Low Carb Diets
What Is a Low Carb Diet?
Low carb diets are diet plans that cut down on the intake of sugars and starches, typically replacing them with protein and healthy fats. Low carb diets are extremely popular and can be very effective.
Here is a simple overview of a low carb diet, if you are not familiar with it.
Here is a detailed overview of a low carb diet, including lists of typically allowed foods and prohibited foods.
You may also wish to read up on the pros and cons of a high protein low carb diet, the 4 things you should know before starting a carbohydrate free diet, and the 5 things to consider before going on a high protein diet.
List of Low Carb Diets
1. Primal Diet
The concept behind the Primal Diet is simple: eat like our cavemen ancestors did and you’ll lose weight. No need to track calories, no need to measure portions. Instead, all you have to do is give up refined foods and focus your eating on whole, unprocessed foods.
Simply put, the Primal Diet is a protein-rich diet, with a focus on grass fed and organic meats. While you can also eat plenty of carbs in this diet, those carbs should come from non-grain foods such as nutrient-dense vegetables (kale, bell peppers, spinach) and nuts. Good sources of healthy fats, including olive oil and avocados, are also encouraged.
The Primal Diet is often confused with the Paleo Diet, but the two have one important difference. In the Paleo Diet, saturated fats are discouraged, based on the idea that they are bad for your heart and might even interfere with your weight loss efforts. The Primal Diet welcomes all types of fat, including saturated fats.
The Caveman Diet (also known as Paleo, Stone Age, or Hunter-Gatherer Diet) is a low-carb way of eating that aims to imitate the way our ancestors ate. According to the creator of the diet, our bodies are not designed to properly digest processed foods, so switching back to the way our ancestors ate will not only result in weight loss, but also a healthier body and a more effective metabolism.
Dr. Loren Cordain, the author of “The Paleo Diet” book, claims dieters following the plan properly can lose up to 12.5 lbs. a month. However, to reach these numbers, you must be willing to adapt to the very strict guidelines of the program, which include giving up all sweets, all dairy, most carbs (especially all grains and processed items), and caffeine (small amounts are allowed occasionally).
Although there’s no calorie counting or special recipes on this program, the list of foods you can choose from is restrictive. Essentially, you can eat as much meat and fish as you want, as well as low-glycemic fruits (such as berries), non-starchy vegetables, eggs, and nuts and seeds (peanuts are not allowed).
The South Beach Diet was designed by dietician Marie Almon and cardiologist Arthur Agatston as a heart-healthy diet. Both Almon and Agastston believed that heart health is connected to a diet low in sugars, rather than one low in fats, and set up to create a diet that would reflect this.
The South Beach Diet is based on the principle that “bad carbs” create a cycle of cravings because they cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash and the body’s need to consume more carbs.
To avoid this, the diet recommends staying away from simple carbohydrate sources and eating only whole grains and beans (and only in limited quantities). However, those healthy carbs are only incorporated in Phase 2 of the diet. During Phase 1, which lasts for two weeks, all sugars, fruits, starchy vegetables, and all processed carbohydrates must be avoided.
The Dukan Diet is often called a high-protein diet, rather than a low-carb diet, although its carbohydrate content ends up being very low. A favorite of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, the diet consists of four phases, all of which are high in protein content. Phase 1 is meant to result in the highest amount of weight loss – up to 7 lbs. in five days.
During that phase, dieters are allowed an unlimited amount of food, as long as they pick from a pre-established list of just 68 items. During Phase 2, 28 vegetables are added to the list, and so on.
5. Atkins Diet
Atkins is perhaps the most famous low-carb diet available, as well as one of the earliest ones to hit the market. Atkins consists of four Phases, with the first one (known as Induction) being very low in carbohydrates: just 20 net grams per day are allowed. Net grams are calculated by subtracting the amount of fiber from the total carbohydrate count of a food. During Induction, all net carbs in the diet should come from vegetables. Aside from that, dieters can also eat meat, eggs, and both saturated and vegetable fats.
While other low-carb diets imposed time limits on each Phase, Atkins’ Induction phase can be done for as long as needed. During this period, dieters can lose up to 10 lbs. in a week. Once most of the weight has been lost, dieters can move to a less restrictive phase that allows fruits, starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Atkins has been highly criticized because of its reliance on saturated fats, which can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease if abused.
6. Ketosis Diet
Ketosis is a metabolic state that happens when the body is depleted of carbohydrates. Since carbohydrates are the most common source of energy (glycogen), eliminating them from the diet causes the body to rely on ketones for energy. To achieve ketosis, dieters will need to give up most, if not all, refined carbohydrates, including grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and nuts.
Most very low-carb diets are ketosis diets. This is the case of diets like Atkins and Dukan, where the carb content is cut to under 20 grams per day. Fasting can also lead to ketosis.
The 4-Hour Body Diet is not marketed as a low-carb diet, but as a “slow carb diet.” This means the diet shies away from highly processed, white carbohydrates like pastas, rice, cereal, potatoes, and bread. On the other hand, slow carbs (complex carbs such as buckwheat and rye) are acceptable, as long as they’re eaten in moderation and at the right times.
Another thing The 4-Hour Body diet has in common with most low-carb diets is that it bans fruits. According to Tim Ferriss, the author of the book (he’s best known for writing “The 4-Hour Workweek”), fructose — the natural sugar found in fruits – is one of the main culprits behind modern weight gain and obesity.
Protein-rich foods, peas, and non-starchy vegetables make the basis of this diet.
The 4-Hour Body diet does allow for one cheat day a week, where dieters are allowed to eat whatever they want in the amounts they want.
The Cabbage Soup diet is actually a crash diet that has been around since at least the 1980s. Popular in Hollywood (Sarah Michelle Geller confessed to using it to shed pounds quickly), the diet is only meant to last a week, during which you can lose up to 10 lbs.
Because of its low calorie content, the Cabbage Soup diet is both low carb and low fat.
Simply put, the diet consists of eating as much cabbage soup (made using a special recipe) as you want every day. In addition, you can eat specific additional foods every day. For example, on day one you can add fruit, while on day two you can eat cooked or raw vegetables. On day four, you can eat only bananas alongside the soup, and so on.
Aside from the fact that it has no scientific merit, the diet has been greatly criticized because of its lack of nutritional value and its very low calorie content, which can cause nausea, dizziness, and other side effects.
The Sacred Heart diet is a seven-day diet in which you eat a special soup containing ingredients such as chicken noodles, celery, tomatoes, and other vegetables every day. In addition, you can also have other fresh/raw vegetables or meat throughout the day, but these vary from day to day. For example, you can have up to 20 ounces of meat on day 5 of the diet, but only bananas and milk on day 4.
Introducing these different foods into your diet is meant to shock your body and accelerate your metabolism, causing you to lose weight faster. You can also have as much unsweetened tea and coffee as you want during the seven days of the program.
Low-glycemic diets are meant to be used by diabetics and people trying to control their blood sugar. Their goal is not to help you lose weight, but to avoid severe ups and downs of glucose that could make you ill and might require the use of additional amounts of insulin.
However, foods high in the glycemic index tend to be white carbohydrates such as white flour, fruits, starchy vegetables, and sugars in general. So, even if the Low-Glycemic Diet is not specifically designed to cut carbs, it ends up doing so anyway.
To follow this diet properly, all you need to do is choose foods as low as possible in the glycemic index. Foods are divided into three groups: High, Medium and Low. Foods high in the index should be avoided as much as possible. They include things like potatoes, white rice, pasta, and bread. Medium-level foods such as starchy vegetables (except potatoes) and some fruits should be eaten in moderation.
Low in the glycemic index are foods like meats, peas and lentils, dairy products and some fruits such as grapefruit.
While most weight-loss diets have been created for that specific purpose (shedding the pounds), the Bernstein Diet causes weight loss as a “secondary effect.” The main goal of the diet –created by physician Richard K. Bernstein — is to help diabetics control blood sugar and avoid the need for medication.
Bernstein, who has been a diabetic since the age of 12, designed the diet for himself and only promoted it to others when he realized how effective the program was. Bernstein created his diet based on one important principle: diabetics should avoid most carbs, keeping their total carbohydrate intake to under 30 grams per day. Those 30 grams of carbs should come from non-starchy vegetables. All grains, all starchy vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, and beans) and all fruits are banned.
The diet is considered controversial because it contradicts the recommendations of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), which suggests diabetics should consume approximately 130 grams of carbs per day.
12. Grapefruit Diet
The Grapefruit Diet is technically a low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb diet. It’s also known as the Hollywood Diet, which might explain why celebrities like Brooke Shields and Kylie Minogue have reportedly used it to shed pounds quickly.
The Grapefruit Diet is very simple to follow: just eat a grapefruit every morning for 12 days (though longer and shorter versions of the diet do exist) and then eat small amounts of low-carb foods for the rest of the day. Examples of allowed foods include eggs, vegetables, and meats. Refined carbohydrates and processed foods are forbidden and you should keep your calorie intake around 800-1,000 calories per day.
Follow the program carefully and the diet promises you should lose up to 10 lbs. in those 12 days.
13. Blood Type Diet
Designed by naturopathic doctor Dr. Peter D’Adamo, the Blood Type Diet is technically not promoted as a low-carb diet. However, all four blood groups included in the diet are nonetheless low in carbs (especially sugars). For example, those with Blood Type A should eat primarily vegetarian, with recommended foods including soy and vegetables, while those with Blood Type O should focus on a diet that’s primarily Paleo – that means lots of seafood, red meat, and leafy green vegetables.
Other Articles on Eating Low Carb
If you are interested in learning more about low carb eating, here are some other articles that may help.
- No Carb Foods
- Low Carb Fruits
- Low Carb Vegetables
- Why Low Fat Diets May Not Work
- The Good, Ok and Bad on Carbohydrates
- What are Good Carbohydrates?
- The Pros and Cons of Atkins Bars
- What is Ketosis?