While low carb diets seem to be a current fad with every celebrity adopting the lifestyle, they actually date back to the 19th century. According to bodybuilding.com, the low carb diet was born in 1862 when Dr. Harvey prescribed a strict diet of predominantly meat, fish, vegetables and wine to his patient William Banting. He ultimately placed a strict ban on starch, sugar, beer and potatoes.
Banting saw great results and published an open letter to the public: Letter on Corpulence. This letter brought the original low carb diet to life and it has continued to exist since that time. However, the popularity of low carb eating boomed in the '90s with Dr Atkins’, New Diet Revolution, and Dr Barry Sears’, Into the Zone.
How do low carb diets work
Former My Kitchen Rules finalist and author of Smart Carbs, Luke Hines explains that low carb diets are a way to force your body to start burning existing fat. The body uses carbs as its main source of fuel. Complex carbs are broken down until they become glucose, when there is too much glucose and your body doesn’t use it to fuel your activities it stores the glucose as fat. As a result, sapping your body of the source of this fat will allow you to lose weight.
If you’re wondering what to eat instead of these complex carbs, Luke suggests replacing them with protein, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds and low fructose fruit.
Types of low carb diets
Although the overall concept of a low carb diet seems straightforward, there are several diet plans that have been created with the ‘low carb concept’ in mind. Healthline lists 8 different ways to adopt a low carb lifestyle:
1. Typical Low-Carb Diet
This diet allows for 150 grams of carbohydrate consumption daily and significantly higher protein intake. So the food you eat will still hold some carbohydrates, but the quantities are significantly less than those in other foods. Participants are encouraged to eat plenty of fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats..
2. Ketogenic diet
Also known as the Keto diet, this is a very low carb high fat diet which is designed to put the body into a state of ketosis; allowing for fat to be burned instead of carbs. This is a very effective diet for weight loss, although the eating requirements are quite specific and require a strict regime. Reddit has created a Keto Wiki that provides a detailed guide demonstrating how the Keto diet works.
3. Low-carb, High-fat (LCHF)
This places large emphasis on eating unprocessed, high-quality whole foods, and is extremely popular in Nordic countries. This diet focuses on fish, meat, shellfish, vegetables, healthy fats, dairy, berries and nuts, with daily carbohydrate intake varying between 20-100 grams.
4. Low Carb Paleo
Pete Evans is a strong advocate of the Paleo diet, which encourages participants to base their eating habits of people in the Palaeolithic era (pre-agriculture). It therefore promotes consumption of meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts and seeds and the elimination of all processed foods, added sugar, grains, legumes and dairy products.
5. Atkins Diet
This is the most well-known low carb eating plan where you can eat as much protein and fat as you like, while reducing all high-carb foods. While there were medical concerns when it came to adopting the eating habits required under this diet, recent research says its healthy and effective.
Benefits of Low Carbohydrate Diets
The main health benefits of a low carbohydrate diet come from the weight loss that is experienced as a result of reducing sugar intake. Heartline suggests some of the other benefits associated with this style of eating include:
- Reduced appetite;
- Reduction in abdominal fats;
- Increased levels of good fats;
- Stable blood sugar and a reduction in insulin resistance;
- Better heart health; and
- Better brain health.
Heartline goes on to outline the health risks of a low carb diet which include:
- Bad breath;
- Muscle cramps;
- Skin rash;
- Constipation or diarrhea;
- Increased risk of kidney damage;
- High cholesterol; and
- Abnormal heartbeat.
What can you eat on a low carb diet?
- Lean meat (sirloin, chicken breast, pork);
- Leafy green vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower;
- Brussels sprouts;
- Low carb vegetables such as avocado, tomatoes;
- Nuts, seeds, nut butters;
- Coconut oil, olive oil, rapeseed oil;
- Apples, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries; and
- Plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt.
High carb foods to avoid:
- Sugary foods and drinks;
- Starch based foods;
- Chips and crackers;
- Starchy vegetables;
- Margarine; and
- Starchy and fructose fruit.
Sample low carb meal plans
- Crustless quiche cups
- Soft boiled egg, avocado and olive oil drizzle
- Protein smoothie
- Low carb zucchini muffins
Low Carb Lunch
- Turkey chili
- Grilled wild salmon salad
- Miso soup with spinach and tofu
- Chicken salad
Low Carb Dinner
- Zoodles with grilled chicken
- Garlicky tofu bowl
- Cauliflower pizza topped with cheese, grilled walnuts, vegetables and tomato sauce
If you’re not sure what you should be snacking on there are plenty of healthy low carb snack ideas. Some of the most popular include:
Sample low carb recipe
It always feels good to be eating healthy when you feel like you're indulging, so making a cauliflower pizza when on a low carb diet is a must:
Makes: 8 slices
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 17-20 mins
- 1 medium head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets (4 cups)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup shredded italian cheese blend
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning, crushed
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 cup yellow or green sweet pepper strips
- 1 small red onion, cut into thin wedges
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ¾ cup jarred or canned pizza sauce
- 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
- Snipped fresh basil, oregano and/or parsley
- Place the cauliflower in a food processor. Cover and pulse four to six times or until crumbly and mixture resembles the texture of couscous.
- Place a pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Preheat oven to 425°F. Place cauliflower in a microwave-safe casserole with 2 tablespoons water. Microwave, covered, on 100% power (high) for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring once or twice. Cool. Transfer cauliflower to a 100% cotton flour-sack towel. Wrap towel around cauliflower and squeeze until there is no more liquid (this step is critical).
- In a medium bowl stir together cooked and drained cauliflower, egg, the 1/4 cup Italian cheese blend, the Parmesan cheese, panko, Italian seasoning, and salt. On a piece of parchment paper pat cauliflower mixture into a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust on paper to the preheated pizza stone. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until crisp and starting to brown.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook and stir mushrooms, sweet pepper, and onion in hot oil for 4 to 6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from heat.
- Spoon pizza sauce over baked crust, spreading evenly. Top with cooked vegetables. Sprinkle evenly with the 1 cup Italian cheese blend. Bake about 5 minutes more or until heated and cheese melts. If desired, sprinkle with snipped fresh herb. Cut into slices to serve.
Can you drink alcohol while on a low carb diet?
If you are wondering whether you can enjoy a glass of wine with your pizza it’s really up to you, because there are conflicting recommendations regarding alcohol consumption while on a low-carb diet. From a calorie perspective wine and light beer only have 3-4 grams of carbs per serving. While hard liquor like rum, whiskey, gin, and vodka contain zero carbs.
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