If one of your 2020 goals is to lose a few pounds for better health or to rock that LBD that’s gotten a little snug, it’s best to tackle diet changes in a healthy way.
Here’s the skinny: Studies in the last few years have shown us that eating fat is not what makes us fat.
Consuming too many calories of any kind causes weight gain. But swapping out processed carbs for nutrient-dense foods will make you feel full faster, which can help you avoid overeating and lose weight.
Up until 2015, common dietary guidelines suggested that 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbs. Aiming for a lower percentage gives you a few health benefits, including possible weight loss.
A super low carb diet (like the keto diet) encourages your body to go into ketosis, which is when it starts burning stored fat instead of sugar for fuel.
In a small 2003 study of teens with higher body weights, participants who ate a low carb diet lost more than twice as much weight as those who ate a low fat diet (about 9 kilograms on average versus about 4 kilograms).
Since neither group counted calories, food composition seemed to be the defining factor.
A 2006 study also found that a super low carb diet is better than a low fat diet for dropping pounds fast. And a 2004 study linked low carb diets to decreased insulin levels.
So what exactly constitutes a healthy low carb diet? Obviously, you’ll cut back on processed carbs (buh-bye for now, sugar and soft bread). But beyond that, you’ll eat more protein, veggies, and — thank you, sweet baby Jesus — fat.
Here are a few health boosts you might get from a low carb lifestyle:
- lower blood sugar
- lower blood pressure
- a boost in HDL (the good cholesterol!)
- feeling less hungry
- weight loss
You’ll lose excess weight faster and feel healthier if you limit your carbs to somewhere between 50 and 150 grams per day (exact numbers vary according to your total caloric intake).
The beauty is that when you’re cutting carbs, you can still smash meals without counting calories. Since fat and protein are denser than carbs like bread and potato chips, you’ll fill up faster. It’s a food group swap, not a restriction.
Suddenly scaling back your carb intake can have some unpleasant side effects, including:
- bad breath
- constipation or diarrhea
- skin rash
And FYI: Restricting your carb intake long-term can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bone loss, and gastrointestinal issues and increase your risk for some chronic conditions.
There’s no one-size-fits-all carb goal. The strict diet culture of your high school years? Shake it off.
Your ideal number depends on your lifestyle and goals. If your version of getting healthy means losing a lot of weight, your new mantra is “How low can you go?”
If your #goals look more like lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides, shoot for a moderate range.
Wanna raise your HDL (the good stuff!) while lowering your LDL (the bad) cholesterol? Your low carb goals might not be so low after all. Cutting sugar and refined wheat (the worst offenders) might be the only adjustment you need.
Here are a few more factors to consider:
- Age. Your recommended caloric intake varies by age, so your carb count should follow suit.
- Daily activity. Runners, you already know the glorious benefits of carb-loading before a race. But a coffee “run” for a daily latte? Yeah, not so much. Be honest in your assessment of your daily activity. How many carbs do you really need?
- Body composition. If you’re a walking, talking gun show, your body requires more carb fuel than someone who has little to no muscle mass.
Say it louder for the peeps with diabetes in the back
If you have a metabolic condition like type 2 diabetes or obesity, it’s even more important to make sure you’re noshing on quality, nutrient-dense foods.
Start by cutting out processed, refined carbs and replacing them with healthy fats and lean proteins. Since your body is extra sensitive to all the carb-y things, low carb might be a great option for you.
Remember to talk to your doctor or dietitian before making any big diet changes so you can rest assured you’re choosing the safest, healthiest option for your condition.
Whether you’re jumping on the low carb train to shed some weight or to feel healthier in general, it’s pretty common to drop a few pounds within the first week of cutting carbs.
But don’t get too excited: That’s all water weight. The bloat has gotta go before your body starts eating into its fat stores. After week one, healthy weight loss is a slow, steady burn.
So you’re convinced that going low carb is your ticket to feeling healthier this year. You’ll start seeing results as soon as you nix sugar and refined wheat, but that doesn’t exactly count as low carb eating.
Slashing the numbers even more sets you up for the full metabolic benefits of a low carb or keto diet: a better mood, fewer cravings, and maybe fitting back into your favorite pair of skinny jeans for good.
But remember, if you have a metabolic condition like diabetes, you’re playing by different rules. Consult with your doctor or dietitian before starting a low carb diet.
If you don’t have a metabolic condition, these are good daily starting points based on your goals:
100 to 150 grams (the moderate “I wanna stay healthy” approach)
Maybe you’re already pretty healthy. You’re happy with your size. You’re feeling good.
But since you’re always looking for ways to maximize your body’s potential, the moderate approach is a good fit for you. You’re dipping your toes into low carb living to up your healthy juju.
- veggies any time of day or night
- a handful of fruits a day keeps the doctor away
- moderate servings of starches like potatoes (sweet, russet, Yukon, you name it!) and healthy grains (overnight oats FTW)
50 to 100 grams (the “I wanna get healthier” approach)
You’re hoping to lose a few pounds to feel stronger and healthier without a super restrictive diet.
Or maybe carbs are in the #frenemy zone — you end up bloated, broken out, or sluggish after eating them — but you’d rather repair the relationship than burn bridges.
- veggies aplenty (get creative with fun combos like zoodles and mashed cauliflower)
- any combo of 2 to 3 pieces of fruit each day
- limited quantities of starches like potatoes, beans, or noodles
Wanna see a dietitian-approved sample carb plan? Here’s the scoop:
- 1 banana: 30 g
- 1 slice of whole grain bread: 15 g
- 1 cup of beans or lentils: 30 g
- 1 cup of whole grain pasta: ~40 g
- 1 cup of rice: 45 g
20 to 50 grams (the “I wanna go full throttle” approach, aka keto)
You’ve got big goals, and you’re in it to win it. Maybe you know you have a lot of weight to drop to get into the healthy zone. Or maybe you’re dealing with obesity or diabetes. This approach is for you.
You’ll really feel the metabolic burn under 50 carbs a day because this kind of eating puts your body into ketosis.
Spilling the tea on keto(sis)
If you’ve listened to your friends gush about a diet full of butter, cheese, and steak, you’ve met the keto trend.
It’s the high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet of choice for Kelly Ripa, Jillian Michaels, and Kourtney Kardashian. Oh, and Halle Berry. Even Tim Tebow has gotten in on the action.
Keto works because it reduces your calorie intake without making you feel hangry all the time.
Loading up on healthy fats and proteins keeps you feeling full while forcing your body to feed off fat-burning ketones instead of the carb-o-licious pizza or peppermint mochas it’s used to tapping into.
Not everyone’s keto journey is rainbows and unicorns, but it’s been a game-changer for many. If you’re choosing a keto diet, talk to a dietitian to ensure you’re not missing out on any important nutrients.
Getting healthy is about so much more than losing weight or cutting out one food group. It’s important to prioritize quality over quantity. Regardless of your target number, aim for healthy, unprocessed carbs instead of carbs from unhealthy foods.
TBH, it’s not difficult to spot unhealthy carb sources. They’re on the fast-food menu and in the checkout aisle. They’re probably in your snack drawer at work or your pantry at home. Refined and processed carbs typically have more calories and less nutrients.
It’s best to limit these:
- sugary drinks, including 100 percent fruit juice
- white bread
- milk chocolate (opt for dark chocolate instead)
- french fries and potato chips
When it comes to the healthy kind of carbs, you’re looking for fiber and other nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
These nutritious, unprocessed foods are great fuel for your body:
- whole fruits
- veggies (potatoes too!)
- whole grains
- chickpeas (hummus, anyone?)
Though you can calculate the exact number of carbs necessary to meet your goals, here’s an easy starting point:
- Eat more veggies, protein, and fat and fewer carbs.
- Choose unprocessed carbs.
- Enjoy the switch from hangry to healthy!