While carbs are a necessary and important part of a well-rounded diet, eating an excess of them (depending on the type of carb), may lead to weight gain and other health issues. However, before you stop eating bread, rice, and more altogether, there’s a lot to know about reducing your dietary carb intake in a safe manner. Let’s dive into which carbs are safe, all things low-carb diets, and how to cut carbs.
Reasons For Going Low-Carb
First things first: Why should you consider going low-carb? Are you following a particular diet that requires it (for instance, like the ketogenic diet)? Need to balance your insulin levels or decrease your risk of metabolic syndrome? Or maybe you’ve simply noticed that you don’t feel super great after eating carbs due to the hidden sugars found in a lot of processed food, fast food, and refined carbohydrates (like white bread, pizza dough, pasta, white flour, desserts, etc.).1
When it comes down to it, there are plenty of reasons to consider for switching to a low-carb diet; some include weight loss, while others are more focused on overall well-being and not consuming so many empty calories. If you’re unsure whether or not cutting carbs is right for you, or just don’t know where to start, consult your healthcare provider.
How Many Carbs Are Safe?
It’s no secret that we need carbs. However, the preference for carbs tends to start early in life and can morph into a sort of craving that excludes healthy foods. And this can unfortunately lead to weight gain if you’re not mindful of your food intake and the types of carbs you’re eating. According to a review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014, a theory about consuming sugary and fatty foods simply for pleasure rather than for energy was introduced.2
It’s important to understand this theory because there are different types of carbs that help your body do different things. If you’ve decided to cut carbs to lose weight, there are a few things you should know, especially when it comes to which kinds of carbs to cut and why, so that you don’t experience any side effects from cutting carbs too quickly.
Here are the two types of carbs you should familiarize yourself with:
- Refined carbohydrates (or “high-carb foods”): These are typically starchy foods or sugary foods. Things like white breads and flours, white rice, most breakfast cereals, rolls, and pastas are considered refined carbs. These types of carbs aren’t always great for you when eaten in excess because of the lack of nutrients and fiber, and the high amount of sugar that must be processed in the body.3
- Complex carbohydrates (or natural complex carbohydrates): These are your healthy carbs/healthier carbs because they contain more nutrients and don’t cause the same high swings in blood sugar like refined carbs do. Starchy vegetables like quinoa, brown rice, whole grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, oats, peas, green beans, and other fruits and veggies are considered complex carbs.4
So, while carbs are necessary, not all carbs are created equal. Knowing the types of carbs you eat in order to create a healthy diet is paramount before embarking on a strict low-carb diet. But how do you safely swap or cut certain carbs out of your meals?
How To Cut Carbs Safely
If you’ve decided to go low-carb or cut down on your carb intake, don’t just start throwing all of your bread or pasta into the trash just yet. Here are some safe and simple ways to start reducing your carb intake:5
- Start eliminating sugary drinks: This may be one of the easiest ways to cut back on your carbs. Sweetened beverages like sodas, fruit juice, and other sugary drinks are not only high in sugar, but contain upwards of 40 carbs in a single can.6 Next time you find yourself reaching for your favorite soda, swap it for water or a sugar-free sports drink instead.
- Cut back on bread, rather than cutting it out: Bread lovers, rejoice. Swap out your refined bread for whole grain breads where you can, and start packing in more vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which contain the same amount of nutrients as bread but with much fewer carbs.
- Substitute low-carb flours for wheat flours: Wheat flour is found in a lot of comfort food or baked goods, like muffins, cookies, and plenty of fried foods and meats. This type of flour also contains almost 61 grams of digestible carbs, as opposed to low-carb flours (i.e., coconut or almond flour), which contain anywhere from 11 to 20 grams of carbs.7
When it comes down to it, it’s all about mindfulness. When first starting out on your low-carb journey, it may help you to record your food intake during the day in a food journal in order to map out your daily value of carbs. You might find you’re unknowingly consuming carbs throughout the day that could be contributing to weight gain or feeling sluggish.
What To Eat On A Low-Carb Diet
Whether you’re gradually wading into a low-carb diet by trying out some low-carb snacks, or ready to dive right in and tackle your carbohydrate intake, here are some great things to incorporate into a healthy diet or low-carb meal plan:
- Prepare foods with healthy fats that bring out a good, natural flavor, like coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil.8
- Choose low-carb dairy products like Greek yogurt, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, etc.9
- Similarly, swap out dairy milks for non-dairy milks like almond, oat, or coconut milk.
- Eat more high-protein foods like meat, poultry, vegetables, and eggs.
- Swap starchy foods or high-carb ingredients for vegetables or other low-carb options, especially at breakfast time. Try swapping out some toast for a veggie omelet or healthy yogurt.
- When in doubt, always choose complex carbs over refined or starchy carbs.
Typical Foods For A Low-Carb Diet
Other great low-carb foods to incorporate into your diet include:10
- Chicken breasts
- Leafy greens (like spinach, lettuce, etc.)
- Cauliflower and broccoli
- Nut butters (unsweetened)
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Again, everyone’s dietary needs are different. If you’re unsure about what swaps will be best for you and your body, please consult your healthcare provider and create a plan that’s tailored just for you.
Again, writing down just what kinds of carbs and how many you’re eating in a day can help you better identify where your carbohydrate intake is coming from. Be mindful and smart when it comes to making small changes and choices in your daily diet, and watch the results transform over time.
Total Carb Overload
Ultimately, cutting carbs or choosing to go on a low-carb diet, focusing on eating good carbs and low-carb foods as opposed to processed carbs, and just generally being aware of the kinds of carbs you’re putting in your body by reading the nutrition label will go a long way.
Pairing these good habits with a good exercise routine can help kickstart (or further improve) your fitness or health journey and leave you feeling energized and ready to take on a new day.
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