One of the most popular methods for losing weight for many years has been a low carb way of eating. This way of dieting has come under a lot of scrutiny, however, and has been frowned upon by the traditional medical community. It has even been called a dangerous fad. In recent years, though, the proven results have caused them to increase in popularity, and they have become more widely accepted, with more physicians recommending these plans for their obese patients.
Healthy Low Carb Diets
There are so many different low carb diet plans, all claiming they are the best, so how do you know which one is truly the best one? The best one is the one you will stick with! There are 4 low carb eating plans that I think are excellent choices for you to consider, so find the one that resonates with you and learn more about it before you start your weight loss journey.
Asking which one is the best is a good question and an important issue to be resolved before beginning your own diet, for a few reasons. First, if you don’t do some research about how and why low carb eating works for weight loss, you will almost certainly do some things wrong, which will slow your progress…or you will see no weight loss at all.
The truth is that when followed faithfully and correctly, they all work well, plus in nearly all cases they help improve such health issues as high blood pressure, high triclyceride levels, and high cholesterol and blood sugars.
Each low carb diet is based on similar objectives, but some are more strict than others, and some allow different food choices. The word diet used in conjunction with this way of eating is misleading in a way, as “diet” usually means a short-term eating plan for weight loss, after which you go back to your usual way of eating; however, most people who are serious about their long-term health and well-being, consider low carb a way of eating for the rest of their lives.
Those who have the greatest success with low carb are the ones who make that commitment to eat this way for a lifetime, or at least for the very long term. So what you need to decide is: which one do I think I can stick with for a lifetime…or at least for the long haul? With all of the variations you hear about, deciding which plan is the best one for you can be confusing.
By comparing the 4 best low carb diets, you will see which one most appeals to you and will suit your lifestyle and food preferences. Having a plan that’s tailored to suit your needs and preferences will make things far easier, and you will be more likely to stick with it.
It is very important to be at the point where you’re serious about losing weight, as you will likely need to make a lot of changes, so having the right mindset helps keep you on track.
Based on your goals and how you like to do things, You can choose one of the plans described below, or…once you understand the basics of low carb eating…you can structure an eating plan on your own that you customize to your lifestyle.
What Do I Eat? Or Not Eat?
There isn’t really a fixed definition for a general low carb diet, but they all tend to be higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates than our typical “Western” diet.
They recommend eating meats, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, some fruits and healthy fats. Things that should not be eaten, or consumed in minimal amounts, are all the high-carb foods – wheat and other grains, potatoes and other root vegetables, and sugary drinks and junk foods. This means that processed foods should be avoided and fast food needs to be chosen with care.
To keep it simple, you keep track of what you eat by counting carbs rather than calories. Some general guidelines are:
- 100 grams per day is considered low carb
- 50-100 grams per day will promote slow and steady weight loss in most people
- Under 50 grams per day promotes faster weight loss
- Stricter versions advise 20 grams or less per day
If you know that you are already eating a lot of high-carb foods in your regular diet, then any of these steps will be an improvement. You decide if you want to go “cold turkey” and try 20 grams or less right out of the gate, or if you want to ease into it. Many folks will cut out bread, pasta, rice and sweets, staying around 100-150 carbs per day to see how they do, then gradually decrease the carbs if they are not losing.
Now we get to the basic details of the plans. An overview of each of the 4 plans is outlined below:
My personal preference is Atkins (the earlier 1972 or 2002 versions), but they all work if followed properly. See which one suits you best, then get started! You can always learn more about that particular plan and fine-tune things as you go along. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Everyone does at the beginning, and it all works out.
This way of eating is one of the most popular low carb weight loss plans you’ll find, and I think it is one of the easiest to follow, especially when you are new to low carb eating. Numerous studies have detailed multiple cases of long term weight loss success on the Atkins Nutritional Approach, because the focus is on healthy eating of low carbs while centering meals around fatty proteins, good for the body fats and vegetables.
The following is quoted directly from the 2002 book, “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution”:
- The typical American style of eating is grossly mismatched to the normal human metabolism.
- Most obesity is the result of metabolic disturbances, not overconsumption of fat.
- Studies consistently show that sugar, refined white flour and junk foods are bad for your health, your energy level, your mental state and your figure.
- Low-fat diets are in effect high-carbohydrate diets and bring on the very problems that they were intended to protect us from.
- By doing Atkins you will control your weight, achieve good health and help prevent disease.
- The Atkins Nutritional Approach is composed of protein and fat, both essential to the human body, plus controlled quantities of the most nutrient-dense carbohydrates, primarily in the form of vegetables.”
When you decide to choose this diet, you’ll go through it following four steps, referred to as phases. The first phase, the Induction Phase, is the most strict and is designed to kick-start your weight loss, inducing your body to switch from a carbohydrate-burning metabolism to a primarily fat-burning metabolism. You keep your carb intake at less than 20 grams per day, which means the fat you are burning will be YOUR fat, not the fat you eat!
The focus is on consuming foods that are loaded with protein found in meats like beef, chicken, pork and other meats; and you are to consume low carb vegetables, such as dark and leafy greens that grow above ground, and avoid the high carb veggies such as potatoes and carrots that grow underground.
Induction is not going to be your lifelong way of eating, as you will gradually add carbs as you go through the phases, but you need to eat less than 20 grams per day for at least the first 14 days of the diet in order to reset our metabolism. Some fear that since the Atkins Diet consists of eating high fat it will have a negative impact on their cholesterol level; but, in fact, in most cases cholesterol will actually be lowered within a few weeks.
There is an acceptable foods list to follow to help you easily stay on track, and you can move to the second phase at the end of the 14 days, or you can stay on Induction until you are within 15 pounds of your goal weight. The choice is yours, as you will experience slower weight loss by moving to the next phase.
The second phase, called Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), is where you’ll add in additional foods, such as more vegetables, berries, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts. You add carbs in increments of 5 additional carbs per week, and you continue to add 5 per week as long as you are still losing weight. Be aware, however, that weight loss is not continuous, and you will hit plateaus where you don’t lose for a period of time, then you’ll start losing again.
Not everyone loses at the same rate, as many factors come into play, but because of the low carb foods in the first and second phases, many will lose weight rather quickly. As you add carbs your weight loss will slow down, but you will also be losing inches during this entire program.
When you get within sight of your target weight, it is time to increase your carb intake in the third phase, Pre-Maintenance. Your loss will slow even more at this phase, but you are in training for your ultimate goal: reaching you ideal weight and maintaining it for life. You will now be fine-tuning your eating program to create your optimal lifetime eating plan.
Once you have reached your goal weight, you’ll be ready for the Maintenance stage or the fourth phase. By this time you will have learned the amount of good carbs that you can eat and not gain weight. You should continue to stay away from sugar, trans fats and things like wheat and rice, but you have the green light on eating foods such as eggs, dairy and even dark chocolate and wine. You will have learned how to track your carbs to keep your levels where they should be, so as long as you continue eating this way, you can maintain your ideal weight indefinitely.
If you are a detail-oriented person who likes to count and track every bite you take, and can do so without driving yourself crazy, then you will be in heaven with the ketogenic diet.
Ketogenic diets typically lower the carbohydrate intake down to under 20 carbs for all of the meals of the day combined. Your food is tracked by counting your macronutrients. Macronutrients are the main nutrition facts such as protein, carbs and fats that you should be checking on with every meal that you prepare.
There are online resources for calculating the percentage your macronutrients should be, based on your height and weight and how much you want to lose, and there are several apps you can use to keep track of them. You can even use a pencil and paper to keep track! Imagine…
A Ketogenic diet is definitely for the strong minded individual who is okay with the “No pain, no gain” mindset, who thinks it’s better to suffer an adjustment period for just a short while in order to succeed on a faster track.
With a Ketogenic diet, you will be allowed to eat a lot of the good high fat foods that are normally not allowed in basic diets. Foods that are high in fats and proteins, but low in carbohydrates will fill you up much faster, while preventing the body from making glucose out of the carbs.
This style of little to no carbs is effective because the body responds to the lack of glucose production by burning fat instead of glucose. A ketogenic diet has effective and fast solutions for people who are having trouble losing weight, but it can be a bit more stressful to maintain than just a regular low carb diet, even if it can deliver excellent, faster results.
If done on a strict regimen, it’s possible to induce ketosis – the fat-burning state – within three to five days. However, if it takes a bit more of an adjustment period to get used to the low carbs, it could take the induction process up to eight weeks.
After losing a certain amount of weight, people sometimes enter a plateau in which weight becomes stagnant on the scale, even with a clean diet and exercise. This is your body’s response to your new diet and exercise level that it isn’t used to. Sometimes the body begins to hold onto fat as an energy resource, holding back your weight loss. This is perfectly normal, and may even last for several weeks, but if you keep going, you will begin losing again.
This isn’t an easy diet to begin, and changing your food lifestyle could come with a couple of unwelcome symptoms. Moodiness, lack of energy and hunger are the most common and discouraging symptoms of starting this diet, and you may end up going through what’s often known as low carb flu. This is usually in the first week of the diet, as your body is making significant changes. To easily combat this, you can sip on chicken broth and nurture yourself through the process just as you would a common cold.
One thing you’ll notice after the low carb flu passes (and not everyone experiences that, by the way), is the vast amount of energy that you have on a ketogenic diet. Your energy levels will soar and your brain fog will clear up if you’ve been suffering from that.
You’ll want to buy a package of keto strips from your local pharmacy. They’re over the counter strips that you hold under your stream of urine to tell you if you’re in ketosis or not.
As you progress on your low carb diet, you’ll want to monitor your carb intake to ensure that you stay in ketosis. And drink lots of water because it can be hard on your kidneys if you stay dehydrated.
Many people report that the pain they’ve felt in their muscles or joints disappears when they’re on a ketogenic diet. This is a blessing for many, and they find that once they abandon the keto way of life, the pain returns, so it’s even more incentive to stay on the lowest carb diet possible.
Another benefit of being on a keto low carb diet is that your sugar cravings will dissipate quickly. You won’t have to worry about craving sugars. More than likely, if anything, you’ll crave certain fruits and vegetables – so make sure you educate yourself about what the common carb count is for those items.
Though this is a challenging way of eating low carb and can be confusing and frustrating at the beginning, if you can stick with it, the rewards will be worth it, you will lose weight and reach your goal, and any uncomfortable symptoms will subside. Unless you would feel better starting a slower paced diet, a ketogenic diet might be just what you need.
The Paleo Diet is a way of eating that dates back to the Paleolithic era – the Stone Age – the time when cavemen were around. Cave men lived as hunters and gatherers, and their diets consisted of whatever animals they could kill or food they could gather. So this essentially means any foods that are in their rawest or truest form and available in nature.
Think of the images you have seen of cavemen- lean, athletic, muscular. I think it’s safe to say that their bodies look little like what we see in the general population in our world today. So there must be something about what they were doing that worked, right?
Paleo Diet advocates believe our bodies were physiologically created to be able to properly digest and derive energy from the original foods our ancestors ate. Since the incorporation of farming and agriculture, grains are now being grown in abundance and disease risks have increased along with the crops. The work required to obtain and prepare food has diminished incredibly over the past hundreds of thousands of years.
This “diet” isn’t ‘just for people looking to shed some pounds though – it’s also for anyone who wants to feel and function better. It offers a wealth of health benefits as a result.
- Increased vitamin, mineral & antioxidant consumption
- Improved blood sugar control
- Improvements in cardiovascular health (triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure)
- Natural detox for the body
- Better sleep
- Weight loss
If you can’t stand the thought of calorie counting or macro tracking, the Paleo diet has a distinct advantage. While you certainly can track these things if you wish, they aren’t essential for weight loss. By eating only Paleo-approved foods (nuts, fruits, eggs, grass-fed meats, healthy oils, vegetables), you are constantly putting healthy and nourishing foods into your body.
It’s hard to argue against eating natural, unprocessed foods, and the gist of this diet is that it’s based on eating a lot of fiber, plenty of protein like lean meat or fish and eggs, and also plenty of fruits and vegetables. You’ll be able to cook with oils such as olive oil or avocado oil, foregoing the bad trans-fats. The Paleo diet does restrict processed foods, and you must cut out things like wheat, cereal, potatoes, sugar, beans, dairy, and salt.
What makes the diet so popular is the focus on low carb while encouraging fruits, nuts and vegetables with plenty of fiber, leaving you feeling satisfied rather than hungry.
If you’re someone who isn’t a big meat eater or you’ve chosen a vegetarian lifestyle, then the Paleo Diet will not work for you because of the emphasis on consuming meat and it will be difficult to get the protein that you need.
The Mediterranean Diet has long been thought to be a heart-healthy diet, and though it is not technically low carb, it can easily be adapted to a low carb lifestyle. In fact, many doctors recommend this diet as a healthy and safe way to lose weight successfully.
It is based on the foods typically consumed in the 16 countries along the Mediterranean Sea, like France, Spain, Italy and Greece. While it is a very diverse region made up of many different cultures and some of the foods are different, on a nutritional level they share many similarities.
You must really enjoy the way of eating you choose long-term, and the Mediterranean diet allows so many varied and tasty meals from a variety of exotic and interesting cuisines, that you will never grow bored with this change to your lifestyle.
I like a lot of aspects of this diet, but the fact that it limits red meat and dairy makes it one that would be more difficult for me to follow. This would be a good choice for those more inclined to a vegetarian way of eating, or for those who enjoy fish more than red meat and olive oil more than butter.
When most people think of this diet, they think of lots of pasta and wonder how that can possibly lead to weight loss. But this diet focuses on healthy eating of mostly low carb foods and eliminating foods that aren’t good for you. You eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the meat source of this diet is fish such as trout or salmon rather than red meat, although some is allowed in moderation. If you eat red meats, they should always be lean meats, staying away from bacon and other meats that are high in unhealthy types of fat and additives.
The spotlight is on choosing to eat low carb for weight loss rather than trying to strictly eliminate entire food groups the way that some diets do.
These are some of the main recommended foods and their benefits:
Olive Oil – is thought to provide protection against heart disease and certain cancers, as well as a number of other diseases from osteoporosis to diabetes.
Fish – a diet rich in omega 3’s is beneficial to the heart and is suggested to be eaten at least once a week.
Tomatoes – a staple of this diet, especially used in the Southern Italian region in their tomato based sauces. They have many healthy benefits, especially for men, as cooked tomato can lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Vegetables – you should have at a minimum, seven servings in the fruit and vegetable category each day.
Eggs – allowed in moderate amounts.
Dairy – always choose products that are either low in fat or fat free.
Poultry – allowed in moderate amounts.
Bread, Cereals and Pasta – switch out butter-laden bread with a healthier option, like dipped in healthy oils. You can have cereals and pasta as long as they are whole grain.
Spices – definitely feel free to use spices in your cooking. Not only will it prevent bland food boredom, but many spices contain ingredients that have health benefits.
Nuts – allowed in moderation because of their good fat content. You can even consume peanut butter on this diet.
Wine – Here you go! Yes this is one of my favorites. A couple of glasses of wine with your meal is good for your health; a bottle of wine with your meal – not so good!
Because the foods in this diet are primarily based on low carb choices, you will lose weight as long as you limit the higher carb food options to your tolerance.
Making sure that you get in exercise is a recommended part of this weight loss plan.
Low carb eating is a healthy weight loss option, and the various plans offer interesting choices that will appeal to most people’s food preferences. I hope one of these plans really floats your boat and has inspired you to jump on board with it for your weight loss journey. The brief overviews of each plan provides you with enough information to get started, but please do your own research to learn as much as you can about your favorite way of eating. The more you know, the fewer missteps you will take, and the greater your chance of success. You can do it!!