THE LOW CARB DIET
Step by Step Ultimate Guide 2020
This is an ultimate guide to the Low Carb Diet.
If you want to find out why the individual approach is crucial for succeeding in this diet and how to create your plan, keep on reading.
Let’s dive in.
Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?
No worries. Let me send you a copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. Just let me know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):
What is the Low Carb Diet?
The low carb diet is an approach that lowers the carbohydrates intake, which aims to keep the insulin levels low.
It is believed that low insulin levels during the day ensures more efficient weight loss, as the body is “forced” to use the stored fat for fuel.
Let’s take a closer look at what actually is going on.
The low carb diet is the most commonly used meal plan that athletes and diet enthusiasts follow, in order to lose weight. The widespread belief is that carbs spike your insulin and blood sugar, which leads to gaining fat. While carbs actually increase the insulin levels, this does not mean that it causes fat gain. Before finding out why this is untrue, we should get familiar with some fundamentals first.
What are carbohydrates?
The three types of macronutrients (also called macros) are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Macronutrients influence our ability to digest food, absorb nutrients and produce hormones. They impact our body composition, metabolic and immune function, cell and structure function, and directly supply energy to our bodies.
Carbohydrates are organic molecules that could be simple and complex, according to their structure.
Simple carbs are small and easily processed molecules, known as mono- and disaccharides, because they contain either one, or two sugar molecules linked together. Such carbohydrates are found in fruits, milk, milk products, and refined sugars.
On the other hand, complex carbs have more than two sugar groups linked together and they are called polysaccharides. Legumes, whole grains and vegetables contain complex carbs.Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and provide more lasting energy in the body.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of immediate energy for all of the body’s cells and every person needs quality carbs to look, feel, and perform at their best.
Good carbs VS Bad carbs
We need the both types of carbohydrates (simple and complex), in order to have a balanced and healthy diet. It is important to note that simple and complex carbs do not refer to good and bad carbs. As we explained earlier, simple and complex carbs differ by the time they take to break down and we need both of them – just at different times. You can read more about this in chapter 6.
The good carbohydrates that are healthy for us are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber-rich foods, organic milk and milk products, and legumes. These foods provide quality energy and help you feel, and perform great.
The bad carbohydrates that should be excluded, or at least consumed more seldom, are the refined sugars and highly processed foods. Examples of such foods are candy, fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, white bread, white pasta, and others.
In other words, good carbs come from natural sources, while the bad carbohydrates.. well, you buy those from the stores and fast food restaurants. In order to avoid bad carbs, stay away from unhealthy and heavily processed foods, such as hamburgers, candy, milk chocolate, waffles, etc.
You can find complete lists of the foods to eat and foods to avoid, during the low carb diet, in chapter 5.
Why is the low carb diet so popular?
Ask almost anyone what they need to do, in order to lose weight, and you will most likely hear : “Cut down the carbs.”
The low carb diet is one of the most famous approaches for weight loss and all of this, thanks to the widespread misunderstood correlation between carbs and insulin. Many people firmly believe that since insulin stimulates the process of storing fat in the fat cells, you must eat low carb, in order to lose weight. This might seem logical but it is not true.
Before jumping into any conclusions, we must understand how things work. If you want to find out what exactly happens when you eat carbs, keep reading. And if you are looking for more clarification about the role of fats, check out our low fat diet guide.
What is insulin and why carbs don't make you fat?
Insulin is a very important hormone in the body that is responsible for many processes. It allows your body to use glucose for energy or to store it for future use, and regulates your blood sugar levels. Insulin is also a prandial satiety hormone, which means that it makes you feel full after eating. Insulin also blocks the lipolysis and simulate lipogenesis.
Lipolysis is the metabolic pathway through which lipid triglycerides are hydrolyzed into a glycerol and three fatty acids, or in other words, the process by which fats are broken down in our bodies.
The role of insulin in this process is to counter-regulate the increase in lipolysis when it binds to insulin receptors on the adipocyte cell membrane. Insulin receptors activate insulin-like receptor substrates.
These substrates activate phosphoinositide 3-kinases (a family of enzymes involved in cellular functions) which then phosphorylate protein kinase B (serine/threonine-specific protein kinase that plays a key role in multiple cellular processes such as glucose metabolism, apoptosis, cell proliferation, transcription, and cell migration). Protein kinase B subsequently phosphorylates phosphodiesterase 3B (a phosphodiesterase, an enzyme that breaks a phosphodiester bond) which then converts the cAMP produced by adenylate cyclase into 5’AMP. The resulting insulin induced reduction in cAMP levels decreases the lipolysis rate. (9) (10)
Lipogenesis is the metabolic process through which acetyl-CoA is converted to triglyceride for storage in fat, or simply, the process of storing fat in the fat cells.
Insulin stimulates lipogenesis primarily by activating two enzymatic pathways. Pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), converts pyruvate into acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC), converts acetyl-CoA produced by PDH into malonyl-CoA. Malonyl-CoA provides the two-carbon building blocks that are used to create larger fatty acids. (11)
The promotion of glucose uptake by adipose tissue also results in insulin stimulation of lipogenesis. The increase in the uptake of glucose can occur through the use of glucose transporters directed to the plasma membrane or through the activation of lipogenic and glycolytic enzymes.
These physiological functions of the insulin are the main reasons why it has a reputation for being “the hormone responsible for fat gain”.
This is a wrong interpretation of the information, since the changes in our body composition depend on what happens in our bodies in the long-term, not on the temporary hormone levels.
Yes, insulin levels are increased after eating carbs for about two hours, but this time frame is not long enough to lead to fat gain on its own. The insulin levels are lower in the other hours of day (and night), so try to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Many meta-analyses have been conducted on the subject and unanimously agree that restricting carbohydrates from your diet would not contribute to faster weight loss. Carbs do not make you fat and there is no difference in the final result, whether you decide to follow a low carb diet, or a more balanced plan, as long as you stay in a calorie deficit. (1) (2)
However, there are still many benefits of the low carb diet, which you will learn about in chapter 4. Sometimes, a diet is not only about losing weight, but about gaining experience, knowledge, a different perspective and getting to know yourself better.
Is the low carb diet the same as the Keto or Atkins diet?
There is a difference between low carb and no carb. Unlike the Keto and Atkins diet, where ketosis is essential, it is completely optional with the low carb diet.You can read more about the keto diet here.
During the low carb diet, you should consume between 1 to 1.5 grams of carbs per kilogram bodyweight (read more about this in chapter 6). This is a relatively larger carbs intake than during keto diets, so it is up to you to decide if you want to enter ketosis or not.
Bottom line: The low carb diet is an interesting eating approach that has its benefits. It is important to understand that the carbohydrates are not the enemy and they do not make you fat. The misconception about carbs/insulin make people fear important and healthy foods, such as rice, potatoes, quinoa, fruits, and others. While it is okay to minimize these foods for a while, it is not recommended to exclude them completely from your menu for long.
Are you curious to find out whether the low carb diet is for you or not? If yes, move on to the next chapter.
Who can try the Low Carb Diet and is it safe for women?
The low carb diet is an interesting plan to follow, but it is also restrictive and risky, so it is not the best option for everyone. People are diverse and their meal plans must be different as well, tailored to their needs, goals, and preferences.
In this chapter, you will find out about the risks and side effects of the diet, who should not follow it, and who can benefit the most from it.
Who can benefit the most from the Low Carb Diet?
The low carb diet is a good option for people that are obese and suffer from insulin sensitivity. Such individuals can follow the diet for longer periods of time and might have 2-3 days a month, when they consume higher amounts of quality carbohydrates. You can read more about insulin resistance and the ways to test your insulin sensitivity in chapter 3.
The diet is also suitable for athletes, sport enthusiasts and bodybuilders, as long as they are not working out too intensely.
People, who are not big fans of carbs, can easily follow the low carb diet and experience amazing results with it. Even though there is no advantage in the overall process of losing weight, compared to diets with higher carbohydrates intake, there are still individuals, who report that they feel better and more energized, following a low carb diet.
This is mostly because the sugars and refined carbs are cut out from their menu, which ends the sharp insulin spikes. This leads to decreased inflammation, improved ability to focus and increased energy levels. Such benefits are also reported by people following the candida diet, because it eliminates sugar as well.
Who should not do the low carb diet?
The low carb diet is not appropriate for very active athletes that practice high intensity workouts more than 4 times a week, and/or long duration trainings, such as marathons, long cycling, etc.You can read more about the diet and different kinds of workouts in chapter 7.
The diet is also not appropriate for pregnant or nursing women, neither for children.
In the next chapter, you will learn for which medical conditions the diet is not recommended.
Women and the low carb diet
It is okay for women to follow the diet for no longer than 2-3 months. Eating too low carb for too long can cause significant disruptions to many hormones. Women’s bodies are more sensitive to low energy or carbohydrates availability, probably because of the evolutionary importance of having enough nutrients to sustain a pregnancy.
Women, who go on a too restrictive diet for too long, might face problems like:
- Lowered fertility;
- Hypoglycemia and blood sugar swings;
- Loss of bone density;
- A stopped or irregular menstrual cycle;
- Anxiety, depression, mood swings;
- Disrupted sleep;
- Chronic fatigue;
- Chronic inflammation;
- Worse chronic pain and other chronic problems.
The low carb diet is not recommended for women, who are pregnant or breastfeeding. They need about 170-220 grams of carbs per day for a healthy and balanced diet that meets all of theirs and baby’s nutrients demands.
However, if you are pregnant or nursing your baby, you can still avoid sugars and refined carbs, as they are not good for you anyway.
- Women in menopause and the low carb diet
Menopause can cause many changes in hormone levels. Decreased insulin sensitivity is a common problem among women in menopause, which is one of the reasons why women gain weight as they enter this phase of their lives.
The low carb diet could be beneficial for such women, as it improves insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, many women in menopause start to experience stronger sugar cravings, so a low carb diet rich in healthy fats, might help them regain their control and adopt healthier habits.
It is important to note that women in menopause do not need to enter a ketosis, in order to benefit from a low carb diet. It is enough to lower their carbohydrates intake.
Children and the low carb diet
During childhood, restrictive diets might cause children to have less energy and less motivation and interest for learning, which influences cognitive development in a negative way. Under-nutrition can also affect physical growth and maturation.
Children need a nutrient-dense diet that does not forbid any of the macronutrients and provide them with all of the essential micronutrients for a proper development.
If a child has overweight issues, they must increase their physical activity and gradually decrease their calorie intake, without excluding any of the main macronutrients.
Side effects of the low carb diet
Research studies suggest that low carb plans might not be the best option for everyone, who wants to lose weight, and if you want to achieve long-term effect, you must be aware of the following possible side effects.
- Muscle cramps;
- Bad breath;
- Skin rash;
- Digestive issues;
- Stomach pain.
None of these side effects are mandatory, and you might not experience any of them. However, sometimes they are likely to happen, so make sure you put your health first, and end the diet, if it causes you discomfort.
Bottom line: Starting a diet is just as serious as starting a drug treatment, so take seriously every aspect of it. If you fall into the category of people, who are healthy and can try the diet, plan your steps carefully and consult a specialist, if there is something you are not completely sure about..
In the next chapter, you can read more about the correlation between the diet and certain medical conditions.
The Low Carb Diet and medical conditions
The safest way to start a diet, when you have a medical condition, is to consult your doctor first.
You should remain cautious when you decide to start a restrictive diet that eliminates or minimizes a certain macronutrient.
The low carb diet can be beneficial for the treatment of some medical conditions but it could also be risky for others.
The low carb diet and insulin resistance
-What is insulin resistance? (8)
In chapter 1 you learned what the hormone insulin is and how it affects different processes.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells do not respond properly to insulin. If your body’s cells are less sensitive to insulin, then less glucose is transported from the blood into cells.
- Your cells “starve” while your blood glucose levels remain high;
- Your pancreas produces more insulin to try to move more glucose into the cells, as a compensation;
- In most cases, the pancreas is able to produce extra insulin for many years. Most people with insulin resistance do not develop diabetes.
- In some cases, the pancreases eventually cannot keep up with demand, blood glucose continues to rise, which leads to type 2 diabetes.
The cause of insulin resistance is not completely understood and the major contributing factors are lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, and overweight. Genetics factors might also play a role in this condition.
-Some signs of insulin resistance include:
- Blood pressure over 130/80 or higher;
- Waistline over 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women;
- A fasting glucose level over 100mg/dl
- A HDL cholesterol level over under 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
- Skin tags
-3 of the most common lab tests for insulin resistance (9)
- Glucose—a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) or an oral glucose tolerance test (GTT). It could be used to screen for, diagnose and monitor prediabetes or diabetes.
- Hemoglobin A1c (A1c)—this blood test measures A1c to determine your average blood sugar levels for the past 2 to 3 months. It might be used to screen for, diagnose and monitor prediabetes and diabetes.
- Lipid panel—a group of tests that show specific lipids in the blood (i.e., total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides). The LDL cholesterol level is calculated, and If the triglycerides are increased (e.g., greater than 400 mg/dL), LDL cholesterol does not need to be calculated and a direct LDL (direct measurement of the LDL cholesterol) can be performed.
The low carb diet and diabetes
If you have diabetes, it means that your body cannot process carbohydrates properly.
Type 1 diabetes is also called juvenile diabetes because it is most often known for being diagnosed in young children and teens, although it could develop at older age as well. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, known as beta cells. This leads to a complete loss of insulin production.
Type 2 diabetes is chronic condition that can develop at any age. In type 2 diabetes, the beta cells usually produce insulin, but the body cannot use it properly because its cells are resistant to it (especially the muscle and liver cells). This prompts the pancreas to produce more insulin, which leads to high insulin levels known as hyperinsulinemia.
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly. Some people have type 2 diabetes for years and not know it. Some signs and symptoms include:
- Increased thirst and hunger;
- Frequent urination;
- Blurred vision;
- Slow-healing wounds;
- Frequent infections;
- Areas of darkened skin;
- Low energy levels.
In order to reduce the risk of complications when you have diabetes, you should maintain good blood sugar control. A low carb diet could be helpful in this case, since it promotes better blood sugar levels.
An interesting fact is that the standard treatment for diabetes used to be a very low carb diet, prior to the discovery of insulin in 1921. (3)
Many research studies have shown that people with diabetes experience improvements in the blood sugar control while being on a low carb diet. (4) (5) (6) Some patients report needing less insulin and losing weight. However, these studies do not prove that every diabetes patient would benefit from the low carb diet, because of individual differences.
Remember that there is a risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in patients with type 2 diabetes, if the carbohydrates are restricted too much. Make sure you do not do anything too extreme, when you create your meal plan, and you consult your doctor before you start any diet.
Is the low carb diet bad for hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain crucial hormones. It can affect the metabolism, mental functions, bowel movements and energy level.
When you have a condition, which slows down the metabolism, such as hypothyroidism, you might want to be careful with your diet and make sure you give your body all of the required nutrients. Diets that minimize one of the major macronutrients might not be the best option in this case, so consider a more balanced plan. Take a look at our other guides and pick one that is less restrictive.
The low carb diet and blood pressure
The low carb diets successfully lowers high blood pressure, thanks to the reductions in insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity.
Furthermore, during the transition from a regular diet to a low carb, people stop retaining water and salt. This results in a lowered blood pressure, since the kidneys increase the excretion of these substances in the urine. This is why it is very important to supplement with electrolytes and/or add more salt to your meals.
As you can guess, these effects (lowering the blood pressure) are beneficial only for people with high blood pressure. The low carb diet is not recommended for individuals with low blood pressure.
Bottom line: The diet can help improve symptoms of some diseases but it can also worsen other conditions, which is why specialist’s advice would be the best first step towards clarity. What is good for one might be really bad for others, so take everything with a grain of salt and make your own decisions.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of the low carb diet.
Pros & Cons
There are advantages and disadvantages of every diet. Nothing is just black or just white.
In this chapter you will learn how you can benefit from the low carb diet and what would these benefits cost you.
- Helps regulate spikes in blood sugar;
- Lowers blood pressure;
- Helps to control seizures in some people with epilepsy;
- Improves insulin sensitivity;
- Promotes heart and circulatory system health;
- Less sugar cravings;
- Might promote lower cholesterol levels (only when saturated fat is also restricted);
- Helps you feel full for longer after eating;
- Eliminates junk food, refined carbs, sugars;
- Allows you to eat many tasty high-fat foods, such as butter, cream, steaks, cheese, etc.
- Easy to stick to.
- Eliminates/minimizes important food groups, such as fruits, bread, some vegetables.
- A lack of carbohydrates might affect concentration during the transmission period;
- Not suitable for people, who practice high intensity or long duration workouts;
- Not suitable for people with certain medical conditions, such as low blood pressure, hypothyroidism, depression, anxiety, and others;
- Not the best option for women;
- Not appropriate for children;
- Quite a lot of side effects in the long-term.
Bottom line: The low carb diet is an interesting, popular and easy approach to follow. While it has many benefits, its cons would make all of them not worth it, if you follow the diet for too long.
However, 2-3 months of eating low carbs and eliminating heavily processed foods could be good for your body and mind, giving you the opportunity to cleanse from toxins.
If you are still with me, you probably have decided to give the low carb diet a try, so let’s find out what you can eat and what you should avoid.
Foods to eat & Foods to avoid
Since the low carb diet is not a keto diet, you can eat almost everything, even foods high in carbs, such as rice, potatoes and quinoa. The trick is that you should not exceed the allowed grams of carbohydrates per day. You can find out how many carbs you should eat a day in chapter 6.
There are still some foods, which are not allowed during the diet, even in small quantities.
Low carb diet foods to avoid
- Sugar: This includes all kinds of candy, soft drinks, chocolate, cakes, ice-cream, foods that claim to be healthy but have added sugars (e.g. cereal, muesli bars), artificial sweeteners.
- Alcohol, especially beer
- Foods that contain “hidden sugars”, such as low-fat yogurt, different sauces, sports drinks, flavored coffee, iced tea, pre-made soup, canned fruit, bottled smoothies, salad dressings, pre-made herbal mixes and condiments;
- Refined grains and fats.
Low carb diet foods to eat less
- Vegetables, growing below ground: potatoes, parsnip, celeriac, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, beetroot;
- Very sweet fruits, such as figs, mangoes, dates, grapes, cherries, bananas
- Corn, beans, quinoa, rice, bulgur;
- Oatmeal, whole-grain foods.
Low carb diet foods to eat
- Vegetables, growing above ground: tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, peppers, olives, brussels sprouts, and many others.
- Peas and lentils;
- Lean and fatty meats;
- Sun-dried tomatoes;
- Nuts and seeds, including nut butter;
- Oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, cacao oil, seeds oil, and others;
- Cheese, such as feta, mozzarella, ricotta, etc;
- Unsweetened dairy products;
- Low to moderate sweet fruits, such as apples, blueberries, raspberries, and others.
Top 9 low carb vegetables
- Kale – it contains fiber, antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C and K, and many other healthy nutrients. Antioxidants clean the body from toxins that result from environmental pressure.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 3.4g; 33 kcal
- Spinach – one of the richest in vitamin K vegetables. Vitamin K is important for maintaining good bone health. Spinach is also full of iron, magnesium and other vitamins.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 3.9g; 22 kcal
- Asparagus – it is a great source of fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C and K. It is also rich in copper, which is a trace mineral that aids in energy production and collagen formation.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 3.88g; 20 kcal
- Lettuce – one of the tastiest leafy greens that is packed with tons of antioxidants, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and folate.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 2.87g; 15 kcal
- Cucumbers – except for the wide range of healthy micronutrients, cucumbers are also a great source of water and soluble fiber, making them ideal for promoting hydration.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 2g; 12 kcal
- Broccoli – very rich in fiber, vitamins K and C, folic acid, and potassium. Broccoli can also help you lower cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol, you might want to read the low cholesterol diet guide.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 7.18; 35 kcal
- Cabbage – it is high in healthy micronutrients, such as iron, riboflavin and vitamin A. It is also a great source of powerful antioxidants, including polyphenols and sulfur compounds.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 5.8g; 25 kcal
- Zucchini – this vegetable is packed with vitamins, folate, and fiber. It contains high amounts of potassium and antioxidants, while it is also a tasty and filling food.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 3.11g; 21kcal
- Green beans – this crunchy and low-calorie food is rich in vitamin A, K, and c, folic acid and fiber. Green beans are also a great source of silicon, which is needed for healthy hair, bones and skin.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 7.88g; 35 kcal
Top 8 low carb fruits
- Avocado – the favourite superfood of many, avocados not only taste amazing but are also great source of a wide range of beneficial nutrients. Vitamins C, K, E, and B-6, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids, are just some of the micronutrients avocados contain.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 8.53g; 160 kcal
- Raspberries – this fruit contains a high amount of powerful antioxidants and vitamins. Raspberries are also rich in fiber, which helps your digestive system working properly.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 11.92; 52 kcal
- Blueberries – called also “brainberries” by some people, these small and delicious fruits can help maintain good brain function and improve memory.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 14.49; 57 kcal
- Strawberries – these tasty berries contain decent amount of antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin B9 and potassium.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 7g, 32 kcal
- Cantaloupe – this fruit is rich in fibre, potassium, and vitamin C, which contributes to keeping the heart healthy.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 7.58g; 36 kcal
- Plums – they are very rich in minerals, antioxidants, vitamin C and A. Plums are also very high in fiber and low in sugar, which makes them great for your low carb diet.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 11.42г; 46 kcal
- Lemons and limes – these are one of the most powerful immune boosters, rich in vitamin C, soluble fiber and plant compounds.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 9g; 30 kcal
- Kiwis – besides that they taste amazing, kiwis are packed with phosphorus, potassium, copper and vitamin C, which makes them a great tool to help you reach your nutrients demands for the day.
Carbohydrates per 100g: 14.23g; 61 kcal
Which fruit is lowest in carbs?
From our list, the winner is Strawberry. With only 7g of carbs and 32 kcal per 100g, this fruit is an important ingredient for everyone on a low carb diet.
Example shopping list
When going shopping on a diet, it is a good trick to take a list with you. This way you would not get distracted from the foods you must avoid, plus it would save you time and help you not forget something. Your grocery bags should contain products like these:
- Sources of protein: Meat, fish and eggs are number 1 sources of complete protein. Tofu, quinoa, lentils and peas are also great and you must include them in your menu as well, especially if you are also following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
- Organic dairy products: Greek yogurt, cheese, milk. Besides being good protein sources as well, dairy products are rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, electrolytes and other essential nutrients that are good for you.
- Sources of healthy fats: Avocados, oils, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, nuts and seeds. Healthy fats are important for a balanced diet and play a key role in succeeding in the low-carb diet. Plus, having nuts and seeds in your kitchen makes it easier to choose a snack that satisfies your hunger, when you want to have something small, or when on the go.
- Sources of complex carbs: Whole grains, quinoa, rice, potatoes, legumes… Choose those you like from the foods to eat list and stack your kitchen with healthy carbs.
- Fruits and vegetables: Make sure you consume different vegetables at least once a day and one or two fruits. This would help you reach your micronutrients demands.
- Dessert ingredients: Coconut products, stevia, almond flour, dark chocolate (above 80%), vanilla and rum essence, chia seeds, flax seeds. You would need such things, if you want to make some of our low carb desserts that save you from sugar cravings.
Eating out in low carb diet
Since the low carb diet is not too restrictive, it could be followed easily while eating out as well.
6 Tips when eating out on low carb diet:
- Avoid fast food restaurants and only visit places with a wide variety of meals.
- If there are restaurants that offer healthy and organic meals, chose them over the regular ones.
- Pick simple meals, such as steaks, salads, fish, omelets, tofu salads/dishes.
- Avoid soups and dishes with sauces, unless you are sure about the ingredients and they are all suitable for your diet.
- If you are eating some of your carb meals out, look for dishes with complex carbs, such as whole grains, rice, potatoes.
- Skip the dessert, unless it is a low carb organic dessert that fits your daily macros demands.
Bottom line: The low carb diet is actually pretty easy to follow, as the only forbidden foods are the junk, heavily processed foods, refined carbs and fats. Considering that everything else could be included in your menu, it should be okay to follow the diet, without feeling like you are missing out on something all the time.
Do you want to learn how to calculate your macros like a pro? Read the next chapter then!
How to create your individual plan
How do you lose weight on low carb diet?
In chapter 1 we found out why carbs do not make you fat. This means that reducing carbs intake is not enough to lose weight. Even if you eliminate the carbs completely from your diet (which is not necessary for the moderate low carb diet), there are still many high-calorie foods in your menu, such as avocados, nuts and nut butters, oils, fatty meats, etc. It is very easy to exceed your recommended calorie intake, while you are consuming such foods daily, so you must calculate how many calories you can consume.
I’d like to point out that counting calories is often flawed because of many reasons. There is no need to go into details about this but keep in mind that in your body 2 plus 2 doesn’t have to make 4. In other words, there is a difference between how many calories you are taking in and how many you are actually absorbing.
Furthermore, food package numbers are imprecise, and once the food is cooked, or blended, or chopped, the amount of energy available for digestion and absorption changes.
This is why, counting calories is not a practical way to control your energy intake in the long-term but for the success of this diet, it is useful to practice it, at least for the first 4-5 weeks.
4 Steps how to figure out your macros on a low carb diet (aiming weight loss)
- Calculate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This is the number of calories your body burns just to keep you alive, hence the calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day. You can use this calculator.
- Multiply your BMR number by the index of physical activity, which suits your lifestyle best.
– Use 1,2 if you are living a sedentary lifestyle;
– Use 1,375 if you practice some form of sport 1-3 times per week (moderately active);
– Use 1,55 if you work out 3-5 times per week (active);
– Use 1,725 if you train 6-7 times per week (highly active);
– Use 1,9 if you work out more than 7-8 times per week (extremely active).
The number you got is your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Since your goal is to lose weight you must eat less than your TDEE.
- Subtract 500 from your TDEE. This way you find out how many calories you should consume, if you want to lose weight.
- Macros distribution:
*Men – 2.5-3g per kilogram bodyweight
*Women – 2.2-2.6g per kilogram bodyweight
*Men & Women – 1-1.5g per kilogram bodyweight (this depends on how much you want to decrease your carbs intake)
*Men & Women can calculate how many grams of fats they can eat using the following formula
Fats = (Your TDEE – 500) – (calories from Protein + calories from Carbs) / 9
1g of Protein = 4 calories
1g of Carbs = 4 calories
1g of Fats = 9 calories
While all of this might sound too complicated, it is actually very easy to calculate.
If you are a 25 years old man, 180cm tall, and your weight is 100kg, then the BMR calculator would show a number of 2166
If you work out 4 times per week, then your physical activity index would be 1,55
How to calculate everything:
2166 x 1,55 = 3357 (this is your TDEE)
3357 – 500 = 2857 (this is the calories you should consume daily, if you want to lose weight)
Proteins: 3 x bodyweight = 3 x 100 = 300g of Protein
300 x 4 = 1200 calories from Protein
Carbs: 1.5 x bodyweight = 1.5 x 100 = 150g of Carbs
150 x 4 = 600 calories from Carbs
Fats: 2857 – (1200 + 600) / 9 = 117g of Fats
117 x 9 = 1053 calories from Fats
Conclusion: A man with the metrics above, would need 2857 calories daily to lose weight. If he decides to follow the low carb diet, the distribution of the calories would look something like this:
- 1200 calories from protein, so 300g protein daily
- 600 calories from carbs, so 150g carbs daily
- 1053 calories from fats, so 117g fats daily
7 Low Carb Diet Desserts
1. Three ingredients chocolate soufflé
Preparing time: 6 min | Cooking time: 8 min
Ingredients for 1 portion:
-50g dark chocolate (at least 80%)
-50g butter of choice (cacao, coconut, dairy)
- Melt the chocolate with the butter using a water bath.
- Separate the yolk from the white.
- Whisk the egg white until you reach soft peaks form.
- Add the yolk and mix well.
- Add the melted chocolate and butter to the mixture and whisk everything together.
- Bake in a silicone cupcake form for 8min in a 180C oven.
Calories per one serving (~160g): 500
Total Fat: 54.7g
Saturated Fat: 44.8g
Total Carbohydrate: 0.8g
Dietary Fiber: 0.1g
Total Sugars: 0.6g
Vitamin D: 15mcg
2. Cashew-banana Ice-cream
Preparing time: 7 min | Cooking time: 4 min
Ingredients for 4 portions:
-3 chopped and frozen bananas
-4tbsp coconut milk
-130g of raw cashew nuts, soaked in water overnight
-1 vanilla essence
-Coconut shreds for decoration
- Blend the cashew nuts in a blender until smooth and creamy.
- Add the bananas, milk and vanilla essence, and blend for a few more minutes.
- Decorate each portion with coconut shreds and serve immediately.
Calories per serving (~130g): 300
Total Fat: 18.9g
Saturated Fat: 6.3g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 31.7g
Dietary Fiber: 3.6g
Total Sugars: 13g
Vitamin D: 0 mcg
3. Ricotta “cupcake”
Preparing time: 10 min | Cooking time: 30 min
Ingredients for 3 portions:
-250g ricotta (unsalted)
-2tbsp coconut or cacao oil
-2tbsp agave syrup or a few drops of stevia
-A pinch of cinnamon
-1 pear or apple
- Mix everything well, except for the fruit.
- Peel and chop the fruit of your choice, and add it to the mixture.
- Pour the mixture in 3 cupcakes forms.
- Bake for 30minutes in a 180C oven with a ventilator.
Calories per serving (~150g): 190
Total Fat 11.7g
Saturated Fat 8.4g
Cholesterol 67 mg
Total Carbohydrate 15.8g
Dietary Fiber 1.8g
Total Sugars 11.3g
Vitamin D 5 mcg
4. Tahini biscuits with almonds
Preparing time: 15 min | Cooking time: 13 min
Ingredients for 14 biscuits:
-100g raw almonds (soaked in water for a few hours)
-100g dried plums
-1 egg white
-3tbsp tahini of choice (almond, hazelnut, cashew, sesame)
- Blend the almonds until smooth and creamy.
- Add the other ingredients and blend well. The result should be a soft and sticky mixture.
- With lightly wet hands form 14 flat cookies and place them2-3cm apart on a baking tray, lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 11-13min in a 180C oven with a ventilator. You might want to lower the heat after the 8th minute.
Calories per one cookie (~22g): 78
Total Fat 4.9g
Saturated Fat 0.5g
Total Carbohydrate 6.6g
Dietary Fiber 1.7g
Total Sugars 3.4g
Vitamin D 0 mcg
5. Low carb Pear Cake
Preparing time: 14 min | Cooking time: 30 min
Ingredients for 9 slices:
-4tbsp coconut flour
-2 tbsp carob powder
-100g cottage cheese (unsalted)
-1tsp baking powder
-2tbsp melted cacao or coconut butter
-2 tbsp agave syrup
– 1 tsp cinnamon
- Mix the liquid ingredients in a bowl with a mixer.
- Add everything else, except for the pear, and whisk again.
- Peal, chop the pear, and add it to the mixture.
- Bake in a silicone cake form for 25-30 minutes in a 170C oven with a ventilator. Use the middle or bottom rack, depending on how big your oven is.
Calories per one slice (~75g): 129
Total Fat 6.4g
Saturated Fat 4g
Total Carbohydrate 13g
Dietary Fiber 3.5g
Total Sugars 2.6g
Vitamin D 9mcg
Potassium 97 mg
6. Keto Blueberry “Crème Caramel”
Preparing time: 10 min | Cooking time: 30 min
Ingredients for 2 portions:
-70g fresh blueberries
-250g unsalted ricotta cheese
-2 tbsp agave syrup
-1 essence vanilla
- Whisk everything well with a mixer, except for the berries.
- Pour the mixture in a small tray or two bowls.
- Add the blueberries.
- Bake in a 180C oven with a ventilator for 30 min.
Calories per one portion (~205g): 173
Total Fat 5.3g
Saturated Fat 3.1g
Total Carbohydrate 21g
Dietary Fiber 2.1g
Total Sugars 14.1g
Vitamin D 0mcg
Potassium 198 mg
7. Gluten free Apple Cake
Preparing time: 12min | Cooking time: 30 min
Ingredients for 11 slices:
-2tbsp cacao or coconut oil
-100g almond flour
-A few drops of stevia (depending on your preference)
-1tsp baking powder
-1 big apple
- Mix the liquid ingredients in a bowl with a mixer.
- Add everything else, except for the apple, and whisk again.
- Peal, grate the apple, and add it to the mixture.
- Bake in a silicone cake form for 25-30 minutes in a 170C oven with a ventilator. Use the middle or bottom rack, depending on how big your oven is.
Calories per one slice (~65g): 88
Total Fat 6.8g
Saturated Fat 2.8g
Sodium 25 mg
Total Carbohydrate 4.1g
Dietary Fiber 1.1g
Total Sugars 2.2g
Vitamin D 6mcg
Calcium 9 mg
Potassium 43 mg
Bottom line: Creating your individual low carb meal plan looks very confusing at a first glance, but the math in there is nothing complicated. One you determine your macros and follow the recommendations for a few weeks, the plan becomes easy and it usually goes smoothly. Whenever you crave something sweet, you can always try some of the low carb desserts above, and you do not need any cooking skills for these simple recipes.
Do you want to find out with which sports it is okay to follow the low carb diet? You will find out in the next chapter.
The Low Carb Diet and Working out
The low carb diet and long duration workouts
If you perform aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming, for longer than 60 minutes, this is considered a long duration cardio activity. Carbohydrates for such workouts are very important and it is not recommended to restrict their intake, if you want to perform at your best.
As we explained in chapter 1, the body stores the carbs in the muscles and liver as glycogen. The glycogen is a source of fuel for the brain and muscles, during activity. If you don’t have enough stored up (and long duration workouts require a lot!), your workout can go south quickly, no matter how strong your will and desire is to keep going.
The low carb diet is not suitable for people who perform such long trainings, so if you are a long distance runner or cycler, consider another diet approach.
The low carb diet and bodybuilding
This meal plan is very popular among bodybuilders and there is a reason for it. It suits nearly all of the bodybuilding workout plans and it is very easy to get into a routine with. Here are 4 different plans for bodybuilders, depending on when you prefer to work out. In the previous chapter, there is a very detailed information on how to calculate your required macros.
Example plan 1, workout between 6:30-11:00
- Breakfast (pre-workout meal): Proteins + Half of your carbs for the day
- During workout: BCAAs drink
- Lunch (post-workout meal): Proteins + The rest of your carbs for the day
- Snack 1: Proteins + Fats
- Snack 2: Proteins
- Dinner: Proteins + Fats
Example plan 2, workout between 11:00-14:00
- Breakfast: Proteins + Fats
- Pre-workout snack: Proteins + Half of your carbs for the day
- During workout: BCAAs drink
- Lunch (post-workout meal) : Proteins + The rest of your carbs for the day
- Afternoon snack: Proteins
- Dinner: Proteins + Fats
Example plan 3, workout between 14:00-18:00
- Breakfast: Proteins + Fats
- Lunch: Proteins + Fats
- Snack 1 (pre-workout meal): Proteins + Half of your carbs for the day
- During workout: BCAAs drink
- Snack 2 (post-workout meal) Proteins + The rest of your carbs for the day
- Dinner: Proteins + Fats
Example plan 4. Workout between 18:00-22:00
- Breakfast: Proteins + Half of your carbs for the day
- Snack 1: Proteins
- Lunch: Proteins + Fats
- Snack 2 (pre-workout meal): Proteins + One quarter of your carbs for the day
- During workout: BCAAs drink
- Dinner (post-workout meal): Proteins + The rest of your carbs for the day + Fats
*BCAAs drinks during your workouts are not mandatory but they would definitely boost your recovery and help you maintain your muscle mass, which is something very important for bodybuilders.
*Please note that these plans are for bodybuilders, who want to eat low carb but do NOT aim to enter a ketosis. The plans are not the only right way to consume your macros during the day, but in my opinion, they are practical and optimal ways to follow the plan.
Another option would be to consume the carbohydrates in a single meal. If you choose to do so, make sure you eat them after your workout, unless you work out late at night. For bodybuilders, who train late, the most appropriate option is Example plan 4.
These plans are also suitable for endurance athletes that practice other sports.
If you are not that active but you still work out a few times per week, there is no need to eat 5 times a day. You can achieve great results with 4 meals per day, so if you want to follow some of these plans, simply skip one of the snacks.
Why BCAAs are so important for athletes?
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) refer to three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They improve your fat oxidation and utilization of storage fatty acids as a fuel, which is very important for people on a low carb diet. Other benefits of BCAAs include:
- increasing your muscle protein synthesis, which ensures faster recovery after a workout;
- slowing down muscle breakdown during activity;
- decreasing post-workout muscle soreness;
- improving immune function. (7)
How to get enough BCAAs from your diet?
Cooking, chewing and swallowing your amino acids, will never be as easy as pouring a scoop of powder in water and drinking it. While BCAAs and protein powder supplementation could be very beneficial for athletes, there is a way to receive your required nutrients from your diet. It is okay to take supplements, especially if you are a bodybuilder or you work out very often, and very intensely. However, the role of dietary sources should not be overlooked.
Foods High in BCAAs
- Chicken breast, Salmon, Trout, Sardines, Poultry, Turkey breast, Lean beef, Canned tuna;
- Dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt;
Best BCAAs sources for vegans
- Tofu, Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Grains, Pumpkin seeds.
*Note: Keep in mind that theoretically, you can always get all of your required nutrients from your food. However, this is only easy when you are a professional and your life and daily routine are all about working out, eating right, getting enough quality sleep, and recovery procedures, such as massages, acupuncture, physical therapy, cupping therapy, etc.
For people, who are not professionally involved in sports, getting everything from their diets is a very hard task. There are no nutritionist and coaches that take care of their diets and proper recovery, nether they have that much free time. Sports enthusiasts usually go to work, study at school or university, and/or have many other obligations. This is why sports supplements are so beneficial for them and play a huge role in their recovery and progress.
Furthermore, all of these requirements apply for healthy people only. If you have a certain medical condition, consulting your doctor is a must.
Bottom line: The low carb diet is NO for people, who perform long duration activities and a reliable option for other athletes and sports enthusiasts. Furthermore, it is one of the most commonly used approaches for bodybuilders, when they are in their cutting phase, and it is a relatively easy plan to follow.
Are you looking forward to finding out what celebrities have to say about the low carb diet? You can read their thoughts in the next chapter, along with the most common myths and FAQs.
Diet results & FAQs
6 celebreties that love the low carb diet
The 53-year-old actress looks amazing and shares her appreciation for the low carb diet. She spoke to People in 2018 how she manages her diet and added that she’s a big meat eater.
“I don’t really eat pasta, anything with sugar, it’s very much meat-based,” she said at the event for the restaurant, which Berry became a fan of at their New York locations. “I eat meat, I enjoy chicken and beef and a lot of vegetables.”
The basketball star followed the low carb diet and described it as a mental challenge that also made him feel very good. He talked about his experience to Sports Illustrated in September 2014.
“I had no sugars, no dairy, I had no carbs,” the four-time MVP explained. “All I ate was meat, fish, veggies and fruit. That’s it. For 67 straight days.”
The former Today show anchor posted on her Instagram stories that she was experimenting with a keto diet and was very happy with her meal plan so far.
“I’m eating mostly protein and some cheese,” she said. “And I’m putting half-and-half in my iced coffee, and I gotta tell ya, it’s damn good.” (FYI: Half-and-half or heavy cream is a good option to add extra fat to your fave coffee drinks—just skip any added sugars to keep it keto).
The famous Transformers actress turned to the low carb diet to get her pre-baby body back.She also loves to alternate between a low carb diet and paleo diet.
In a recent E! News interview, the mom of two detailed her restrictive diet. “I cut out all bread and those sort of carbohydrates. No crackers, no pretzels, no chips. Nothing unhealthy,” said Fox.
The football-turned-baseball player Tim Tebow shared with Delish many details about his Keto diet and his love for avocados.
“A lot of people would think that’s very boring, and sometimes it is, but you find ways to really spice it up,” he says. “I eat a lot of things that run, swim or fly; I eat a lot of greens, a lot of Greek yogurt, a lot of avocado.”
The actor hasn’t spoken about the diet himself but his wife Kelly Ripa revealed that her husband follows a low carb diet to maintain his great shape.
“My husband has gone full Keto, which I don’t mind telling you is something I could never do. I just don’t have that level of discipline,” she told Bon Appetit. “Mark says that I’m carb-o, because I always eat his bun if he gets a burger. And the fries.”
The more popular a diet is, the more myths about it there are. People have the tendency to talk about things they are not completely sure about, which often leads to widespread misconceptions. Here are the most common myths and FAQs about the diet.
7 Low carb diet myths
- Carbs make you fat.
There is no macronutrient that makes you fat. Excessive amounts of a certain macronutrient though, can definitely lead to fat gain.
- Only carbohydrates stimulate insulin release.
Proteins increase insulin levels as well, just at different levels. Leucine, Alanine, and Arginine (some of the essential amino acids) are associated with a larger release of insulin.
- We cannot gain fat, if our insulin levels are low.
Well, experiment with eating 3 000-4 000 calories a day only from fatty foods, and see for yourself that it is not hard to gain weight without macronutrients that spike your insulin.
- The weight loss comes from water weight.
It is completely normal to lose a few kilograms of water first, before losing fat. Lowering your carbohydrates intake might lead to faster reduction in water weight but you will definitely also lose fat, as long as you follow the diet correctly.
- The low carb diet doesn’t provide fiber.
Many low-carb foods are high in fiber, such as leafy greens, flax seeds, chia seeds, and other vegetables. Furthermore, you can still consume quality, fiber-rich carbs, just in smaller amounts than usual.
- Low carb diets can suck calcium out of bones.
This myth is based on the idea that this diet is very high in protein. People on protein rich diets tend to have more calcium in their urine but this is a false trail.
- Low carb diets completely exclude fruits and vegetables.
The diet lowers their intake but encourages the consumption of these food groups daily.
16 Low carb diet FAQs
- How long should I follow the diet?
This depend on many different factors, such as age, sex, physical activity, goals, and needs. However, it is not recommended for women to follow the diet for longer than 2-3 months, and 3-4 months of low carb meals are enough for men. If you haven’t reached your bodyweight goal within this time frame, switch to a more balanced diet but still reduce your calorie intake.
- Can I eat high-carb foods after I complete the diet?
Yes, you can. However, it would be best if you start increasing your carbohydrates gradually in the first two weeks after you finish the diet. This is a mandatory rule if you have been in ketosis during the diet.
- What should I do if I hit a weight loss plateau?
If you feel like your progress has stopped, it is a good idea to have a high carb day. This does not mean to eat burgers, pizza and candy all day. Simply replace most of your fats and some of your proteins with carbohydrates, coming from good sources – whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, rice. You can have a day like this every 2-3 weeks to boost your progress.
- How to keep performing at my best at the gym, while eating low carb?
Make sure you pay attention to all the other factors that increase your performance – quality sleep, low stress levels, recovery exercises like stretching and mobility movements, giving your body enough time to rest between workouts. Your performance is a result of your choices, thoughts and actions 24/7, not only of your food on the plate.
- Do low carb diets cause “carbs intolerance”?
There is no evidence that supports this speculation. Carbohydrates intolerance is the inability to digest certain carbs, due to an enzyme deficiency.
- Can I combine a low carb diet with intermittent fasting?
This is a common combination and if there is a diet that is beneficial for intermittent fasting, this is the low carb diet. The fat-rich meals make you feel full for longer, which is important when you want to fast for a certain period of time.
- I am on the low carb diet and not losing weight! What should I do?
Eating low carb is not enough to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit as well. Check chapter 6 to find out how to do this.
- Is the low carb diet healthy?
There are two ways to interpret this – it is healthy because it eliminates heavily processed foods, but it would not be healthy if you exclude carbohydrates completely from your menu for too long. (anything over 3-4 months is considered too long)
- Can a low carb diet cause insomnia?
In the short term, low carb diets can cause interrupted sleep. If this happens, the problem usually goes away in a week, or two, until your body adapts to your new eating style. Talk to your doctor if you still experience sleeping issues after two weeks in.
- Will the low carb diet work?
This depends on you, and whether you do it right. If you follow our guide carefully, there is no reason for the diet not to work.
- What can I eat on a low carb diet?
You can eat anything, except for the refined carbs and fats, sugars, etc. You just need to eat more of certain foods, and less of others. There are full lists of the foods to eat and avoid in chapter 5.
- Is the low carb diet safe?
The diet is safe, as long as you do not do anything extreme, such as restricting your calories too much, or eliminating the carbs from your diet for long periods. In chapter 2 and 3, you can find out for who the diet is not safe.
- Can the low carb diet cause joint pain?
There are no evidence that prove low carb diet leading to joint pain.
- Will low carb diet reduce belly fat?
The diet will help reduce fat everywhere from your body, as long as you follow it correctly.
- What is the best low carb diet?
There is no best diet that is universal and works for everyone. What worked for your friend might be bad for you and vice versa. However, there is a best way to create your individual low carb plan, and you can read about this in chapter 6.
- How many grams of carbs should I eat to lose weight?
This is also explained in chapter 6. The recommended carbs intake is 1 to 1.5 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight.
Bottom line: The low carb diet is simple and effective enough to be loved by many. Even though there are lots of myths about it, there are also plenty of research studies and evidence that prove the falsity of those statements.
The diet seems to be a nice way to reduce the heavily processed foods, sugars and refined fats from your daily menu. It tests your mental strength and makes you more aware of your food patterns and choices, while being a great tool for losing weight.
Do you have any experience with low carb diets? Share your thoughts in the comments below and do not hesitate to ask your questions!
- Low Carbohydrate versus Isoenergetic Balanced Diets for Reducing Weight and Cardiovascular Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Comparison of Weight Loss Among Named Diet Programs in Overweight and Obese Adults
- Has carbohydrate-restriction been forgotten as a treatment for diabetes mellitus? A perspective on the ACCORD study design
- A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes
- The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- Effect of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Blood Glucose Control in People With Type 2 Diabetes
- A Primer On Branched Chain Amino Acids
- Definitions of Insulin Resistance Syndrome
- Catecholamine-induced lipolysis in adipose tissue and skeletal muscle in obesity
- Wikipedia – Lipolysis
- Wikipedia – Lipogenesis
PDF version contains all of the content and resources found in the web-based guide.