Low Carb Plan Practice

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"Low carb diet" (also called "reduced carbohydrate" or "controlled carbohydrate") is a broad term, encompassing many popular diet books (examples: Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Protein Power, Sugar Busters, Carbohydrate Addicts Diet) as well as eating plans that don't follow a rigid format, but advise limiting the consumption of foods that are high in carbohydrate. Some diets limit the amount of overall carbohydrates, while others focus on certain types of foods, generally ones high in starch and sugars. (Since starch turns to sugar in our bodies, many diet writers do not make a distinction between the two.)

See all practices - blueAny diet whose primary focus is the reduction of carbohydrates is what is meant by "low carb" for this practice. In terms of percentages, since the usual "mainstream" recommendation is a diet with 50-65% calories from carbohydrate, consider a diet with 40% or less energy from carbs a "low-carb diet", though most of them don't measure it in this way.


You can Expect: lowered blood pressure, blood glucose, and triglycerides, weight loss, increased energy, improved mood.

Level of Effort: Moderate

Time Involved: 15 minutes a day


Getting Started:

  1. Determine a healthy weight for your body and then decide how much weight you want to lose.
  2. Know your weight loss goals.
  3. Understand how low carb diets work, the benefits and risks.
  4. Choosing a plan and provider.
  5. Consider your maintenance plan.

What to Consider:



1. Determine a healthy weight for your body and then decide how much weight you want to lose.

  • Body Mass Index (BMI) is a statistical measure of an individual's weight scaled according to his/her height. Basically it is a simple index of weight-for-height and is a useful tool and for most individuals to classify their current weight and determine an ideal or happy weight for themselves.

Calculate Your BMI

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) You can also calculate the number of calories your body actually needs in order to function. If you understand the amount of calories your body needs to function then you can determine how many calories are needed to maintain your current weight and then how many to lose weight. There is a right number of calories for you to eat each day. This number depends on your age, activity level, and whether you're trying to lose, maintain or even gain weight. Knowing your BMR can also help you think about how much exercise you are willing to do.

Calculate Your BMR


2. Know your weight loss goals

Make a commitment to yourself, after that you can take steps to make the process habitual. Ask yourself:

  • Am I ready to do this?
  • Is my motivation coming from within?
  • Can I deal with occasional setbacks or lack of progress?
  • Can I focus on weight loss fully? (If you're in the midst of a job change or other distractions, for example, it might be better to resolve those issues, and then focus on weight loss efforts.)
  • Am I committed to exercising on a regular basis?
  • Finally, be sure you're committed to losing weight for yourself -- not because someone else is pressuring you to do so.

Assuming you are making the choice to loose weight as a part of a long-term goal to be fit and healthy, it is important to include that as a goal of the diet. That way as you are going through the plan you can remind yourself to pay attention to what the plan is trying to teach you about healthy eating.


3. Understand How Low-Carb Diets Work, the Benefits and the Risks

How Low Carb Diets Work

A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates - such as bread, grains, rice, starchy vegetables and fruit - and emphasizes sources of protein and fat. Many types of low-carb diets exist, each with varying restrictions on the types and amounts of carbohydrates. By restricting carbohydrates drastically to a mere fraction of that found in the typical American diet, the body goes into a different metabolic state called ketosis, whereby it burns its own fat for fuel. Normally the body burns carbohydrates for fuel -- this is the main source of fuel for your brain, heart, and many other organs. A person in ketosis is getting energy from ketones, little carbon fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. When the body is in ketosis, you tend to feel less hungry, and thus you're likely to eat less than you might otherwise. However, ketosis can also cause health problems, such as kidney failure. As a result, your body changes from a carbohydrate-burning engine into a fat-burning engine. So instead of relying on the carbohydrate-rich items you might typically consume for energy, and leaving your fat stores just where they were before (alas, the hips, belly, and thighs), your fat stores become a primary energy source. The purported result is weight loss.

  • Diet Premise - Carbohydrates are found in grains, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and legumes (beans and peas). They're also found in sugar and sweets. For most people, carbohydrates serve as a primary source of energy. During digestion, your body converts carbohydrates into sugar. As your blood sugar level rises, so does your insulin level. Insulin drives blood sugar into your cells to provide energy. Extra sugar is stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. The theory behind the low-carb diet is that insulin prevents fat breakdown in the body by allowing sugar to be used for energy. Proponents of the low-carb diet believe that a decrease in carbs results in lower insulin levels, which causes the body to burn stored fat for energy. Still, research suggests that any weight loss from a low-carb diet probably isn't related to blood sugar or insulin levels. A low-carb diet is likely to promote weight loss, at least at first, some of the contributing factors may include:
    • Loss of water weight. Low-carb diets often have a diuretic effect.
    • Increased feeling of fullness. A low-carb diet is relatively high in fat and protein. Since fat and protein take longer to digest than do carbs, you may feel fuller longer.
    • Reduced calories. A low-carb diet strictly limits the variety of foods you eat. This generally results in fewer calories overall.
    • The weight loss may or may not continue long term, depending on your commitment to following the eating plan. If you abandon the low-carb diet and return to your former eating habits, you may regain any lost weight.
  • Typical menu - In general, a low-carb diet focuses on meat, poultry, fish, eggs and some non-starchy vegetables. A low-carb diet excludes or limits most grains, beans, fruits, breads, sweets, pastas and starchy vegetables. Some low-carb diet plans allow fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A daily limit of 50 to 150 grams of carbohydrates is typical.


Benefits of Low Carb Diets

Although the term "low-carb diets" encompasses a range of carbohydrate reduction, it still isn't for everyone. There are lots of reasons people embrace a lower-carb way of eating. There are all the health benefits, including lower blood pressure, blood glucose, and triglycerides. Of course, there is weight loss, with all the physical and emotional benefits that come along with it.

Many people who lost weight using a low carb diet claim that the best part of the diet is the freedom from hunger, cravings, and food obsessions that people often experience on a day-to-day basis, especially when trying to lose weight. To be sure, not every single person who goes on a low-carb diet experiences this dramatic effect, but it is very, very common. For those who have experienced this, it feels like nothing short of a miracle but the mechanism isn't fully understood, although the prevailing thinking is that it has to do with the reduction of insulin in the blood. Commonly reported benefits:

  • Weight loss (even when not consciously restricting calories)
  • Improved triglycerides
  • Reduced blood glucose for diabetics and pre-diabetics
  • Increased HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Lower blood insulin level
  • Less muscle mass lost compared to high carb weight loss diets (and when combined with exercise)
  • Increased energy
  • Cravings for sweets gone or much less
  • Better mental concentration; no "brain fog"
  • Improved mood; emotions more even
  • "Compulsive" or "emotional" eating gone
  • Improved dental hygiene (less dental plaque; improved gum health)

A low-carb diet may also help lower your cholesterol level, as long as you choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. If you eat foods high in saturated fat - which technically fit the criteria of a low-carb diet - you may actually increase your cholesterol.


Risks Linked to Low-Carb Diets

If you're limiting fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods, you may not get enough fiber - which can contribute to constipation and other gastrointestinal problems. Remember, the healthiest diet is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein - not rigid lists of "good" and "bad" foods.

  • Kidney failure. Consuming too much protein puts a strain on the kidneys, which can make a person susceptible to kidney disease.
  • Depending on what you eat, a low-carb diet may be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. This can increase the risk of heart disease and perhaps some types of cancer. It is well known that high protein diets (consisting of red meat, whole dairy products, and other high fat foods) are linked to high cholesterol. Studies have linked high cholesterol levels to an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
  • Osteoporosis and kidney stones. High protein diets have also been shown to cause people to excrete more calcium than normal through their urine. Over a prolonged period of time, this can increase a person's risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones.
  • Cancer. One of the reasons high protein diets increase the risks of certain health problems is because of the avoidance of carbohydrate-containing foods and the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants they contain. It is therefore important to obtain your protein from a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Not only are your needs for protein being met, but you are also helping to reduce your risk of developing cancer.
  • Ketosis - a condition caused by incomplete fat breakdown - also may be a concern with a low-carb diet. Ketosis can cause weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability. Unhealthy metabolic state (ketosis). Low-carb diets can cause your body to go into a dangerous metabolic state called ketosis since your body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. During ketosis, the body forms substances known as ketones, which can cause organs to fail and result in gout, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Ketones can also dull a person's appetite, cause nausea and bad breath. Ketosis can be prevented by eating at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day.


4. Choosing a Plan & Provider

Now that you know a bit about low carb diets you can look at the differences between various plans and providers. As you begin to evaluate the various plans it is a good idea to think about your lifestyle and needs in conjunction with the plan requirements.

Things to consider about yourself before choosing a plan:

  • Determine your weight loss plan budget - what are the expenses of various plans
  • Determine the Time Commitment you can make - what is the time commitment required compared to the other plans
  • Support - Is there any support offered as part of the plan?
  • Think through your home and work responsibilities - If you have a family that you cook for on a nightly basis you will need to consider if you are willing to prepare separate meals for your family or if you can include cooking for them as part of your plan.
  • Understand your personality and how it affects your choice - Personality plays a role in our attitude towards food. Therefore, if you are aware of your tendencies you will be better able to choose a plan that works with your lifestyle and helps you conquer temptations. Keeping a food journal for a week is a great way to learn more about your food personality. It will help you identify patterns and understand your relationship with food better. Low carb diets are very structured and restrictive so consider where you will have difficulties based on your personality. For example, if you are impulsive or oblivious about food you will need to focus on removing temptations or becoming more mindful of the food you are eating.
  • Do you have any special needs or considerations? Most packaged food diets or delivery services can accommodate these considerations or may even have a special meal plan for your needs, but you will want to be sure and check.
    • Do you have a health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or allergies?
    • Do you have specific cultural or ethnic requirements or preferences when it comes to food? These are important factors that should help determine which plan you choose.


Program Elements

There is no one low-carb diet.  Read about various low-carb diets, become familiar with the principles and then zero in on one. The popular plans span a range of carb levels and food choices, though essentially all of them cut out most sugars and starches. The best thing to do is to browse the books and zero in on something that looks doable to you.

You must remember that you want to eat a healthy and varied diet. This includes eating foods from all the food groups. Fresh fruit, veggies, lean meat, low fat dairy and whole-wheat grains and cereals. Eating in a sensible manner is what will allow you to reach your weight loss goals. Not going on an extremely restricted low carb diet plan. You want to look for a diet plan that is sensible and easy to follow, and which will fit into your lifestyle easily.

Follow a lower carb weight loss eating plan can teach you the correct amounts of breads, grains and cereals you should be eating. However, carbs fuel your body with energy, so you must eat enough to at least get you through the day. So instead of looking for a drastic low carb weight loss diet, choose a plan that is healthy and one that includes your favorite foods. Below are some elements you could use to evaluate plans by:

  • Structure - most plans are similar in this area, using a phased approach. The first phase is the most restrictive
    • You begin with a restrictive phase lasting about two weeks
    • In the second phase, you slowly add carbohydrates to find the optimal level for you individually.
    • When your desired weight is reached, you move into a maintenance phase.
  • Carbohydrate levels & type - Since different people have different sensitivities to carbs, many plans are structured to help someone find the level of carbohydrate that works for him or her.
    • The "No White Foods" approach is a fairly popular as well, where you simply eliminating sugars, white flour, white rice, and potatoes for the entire duration of the diet.
    • Low carb plans also focus on differentiate between various carbohydrate sources. Most advise against eating refined carbs (sugars, white flour, etc.). For other sources of carbohydrate, diets differ on when to add what foods back into your diet, this usually based on the glycemic index to some degree but varies on how to differentiate between "good" and "bad" carbohydrate sources.
  • Fats - what is allowed and what isn't
    • While most low carb diets hate trans fats there is a lot of variation on the other fats. Some advise minimizing saturated fat such as not eating butter or the dark meat of poultry. The oils recommended (olive and canola) have a lot of monounsaturated fat. Also emphasizes getting adequate Omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Others advise eating a variety of fats. Omega 3s and 6s are recommended to be balanced, which means that many oils that are primarily Omega-6, such as corn oil, should be avoided. Saturated fats such as butter are allowed but Omega-3s and monounsaturated are emphasized.
  • Counting carb grams vs. portions - The way a carbohydrate is accounted for differs among the various low carb plans as well.
    • For example, Atkins requires counting all carbohydrates that are digestible; mostly this means carbohydrates that aren't fiber. As a result, daily carb intake is accounted for by counting every gram eaten.
    • South Beach on the other hand does not limit non-starchy vegetables and other sources of carbohydrates are accounted for by the size and number of portions.
  • You might also want to evaluate who created the low-carb weight-loss plan you are considering. Consider the following questions in your evaluation:
    • What are their qualifications and experience?
    • Do they have solid research and science to back up their approach?


Popular providers - Here are some of the most popular low carb diet providers, along with an evaluation table example.

Program Provider Budget Time Skills Taught Rigid or Flexible Support Plan Description
Atkins Low
Low to Moderate Rigid No
Diet plan that works by restricting carbohydrates drastically causing the body to go into a state of ketosis, which means it burns its own fat for fuel. As a result, your body changes from a carbohydrate-burning engine into a fat-burning engine. The purported result: weight loss.
Paleo Diet
Low Low
Low Rigid No
Diet plan developed by Dr. Loren Cordain. Who maintains that the diets enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors and those current hunter-gather cultures are much more conducive to the genetic makeup of our bodies. By reducing the number of complex carbs and high glycemic index foods with lean meats, sea food, and whole fruits and vegetables, we can do a great deal in solving the health problems such as obesity and heart disease that we are plagued with today.
Sonoma Diet
Low High Moderate Rigid No
Created by biochemist and registered dietitian, Dr. Connie Guttersen, diet has three waves, or phases. Start by removing sugars, processed flour products and other unhealthy foods in Wave 1. You'll focus on health and pleasure in Wave 2, where you'll remain until you reach your weight goal. You'll conclude with Wave 3, where you'll maintain your diet. In addition to diet and nutrition, addresses sleep and wine drinking as part of the diet.
South Beach Diet
Low High Moderate Rigid to Moderate (based on Phase)
South Beach Diet was created by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD. The diet restricts carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. The diet promotes strategic snacking and there's no counting calories or strict portion sizes. There are three phases. Website provides tools primarily focused on diet plan, not much exercise support.
Sugar Busters!
Low Low Low Moderate No Diet book in which the authors tell you to eliminate all sweets made with refined sugar and certain fruits and vegetables with a high-sugar content. Diet says that counting calories or measuring food is not a part of the plan, it does suggest you "look at portion size," which is another way of cutting calories. The basic plan is to eat high-fiber vegetables, stone-ground whole grains, lean and trimmed meats, fish, and fruits.

For help researching more providers Everydiet is a website focused on just that: www.everyday.org


5. Weight loss maintenance

Long-term success with weight loss will require making permanent changes in your eating and exercise habits. Therefore, since one of the biggest criticisms with low-carb diets is that people don't keep the weight off it is important that the plan you choose teaches you some skills about healthy eating. The plan you choose should contain these basic elements:

  • Healthy Eating and Balanced Nutrition. The plan may shift at some point starting out being rigid and then becoming more flexible as you reach certain milestones. It is important that at some point the plan prepare you for everyday life after you reach your goal or end the diet. Look for a plan that doesn't forbid certain foods or food groups in order to maintain your weight loss but instead teaches you how to eventually include a variety of foods from all the major food groups. A healthy diet includes vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean protein sources, nuts, seeds and even an occasional sweet indulgence.
  • Enjoyment. A diet should include foods you like and that you would enjoy eating for the rest of your life, not just for several weeks or months. If your maintenance plan is overly restrictive or if it becomes boring, you're probably not going to stick to it.
  • Physical activity. Every weight-loss program should include recommendations to increase physical activity. Exercise also offers numerous health benefits, including boosting your mood, strengthening your cardiovascular system and reducing your blood pressure. Additionally, exercise has been found to be the most important factor in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that people who maintain their weight loss over the long term get regular physical activity.


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