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The idea of following a low-carb diet can feel a bit overwhelming. (Just how many carbs are we talking here?) But with so many people seemingly shedding pounds and finding a richer lifestyle after going low-carb, it's oh-so enticing. Before you decide for yourself if cutting carbs is right for you, make sure you know exactly what the plan entails. We asked Stefanie Schwartz, MS, RD, CDN, of Nutritionally Yours, some of your most pressing questions.
What Are the Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet?
Obviously, a low-carb diet can help you lose weight, as long as you're eating the right foods and watching how many calories you get each day. Eating fewer carbs helps lower your blood sugar, which allows your body to burn stored fat for energy instead of glucose.
Aside from that, Stefanie explained that a low-carb diet can help prevent cravings and lower your blood pressure and triglycerides, improving your overall health.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat?
There's no one number that's right for everyone. However, according to dietary guidelines, carbs should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. Keep in mind that one gram of carbs translates to four calories. "So, assuming a 2,000-calorie diet, an individual should consume 225 to 325 grams of carbs daily," Stefanie told POPSUGAR. However, when you're looking to lose weight, you want your carbs to be under 150 grams per day. "On average, keeping carb intake to 50 to 100 grams per day is low enough for an effective weight loss, yet not too low to put you in ketosis," she said. (Ketosis is the goal of the very low-carb ketogenic diet.)
To come up with a more precise amount of carbs you should eat based on your sex, age, and activity level, draw up a health plan with your own dietitian or doctor so you can be sure you're eating enough of the right foods.
What Foods Can You Eat on a Low-Carb Diet?
You might think that all you need to do is cut back on carbs — but this diet is really about choosing your carbs wisely. Stefanie explained that the ideal carbs to consume are from high-fiber, nonrefined sources, like oatmeal, yams, quinoa, wild and brown rice, farro, vegetables, and fruits.
The key to sticking to your low-carb diet is really nailing your grocery shopping and meal prep. So, plan to pick up a combination of lean proteins, healthy fats, and virtuous carbs that you can mix and match to create a healthy menu each week. Stefanie suggested several meal options to get you started:
- Make a vegetable or chicken soup in the slow cooker.
- Make a turkey meat loaf using oats or almond meal as the binder and serve with mashed cauliflower.
- Make a batch of turkey meat sauce to serve with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash.
- Buy vacuum-sealed fish filets and bake them in the oven with olive oil, lemon, and capers and serve with roasted brussels sprouts.
- Make a vegetable frittata with whatever vegetables you have on hand.
Don't forget that you'll need snacks, too — Stefanie recommends hard-boiled eggs, turkey and cucumber roll-ups, a small serving of nuts or seeds, some cottage cheese, and pickles.
Is a Low-Carb Diet Safe?
According to Stefanie, there's no real drawback to sticking to a low-carb diet in the long-term. "The rewards of a low-carb lifestyle are an increase in energy, a reduced appetite and cravings, a drop in insulin levels and glucose levels, and less inflammation," she told POPSUGAR, and all of those things are absolutely positives in your life. She also pointed out that the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and lean protein are excellent choices for what to put into your body.
However, if you do come off a low-carb diet, you can expect to see a little uptick in your weight, simply because added carbs means water retention. "The trick to adding more carbs after following a low-carbohydrate diet is to add them back slowly and with more fiber-rich foods. Make sure to keep your water intake high to flush your system," Stefanie said.
As always, your best bet is to discuss any dietary changes with your doctor or dietitian before actually doing it. That way, you can decide together what the best plan of action is for you.