What Is A Low Carb Diet?
A low carb diet or a no carb diet comes in different flavors (and below is a list of low carb diets), but they all have one thing in common, a significant reduction of carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, bread, etc.) and sugar.
At the same time, you are allowed to eat any meat and vegetable you like, and some fruits.
This may sound harder to do than it actually is. There are many vegetable dishes that imitate quite effectively carb dishes. For example, mashed potatoes can be easily replaced with mashed cauliflower. The flavor and eating experience, while not the same, is close enough so that after an adjustment period, you may even prefer mashed cauliflower. Particularly once you see how it makes you feel (less bloated), and the pounds start dropping.
Duke University’s Dr. Eric Westerman explains the science and practice of low carb diets in this 42-minute video.
Home Dieting Essentials
The Controversy Around Low Carb Diets
A low carb diet, while successful for many people, remains controversial with many nutritional experts and health professionals. With some diets (the Atkins diet comes to mind), the opposition gets almost hysterical. You have to decide for yourself, but here are some thoughts on that topic.
There is significant research (see videos above and below) that suggests that a low carb diet is a good way not only to lose weight, but also to stay healthy. I am always skeptical of “experts” who preach the mainstream idea (here it would be “eat less & exercise more”) even if it is that the results are mediocre at best. It requires no courage to preach the mainstream, since even you are proven wrong later on, you were wrong with everyone else, so no one is to blame. While I am not endorsing any particular diet (please make up your own mind & consult with your doctor), trying out something new requires courage and has my attention, particularly if the mainstream idea does not work very well.
What is the Theory Behind Low Carb Diets?
The proponents of a low carb diet make the following case. For your car the main fuel is gasoline. For the body the main fuel is blood sugar, called glucose. From a body perspective carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, bread, etc.) are just a form of complex sugar, not much different from regular sugar. Your body easily converts sugars and carbs to glucose (blood sugar, your body’s fuel). Your body needs to maintain glucose in a narrow range.
If you have too much glucose in your blood (ate too much sugar, carbs) your body will release insulin, and high insulin levels signal your body to start storing energy as fat, exactly what you don’t want. On the other hand, if you have a low blood sugar level (glucose), your body will release glucagon, which prompts your body to convert stored fat into glucose, exactly what you want.
Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist from the University of California, explains the impact of insulin in more detail. It is a short (8 min) video, and very informative.
Low Carb Diet Food List
What To Eat On A Low Carb Diet
In a nutshell you can eat meat, poultry, seafood, most vegetables and some fruits. You can eat a lot of very delicious dishes on a low carb diet. For example you can eat this, a nice steak with grilled vegetables. Eating a steak without potato or bread will require an adjustment, but you still have access to very delicious foods, and before long you won’t even miss it anymore.
Fruits that are allowed on a low carb diet are fruits low in carbohydrates and sugar. Below is a list of low sugar low carbohydrate fruits that are allowed on most low carb diets in limited quantities.
Blackberry, Blueberry, Boysenberry, Elderberry, Gooseberry, Lemon, Lime, Mulberry, Raspberry, Strawberry
Restricted and Prohibited Foods on a Low Carb Diet – What You Can’t Eat on a Low Carb Diet
Going on a low carb diet does not mean starvation or the end of good eats. It may require here and there getting some used to it, but once you are on it for a while, you will be surprised on how little you miss most carbs and sugars. Just to give you an idea of the various good low carb eats, here is a couple of low carb recipes.
Low Carb Diet Side Effects
During the first couple of weeks of starting a low carb diet, you can have one or several side effects. Below are common side effects and tips on how to handle them.
- Frequent Urination: Initially on the low carb diet you may, or may not, have to go the bathroom more often to urinate. This is normal and the result of your body burning stored glucose, which releases a lot of water.
- Fatigue, Headache, Muscle Cramps: In the low carb diet, as you starting releasing water you will lose salt, magnesium and other minerals which can make you very tired, give you headaches and/or cause muscle cramps. By increasing your salt and potassium (avocados & green leafy vegetables) intake you can reduce and/or eliminate these symptoms. For muscle cramps, magnesium supplements can help.
However these symptoms usually occur only during the initial few weeks, and will eventually disappear.
Can I Cheat While on a Low Carb Diet?
Some people have success with a cheat day while on a low carb diet. The theory behind that is that if you go on a diet, the body eventually adjusts to the diet which makes the weight loss harder after the initial weight loss. By having a cheat day (where you can eat what you want), you are tricking your body that it is not a diet. Obviously you will gain weight on that day. People report different levels of success with the cheat day. For some it is an all you can eat cheat day, and for some it is just a cheat meal.
I think, it also helps psychologically knowing that there is one meal or one day during the week, when you can satisfy your cravings. And that ultimately may be the most important reason for a cheat meal or a cheat day during the week. It helps you to stay on the diet, and not to throw in the towel and give up. Knowing that it is ok to once in a while give in to your cravings in moderation, allows you to stay on the diet, and be successful.
Eating Out on a Low Carb Diet
Eating out on a low carb diet is very difficult. With most fast food restaurants even if you eliminate the obvious carbs and sugars, say for the example the bun on a hamburger, there are still so many unknowns that make eating outside, a “research” project. To stay with the hamburger, even if you eliminate the bun, you still don’t know what they added to the meat (some breading to stretch the beef?, some sugar to make it tastier?). You can eat outside on a low carb diet, but it requires research.
Low Carbohydrate Diets
Due to the popularity and success of low carb diets, there are a number of different versions. The following diets are all different forms of low carb diets.
Atkins Diet & The New Atkins Diet
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are just two celebrities, who used the Atkins diet with success. It is a low carb diet created by Robert Atkins, which he popularized in his book “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” in 1972. It follows a 4 phase approach.
Phase 1 is the most restrictive (no fruits, grains, bread or starchy vegetables) and lasts for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Phase 2 re-introduces specific carbs on a limited basis, but low enough to continue losing weight.
Phase 3 and 4 are the maintenance phases, after you reach your desired weight, where carbs are increased but only to a point so that your weight is maintained.
The New Atkins diet is an update of the original Atkins diet with greater emphasis on healthy food.
Jennifer Lopez, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and Giesele Bundchen are just 3 celebrities, who used the Dukan Diet with success. It is a low carb diet designed by French nutritionist Pierre Dukan. It is a four-phase diet that starts off with a no carb approach for the first 10 days to kick start with fast weight loss.
Low GI Diet – Low Glycemic Diet
Britney Spears and Sharon Stone reportedly had success with the low GI diet. The diet was developed by Professor David Jenkins from the University of Toronto. GI stands for Glycemic Index which measures the impact on the blood sugar (glucose) upon consumption. It was originally developed for diabetics (who need to worry about blood sugar), but has also been successful in reducing weight. On this diet, you don’t have to pay attention to calories, but mainly eat foods that result in low blood sugar. By implication, this means that it is a low carb diet since carbs raise your blood sugar.
Paleo Diet – Caveman Diet
Megan Fox and Matthew McConaughey reportedly had success with the Paleo (Caveman) Diet. The Paleo diet consists mainly of protein (meat, fish), vegetables, fruit, mushroom, roots and nuts. It excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, refined salt and refined sugar. It was first popularized in the mid 1970s by Walter Voegtlin.
The basic idea behind this diet is that while the modern human has not lived in a cave for a few thousand years (an eternity from an individual perspective), the caveman day was just yesterday from a genetic and dietary need perspective.
For example, in the caveman days, the genetic imperative to “load up” on sugar and sweets whenever you came across them, did not result in obesity since in those times the only sugar would have been in fruits, and those growing wild would have been available only sparingly and only during the summer and autumn months.
The same genetic imperative to “load up” on sugar, when it is now available 24/7 at every corner, on the other hand, causes problems.