What is a Low-Carb Diet?
At its most basic, a low-carb diet is one in which you limit the number of carbs you eat in a day. This helps the body burn stored fat for energy and can begin a healing process inside your body. These two things are why a low-carb diet is so popular today. The many benefits of this diet can be felt nearly immediately.
There are two types of low-carb diet you can choose. One is what people would generally refer to as a “low-carb diet”, which restricts carbs to between 50 and 100 net grams per day. The other is referred to as a “keto (ketogenic) diet” and limits carbs to 20 to 50 net grams per day, with the norm being 20 grams. Net carbs is your total carbohydrate intake minus fiber.
What is Ketosis?
Limiting carbs to roughly 20 net carbs per day allows you to enter a metabolic state called ketosis, which occurs when the body does not have enough glucose (from carbohydrates) for energy. Instead, it begins to burn stored fats instead. This results in a buildup of acids called ketones within the body. You can tell you are burning fat for fuel when you can detect these ketones in greater supply in your body.
The exact amount of carbohydrate restriction required to enter ketosis is different for each person, as does the amount of time it takes to be in ketosis.
Calorie Counting & Macronutrient Ratios
You don’t have to count calories to reap the benefits of a low-carb diet. Generally, after eating low carb for a while, your body will actually begin to regulate hunger better and you will eat to satiety, without the cravings and binging you may have had before.
However, if your goal is to lose weight, you will still want to watch your calorie count and also be aware of your macro-nutrient ratios, to make sure you’re getting the correct amount of carbs, protein, and fat for weight loss.
To stay in the fat burning state of ketosis, your macronutrient rations should be 5-10% carbs, 60-80% healthy fat and around 20% protein. On a sample 2,000-calorie diet, those ratios would look something like this.
- 70% fat – 155 grams – 1,400 calories
- 25% protein – 150 grams –500 calories
- 5% carbs – 25 grams – 100 calories
How Many Carbs Should You Eat?
Your personal carb restriction should be based on your goals and the way your body reacts. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you may want to start on a keto diet and restrict your carbs to less than 20 grams per day in order to lose the most weight.
If you’re not looking for weight loss, but want to reap the other benefits of a low-carb diet, perhaps start with 50 grams per day and see how your body reacts. Adjust form there.
To stay in ketosis most people have to consume less than 20 grams of carbs each day. Additionally, protein consumption should be moderate, with fat making up 60% to 80% of your diet.
Do I Need to Limit Protein on a Ketogenic Diet?
If you consume too much protein on a ketogenic diet, your body may have an insulin response, which inhibits the body’s ability to produce ketones. The amount of protein you need varies person to person and depends on many factors.
The best way to gauge your needs is to follow the macro recommendations for your situation and adjust based on how your body reacts.
How to Tell If You’re in Ketosis
The production of ketones can be measured. You can have your doctor do it or handle the job yourself.
If you don’t get in ketosis you don’t see the best results of this low-carb eating plan. It is a nice confidence boost as well, when you know your carb-cutting efforts are paying off. This helps you see what you are doing right (and wrong), so you can make the necessary changes.
A more accurate way to see if you are in ketosis is to test at home with keto strips.
You can purchase a pack of 100 strips for around $10 from Amazon or your local pharmacy. The are urine testing strips instantly tell you the ketone level in your urine. Follow the directions on your keto strip package.
Alternatively, you can get a breath analyzer that checks the ketones level in your breath. It’s more accurate than the urine strips, and super easy to do. It costs around $50-$60.
An even more accurate test involves checking your blood. You can purchase a blood ketone meter (usually available for $40 to $50, though you have to buy test strips too). This provides a very accurate level of ketones in your blood.
What Can I Eat on a Low-Carb Diet?
The worst carb offenders are bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar, and anything breaded or processed. For example, there are 5 grams of carbs in just one teaspoon of sugar. That means, you must eliminate sugary drinks, and desserts, too.
The good news is that there are tons of low-carb foods you can eat. And there are even a bunch of substitutes for the sugary foods you like.
Low-carb foods you can eat include meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, eggs, healthy fats, and seeds. These have none or very few carbs. However, some veggies (root vegetables, for instance) and fruits (like bananas, mangos, and apples) have higher carbs, so you’ll have to limit consumption of those.
Adjusting to a Low-Carb Diet
Just like with anything else, if you go too extreme, you may have difficulty fitting it into your lifestyle. Remember, you want to make it feel as though you are gaining something and not giving up something.
In the beginning, you will likely feel symptoms of withdrawal. But don’t worry, those cravings will subside as you ease into this new way of eating.
The way you eat is a habit. Habits can be changed. It might take time, but it is one hundred percent doable.
Some beneficial ways to adjust to this new eating style are to:
- Set small goals
- Do your best every day
- Get an accountability partner
Set Small Goals For Yourself
If you set goals that are too high, such as completely eradicating carbs from your diet, you may find you are setting the bar too high.
Start by eliminating carbs from your breakfast meals first. Before you do, be sure to check out these great low-carb breakfast ideas so you’re all set and ready to go. Find recipes like carb free quiches that you can bake ahead and freeze, or smoothies that can be made on the fly.
Once you’ve adapted to low-carb breakfasts, you can start eliminating carbs from lunch and dinner. It won’t feel so drastic if you take it in stages.
Just Do Your Best
One thing we’ve learned that has eased the stress of adopting this new way of eating is not to beat yourself up over slips. Just do your best and keep going. If you eat too many carbs in a meal, it’s not going to mess things up permanently.
Getting an accountability partner on any new journey in life is a wise choice. An accountability partner can talk you off the ledge when you feel you are slipping back into old habits, are having a hard time avoiding carbs, or are stuck in a stall.
A new habit – even a diet – with an accountability partner you can trust and rely on for moral support and who is willing to listen to your sorrows once in a while is priceless.
What are the Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet?
One of the quickest ways to drop a few pounds is to go on a low-carb diet. When you reduce your carb intake and increase your fat intake, your body functions better, has faster metabolism, and you see results more quickly.
When you first start a low-carb or ketogenic diet, you’ll likely have rapid weight loss in the first few weeks, due to decreased water weight. The carbs you eat often store up excess water that is released as soon as the body begins to process the excess energy from carbs and sugar.
While the weight loss slows down after the first few weeks, it should remain fairly consistent as long as you aren’t eating excess calories. You can expect a few weight loss stalls and plateaus along the way, but the scale will continue to trend downward as long as you have weight to lose.
Reducing your carb intake and increasing fat and protein will make you feel less sluggish and more energetic, over time. You’ll want that afternoon coffee or energy drink less often and wonder why you have this newfound energy. Then, it will dawn on you that your low-carb diet is working.
Other areas of your life can begin to improve as well. You may have clearer cognitive thinking, more focus and your attention span may even improve.
Better Physical Health
Reducing carbs is said to have a way of controlling insulin and regulating blood sugar. Some people have even felt a reduction in swelling and joint inflammation when they decreased their carb intake. That was certainly the case for me. I noticed a huge reduction in inflammation even after the first few weeks on the diet.
Increased Mental Health
Some people have an increase in mental health in areas such as fatigue, mental clarity, brain fog lifting and more. You may notice less depression and a more positive outlook when decreasing carbs.
A low-carb diet offers the possibility of better sleep, less insomnia, and waking up feeling more rested. Better memory, ability to focus and better cognitive skills are also said to be benefits of a low-carb diet.
Is a Low-Carb Diet Easy?
Any new endeavor takes time, dedication, and determination. Starting a low-carb diet is no different. You will need to prepare your meals more carefully, consider what you’re going to eat in situations where low-carb isn’t easy, and decide what your goals and motivations are.
Lack of willpower to avoid carbs you crave is probably the hardest part of this diet. You will have to look carbs in the face and say no. That can be quite difficult, especially when peer pressure or time are a factor. But there are ways to combat the issues you’ll face.
- Here are a few tips to keep meals simpler to ensure success.
- Stick to meals that are fast and easy to prepare
- Choose meals with 3 ingredients or less
- Batch cook your favorites and freeze them for quick access
- Ask others for favorite recipes and websites
- Get the whole family involved
- Don’t be afraid to experiment
- Set small goals
- Get a low-carb buddy
- Find forums and groups on social media for tips, advice, and support
- Remember what is motivating you to continue
Low-Carb & Keto Recipes
Here are some recipes to get you started on a low-carb, high-energy, healthy lifestyle: