What is the Healthiest Way to Eat Low Carb?
Max Carmody, MSc
The healthiest way to eat a low carb diet is to eat lots of vegetables, not eat too many trans and saturated fats, include a small amount of healthy whole grains. You should listen to your body, and if you are having severe side effects, increase the amount of carbs you are eating.
Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient, found in certain foods and beverages. They are made up of sugars, starches, and fiber. Your body breaks down carbs into blood sugar, or glucose, and your bloodstream absorbs the glucose and uses it to fuel the body. There are multiple different types of carbohydrates, some of which are considered to be better for you than others. There are whole carbs, and refined carbs. Whole carbs are not heavily processed and contain the fiber naturally found in the food, whereas refined carbs are more processed and have the natural fiber changed or removed. Then there are simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs are found in things like table sugar, and fruits and some milk products. They provide short bursts of energy, and complex carbs are found in things like whole grains, and take longer for the body to break down. Complex carbs are typically considered to be healthier, although some simple carbs can be healthy as well.
A low carb diet, as the name suggests, involves limiting the amount of carbs that you eat on a daily basis. This is typically under 130 grams of carbs a day. Not always, but in general low carb diets make up for eating fewer carbs with more fat or protein. Some go as low as 50, or even 20, grams of carbs a day, especially on the keto diet. There is no one standard low carb diet, but there are a wide variety of different ones all with differing approaches, and different foods that are allowed. Typically things like pasta and potatoes are avoided though, while things like non starchy vegetables and meat are emphasized. If you want to find out which is healthier, a low carb diet or a keto diet, you can find an article that I wrote here.
Is a Low Carb Diet Healthy?
Low carb diets are generally considered to be healthy, as long as they are not too extreme. “Low carb diets that emphasize healthy sources of carbs, fat and protein may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, almost any diet that helps you shed excess weight may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, at least temporarily”. Very low carb diets may also reduce blood triglyceride levels.
A low carb diet may be good for short term weight loss, and can be pretty healthy, but going extremely low carb in the long run may not be good for you, and may increase the chances of some health risks. In the long run, you don’t want to be eating too many carbs either, however. A more moderate carb approach like the Mediterranean diet is probably healthiest for a long term, weight maintenance plan.
Unhealthy Ways to do Low Carb
A lot of people do low carb diets, but then they end up eating very high levels of saturated fat or trans fat. Saturated fat is saturated with hydrogen molecules and contains only single bonds between carbon molecules. This results in saturated fats being solid at room temperature. Trans fats are made when liquid oils are turned into solid fats, like shortening or margarine, and are generally considered to be the worst form of fat. Your body needs healthy fats for fuel. But too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up in the arteries.
Sometimes when people go on a low carb diet, or any diet that restricts one food group yet encourages eating others, they go a bit too hard on the other groups. When you are on a low carb diet, you should be eating more fats and proteins to make up for the lack of carbs. What you should not be doing however, is eating 3 pounds of meat every evening. You very well may not even lose weight that way. It is also bad for your body to consume too much protein. I see it a lot with people on the keto diet especially. There is all sorts of keto “junk food” out there. Some people do things like getting a cheeseburger at McDonalds and just taking off the bun. It’s obviously still not healthy though, because it’s a cheeseburger at McDonalds, all that grease isn’t good for you.
Vegetables, at least the non-starchy ones, are generally a big part of a low carb diet, although some people omit them. They have very few carbs and general calories and can be filling if you eat enough of them. Vegetables are extremely healthy, with a wide variety of nutrients that your body needs.
Healthiest Ways to do Low Carb
As we mentioned earlier, it is not very healthy to eat lots of trans and saturated fats. Saturated fats are ok in moderation, but It is healthier to include more unsaturated fats in your diet to make up for the lack of carbs. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They are primarily found in plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Avocados are a big one, I’ve been eating a lot of those recently.
Low carb does not mean no carb. Even if you are doing a low carb diet, it can be beneficial to your health to include some carbs. Especially you may want to consider adding some whole grains. There are things like barley, oats, corn, and rye. They are high in nutrients and fiber, and may reduce your risk of heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. You will want to have some whole, unprocessed food, in your diet. If you would like to find out what foods really have too many carbs to consume, you can find an article that I wrote about it here.
And finally, listen to your body when doing a low carb diet. Low carb diets can sometimes have certain negative side effects. Some of these side effects include nausea, constipation, and headaches. If you are having any of these negative side effects for more than a few days, you may want to increase the amount of carbs you are eating, and go on the higher end of low carb, or even moderate carb.
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