, brown rice, oats, quinoa, most vegetables, nuts and some fruit.

Sometimes, carbs can be confusing. Not all complex carbs will have the same nutritional benefits. For example, white bread, pasta, and white rice are technically complex carbs, however, because white bread, rice, and pasta have had most of the nutrients and fiber stripped from them, they certainly act more like simple carbs.

Low carb diets focus on reducing carbohydrates, sometimes drastically. However, some health experts claim that a diet consisting of both simple and complex carbohydrates is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Keeping Complex Carbs, Starches, and Simple Carbs Straight!

Because it's easy to get carbs confused, let's take a look at a list of common foods and separate them into Complex Carbs, Fiber, Starch, or Simple Carb categories.

Simple Carb's

  • Sugar
  • Fruit
  • Fruit Juice
  • Honey
  • Candy
  • Soft Drinks
  • Pie
  • Cake
  • Cookies

Complex Carbs

  • Starch: Dried peas, Beans, White Bread, Pasta, Potatoes, Breakfast Cereal
  • Fiber: Whole Grains and Whole Grain Bread, Raw Vegetables, Nuts, Popcorn, Seeds, Legumes.

Why Low Carb Diet Works?

As you already know, insulin plays a very important role in how the body handles sugar. Insulin is actually a fat storing hormone. While some people seem to have high insulin levels that allow them to eat anything and never gain weight, for the majority of people, this isn't the case.

Carbs Is Stored

The body begins breaking down carbs as soon as you start chewing, starting with the enzymes in the salivary glands. Once food reaches the stomach, it begins churning it with the digestive enzymes in the stomach. This breaks down carbs into the most basic of all food forms, glucose. Glucose is then absorbed by the small intestine.

The more glucose in the body, the higher insulin levels will be. Since insulin is a fat storing hormone, it will first send glucose to the liver so that energy needs can be met throughout the body. Cells receive glucose first, then the muscles and tissue. About 100 grams is stored in the liver as a reserve and a reserve of about 400 grams of glycogen in the muscles. Anything after that is stored as fat (via a process called de novo lipogenesis.), in the adipose tissue around the body, and some of it in the liver, which is the most dangerous type of fat.

Carbs Inhibit Fat Oxidation

Since sugar (glucose) the your body's main source of fuel, it makes sense that the more carbs we eat, the more glucose we will burn while more protein and fat is stored.

There are numerous studies which show that the above statement is true. A diet high in carbs will cause your body to use more of what you are feeding it, thus consuming less fat.

This shift in the metabolism of the body towards using the consumed carbs appears to be mainly attributed to a simple biochemical reaction; the body is receiving lots of carbs, so why search for anything else? Carbs are easy for the body to metabolize and when we provide plenty of them, we set the scene for this metabolic shift.

In a nutshell, the more carbs we give the body, the more the body will use carbs and not fats or proteins.

Restricting Carbohydrate

Everyone knows that eating large amounts of sugar is not good for the body and leads to numerous health problems, including diabetes and obesity, but did you know that consuming too much of any type of carbohydrate (including complex carbs) can have the same effect? This is because, in the end, it all ends up as glucose.

In most cases, people lose 2 or even 3 times as much weight as those who go on a calorie restricted or low fat diets. There are no serious side effects, and there are many health benefits of a low carb diet, even if you don't want or need to lose a lot of weight.

While there is still some disagreement among experts as to WHY, there are plenty of studies and scientific facts which show why these types of diets DO, in fact, work. You can read more about the science behind why they work.

Exactly WHY low carb diets work might still be an answered question, but no one can deny that low carb diets DO work amazingly well for almost everyone.

Understanding Low Carb and Low Fat

We have been told for at least half a century that fat is bad for you, that fat makes you fat. Supermarkets are flooded with "low fat" options. So why it is that people are heavier every year? Why have levels of obesity gone through the roof if everyone can simply switch to low fat foods?

Low fat has been proven to be a big mistake. If you don't believe it, look around you. Numerous studies show that there is nothing to fear about eating natural, healthy fats. Fat is actually a dieter’s friend because it not only tastes delish, but it helps you to feel full and satisfied longer. Eating healthy fats, rather than carbs, keeps blood sugar levels low, thus keeping insulin levels low. You can eat until you feel satisfied with a low carb diet and still lose weight.

Low Carb Diets in a Nutshell

Low carb diets are pretty simple; eat things like meat, fish, eggs, natural fats (such as avocados and butter) and most vegetables that grow above the ground. You avoid things that contain sugar, flour, low fat options (cream instead of milk in your coffee), and starchy foods such as pasta, white rice, corn, rice and beans.

If you want more on the basics, this is a great read.

Benefits of Going Low Carb

  • You can lose a great deal of weight fairly quickly (depending on the number of carbs)
  • You can cut back or even reverse, Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce or eliminate your cravings, especially for sugar
  • Improved hormone regulation
  • Improved digestion
  • No going hungry
  • Lower your risk of several types of cancer
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Improved brain function
  • Much improved cholesterol levels
  • Reduced chronic inflammation
  • Lower blood pressure

There are actually far more benefits of a low carb diet.

Is There such a Thing as "Too" Low Carb?

Everyone's body reacts differently to all sorts of diet plans. This is why you find so many different "varieties" of low carb diets. Your current weight, ideal weight, age, sex, activity levels, and genetic makeup all come into play with talking about diet and nutrition.

The Ketogenic diet is perhaps the lowest of the low carb eating plans out there. It allows for a mere 20 to 30 grams of carbs and some people go as low as 15 grams. This diet almost seems magical in that you lose a lot of weight very quickly; sometimes as much as 2 pounds per day, but there appear to be zero side effects.

If you want to know your macros on a Keto diet, you can use our Keto Calculator

While many people say that cutting back on their carbs gradually helped them to avoid things like the low carb flu, others say it is more difficult to cut cravings in this way.

Do what feels best for you. This might require a bit of trial and error, but once you find the perfect match, you will feel better than ever before! Most people consider less than 15 grams of carbs a day to be excessive, while others say that they function quite well on it.

You can cut back gradually by starting with 80 grams per day, and drop 5 or 10 grams each week until you feel comfortable with the diet plan.

What You Can Eat

Healthy fats, protein and wholemealInstead of sugar-laden cereals, choose a breakfast with healthy fats, protein and wholemeal

Most low carb diets, such as Atkins 40 or the Ketogenic diet, limit the number (measured in grams) of carbohydrates you can eat each day. Simply add up the number of grams of carbs you eat each day and stay under the amount your diet calls for.

Most foods are measured in 100 gram portions, which is about 3.5 ounces. Even those on the strictest Ketogenic diet plan of less than 20 grams can eat the following foods as they are all less than 5 grams per 100 gram portions.

  • Natural fats (such as butter and olive oil)
  • Meat
  • Fish and seafood
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables that grow above ground (corn being the only exception)

You can find a more detailed list about low carb vegetables here.

What You Should Avoid

The following list of foods and drinks are all between 7 and 70 grams of carbs per 100 gram serving. Even for those on the Atkins 40 diet, it’s easy to see how quickly just a serving or two of the following can completely ruin your diet.

High Carb Junk FoodDonuts, sodas, fruit juices, white bread and rice should be avoided as they provide no nutritional value!

  • High Carb Fruits (berries are best)
  • Beer
  • Fruit juice
  • Sodas
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Donuts
  • Chocolate/candy
  • Cake
  • Vegetable Oil

If you want a more detailed list about low carb fruits, we have that article here.

Drinks You Can Enjoy

Don't forget that many drinks contain carbohydrates, even hard liquor. That's why it’s best to drink plenty of water. For a change of pace, you can always add just a slice of lemon or lime or berries (such as strawberries) into your water.

Coffee (black, no sugar, but little heavy cream is ok), tea (lemon and heavy cream, but no sugar), are also excellent choices. A 5 ounce serving of wine is only 2 carbs, but drinking more than one glass each day might make you hungry, so limit yourself to one glass with dinner.

It's important that you not become dehydrated. If you are going very low carb, you might want to consider consuming electrolyte drinks, to help keep yourself in balance. Bone broth and bullion are also very good choices. Look for drinks that have sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These will help prevent imbalances, as well as making you feel your best.

You can also help to keep your body hydrated and your electrolytes balanced by consuming soda water (sometimes called club soda or seltzer water), water with a pinch of salt, Kombucha (unsweetened) and electrolyte drinks, such as PowerAde Zero which has zero carbs

How Low is Low Carb?

Technically, anything under USDA guidelines of 225 carbs for an average 2,000 calorie diet is considered to be low carb, but the truth is that the lower the carb count, the bigger the effects will be on your weight, your health, and your blood sugar levels.

Most people find that between 20 and 40 grams works well for them, however, many people opt to go super low carb and eat fewer than 20 grams each day until they reach their ideal weight, then gradually increase the amount of carbs until they find that they are gaining weight, then they simply cut back by perhaps 5 carbs. That number will be your ideal carb intake to maintain a healthy weight.

How Do I Get Started?

That is always the hardest part of any diet!

First, choose the low carb diet plan that you think will work best for you. There is a description of some of the best and most popular low carb diets in an article you can find here.

Once you have made your choice, you should read this article to get tips on how to get started.

The Low Carb Flu and Other Side Effects

Not everyone is the same, because if that were true, there would be no need to have a multitude of diets.

Some people find that, when they first start a low carb diet plan or when they consume under a certain number of carbs, they experience something that is called "the low carb flu". Some of the symptoms mimic the flu. This is usually due to dehydration and a lack of minerals that passes in a few days. You can read about the low carb flu phenomenon in detail here.

Other people experience uncomfortable side effects from eating a super low carb diet, including leg cramps, gallstones and heart palpitations. These don't happen to everyone and, in fact, are fairly uncommon.

Tips for Going Low Carb

  • Avoid "low carb" pre-packaged or frozen foods. Most are filled with chemicals or "fake" carbs that do not taste good. A low carb diet can easily be consumed by eating wholesome, natural foods. Frozen fish, meat, or berries are fine, but low carb pizzas should be thrown to the curb.
  • Eat Plenty of Fat - This will feel strange at first because you are probably used to eating low fat everything. Fat is what makes things taste rich, creamy, and satisfying. Forget calorie counting as well! Focus on eating healthy fats, such as olive oil, full fat dairy products, cheese, and real butter.
  • Ditch the Potatoes – There really is no need to "miss" potatoes because mashed cauliflower tastes exactly the same! You can also enjoy cauliflower "rice". Don’t forget that zucchini can be cut to look (and taste) almost exactly like pasta. So you really don't need to give up your favourite foods, you are simply going to make healthier exchanges.
  • Dining out is a lot easier than you might think! Have a big salad as an appetizer, order a meat dish and vegetables and ask the waiter to hold the bread. If you are dying for a cheeseburger, ask the waitress to make it a lettuce wrap, rather than a bun. If they refuse, toss the bread and you will have an instant low-carb burger!
  • Going low carb doesnt have to be expensive. Check out this article to make your low carb diet cost less!

Don't Eat Processed Foods!

Low carb diets are made up of real food from Mother Nature. With very few exceptions (frozen vegetables and milk, for example) If the food you are eating comes in a box, is plastic wrapped, or other type of packaging, you are probably eating processed foods.

Low carb processed foodsEat only real, whole foods! Processed foods are high in trans fats, sodium, preservatives, food additives, artificial sweetener which encourages weight gain and chronic disease

Even foods marked "low carb" probably aren’t. To top it off, many of these foods contain "fillers" (which can be almost anything!), tons of preservatives, artificial sugars or sweeteners, and other unhealthy ingredients that you don’t need. For example, one manufacturer, makes a line of frozen dinners. In their simple dish of roast turkey and vegetables are the following ingredients:

green beans, glazed turkey tenderloins (cooked turkey tenderloins, water, modified cornstarch, seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, maltodextrin, salt, turkey flavor, turkey stock, flavor, gum arabic), carrageenan, canola oil, sodium phosphate, natural flavoring, salt, potassium chloride, paprika), water, mushrooms, dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil), 2% or less of soybean oil, almonds, modified cornstarch, skim milk, turkey flavor (flavor, salt, dried turkey stock, maltodextrin, sesame oil (contains soy)), sugar, salt, chicken fat, bleached wheat flour, seasoning (maltodextrin, flavor, enzyme modified butterfat), seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, flavors, water, chicken powder, chicken fat, sugar, sodium lactate, sodium phosphate, lactic acid), dehydrated onions, potassium chloride, seasoning (wheat starch, extracts of annatto and turmeric color, natural flavor), yeast extract, caramel color, spices, cultured whey.

Compare that to what you would make at home from scratch:

  • Fresh slices of turkey breast (gravy is optional and should be home-made)
  • Fresh green beans
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Slivered Almonds

While we won't even try to deny that snagging a frozen dinner and popping it in the microwave is easier than cooking the above from scratch, the fact is that doing it yourself is not only cheaper, but a far sight healthier.

Eat REAL food, not junk that looks like food.

The Low carb Advocates

Low carb diets, such as the Zone, Atkins 40, and the Ketogenic diet, have offered many impressive results, not the least of which is significant weight loss. Although there are many varieties of low-carb diets, they do have one main thing in common - they all call for a reduced carbohydrate intake. There is plenty of science to back up the claims that low carb diets work. You can read about the science behind these diets here.

In short, consuming large amounts of carbohydrates causes an overproduction of insulin, which often leads to weight gain.

On the low carb diet, individuals are consuming less than the USDA recommended carbohydrate intake of 45-65% of all calories consumed from carbs (which means that on an average 2,000 diet, the recommended amount is 225-325 grams).

Most low-carb diets limit carbohydrate intake to between 50 to 150 grams per day, depending on the plan. So as you can see, almost all low carb diets call for a ratio of carbohydrates that fall well below these guidelines.

Although numerous studies of low carb diets prove that low carb diets raise HDL (the so called ‘good’ cholesterol’) and provide links that these diets help to prevent heart disease and diabetes, mainstream health advocates tend to ignore these studies and continue to advocate a low fat diet. There are a great many reasons, other than weight loss, that people choose to go low carb.

Critics of the Low-Carb Diet

Critics argue that there are no proven long term benefits of low carb diets. Although many individuals have experienced huge successes, critics argue that these results are short lived, and that most people will gain back at least a third of the weight they lost within a few years. What they fail to mention is that most people gain back some of the weight they lost because they fail to stick to the diet. This is true of ALL diets.

Experts argue that it is not the high consumption of carbohydrates, which is making us fat, but the over consumption of high calorie foods (which can include carbohydrates).

Critics will also claim that low carb diets which focus on foods that are high in fat, especially saturated fat and protein (such as steak, ham, bacon and dairy), which are foods they believe to be harmful. Many experts believe that foods high in saturated fat can have been linked to numerous diseases, including heart disease and various cancers. Lastly, some experts say that consuming too much protein can cause kidney damage and/or increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.

In Conclusion

If you want to lose weight, lower your risk of heart attack and heart disease, lower your levels of inflammation, reduce or eliminate your dependence on drugs for diabetes, lower your risk of ever developing diabetes, lower bad cholesterol levels, but increase good ones, reduce your risk of metabolic disease, improve your digestion, eat better, and have clearer thinking, there is no denying that a low carb diet will work for you.