Dieting Tips: Safe Guidelines For A Low-Carb Diet

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - 3:01pm

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

Across the nation, the low carbohydrate diet craze is dying down. Nevertheless, many restaurants, hotels and grocery stores still cater to the die-hard consumers who prefer low-carbohydrate foods. It’s important to know that carbohydrates are the mainstay of our diets. This macronutrient provides us with energy as well as many nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. That said, the incidence of obesity in the United States is staggering and in our society people do eat too many refined carbohydrates. While carbohydrates provide us with the fuel our bodies need, there are benefits to lowering the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. Just remember to do so wisely and use common sense.

Advantages of a low-carb diet

  • Lowers the overall calories in your diet, which is good for weight loss. In addition, preliminary studies demonstrate that low-calorie diets may increase life expectancy.
  • Encourages the inclusion of a number of healthful foods in your diet, including whole grains and fruits, lots of vegetables, and lean protein sources.
  • Is rich in healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats (think olive oil and avocado) and the polyunsaturated fat (omega-3) found in salmon, flax seeds and walnuts.
  • Limits empty-calorie foods, such as processed foods (i.e. refined carbs) like cookies, cake, candy and cola.

Advice for low-carb enthusiasts

Now that you know some of the advantages, here are some common suggestions made by registered dietitians and nutrition experts to people who are trying out a low-carb diet:

  • Snack every four to five hours.
  • Drink plenty of water and cut back on caffeine. (Low-carb diets can be dehydrating because carbohydrates attract and absorb water, while protein repels water. And dehydration can lead to constipation.)
  • Choose very lean meats, such as ground sirloin, ground turkey breast, and skinless chicken, as well as and other lean protein sources like egg whites and tofu.
  • Add fish and seafood to your diet.
  • Choose your fats wisely. Add nuts and seeds to your meal plan (watch the portions).
  • Eat 5-9 servings of fruits and non-starchy vegetables daily. (It’s okay to lean more heavily on vegetables.)
  • Fill up with fiber. Choose high fiber fruits and vegetables, such as apples, pears, berries, spinach and broccoli.
  • Choose high fiber, low sugar cereals (with less than 3 grams of sugar per serving, and more than 5 grams of fiber per serving).
  • Choose grains like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, and whole-wheat pasta.
  • Spice up your food; add flavor with herbs and spices. Use all purpose spice mixes such as Chinese five-spice, and Mexican or Italian seasonings.

Healthy reminder: no carbs is no good

Try not to go too low in with the carbs. Make sure you are consuming enough for your body to function at peak performance. Your brain only uses carbohydrates for fuel and you should consume at least 40% of your daily calories from carbohydrates (180 grams for a 1,800 calorie diet). Only begin this kind of diet under the supervision of a registered dietitian and after getting an ‘okay’ from your doctor. A registered dietician can provide you with a customized plan based on your health history, eating habits and medications.