The answer to the question how to start a low carb diet can be as simple as removing a few key food groups but can get complicated depending on your level of commitment.
What is a low carb diet
A low carb diet is one that restricts or eliminates the consumption of certain carbohydrates. The carbs it aims to reduce are mainly sugars and grains from categories such as cookies, cakes, pasta, breads, bagels, waffles, candy, chips, and so on.
Some extreme forms of low carb also eliminate potatoes, legumes and some high sugar fruits such as bananas and red apples.
A low carb diet also aims to increase fat intake, opting for full fat dairy, all forms of animal protein.
Low carb diets have been around for a long time. Atkins is probably the most famous name that we associate with the movement, but the idea has been around longer than that. It’s just been more recently (thank you internet) that it’s become a trend, and the information has been made more readily available to everyone.
There are three main ways you can follow a low carb diet. You can simply reduce carb intake without counting actual grams of carbs. You can eliminate all foods that are considered high carb and strive to keep your carb intake below a certain level, say 50-60 grams of carbs per day. Or, you can go full on keto and strive to keep your carb intake below 20 grams per day in order to get your body into ketosis.
Keep reading for more information about exactly how to start a low carb diet.
Low carb vs keto
The keto diet is a more strict form of low carb. Keto requires you to track your nutritional macros – grams of carbs, protein and fat, to achieve an optimum ratio that promotes a bodily process called ketosis. Ketosis, not to be confused with ketoacidosis, is a metabolic state where your body burns your existing body fat for fuel. The goal of ketosis is to lose lots of weight but also to encourage your body to function optimally for peak performance.
A low carb diet isn’t a keto diet, but a keto diet is low carb.
What not to eat on a low carb diet
Before we get to the list of what you can eat on a low carb diet, let’s take a look at some things not to eat on a low carb diet.
- Processed food
- Grains of any kinds including wheat, corn, quinoa, etc.
- Pasta made with grains or legumes
- Bread made with grains or legumes
- Sugar including honey and maple syrup
- High sugar fruits like bananas and red apples
- Legumes, including peanuts
- Wine coolers
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes and carrots
- Fruit juice
- Fat free dairy products
- Sweetened yogurt
- Dried fruits
- Baked goods with sugar and grain based flours
- Ice cream
- Condiments with added sugars or grains
- Hydrogenated oils
What to eat on a low carb diet
This list isn’t all-inclusive, but gives you some general guidelines and overall categories to choose from.
- Grass fed meats – beef, lamb, pork and chicken
- Full fat cheeses
- Full fat dairy products like sour cream, heavy cream and cream cheese
- Wild caught fish
- Bacon made without processed nitrates from humanely raised animals
- Healthy oils such as olive oil and coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds (except peanuts)
- Greek, full fat yogurt (no sugar added)
- Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries
- Non starchy vegetables – greens, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, etc.
- Mayo without added sugar
- Bone broth
How to lose weight on a low carb diet
For some, merely reducing their total carbs will encourage weight loss. Others may need to reduce carbs and still track their calorie intake to lose weight. While for others it may be a good idea to track every last gram of net carbs they take in burn fat.
In its natural state, your body burns carbohydrates for energy as its main fuel source. Carbs cause blood sugar (glucose) levels to rise in the body which triggers the release of insulin to help the glucose from the carbs to be used by the body’s cells. Some of the glucose is used immediately, whatever is leftover is stored as fat.
When you reduce your carbs, you lower blood sugar which lowers insulin levels. This encourages your body to use stored fat for energy since there is less available glucose. Which means less fat storage and more burning of existing fat.
Low carb diet side effects
Some people don’t have any side effects from a low carb diet – aside from the welcome loss of weight. Others may experience fatigue, lightheadedness, low blood sugar, mood swings, constipation and more. Many of these side effects are short term and known as the keto flu, but others can stick around and require you to make modifications to your diet to prevent them.
Some people simply can’t follow a low carb diet because carb restriction can lead to adrenal fatigue or other issues that make it difficult to maintain the lifestyle.
Which form of low carb diet to choose
Before you understand how to start a low carb diet, you need to decide how low carb you want to be. Do you want to simply reduce your carbs, track your carbs to stay below a conservative number or go fully keto? Once you make that decision, you have a couple of different options when it comes to starting a low carb diet.
Reduce overall carb intake
If you simply want to watch your carbs without tracking anything, you simply need to be conscious of what foods are higher carb and reduce them. For example, replace mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower. Instead of serving rice as a side dish, serve another vegetable. Instead of a bun with your burger, wrap it in a lettuce leaf.
Track carbs to stay below a certain level
If you want to be a little more committed to low carb, you will want eliminate processed and simple carbs and track your carb intake to stay below a conservative level. Most people choose 50-60 grams of carbs as their cap, but you can go as low as 30 in this mid-range type of low carb. In order to track your carb grams you will need to use a tracking software like MyFitnessPal, My Macros or Cronometer.
Keto will require extreme reduction of carbs and diligent tracking of macros. You can use the same tracking apps that I mentioned above to ensure you stick to the plan. Tracking is critical for keto, you never know where hidden carbs might be found. With keto you will find yourself looking for high fat, low carb foods that will fill you up, often called fat bombs.
To find your ideal keto macros for weight loss, you can use a number of different online calculators like this one from KetoDietApp.
How to start a low carb diet
Once you make the decision about what type of low carb diet you want to follow, you have a couple of different options when it comes to how to start a low carb diet.
Cold turkey means going 100% low carb (at whatever level you decided above) all at once. Being fully committed and compliant to your plan all at once. No compromise, no exceptions.
Eliminate one food type at a time
Going low carb by eliminating one food type at a time should be the systematic, organized removal of a food group on a set interval. For example, remove bread only for, say, one week. The next week, continue with motting bread, but add removing potatoes, the third week, eliminate another food type. And so on until you are fully compliant.
Clear out the cabinets method
In this method of starting a low carb diet, you don’t buy any new non-compliant foods, but you don’t waste anything that you have already purchased. Once the existing non-compliant foods in your cabinets are gone, you will be fully low carb.
Low carb recipes
Now that you know how to start a low carb diet, you will need some recipes!
Because a low carb or keto diet ideally focuses on eliminating processed foods, you will be relying on delicious recipes for variety in your diet. A simple search on Pinterest will bring up hundreds, if not thousands, of low carb and keto recipes.
But beware, not everyone understands low carb and keto and recipes might be labelled as such, but may not actually be low carb. Also, if a recipe includes nutrition information, don’t automatically assume it is accurate. I always recommend calculating the information for yourself.
You can find a number of low carb recipes here on this blog, and there are a ton of other trustworthy low carb blogs as well.
Wholesome Yum has some low carb food lists, and there are plenty of sites with keto meal plans that can help make planning your low carb meals much easier.
If you have been wondering how to start a low carb diet, this guide should be a good starting point for you to begin your new, healthier lifestyle. Low carb foods are rich and delicious, and once you get over missing some of your carb-filled favorites, you will simply love the amazing, tasty meals you can create.