What Do I Eat on a Low-Carb Diet?

Reviewed on 7/7/2021

What is a low-carb diet?

Low-carb diet
A low-carb diet is also used to prevent diabetes and metabolic conditions, such as high cholesterol levels and hypertension.

A low-carb diet involves substituting carb-rich foods with low-carb foods. The diet also includes vegetables and other food items that are high in protein

Carbohydrates should make up about 45 to 65% of your total daily calorie intake, according to the recommended dietary guidelines for Americans. In a low-carbohydrate diet, the daily intake of carbohydrates is often less than 26% (130 grams) per day.

Generally intended for weight loss, this kind of diet is also used to prevent diabetes and metabolic conditions, such as high cholesterol levels and hypertension.

There are many kinds of low-carb diets and the ketogenic diet is one such example.

What to eat and avoid on a low-carb diet

A low-carb diet puts restrictions on the portion and type of carbohydrates you consume daily.

In a low-carb diet, you need to avoid refined carbohydrates, such as sugar or white flour. These types of carbohydrates are often added to processed foods. Examples of foods with refined carbohydrates are

  • White bread
  • Cooked pasta
  • Cookies
  • Sweets
  • Donuts
  • Candy bars
  • Cakes
  • Candies
  • Sugar-sweetened sodas and drinks

Other foods that you need to avoid include

  • Cooked rice
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Parsnip
  • Beetroot
  • Carrot
  • Celeriac
  • Rutabaga
  • Onion
  • Beer
  • Most fruits (including bananas and grapes)

A low-carb diet typically focuses on proteins and vegetables that grow above the ground and limits grains — and sometimes — nuts and seeds. Depending on the portion of carbohydrates, some low-carb diet plans allow small amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You may be allowed to eat fruits, such as avocados, berries, and peaches in some low-carb diets.

On a low-carb diet, you can eat

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Fish and other kinds of seafood
  • Natural fats (such as olive oil)
  • Non-starchy vegetables (vegetables that grow above the ground). For example
    • Broccoli
    • Spinach
    • Lettuce
    • Asparagus
    • Zucchini
    • Cauliflower
    • Cabbage
    • Olives
    • Tomato
    • Eggplant
    • Kale
    • Cucumber
    • Bell pepper
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Green beans

How can a low-carb diet benefit me?

The low-carb approach is based on a belief that lowering carb intake will eventually lower the body’s insulin levels. Consistent low levels of insulin improve cardiometabolic function. While such diets induce significant weight loss in the first six months, research is still underway to understand the exact mechanism and long-term efficacy of a low-carb diet. 

A low-carb diet is claimed to cause fewer fluctuations in sugar levels and less rebound hypoglycemia, leading to better satiety. This diet is rich in proteins and good fats, reducing your hunger pangs and frequent snacking.

The ketogenic (keto) diet, a specific version of a low-carb diet, restricts the carbohydrate intake to 20 to 50 grams daily. This causes the body glycogen stores to go down and mobilize fat storage in the body to form ketone bodies. Your body burns fat and not carbs for energy, leading to weight loss. The ketone bodies also exert a protective effect over the nerve cells and muscle mass. The keto diet, it is claimed, slows down the progression of cancer cells, prevents nerve cell degeneration in those with epilepsy, and reduces the inflammatory chemical messengers in the body.

Are there any risks with a low-carb diet?

While a low-carb diet may benefit you in your weight loss journey, it also carries a possibility of a few temporary side effects. These side effects are the result of a sudden and drastic reduction in carbohydrates, which include

Drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake also puts your body into ketosis. Ketosis is a condition in which the fats get converted to ketones. With ketosis, you suffer from bad breath, headache, fatigue, and weakness, especially in the initial days.

In the long run, severe restrictions due to a low-carb diet can also cause problems in your digestive system, along with nutritional deficiencies.

Although many people find a low-carb diet to be an effective diet, there is insufficient evidence to recommend it for all as a go-to diet plan. If you suffer from any preexisting health conditions, do not go on any such fad diets without seeking the expert opinion of a doctor and a registered dietician.

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References
Mayo Clinic. Low-carb diet: Can it help you lose weight? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/low-carb-diet/art-20045831

Michigan Medicine. Carbohydrate Food List. http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/MEND/CarbList.pdf

Krebs NF, Gao D, Gralla J, et al. Efficacy and safety of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss in severely obese adolescents. J Pediatr. 2010;157(2):252-258. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20304413/

UPMC. Diabetes: Counting Carbs if You Use Insulin. https://www.upmc.com/health-library/article?hwid=uf5054

Oh R, Gilani B, Uppaluri KR. Low Carbohydrate Diet. [Updated 2021 May 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537084/

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