Many people feel a little confused when they try a new way of eating.
Low carb diets are no exception, and they can be quite confusing for people starting one for the first time.
A brief look around the Internet shows a range of different claims; low carb diets are dangerous; low carb is the healthiest diet possible; we need 150 grams of carbohydrate per day; there is no essential requirement for carbohydrate.
There are all sorts of contrasting opinions and proclaimed facts.
So, let's separate the facts from fiction and look at 11 useful things to know about low-carb diets.
1. Low Carb Diets Don't Have To Be Expensive
First of all, there is a belief that low carbohydrate diets are expensive compared to typical diets.
This could be the case, especially with all the cheap ultra-processed food many people following typical diets eat.
That said, regarding health, you get what you pay for; the majority of packaged food is merely a combination of flour, oil and sugar. It is cheap and far from healthy.
It is true that low carb diets can be costly, but they can also be affordable.
If someone wants to live on ribeye steaks and wild-caught salmon, then yes, the diet won't be cheap.
However, there are all sorts of nutrient-dense foods available for a decent price.
For example; frozen vegetables, fish and meat are all just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts.
Buying in bulk is also an excellent way to get good food at a reasonable price.
Key Point: Good food doesn't have to be expensive, and there is a wide range of healthy budget options.
2. Moderate Alcohol Consumption Is Possible
Some people enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink, but can this be compatible with a low-carb diet?
The answer is yes, but it depends on what you want to drink.
For instance, some drinks such as dry red wine, spirits and beer are very low in carbohydrate.
Although alcohol can still be harmful in high doses, these options are suitable for a low-carb diet.
On the other hand, say you want to drink a craft ale or a regular beer?
Providing the low-carb diet is not a medical intervention for a condition such as epilepsy or type 2 diabetes, then this is also fine.
However, it is not ideal, and less is more when it comes to beer.
In other words; if you choose to drink, then enjoy it but do so with full awareness of your choices.
This guide explains the best alcohol choices for a low-carb diet and provides carb counts for the most common drinks.
Key Point: Drinking alcohol can be compatible with a low-carb diet, but moderation is important.
3. A Sweet Taste Isn't Necessarily Bad
If you are considering a low-carb diet, then you will already know that sugar is off the table (or it should at least be limited.)
On the other hand, this doesn't mean that all sweet-tasting food is necessarily bad.
There is a range of so-called "natural" sweeteners such as stevia, erythritol and xylitol.
Firstly, these sweeteners are non-caloric, and multiple studies show they have virtually no impact on blood glucose or insulin levels.
Are these "healthy" products?
Not really, and nor do they contain any nutritional value.
However, they are also not that bad, and some people want to have a sweet-tasting coffee or do some low-carb baking from time to time.
Just one thing to be aware of; some individuals do find that a sweet taste encourages food cravings.
If this sounds like you, then it may be better to avoid sweeteners altogether.
Key Point: Low-carb/natural sweeteners can fit into a low-carb diet. However, they are not particularly nutritious and should be a treat rather than a staple.
4. Low Carb Diets Are Proven Effective For Weight Loss
With proper adherence, people can lose weight following any diet in the world.
Despite differing personal opinions, the science is quite clear that low-carb, low-fat, paleo, vegan, or any other diet can create weight loss.
However, randomized trials and systematic reviews consistently show that low-carb outperforms low-fat diets for weight loss.
These studies generally last anywhere between 3 months and 12 months, and dieters lose the most weight with a low-carb plan in the vast majority of them.
While some may argue that the difference is only a few pounds and not clinically significant, it is still a higher amount of weight loss whichever way you look at it.
This weight-loss performance could be because low-carb diets are higher in protein, which is the most satiating macronutrient.
Or it could be because the diet is just easier to follow for people needing to lose weight.
Key Point: Many different diets can work for weight loss, but low-carb diets may be the most effective.
5. Low-Carb Isn't Only For Weight Loss - Building Muscle Is Possible Too
There is a misconception that low-carb diets are only for weight loss and helping with certain medical conditions.
However, this is far from the case, and building muscle is certainly possible on a low-carb plan.
For this, there are three main things to focus on;
For further information on gaining weight with low carb, see this guide here.
Key Point: If we eat enough food, follow a good workout plan and sleep well then we can gain muscle on low-carb.
6. Low-Carb Is Not Inherently "Dangerous"
There is a common myth that low-carb diets are "dangerous."
If someone undertakes a low-carb diet without proper research, eats a bunch of unhealthy fats, and focuses on nutrient-poor foods then yes, maybe it would be dangerous.
However, this is the case with every diet out there.
Basing a high-carb diet on bread, pasta, cakes and cookies would quickly lead to problems too.
The most important part of any diet is focusing on nutrient-dense foods that offer the essential vitamins and minerals our body needs.
Two of the most nutritious groups of food are animal foods (such as meat, fish and dairy) and vegetables.
These types of food are not dangerous.
A sensible low-carb diet that emphasizes nutritious whole foods like beef, salmon, dairy, sardines, and a variety of fresh plant foods is very healthy.
For more myths about low-carb diets, see this list here.
Key Point: It is the foods we eat that determines the effect on health rather than the name of the diet. A well-planned low-carb diet can be very healthy.
7. Dietary Intervention Can Be Powerful (Be Careful)
Dietary interventions can be powerful for treating a range of medical conditions.
However, there is a big difference between a general diet and one designed specifically for a medical condition.
While there is a range of great information available online, it is imperative for people with a medical condition to discuss dietary change with their healthcare team.
There are two main reasons for this;
Key Point: Information available online is exactly that; information. It should never replace personalized medical advice, and care should be taken especially when medication is involved.
8. Grocery Shopping Doesn't Have To Be Difficult
One of the most common questions about low-carb diets is this; "If I can't eat bread, then what can I have for lunch?"
Even though it may seem like it at first, a lack of sandwiches doesn't make lunch impossible.
The same goes for breakfast; while many of us think of breakfast as cereal these days, a cooked meal was always the norm for our great-grandparents. Back in Victorian times, traditional breakfast foods often involved eggs, fish, fruit, meat and hot cereal.
The point here is this; each meal doesn't have to be a specific type of food. While fish or meat for breakfast may seem strange at first, it soon becomes normal.
In other words; rather than looking for low-carb cereals and bread, it is better to buy a variety of whole food options like dairy, eggs, fruit, meat, nuts and vegetables.
And then eat whatever you want at each meal.
If you need a helping hand, there is a low-carb shopping list here.
Key Point: Try not to overthink meal options and shopping lists. Just buy a variety of whole foods and eat whatever you like for each meal.
9. Low Carb Dietitians, Doctors and Nutritionists
The key to a healthy low-carb diet is proper research and including the right kind of foods in each meal.
However, this can be confusing if someone isn't sure what foods are good for them or what specific terminology means.
In this case, the Internet can be a great place because many health professionals freely share information.
This resource here provides a listing of many dietitians, doctors and nutritionists who provide information on low-carb diets.
While we shouldn't blindly follow what we read, research can be an excellent tool for informing our own decisions.
Key Point: Various health professionals provide a range of helpful information on low-carb diets.
10. There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Diet
This is about nutrition as a whole rather than specifically about low-carb, but it is worth remembering that no single diet will be the right fit for everyone.
If someone is talking about the impressive results they got with an almost zero-carb ketogenic diet, that doesn't mean it will be the same for you.
Someone cut out meat, felt great and lost weight? Other people feel terrible and get sick.
To put it simply; many people try a particular diet and find it isn't working for them, but because it works for other people, they keep trying and trying.
We are all a little bit different, and what works for one person may not be right for another.
The best thing we can do is to listen to our body.
Key Point: There is no one-size-fits-all diet, so we should follow what feels right for ourselves.
11. Don't Fear (Healthy) Fat
One typical mistake that people make with low-carb diets is not consuming adequate amounts of fat.
On this note, we can't just remove carbs from our diet and not replace them with anything, and doing this is a fast-track method to feeling terrible.
If we remove most of the energy (as carbohydrate) from our diet, then it needs replacing (with energy from fat).
While things are starting to change now, historically there has been a kind of fear of dietary fat. However, even the official dietary guidelines have now lifted the limits on cholesterol and dietary fat.
Ideally, we should focus on whole-food sources of fat that maximize nutrient density. For instance; avocados, beef, cheese, lamb, nuts, salmon and sardines are all healthy options.
Think of isolated fats (like butter, coconut oil and olive oil) as condiments or tools for cooking food.
Key Point: If reducing carbohydrate to low levels, we should replace the lost energy with fat.
To sum up, it is the food choices we make that determine the health properties of a low-carb diet.
Providing they are done in the right way, low-carb diets can be a healthy and nutritious way of eating.