Everyone who has thought about losing weight, exercising, or dieting for health reasons has heard about low carb diets. For the last few decades, this type of meal plan has continued to be one of the most popular.
Low carbohydrate diets are thought to be one of the most effective ways to lose weight, but the general population also seems to believe that they are the most challenging type of meal plans to follow.
Today, our in-depth introduction to low carbohydrate diets will help you understand what these are really about and how they work.
What Is a Low Carb Diet?
As its name suggests, a low carb diet is a meal plan that limits the number of carbohydrates that you eat. Instead, you focus on getting your calories from food items that are high in either protein or fat, depending on which type of diet you are following.
If you aren’t familiar with what carbohydrates are, don’t worry, as we will run you through it. Naturally occurring carbohydrates are commonly found in grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, milk, and nuts.
Refined carbs are found in pasta, white bread, cookies, and other manufactured food products. And these different types of carbs are processed by the body in slightly different ways.
When the idea of low carb diets was suggested initially, many people were shocked because they assume that fat is unhealthy to eat in high proportions. But science has shown again and again that natural fats do a lot more for our bodies than most carbohydrates!
Most people go on a low carb diet when they want to lose weight, but those aren’t the only benefits of eating fewer carbohydrates. Hence, let’s talk more about the benefits of consuming low carb meals.
The Proven Benefits of Eating Fewer Carbs
There are a lot of reasons why people decide to try a low carb diet, but will those reasons appeal to you? Here are some of the most common rationales to try this type of meal plan:
- Help you to lose weight and generally improve your health
- Aids in reversing the onset of type 2 diabetes
- Manages symptoms of type 1 diabetes
- Lowers risk of heart disease and related issues
- Helps in lowering blood pressure
- Manages symptoms of digestive issues (including IBS)
Improves skin condition and prevents acne
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons that one might choose to try out a low carb diet. If one or more of these potential benefits appeal to you, keep reading to find out exactly how these low carbohydrate diets work.
How Low Is Low Carb?
Before we continue, we want to address just what we mean when we say low carb. You’re probably already wondering what this means.
Does low carb means no carbs at all? And how many grams of carbs are allowed if it does not?
Don’t get too far ahead of yourself! We’ll cover more thorough details about how many grams of carbohydrates are allowed depending on which form of low carb diet you decide to follow a bit later in today’s article.
For now, let us just say this. The more you restrict your carbs, the faster and more powerful the changes in your body will be. For that reason, many people try to go as strict as possible at first and then increase their carb intake overtime once they achieve their goals.
Why Low Carbohydrate Diets Work?
Before we get into the specifics of each type of low carb meal plans that we would like to highlight to you, we want to explain a bit about the basis of why these types of diets work.
1. Carbs Are a Fuel Source
Carbs are used by your body to function. Different types of carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars. Those sugars are absorbed by your bloodstream to become blood sugars.
This process happens most rapidly with simple and complex carbohydrates, whereas the process takes longer with naturally complex carbohydrates.
2. Insulin Is Produced
Once the blood sugars (also known as glucose) enter your bloodstream, your body will start to produce insulin in order to manage your blood sugar levels. Insulin helps to transport the glucose from your bloodstream into your cells where it can be used to fuel cell functionality for any activity that you do.
3. Extra Glucose Become Fat
Not all glucose that enters your cells will be used. Some of it will be stored in your liver and muscles; other glucose will remain in cells.
Eventually, extra glucose will be stored in your body as fat. When your body needs energy, it will break down fat cells to release the glucose.
4. Quick and Easy Access to Fat
The basic idea of a low carb diet is this: when you decrease the amount of insulin that your body releases by lowering the number of carbs that are eaten, the body will have to turn to something else to get the glucose it needs to function.
The body will turn to fat storages in order to get energy, and that leads to weight loss!
What Are the Different Types of Low Carb Diets?
Now that we’ve learned a bit about how low carbohydrate diets work and what type of benefits you might see from committing to this change in your lifestyle, let’s talk more about the most popular low carbohydrate diets.
While many people think that all low carbohydrate diets are the same, that idea is simply not true. Each type of meal plan has specific guidelines that you are meant to follow, and the goal of each is different as well.
1. Atkins20 and Atkins40
For a long time, the Atkins diet was the most well-known and popular diet around. In a way, this diet is what first brought the idea of low carbohydrate diets into the limelight. Without Atkins, it might have taken a long time for low carbohydrate diets to become as popular as they are today.
The Atkins diet is a relatively strict diet that was introduced in 1972. There are two different versions of the plan which are:
- Atkins 20: A stricter plan
- Atkins 40: Allows more carbohydrate
When following the Atkins 20 plan, the total amount of carbs should be between 20 and 100 grams. Ideally, up to 15 grams of carbs would be vegetables. Three healthy servings of fat and three four-ounce servings of protein should supplement your low carb intake.
When following the Atkins 40 plan, the total amount of carbs should be between 40 and 150 grams depending on your current progress. You should follow the same guidelines for protein, healthy fats, and vegetables as outlined in the Atkins 20 plan.
Atkins plans cannot be effectively broken down into percentage ranges because the number of carbs, proteins, and fats that you eat at each stage are different. Generally speaking, the breakdown will look something like this:
- Carbs: 5%
- Protein: 25%
- Fats: 70%
Keep in mind, though, that the focus of Atkins is not on percentages but is on the exact number of grams of carbs that you are limited to take. Other than limiting your carbs, you can eat any other food on the approved list, in recommended portion sizes.
- The goal of Atkins 20 is to lose more than 40 pounds.
- The goal of Atkins 40 is to lose less than 40 pounds.
Both Atkins 20 and Atkins 40 are divided into stages. The first stage of Atkins is when your diet is strictest, and this is done to kick start your weight loss. As you move through the stages, you can add more carbs and more food items to your diet to stabilize your new weight.
2. Keto Diet
While some people falsely believe that Keto is not a low carb diet, that would be incorrect! Keto is another low carb diet that focuses on eating high amounts of fat and low amounts of carbs in order to help your body lose weight more efficiently.
The Keto diet, also known as the Ketogenic Diet, is a very strict meal plan that was first used as a medical treatment for specific ailments. Somewhere along the line, people realized that it could aid with weight loss.
The number one goal of the keto diet is to put your body into what is known as ketosis. Ketosis is when your body adapts to using fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates.
You encourage your body to do this by changing what you eat. Ketosis is known to help burn more fat and help you lose weight more quickly.
The main basis of this diet is high fat and low carb, but you still need to eat some proteins. Proteins are somewhat restricted because the body can convert protein into glucose to use for energy, and that would pull you out of ketosis.
The final breakdowns for your macro consumption on keto are as follows:
- Carbs: up to 5%
- Proteins: maximum 15 to 35%
- Fats: minimum of 60 to 80%
The basic idea of the Paleo diet is limiting our bodies to eat what our ancestors like the cavemen would have been limited to consume, which is believed to be the most healthy way to live. Rather than focusing on cutting out carbs, the diet is focused on eating more meat. But in the end, that also cuts out carbs and makes this a low carb diet!
The focus of this diet is to increase the amount of lean muscle in your body which effectively helps you to lose weight along the way. Additionally, a major goal of this diet is to improve energy levels and generally live a healthier lifestyle.
There are no official break downs of how many carbs, fats, and proteins to eat when on the Paleo diet because the idea is to eat high-quality food that would have been available in hunter-gather societies. This means that dairy, legumes, and grains are eliminated.
Generally, most Paleo diets will follow this breakdown:
- Carbs: 15 to 30% (up to about 150 grams)
- Proteins: 20 to 30%
- Fats: 40 to 65%
All of the food eaten in each category must be approved Paleo food products. Still, there is a lot of discussion over what the right macro breakdown is for a Paleo diet, and you can make adjustments to the specifics of the breakdown.
How Do You Find the Right Diet for You?
Those three low carbohydrate diets are not the only meal plans like these out there. However, they are three of the most popular and effective low carbohydrate diets that can work for a wide variety of people.
Still, a low carb diet is not right for everyone. Depending on your current medical situation, you may need to make some changes, adaptations, or specific preparations to be able to follow a low carb diet.
Here is a quick guide for you:
- If you take medication for diabetes, such as insulin, you may need to change the amount of insulin that you take to reflect your new low carb lifestyle. That is because your body will need less of it. Consult with a doctor to determine this.
- If you are breastfeeding, eating a very low carb diet can be dangerous to you because you lose about 30 sugars per day. You need to eat at least 50 grams of carbs per day and should not restrict any farther than this.
- If you take other medications, as always, it is best to discuss with your doctor before starting any restrictive diet. This is particularly true if you are currently on any medications which might be affected by the changes in your body during your diet. Call your doctor about any lifestyle changes like the meal plan that you are considering.
Revolutionize Your Life With Low Carb Dieting
Going into a low carb diet can be life-changing. When you make this change, you are giving your body the tools that it needs to change your feeling of being heavy and unhealthy to feeling light and healthy. Of course, it takes a high level of commitment.
Choose a diet that you think has your ideal goals in mind and stick to it even when it gets difficult. You’ll soon find that you feel so much better that you won’t feel like you’re dieting at all!