The legend of the low-carb diet is that people who shun bread, pasta, potatoes, cookies, cake, and anything fluffy will be rewarded with dramatic weight-loss results. But is a low-carb diet really the magic bullet its proponents suggest?
Perhaps. But as with any diet or restrictive eating plan, there’s a lot to consider before you swap your pasta for cauliflower rice, your spaghetti for zoodles, and your sweet tea for sparkling water.
Whether you want to use a low-carb diet to jumpstart your weight-loss goals, or you’d like to consider spurning carbs for the rest of your life, this introductory guide to eating low carb can be a helpful tool.
The Pros and Cons of Eating Low Carb
– Weight loss benefits: A study from the British Journal of Nutrition found that people following a low-carb diet lost more weight than people eating a low-fat diet. However, the same study found that people on the low-carb diet had an increase in LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). The researchers didn’t make clear why the increase occurred, but a low-carb diet often has a higher proportion of fat, which could contribute to higher-than-normal cholesterol levels.
– Limited (but growing) food options: A low-carb diet takes dedication and planning. Thankfully, due to changing demands from consumers, many restaurants and food manufacturers are responding with low-carb options on their menus and on grocery store shelves. It’s easier today to order flavored zero-carb sweeteners like Stevia, and most restaurant staff won’t blink twice when you order your burrito bowl without beans or rice or your chicken sandwich without a bun.
– Cutting sugar cravings: Carbs turn to glucose, a type of sugar, as your body breaks them down, and they’re your body’s preferred source of energy. When your energy sags, you likely reach for a carb-rich snack to boost your focus again. Without the carbs, however, your body has to turn its focus to burning your fat stores. Sugar cravings wane as your body learns to live without the “instant” sugar high.
– Eliminating many healthful foods: A low-carb diet also might reduce the amount of healthy nutrient-dense foods, like whole grains, fruits, and many vegetables, you can eat. Depending on how low carb you go, you may have to eliminate them entirely. These healthful foods deliver many vitamins and nutrients, but they also carry a carb price.
– Lower calorie intake: When you eat fewer carbs, your calorie intake often falls, too. Without bread, rice, pasta, sugary treats, and even starch-rich vegetables, some of the highest sources of carbs, you may find you’re eating fewer calories than you’d eat on a typical food plan.
– Possible health issues: If you have heart disease or have a history of heart health issues, a low-carb diet might not work for you because of the increased ratio of fats. However, some people who are insulin resistant may benefit from the drop in carb intake. One study found that people who ate three low-carb meals within 24 hours saw their insulin resistance fall by 30 percent. High-carb meals sustain insulin resistance, which is a precursor to many conditions, including prediabetes and diabetes, high blood pressure, and others. You need to weigh the pros and cons of the diet with your individual health needs.
Creating a Low-Carb Meal Plan
Before you start, there’s one issue you need to settle for yourself. What is the definition of “low carb” you plan to use? No hard and fast rule exists, which makes planning low-carb meals tricky. Low carb could be considered anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of energy intake. Currently, most American nutrition standards suggest no more than 50 percent of your daily calories come from carbs. Anything below that threshold could be considered “low,” but anything around 40 isn’t that much of a cut.
The eMeals Low-Carb Plans are designed to deliver 10 to 12 grabs of carbs at both breakfast and lunch, and then another 15 to 20 at dinner. With an additional five to 10 grams of carbs for snacks, the entire plan sill come in under 50 grams of carbs per day.
Ultra-low-carb diets, like Keto, promote eating no more than 20 grams of carbs per day. These diets are very strict and don’t allow for a lot of “wiggle” room in your day-to-day life, but many individuals can be very successful on them.
Once you’ve decided your daily carb goal, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of the foods that you can eat and the foods that are too high in carbs for most low-carb plans. Committing these lists to memory will help you when you’re eating out, grocery shopping, or perusing the buffet and need some obvious low-carb safe zones.
Foods to Avoid
- Sugar-rich foods: Soft drinks, candy, ice cream, cookies, cake, fruit juices
- Processed grains: Bread, pasta, flour, crackers, chips
- High-carb grains: Barley, spelt, wheat
- Processed “diet” foods and “low-fat” foods: Cookies, crackers, snacks, low-fat dairy foods
Low-Carb Food List
- Meat and protein*: Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs
- Vegetables and fruit: Spinach, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds: Sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts
- High-quality oils: Coconut oil, ghee, extra-virgin olive oil
- High-fat diary: Butter, cheese, heavy cream, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Drinks: Still water, sparkling water, tea, and coffee without sweeteners
*While not necessary, many low-carb advocates encourage you to buy the highest quality of these products you can. For beef, you should look for grass-fed. Eggs, ideally, should be pasture-raised and organic are important. Most fish varieties are best if they’re wild-caught. Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List for the most environmentally-conscious options.
Foods You Can Eat in Moderation
Depending on the number of carbs you’re eating each day, you may be able to squeeze in some of these foods while still falling below your carb cap.
- Potatoes: Regular and sweet
- Non-gluten grains: Rice, quinoa, oats, amaranth
- Legumes and beans: Black beans, lentils, navy beans
- Chocolate: Dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher
- Wine: Only wines that have no added sweeteners or sugars
A Sample Low-Carb Menu
Try one week of a low-carb diet plan. This sample plan features customer-favorite recipes that are designed to show you just how delicious (and easy) eating low carb can be.
Free download: eMeals Low-Carb Meal Plan Sample
Nutrition tracking apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt! are handy for keeping a running tally of your day’s carb count. You can search for foods, scan barcodes, or enter your own recipes to have an up-to-date total for your carbs.
The eMeals Low-Carb Solution
With an eMeals Low-Carb plan—we offer a low-carb breakfast plan and a low-carb lunch plan, in addition to dinner plans—there’s no planning, carb counting, or stress of knowing which foods fit your plan and which don’t. Our team of Meal Planning Experts design each dish to deliver maximum flavor satisfaction while also keeping carb counts low and vitamins and minerals high. Try the eMeals Low-Carb plan free for 14 days to see how easy we can make low-carb eating be.