This blog is all about enjoying a low-carb, high-protein diet or lifestyle. There are lots of basic tips and instruction that will make it easy to start without reading a lot of complicated books, and will give you the straight-up pros and cons of pursuing this kind of diet. More than that, I just love food and cooking, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned about cooking this way. There will be everything from basic prep and planning ideas, to simple recipes with lots of variations, to fancier fare and suggestions for parties, restaurants, and other events. When I started this, I didn’t find a lot of helpful low-carb sites out there that weren’t trying to sell me something, much less ones with great recipes and ideas for what and how to eat. So, I decided to start one! Feel free to ask any questions you like, and I’ll do my best to answer them if they’re not already in the FAQs below.
What is a low-carb diet? How does it work?
There are three basic types of energy – fat, carbohydrates, and protein. All foods we eat are made up of these three. The body can use any of these for energy, but in our current lifestyle, with abundant carbs in almost everything we eat, the body mostly uses carbs for energy. Because for most of us, the amount of carbs we eat far exceeds the energy we need, the body stores all the extra carbs and fat we eat as fat on our bodies. If you’re not a high-metabolism person or have reached a certain age, it can become almost impossible to lose weight just by “eating right” and limiting the amount of fat in your diet, because generally speaking, we are all eating far more carbs than our bodies have evolved to handle. Evolutionarily speaking, carbs were rare in the diets of early civilizations. When encountered, the body evolved to store them for leaner times. Problem is, we don’t really have any lean times and carbs represent a huge part of our modern diet. Strangely enough, carbs are the one energy group that you don’t actually need, which may come as a shock.
The body could use protein for energy, but we don’t really want that, because that would mean using up our muscles. This often happens on a low-fat diet, especially if that diet does not contain a lot of protein. This is one reason that low-carb diets could just as easily be called high-protein diets – you limit carbs and eat a lot of protein. This forces the body to use up the last source of energy – fat. To do this, your body has to undergo a change in metabolism. Your liver stores about 4 days worth of carbs for emergencies. For this reason, most low-carb diets start by strictly limiting carbs in your food to use up that store of carbs in your liver. Once that happens, you go into a state called ketosis – all that really means is that you are now burning fat for energy instead of carbs, although there are a number of biological changes that go along with it. Once this happens you start burning fat at a predictable rate, which is really gratifying if you’ve tried and tried other things and reached the end of your rope.
Why do it? What are the benefits?
It works. I am a 46-year-old woman and I lost 18 pounds in 2 months after finding that “traditional” healthy low-fat eating no longer worked. My boyfriend lost 40 pounds over a longer period of time, and my mom lost 30 after her retirement. It works when all else fails, and the weight comes off at a nice, predictable rate that is not unsafe. Occasional plateaus do occur, but they last days instead of weeks. Many people have reported improvements in their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as better muscle tone and energy. One thing I love is that it’s almost impossible to get hungry on this diet. You eat LOTS of food, and it’s the type of food that doesn’t cause cravings. It’s not long before you don’t miss the carbs, no matter how much you think you will. You just don’t feel like eating them.
Another thing I appreciate, since I’m kind of a foodie, is that I can go into any good restaurant and find something yummy to eat. Every restaurant has meat or seafood dinners with vegetables on the side, and you can just skip the starch and get extra veggies. Not to mention that you no longer have to buy low-fat versions of dairy products that are overly processed with guess what – added carbs. In fact, you don’t really have to watch fat at all, because your body is busy burning that. If you’re like me, and you’re not used to eating that much fat, you can’t possibly eat enough to slow down your weight loss. Last but not least, you feel good – you feel healthy, energetic, and toned. This is a little hard to describe, but I felt like my figure was better on this diet – I lost weight in all the right places, especially in the abdomen, where most of us really need to lose it.
I’ve heard bad things about Atkins – hasn’t this diet been discredited?
I’m not advocating Atkins. While it works roughly along the same lines, it has some problems. Atkins tended to emphasize large amounts of red meat and a lot of animal fat, and those just aren’t good habits to get into for heart health. Also, the carb restrictions were unnecessarily severe, especially at the beginning, which I think makes it hard to start and maintain this diet. There are now many modern alternatives available that are still low-carb, high-protein diets, but put much more emphasis on overall health, including eating lower on the food chain, emphasizing more healthy seafood and plant proteins and fats, and making sure you get enough vitamins and minerals. The approach I’m following here follows the newer approach, and it works just as well while being healthier overall.
So what are the downsides? Are there any?
Sure. Every diet has its downsides – but so does being overweight and risking your health. I think it’s worth it, at least a try – but you might not. So here’s my list of things I didn’t like. You do have to give up all foods that are basically carbs for some period of time, during the diet. Even when you’re done with the diet you’ll find you don’t want to eat those foods as much as you did. Falling into this category are the obvious things, like bread, pasta, potatoes, and sweets (although I did learn to bake and make some desserts that are yummy, which I’ll share with you). Most people have one of those things that they miss a lot, at least at first. The reward of losing weight almost every day really helps balance it out though – you don’t feel like you’re doing it for nothing. What was harder for me was giving up good stuff that I know is healthy, but is still a lot of carbs – peas, corn, yams, squash, and sweet summer fruit. I made the mistake of being on this diet during the two months of late season fruit and vegetable harvest, and going to the farmer’s market was killing me! You don’t have to give up these high-carb fruits and veggies altogether, but you do have to be careful with them.
Aside from that, it’s more work to plan and shop, and you have to prepare more foods from scratch, since most packaged foods are mostly carbs. That’s one reason I started this blog, to share ways to make it easier and lots of good recipes. Lastly, depending on how long you’re on the diet, you need to pay attention to your vitamin and mineral intake. Most basic starches are pretty valueless and are not the issue, but the fruits and vegetables you may be missing have nutrients that may need to be replaced – particularly vitamin K, Mg, Ca, and fiber. A good multivitamin and fiber supplement should do it for a period of a few months. Longer than that, which you may need if you need to lose a lot of weight, and it may be helpful to either take short breaks or to work under the supervision of a nutritionist.
Is this complicated? What do I have to do?
It’s pretty simple. You have to stay under a certain amount of carbs a day, and above a certain amount of protein a day. That’s it. No counting fat or calories, woohoo! That said, you’re still doing some counting, and you want to spread your protein and carbs out evenly among your meals. On the “Resources” page, I’ve included some tools that I developed to make it easier, and an easy chart to figure out how many grams of carbs and proteins you should eat, as well as some good books, cookbooks, and online resources for figuring out things like how many carbs and protein are in various foods. Then you just weigh yourself once a day, every day, at the same time – preferably early in the morning after you’ve used the restroom and before you’ve eaten anything. That provides the best and most consistent measurement of how much you weigh, since it fluctuates as much as two pounds throughout the day based on meals, exercise, and other daily routines.
What about the rest of the family?
If you’re making dinner, it’s generally pretty easy to cook up some pasta, rice, or potatoes on the side for others to eat, since chances are the rest (protein and veggies/salad) will be part of their meal, too. I’ve been known to enjoy a tidbit of potatoes or rice as part of my meal (yes, you can, in small amounts) if it’s on the table. There are some folks for whom this diet is especially compatible – anyone with diabetes or on a low glycemic index diet will find themselves eating a very compatible diet. The same is true for gluten-intolerant people or folks with celiac, since much of what they can’t eat are the same things you won’t be eating. And of course, big meat-eaters will love it.
Can vegetarians or vegans manage a low-carb diet?
This diet is admittedly much easier if you are able/willing to eat at least seafood or poultry, because of the amount of protein you need to eat each day. Many traditional vegetarian protein sources are off limits, such as beans and legumes, because they are high in starch. You can do it easily with dairy and seafood, and could do full vegetarian with some diet modification that would likely include lots of soy, dairy, and nut products. Your diet would be somewhat limited, so it would just depend on how important variety is to you. Many vegetarians have done this diet successfully. However, full vegans would find it very difficult. I absolutely rely on dairy products to help round out my protein requirements, since I prefer plant and seafood proteins and don’t like to eat a lot of red meat. I don’t know how you would get enough protein without any seafood, meat, or dairy, beans, or legumes. I’d love to hear from any vegetarians or vegans with advice or comments on this, since I don’t have personal experience with it.
Are there any medical issues I should know about?
Yes – plusses and minuses. First off, if you have any kind of liver or kidney disease you should NOT start this diet. It does put a load on your system, because fat is a little harder to use than sugar as an energy source. For a healthy person, this is no problem, but for someone with a chronic illness, they should definitely check with their doctor first. On the plus side, if your issues are high blood pressure or poor cholesterol (or more importantly, the balance between good and bad cholesterol), then this diet should help. You may want to get a checkup ahead of time so you can chart your progress. Last, for women, be aware that when you start using up your fat stores, you will dump a bunch of estrogen. This can unexpectedly kick-start a period, which can be a little inconvenient if you aren’t expecting it. If this happens, it will be in the first week sometime. Please note – I am not a doctor or any kind of medical professional. These are just my own experiences and information from books and journal articles I have read that were written by doctors. So if you have any questions about your own health and this diet or any other – please see your doctor!