What exactly is a Low Carb Diet?
The definition of a low carb diet is reducing your consumption of carbohydrates and increasing the amount of healthy fat you eat to achieve balanced nutrition.
A low carbohydrate diet is also referred to as a low carb, high fat diet, LCHF or a keto diet. A keto diet is low carb but not all low carb diets are keto.
Carbs are reduced, not eliminated altogether as they are found in fruit and vegetables, however, avoiding the consumption of refined carbohydrates will reduce your daily carb intake significantly.
In other words, you’ll find refined carbs are in most processed foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and sugary packaged foods so it’s best to avoid these.
An LCHF diet focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods as close to their original state as possible. Try to imagine what your grandmother used to eat. If she wouldn’t recognise it as food, don’t eat it.
Current Dietary Guidelines
Current dietary guidelines recommend 60% of your energy comes from carbs however, this is proving to be too much for our bodies to process, highlighted by the growing obesity epidemic.
Therefore, a Low Carb Diet aims for less than 30% of your daily energy coming from carbs, therefore keeping optimal health and nutrition and reducing inflammation in the body.
A low carbohydrate diet also includes increasing the amount of healthy fats you eat which keeps you fuller for longer.
What the Fat?
When we talk about fat, we mean ‘good’ fats not ‘bad’ fats.
You can find examples of good fats in oily fish rich in Omega 3, fat from grass fed meat, avocadoes, olive oil, hard cheese, eggs, rendered lard, and ghee.
Bad fats are trans fats and plant seed-based oils used in processed foods; things like doughnuts, chips, biscuits and fried foods.
Don’t be afraid of fat. It is used by all of the cells in your body to function. When eating a low carb diet, you replace carbohydrates with fat which steadies the blood sugar, avoiding spikes and crashes which in turn allows the body to burn fat. Fat becomes your primary source of energy. Therefore, you become a fat burning machine instead of a sugar burning machine.
Did you know the body can function perfectly well using fat as a primary fuel source? There is no requirement for carbohydrates in the diet. What little carbohydrate the body requires is made in the liver. This process is called gluconeogenesis.
For years we’ve been told fat was bad for our health but finally the science that proves it’s not is finally coming to the fore. Click here to find out more about why fat has been demonised for so long.
Recommended Daily Carb Levels
This is different for everyone; where you are starting from and what you are trying to achieve. In other words, there is no definitive answer. Generally accepted percentages are under 100g per day to still be low carb.
However, if you are striving to get into ketosis, you will need to reduce your intake even further to no more than 20g per day. This is a popular option for rapid weight loss. Although effective, it can be highly restrictive and difficult to maintain long term.
Ketogenic: up to 20g carbs per day
Low Carb: up to 50g carbs per day
Moderate: up to 100g carbs per day
Health Benefits of a Low Carb Diet
Studies of low carb, high fat (LCHF) diets have shown they can successfully:
- Reduce the blood markers of chronic inflammation (WBC and CRP)
- Promote weight-loss
- Improve gut health
- Lower high blood pressure
- Stabilise blood sugars, reducing sugar cravings
- Improve HbA1c in diabetics
- Improve cholesterol profiles (HDL, triglycerides)
- Many people have also reported the following benefits:
- Reducing headaches including migraines
- Relieving indigestion, reflux, constipation and irritable bowel disease
- Improving concentration and reducing fatigue
- Stable mood and energy levels
- Fewer cravings
- Improve sleep patterns
- Clearer skin
- Relieve depression
- Improve dry skin and other skin conditions
What are Carbs?
What do we mean by the word ‘carbs’?
Everything in the below list either substantially or totally consists of carbohydrate (carbs):
- sugar, sucrose, glucose and fructose, lactose, galactose, fruit, berries, honey
- root vegetables including potatoes, beetroot, carrots and parsnips etc;
- grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and many lesser-known grains.
- The food made by grinding grains to make flour such as bread, pasta, biscuits etc.
- Rice and foods made with ground rice.
- Many manufactured foods containing hidden sugar, starch, and other carbs. About 80% of manufactured food has carbs added in one form or another.
- Restaurants and Take-Away food outlets hide addictive carbs in the food which keeps you coming back for more.
Reducing your Consumption of Carbohydrates
There are three major food groups otherwise known as macronutrients (macros): proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (carbs). Click here for more detailed information about the Essential Nutrients.
The modern diet contains far too many carbs most of which are converted to glucose in the body. Many people become intolerant of glucose which leads to type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and many other problems.
All the nourishment the body requires can be found in proteins, vegetables, and certain fats.
By eliminating carbs (including the carbs in root vegetables) from the diet, diabetes is always improved and is sometimes reversed in a matter of weeks. Weight loss follows.
What Foods to Eat on a Low Carb Diet
- Poultry (skin on)
- Vegetables – above-ground veggies such as green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumber, zucchini, celery, broccoli, green beans, pumpkin, mushrooms, leafy salad greens, spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, peppers, tomatoes
- Fruit – Avocado, berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
- Nuts & Seeds
- Full-fat dairy – cheese, cream, natural Greek yogurt
- Healthy oils – butter, ghee, olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia oil, or coconut oil
You can check out a comprehensive list of low carb foods here.
What Foods to Avoid on a Low Carb Diet
- Sugar – added to just about everything you buy packaged in the supermarket
- Processed foods such as cakes, muffins, biscuits, confectionery
- Cereals – breakfast cereals are high in carbs and sugar
- Grains and pseudocereals – including wheat, rice, barley, rye, oats, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa
- Starchy vegetables – potatoes, corn, parsnip
- Fruit high in carbs – bananas, mangoes, grapes, pineapple, all dried fruit
- Legumes – including but not limited to baked beans, peas, lentils, red kidney beans, soybeans
- Fruit juices – these are sugar with the fibre of the fruit removed
- Packaged drinks – soft drinks and energy drinks, sports drinks, flavoured milk, fruit smoothies – all of them are sugar bombs!
- Seed oils – sunflower, canola, sesame, soybean, peanut oil, corn oil, anything labeled as vegetable oil
- Trans fat – margarine, fried fast foods
- Anything that says ‘diet’, ‘lite’ or ‘fat-free’
- Alcohol – Beer, sweet wines (white wine, liqueurs), cocktails
The ‘Sometimes’ Food List
- Dark chocolate – 85% cacao or higher
- Alcohol – Red wine and clear spirits
- Root vegetables – onions, beetroot, carrot, sweet potato
What Can I Drink?
- Coffee with cream (not milk)
- Red wine
- Clear Spirits
Weight Loss Without Hunger
A low carb, higher fat (LCHF) diet makes it easier for the body to use its fat reserves, as the release of fat is not blocked by high insulin levels. Eating more fat makes you feel full for longer and many studies have demonstrated that when people eat all they want on a low carb diet, they naturally eat fewer calories, without trying to restrict the amount they eat.
In summary, there is no focus on calorie restriction on a low carb diet. Adequate amounts of protein and healthy fat will prevent feelings of hunger. Your own body fat will provide all the calories you need.
Remember, your intake of carbs must be sufficiently low for the body to start burning your stored body fat. Any excess sugar in the blood will be used as fuel before body fat.
Always check with your doctor before starting a new way of eating.
Click here to get your low-carb food list to help you get started