So you’re thinking about a low carb diet. Good for you. And it’s very good that you’re looking for information about it before jumping in.
So What is a Low Carb Diet Anyway?
There are 6 main principles that low carb diets share. These were originally made famous by Dr Robert Atkins. Now they are shared by many other low carbohydrate diets.
The principle behind these diets is completely contrary to the low fat diets that have been popular for the past few decades. Dr. Atkins and others have seen the adverse affects that the low fat diets have on people’s health. They have put in lots of research to find out why these problems exist and it boils down to carbohydrates — carbs don’t have any use in the body other than energy.
The research lead them to a better understanding of how the body uses carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This understanding is what the principles of low carb diets is based on.
1. Zero Carbohydrate Foods are Unlimited
Some foods are considered zero carb foods. They are high in proteins and fats with very little carbohydrates. These include foods like meat, fish and oils. There are no restrictions on these foods in general.
There are certain types of food that fall into this category that you should still avoid for other reasons. Foods that are highly processed or contain harmful additives (like bacon) still need to be reduced or avoided completely.
Of course you shouldn’t eat just for the sake of eating. Impulse eating or emotional eating will still provide too many calories. But often you will find that you are less likely to do that on a low carb diet since your body is getting complete nutrition and feels satisfied.
The nice thing about these foods is that you can create a variety tasty meals. Lots of variety and enjoyment will help you stick to your diet plan.
2. Low Carbohydrate Foods are Limited
The next category of foods are low carb foods. These have a blend of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Foods like green vegetables, cheese, eggs, nuts and seeds fall into this category. You can eat them but most of the diet plans will have some form of restriction on the amounts.
Different diets manage this in different ways. For example, the Atkins plan limits you to a specific amount of vegetables and cheese. There is also a list of allowed vegetables. Eggs are unlimited but must be counted. Nuts and seeds are not allowed in the induction phase (the first two weeks) but can be reintroduced later in small portions.
All low carb diet plans have a minimum amount of vegetables. This is not optional!. Don’t confuse the idea of reducing carbohydrates and eliminating them, espectially those found in the vegetable category. It is very dangerous to cut out this source of essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. And it will not help you reach your weigh goals any faster, so please eat your greens!
3. High Carbohydrate Foods are Very Limited or Eliminated
The final group of foods is high carb foods. Anything made with grains or flour, corn, potatoes and other starchy vegetables are in this category. Most fruits are also high in carbs. And of course there is sugar. Sugar is what is known as a simple carbohydrate and comes in several forms. Most low carb diets will want to you eliminate the simple carbohydrates other than those in fresh fruits and vegetables.
At the start of your diet you will likely need to eliminate most of these high carb foods. Then you will be allowed to add limited amounts of them back in as you achieve your weight loss goal.
Although it may be tempting to cheat with these foods, even a small amount can knock you out of ketosis and stall your weight loss.
4. Water is Vital
Water is not an option — you must drink water. And it has to be water. Most plans will eliminate drinks that contain caffeine, alchohol and refined sugars. Water is vital to the processes that your body uses to consume energy, repair and build blood, muscle, bone and other tissues and to cleanse the byproducts of body processes from your system.
It is especially important for proper kidney function as a low carb diet can often put more stress on them.
Each plan may have a different requirement with regards to the amount of water you need. But you’ll probably find that it is drastically more than you are used to.
5. Exercise is Vital
Every diet plan, whether low carb or not, will work better when exercise is involved. The primary benefit is that it burns calories. In a low carb diet, this causes the body to use up the fat stores and leads to weight loss.
But that isn’t the only benefit. Exercise increases muscle and bone mass. This makes you stronger and also helps to raise your metabolic rate, burning further calories. Physical activity also helps to improve brain function leading to better moods, higher alertness, etc.
You need to have some physical activity every day. The intensity and duration depends on your current level of fitness. Walking is an excellent form of exercise and simple to add to your daily schedule. There are more intense exercise programs that you can pursue when your fitness level is able to handle it that will help you keep your body in its optimum state.
Your health professional is a great resource to help you find what type of exercise program will fit your current fitness level and allow you to exercise safely.
6. Supplements are Recommended
When you start a low carb diet you will likely need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Previous poor eating habits will likely have depleted your body’s levels. Also, in the early stages of a low carb diet fruits and vegetables will be restricted and they are the primary dietary source of vitamins.
Your doctor or naturopath can help you determine what supplements are required and help you to find those which are right for you.
Now that you’ve gotten some basic principles of the low carb diet under your belt, you need to decide if this is the right way for you. I’ve read two excellent books in this field that I’d like to recommend.
Dr. Atkins’ Age Defying Diet Revolution (by Dr. Robert C. Atkins of course) explains how the low fat diet is helpful in fighting the diseases typically associated with aging. It outlines the Atkins Diet.
The Schwarzbein Principle by Dr. Diane Schwarzbein is a more technical book. This book really appealed to me since I love to understand how things work. Dr. Schwarzbein describes the science and gives case studies from her own practice in how the low carb diet has helped with people suffering from diabetes, heart disease, etc.
There are plenty of other resources available out there as well. So make sure that you do your research and find the plan that will work for you.