Low-carb diets have been going in and out of fashion for a couple of decades now, and seem to be in a rather fashionable phase at the moment. I still sometimes find a perception, however, that “low-carb” means consuming nothing but meat, cheese, and eggs! Although some people may interpret it this way, a healthy low-carb diet can, and indeed should, contain a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. It also doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition – you can lower your carbohydrate intake significantly without going whole hog. You don’t have to eat the whole hog either! Here are my five favorite low-carb tips:
Against the grains
When thinking of reducing carbs, many people living with diabetes focus on sugar intake, but it is important to look to your total carb intake, which includes grains and starches, as well. “White stuff,” such as refined flour and white rice, often has lots of carbs and little nutritional value. Even whole grains, which are considered to be healthy, are high in carbs, so be sure to count that in your overall meal plan.
Make friends with fiber
Although dietary fiber technically counts as a carbohydrate, it largely passes through the system undigested and, therefore, has very little effect on blood glucose levels. Eating foods high in fiber also helps slow the rate of absorption from other sources of glucose, so high-fiber foods are definitely low-carb friendly. Some low-carb diet plans suggest subtracting the amount of fiber from the total amount of carbohydrates in the food to arrive at a net carb count. According to the American Diabetes Association, however, you can subtract only half of the grams of fiber from the total carb count, and you should only do this for foods with five or more grams of fiber per serving.
Chew the fat
Low-carb diets may represent a departure from traditional nutritional advice, as they typically advocate consuming more fat. This change can be a little scary for people who have heretofore followed a low-fat diet. But “good” fats and oils help keep you full and satiated after a meal, and many people have an easier time following a low-carb diet than one that restricts calories and fat. Not all fats are created equal, however, so focus on healthy sources of fat like nuts, avocados, seafood, and coconut oil.
The majority of vegetables are low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, and high in nutrients, so they may give you a lot of bang for your low-carbohydrate buck. Really, I believe veggies should make up a significant portion of every well-balanced diet! Make them a part of every meal – even breakfast – and you may be well on your way to meeting your daily quota.
Know your source
Don’t assume you know which foods fit the low-carb lifestyle. Some vegetables, like butternut and acorn squash, are surprisingly high in carbs, while certain fruits that many people consider sweet, like strawberries and raspberries, are lower carb. And legumes, like beans and chickpeas, are a significant source of carbs, while chocolate (the unsweetened kind) has very few. Consider using some of the free online nutritional software that is available, so you can easily look up carb counts when you need them.
I always like to say that switching to a specialized diet is a little like becoming a Boy Scout: you need to “be prepared.” It’s important to have good, healthy, low-carb foods and snacks around so that you aren’t tempted by something starchy or sweet in moments of weakness. Take a handful of nuts with you when you leave the house, and keep cut up veggies in the fridge, ready to go at all times. Make your own low-carb desserts (trust me, there are plenty of great recipes out there), so that you don’t feel deprived of treats. And don’t hesitate to seek out sources of support, like online forums and message boards. Like any lifestyle change, it’s always easier when you have the support and advice of others in the same boat. Be sure to consult with your healthcare team to ensure any dietary changes will fit into your meal plan.
Carolyn Ketchum is a writer, runner, and the mastermind behind All Day I Dream About Food, a mostly low-carb, gluten-free food blog. She has a Master’s degree in physical anthropology and an extensive background in higher education administration. Ketchum is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience