Introduction to Low-Carb Diets
As the name suggests, a low-carb diet is a type of diet that limits your intake of carbohydrates to be as low as possible.
These diets range your intake of carbs from around 100 grams, and can be as low as just 10 grams of carbohydrates every day. Low-carb diets have really grown in popularity globally, although having been in effect throughout history. The benefits of these types of diets result in weight loss and also helps in managing some other health challenges like diabetes and high cholesterol.
Sticking to a low-carb diet can be a difficult process.
Table of Contents
1. Intro to Low-Carb Diets
2. Bread, Grains, and Pastas
3. Starchy Vegetables
4. Breakfast Cereals
5. Alcohol and Soft Drinks
6. Beans and Legumes
7. Fried Snacks such as: Chips
9. Refined, Processed Sugar
10. Processed Meats
11. Gluten-Free Foods
12. Milk and Dairy
The reason why staying on a low-carb diet can be so difficult is because you have to avoid high carb foods, all of which includes common items found in the average household. You have to remove all of your MRE (meals ready to eat) and snacks in order to stick to your new diet. But the good news is that you can still enjoy healthy, natural fats such as Olive Oil and Coconut Oil while following a low-carb diet, you don’t have to cut off everything that tastes good. The only thing you should be focusing on is minimizing your intake of sugar and starchy foods.
How do low-carb diets work exactly?
The blood sugar levels remain stable throughout the day when your sugar and starch consumption is minimized, and even better results are granted when sugar’s cut off completely. This also helps in decreasing levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin in the body. This process further increase the fat burning process in the body by increasing insulin sensitivity, helps make you feel satiated, and reduces excess weight.
A low-carb diet also helps by reducing your blood sugar levels, in reducing your body fat, and diseases such as Type 1 and 2 Diabetes.
Who should avoid sticking with a low-carb diet?
If you’re suffering from any major issues, such as diabetes, all diets should always be followed after consulting your doctor. A low-carb diet is not recommended for everyone.
People who fall under these three conditions should definitely reconsider the idea of following a low-carb diet and if you still want to follow the diet plan, proceed with caution and consult your doctor:
- If you are taking medicine for high blood pressure
- If you are taking medicine for diabetes
- If you are currently breastfeeding
Now we’ll discuss the details about which type of foods should be avoided when following a low-carb diet.
Breads, Grains, and Pastas
Bread is a staple food in many cultures, but unfortunately, both white and whole wheat breads are full of carbohydrates. Although the total carb count varies from product to product, and even from different types of breads, the overall consumption needs to be reduced (in some cases, removed) when following a low-carb diet.
Here we break down the total amount of carbs found in an average piece of bread from the following list:
- Whole Wheat Bread = 17 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber
- White Bread = 14 grams of carbs, 1 of which are fiber
- Bagel = 29 grams of carbs, 1 of which are fiber
- Flour Tortilla = 36 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber
Now you can clearly see that even just eating a typical sandwich, bagel, or a burrito can easily put you over your daily limit for carbs. These are just some examples of the foods you’ll have to cut out to stay in a low-carb zone for weight loss.
Pastas and grains are too rich in carbs for this type of diet, you should limit how much you consume (no more than 1 portion), and most of the times should be taken out when on a low-carb diet. Modern grains are all Genetically Modified, bred to be disease resistant and this creates a side effect where the grain has higher gluten content. Cutting breads, grains, and pastas to a low amount, or even straight out of your diet may be intimidating to some of the people but luckily, there are a lot of alternatives to these high carb options which includes Sweet Potatoes, Vegetables, Greek Yogurt, and Ground Flax just to name a few.
Starchy Vegetables are generally considered a good alternative for people who are on a low-carb diet. Vegetables are high in fiber and hence, are helpful for improving digestion, better absorption of nutrition, all of which helps in reducing your weight. But, there are some high-starch vegetables like Corn, Potatoes, and Beets that have a lot of carbohydrates, and regardless of fiber, are still not consumed when on a low-carb diet. Below is the average amount of carbs found in these vegetables:
- Potatoes = 37 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
- Corn = 41 grams of carbs, 5 of which are fiber
- Beets = 16 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
All of the previously listed vegetables needs to be limited and sometimes removed completely, when on a low-carb diet. Non-starchy vegetables like Broccoli, Bell Peppers, Asparagus, etc. should be your go-to option for your daily dose of fiber.
Traditional cereals have become a part of the many peoples’ morning diets. These are mostly full of sugar, with little nutritional value.
This quick substitute for home-cooked breakfast has been a favorite among people of all the age groups, being so convenient.
These cereals contain a lot of carbohydrates and are packed with sugar. These cereals can be considered a complete meal only after the addition of fruits, dairy, and an outside source of protein (like eggs).
Here are some common cereal packages with their average level of carbs per serving:
- Cooked Instant Oatmeal (1 cup) = 32 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
- Granola Cereals (1 cups) = 37 grams of carbs, 7 of which are fiber
- Steel-cut oats (1/2 cup) = 29 grams of carbs, 5 of which are fiber
- Grape Nut cereal (1/2 cup) = 46 grams of carbs, 5 of which are fiber
The amount of carbs found in these cereals is definitely surprising, especially since they’re advertised as being healthier alternatives, even just consuming one bowl can put you over your daily recommended amount of sugar for the day. So it’s ideal to ditch these premade packets of granola and switch to raw, whole ingredients that you can use to prepare yourself.
Alcohol and Soft Drinks
Soft drinks and sodas have Zero nutritional value, containing only added sugar and other preservatives. A single can of soda contains 10 teaspoons full of sugar. Would you have guessed that? The thing is, a lot of people don’t look at the nutritional label on the food we eat, almost every food product has added sugar nowadays.
Made from fermented grain and hops, Beer should also be avoided. A 12 ounce can of beer contains 13 grams of carbs on an average. Beer’s carb intake is comparable to 1 and a half slices of white bread, as it also contains the same amount of carbs.
Studies have shown that carbs consumed in liquid forms make weight gain more easily as compared to when consumed in solid form. So to stick with a low-carb diet, you should avoid drinking beer throughout the time period of your diet.
People following a low-carb diet can still enjoy alcohol and dry wine (such as red and white wines), as hard liquor has no carbs and dry wine has very low carbs per serving. As for soft drinks, they should be completely removed when on a low-carb diet.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are considered as some of the most nutritious foods you can consume, with tons of fiber, healthy fats, and protein, no wonder why they are a staple in many diets, except low-carb diets. Beans can help in reducing inflammation, low the risk of heart disease, along with other benefits. Although they are rich in fiber, beans and legumes are also rich in carbohydrates (most of which come from the fiber) and therefore, most of them are not recommended to eat when on a low-carb diet.
Below is the chart of a few beans and legumes and their nutrient breakdown:
- Lentils (1 cup) = 40 grams of carbs, 16 of which are fiber
- Black Beans (1 cup) = 41 grams of carbs, 15 of which are fiber
- Chickpeas (1 cup) = 45 grams of carbs, 12 of which are fiber
- Green Peas (1 cup) = 25 grams of carbs, 9 of which are fiber
- Pinto Beans (1 cup) = 45 grams of carbs, 15 of which are fiber
- Kidney Beans (1 cup) = 40 grams of carbs, 13 of which are fiber
- Edamame Beans (1 cup) = 15 grams of carbs, 8 of which are fiber
Based off of the listed foods, it’s clear that most of these beans and legumes have a really high carb content which makes most of them not viable for a low-carb diet. Out of what’s been listed, Edamame and Green Peas would be your best choice.
Chips and crackers are some of the favorite snacks most people like to munch on. They’re usually also consumed in large quantities within a very short period of time. These chips and crackers are rich in carbs and fats that can add up very quickly. The amount of carbs present in the chips or crackers varies on the brand, but they usually follow a similar ingredient and nutrition list:
- Potato Chips (1 ounce) = 15 grams of Carbs, 1.4 grams of which is Fiber and 10 grams of Fat
- Whole-wheat Crackers (1 ounce) = 18 grams of Carbs, 2 grams of which are Fiber and 3 grams of Fat
Considering the number of carbs present in the processed snacks like chips and tortilla, it is advisable to stay away from them when on a low-carb diet.
The regular consumption of fruits and vegetables is always recommended by nutritionists since they benefit the body in a number of ways. Fruits and vegetables offer lots of healthy carbs and vitamins, improves metabolism, can prevent certain types of cancer and certain heart diseases. However, many fruits are very rich in carbs (in the form of sugar, and not fiber) which might not be suitable for consumption when on a low-carb diet.
Overly sweet and dried fruits are not recommended when following a low-carb diet.
Here we mention a few poor examples of what fruits you should be avoiding:
- Banana (1 medium) = 27 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber
- Mango (1 cup, sliced) = 28 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber
- Dates (1 large) = 18 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber
- Raisins (28 grams) = 22 grams of carbs, 1 of which is fiber
- Pear (1 medium) = 28 grams of carbs, 6 of which are fiber
Now after going through the list, you can see how just a few pieces can really start to add up. However there are some berries, for example, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and strawberries are low in sugar, high in fiber, and are considered good options when taken in smaller quantities when on a low-carb diet.
The average person’s sweet tooth really faces a hard time when on a low-carb diet. Cakes, puddings, chocolates, etc. are all sources of fructose (a type of simple sugar) and are completely off the table during a low-carb diet. It’s best to replace these with the plethora of other, more health-beneficial alternatives such as:
- Stevia (replacing the white sugar in your recipes with a healthier sweetener)
- Protein Shakes or Smoothies
- Frozen Yogurt or Regular Greek Yogurt
No matter what diet you get into, you’re always able to have access to something “sweet” to calm down those sugar cravings.
Processed meats are some of the most consumed, readily available sources of protein products on the market. They’re the classic go-to option when someone’s looking to increase their daily protein intake.
These processed meats contain nitrites and nitrates which have countless controversial case studies performed on them for their negative health effects, and as the result, it wouldn’t be recommended to eat large quantities of processed meats.
Your alternatives should be ground or fresh cuts of meat.
100 grams of processed meat contains an average of 2 grams of carbs. That doesn’t seem like much, but adding around 10 carbs to your low-carb diet is not ideal.
So, to be on the safer side, go for natural alternatives such as whole or ground chicken, beef, and/or turkey when on a low-carb type of diet.
Gluten is a protein that is found in barley, wheat, and rye. The best practice for people with celiac disease to follow a gluten-free diet, as celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which inflames the gut in response to the presence of gluten.
People with the celiac disease aren’t the only ones who can suffer from gluten intolerance, the symptoms for gluten intolerance are quite broad but you can judge how you feel after eating anything high in gluten, if you don’t have the celiac disease and you feel fine after eating gluten, you’re all set.
The rise in popularity that these gluten-free diets have gained in past few years, founded the creation of many food products like gluten-free bread, muffins, and other baked goods that have been flooding the market. People tend to think that these food products are healthier and should be consumed by everyone.
But surprisingly, gluten-free foods contain a higher amount of carbs, usually around a 25% increase depending on the product, when compared to products that actually contain gluten.
The type of flour used to make these items are made up of starches and grains which leads to a spike in your blood sugar levels, making your levels of hunger inconsistent and can lead to weight gain.
Avoiding gluten-free processed foods should be a priority if your body can handle gluten.
By replacing them with other low-carb products, foods prepared using coconut or almond flour would be the best alternative.
Milk and Dairy
Milk is another healthy, yet high carbohydrate type of food. Although it contains nutrients like calcium and Vitamin B, milk is also high in sugar.
Adding a little bit of milk in a cup of coffee is unlikely to cause a problem except for those on the strictest of low to no-carb diets, but you can use cream or half-and-half as low-carb, higher fat alternatives.
People who enjoy drinking milk by the glass or who use it to make smoothies should try dairy-free milk substitutes, like almond milk or coconut milk, instead.