What is a Low-Carb Diet
Low-carb diets have been around for decades but have been quickly building traction in recent years. While there is no strict definition of a low-carb diet, it is intended to limit carbohydrates and sugars and focus on replacing those calories with foods high in fat and protein. The degree to which one limits carbohydrate intake depends on the desired outcome of their low-carb diet.
Defining Low-Carb Diets
The average diet, as defined by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends consuming 225 - 325 grams of carbohydrates each day. But what exactly is considered low-carb? We've put together a rough guideline for carbohydrate intake levels below:
- 100 - 150 grams per day is typically used for weight maintenance or for individuals looking to reduce carbohydrate intake while participating in high-intensity exercise.
- 50 - 100 grams per day will allow for slow and steady weight loss or weight maintenance, depending on the individual.
- 50 grams per day or under will shift the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which will lead to rapid weight loss. This type of carbohydrate reduction is consistent with the ketogenic diet; if you'd like to learn more, check out our guide over at All-Things Keto.
Note: Before making any major dietary changes, you should always consult your doctor or speak with a dietitian that can help you balance your nutrient intake to ensure you're getting everything your body needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How to achieve a Low-Carb Diet
Everyone's low-carb food choices will differ depending on their unique health and weight goals.
What remains true amongst anyone focusing on eliminating carbs from their diet is the importance of choosing quality carbs.
Simplified, a low-carb diet is not a no-carb diet because your body needs carbs to function, albeit in lower quantities.
So... if you're going to be reducing your carb intake in any capacity, you should place extra importance on the quality of the carbs you choose to include, so your body can get the nutrients it needs.
What the heck is a quality carb?
A quality carb can come from low glycemic index foods that contain fiber. Therefore, the type of carbs you should be looking for are those with a low glycemic load.
But honestly, that statement probably makes things more confusing.
First, we should probably understand what makes up a carb
Carbs or carbohydrates can be grouped into one of three categories, Sugars, Starches, or Fibers.
Most sugars and starches are digestible, but fibers are not.
That's why many people following carb restrictive diets count "net carbs."
Net carbs are the result of the formula below:
Total Carbs - Dietary Fibers - Sugar Alchohol = Net Carbs
Note: Starches are not individually labeled within the nutrition facts panel, but they fall within the Total Carb calculation.
But, back to good carbs! What makes a carbs quality?
All net carbs will convert to glucose during digestion. But carbohydrates can be simple or complex.
Complex carbohydrates and whole grains pack in more nutrients than simple carbs like white flour or sugar. They're higher in fiber and require more energy for your body to digest.
This also makes them more filling, which means they're a good option for weight control.
Complex carbs include:
- Whole grains
- Starchy vegetables (aka root veggies)
- Fruits and fruit juices with low sugar content.
Tip: The higher the glycemic index a portion of food or drink is, the more quickly your body will digest it into glucose.
Simple Carbs Include
- White bread
What's a Glycemic Index?
Good Question! The Glycemic Index is a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their impact on blood glucose levels.
Each food is assigned a number from 0 to 100, with pure glucose sitting at 100. Foods are generally placed within 1 of three categories, Low Glycemic Index (55 or Less)
Medium Glycemic Index (56-69)
High Glycemic index (70 or More).
What's the takeaway? If you're living low carb, then the carbs you want to consume will fall within the Low Glycemic Index category.
Can you lose weight while on a Low-Carb diet?
Yes! According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, low-carb diets are shown to help reduce weight in several different ways.
- Lower intake of calories
- Increased fat burning
- Decreased hunger levels
Let's talk more about low-carb food choices!
As we've said, food choices while living low-carb are highly variable based on the individual's desired outcomes. In general, low-carb diets encourage the consumption of:
- Meat, poultry, and seafood
- Fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and Seeds
- High-fat and low sugar dairy such as butter and some cheeses
Restricting the consumption of grain-based foods is crucial for any low-carb diet. In general, all low-carb diets will avoid the following higher carb foods:
- Cereals, bread, crackers, and pasta
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and beets
- Most fruits, except for berries
- Beans and legumes
Now we know that can be a little confusing given our list of complex carbs above.
What's important to remember is that the low-carb diet is about carb-intake limitations and not focused on ingredient eliminations. It's up for adaptation to your body's needs, taste preference, and cooking experience.
Looking for a sample 1-day low-carb meal plan?
- Eggs 🍳
- Bacon 🥓
- Black Coffee ☕️
- Grilled Chicken Breast 🐔
- Brocolli 🥦
- Kombucha (Look for No Sugar Added)
- Carrots 🥕
- Eggplant Lasagna 🍆
Innovations in low-carb food options
As the popularity of eating keto rises and consumers look for low carbohydrate options, food and beverage companies have answered with various low-carb alternatives for otherwise high-carb foods.
Looking for a low-carb cookie? You can find it. Low-carb pasta? You got it! Low-carb loaf of bread? Coming right up!
Grocery shopping for someone reducing their carb intake?
The nutrition facts panel will always be your best friend, watch out for high-carb content, and don't forget to watch the serving size. But, before you pick up every product while walking the aisle of your local grocer, you can keep an eye out for claims that will help point you in the right direction!
- No Sugar Added
- Low in Saturated Fat
- Low Sodium
- 100% Whole Grain
- Good Source of Fiber
Note: with any significant dietary change, the first step should always be to consult one's doctor or dietician to ensure that they choose the right foods to consume, reduce, or eliminate while maintaining a personal balanced nutritional diet.