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What is a low carb diet and how low, is low?

What is a low carb diet and how low, is low?

What is a low carb diet?

Low carbohydrate diets are gaining a lot of attention at the moment. You see it all over social media and have probably heard friends, or friends of friends talking about it. So what exactly is a low carb diet? In general, a low carb diet focuses on proteins, healthy fats and non-starchy veggies and commonly limits grains, pasta, starchy veggies such as potatoes, bread, pastries and other high-sugar treats. However, some low-carb diet plans allow small amounts of fruits and whole grains.

So how low is low?

There is no strict definition of a low carb diet. Typically speaking a low carb diet can range anywhere between 20 to150 grams of carbs per day. A ketogenic diet, which is a specific type of low carb diet, generally restricts carbs to between 20 to 50 grams per day. It is near impossible, and without the care of a heath practitioner could be dangerous, to cut out carbs completely. As long as you’re eating your veggies you will always be consuming some amount of carbs.

In a nut shell:

Cut - bread, rice, pasta, sugary foods, junk food such as pastries and muffins, seed oils, trans fats, “diet” and low-fat products and highly processed packaged foods.   

Eat - Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, full fat dairy, fats, healthy oils.

Benefits of a low carb diet

Weight loss

There are two main reasons weight loss is seen when implementing a low carb diet. By cutting carbs, most people are reducing kilojoules/calories and reducing kilojoule intake results to weight loss. In fact, by cutting approx 2100 kilojoules (500 calories) per day, generally speaking, you can lose 0.5-0.7kg a week. Secondly, some studies show that weight loss occurs due to the extra protein and fat that helps you feel full longer, meaning you eat less.

Reduces the risk of metabolic diseases

Low-carb diets emphasise consumption of healthy sources of carbs, fat and protein. Over time, this may help lower the risk of some metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Here are some tips for success

It all sounds great, and you’re set on trialling a low carb diet. As a nutritionist I always recommend trialling new lifestyle changes, supplements, etc for at least 12 weeks to determine if it working well for you. However starting is usually the hardest part of the process.

Here are 4 simple tips to get you on your way:

1. Know what foods are low carb.

Knowledge is power and in this day and age we are so lucky to have information at our fingertips. Researching “low carb foods” on Google will give you a comprehensive list of low carb whole foods.

Here is a quick list you can refer to:

  • lean meats, such as sirloin, chicken breast, or pork
  • organ meats
  • fish
  • eggs
  • leafy green vegetables including broccoli and cauliflower
  • nuts and seeds, including sugar free nut butters
  • oils/fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, ghee
  • some fruit such as blueberries and strawberries
  • unsweetened full fat dairy products including plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt

2. Know the carb counts and serving sizes of foods.

This sounds tricky but again, in this day and age we have so much at our fingertips. If you’re into apps, there are endless options of calorie counting and macro nutrient (carbs, protein, fat) counting apps. Personally, I find My Fitness Pal easy to navigate and the free version is enough to get you by. If you’re not into apps and prefer to use the internet, Cronometer has a free version that can be used to help track calories and macro nutrients. Both My Fitness Pal and Cronometer are great as they both have a very large bank of foods and brands to search and select from. 

3. Make a meal plan

Mapping out a weeks worth of meals and snacks will make the first couple of weeks much easier and much less daunting. It will also make grocery shopping for the week ahead easier and prevent you from putting things in your trolley that may not need to be in there. And most importantly, making a meal plan will help you stick to your goals. Make sure your meal plans include some easy snacks to go to. Some great snack examples include; boiled eggs, low-sugar and low date protein bars, biltong (watch the sugar content), a small handful of raw nuts and seeds, half an avo with some amino sauce poured on top, guac with homemade nut and seed crackers or protein smoothie with berries.

4. Meal prep

Prepping meals ahead can also be very helpful. This will ensure you avoid making unhealthy food choices as well as saving you time. Cook meals in bulk to freeze or cook extra food at dinner to save for lunch the next day. Personally I find pre-prepared breakfasts super useful e.g. I make a protein pancake mix and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days so I can pour on a pan and have breakfast done quickly before heading out the door for work and school drop off. Hard boiled eggs and frittatas are also great options to prepare the day before and I find a bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with low-carb granola or some raw nuts and seeds with berries a super quick breakfast to prepare. 

**Although the health benefits of a low carb diet have been well studied and proven, that doesn’t mean that there a no potential health risks. Going too low too soon can cause symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and headaches. Seek advice from a heath care practitioner if you have any pre-existing health conditions.


About the Author: Victoria graduated at the Australian College of Natural Therapies in Sydney and has a Bachelor of Business from the Australian Catholic University. Victoria is the co-owner of Jimalie Coconut Products. More information about her on her website  Image courtesy of Coast Photography.

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