Low carb is easy once you have a guide to see how straight forward it can be and how to find out what real, nutrient dense food actually is.
Reducing sugars and starches, eating a moderate intake of protein and enough fat to feel full, encourages the body to switch to burning fat as its main energy source instead of sugar. This may take a few weeks of adaptation and you may experience some natural symptoms called the keto flu, or carbohydrate withdrawal. However, this will pass in time.
Why reduce not only added sugar but starches too?
Oh, but I’m not adding any extra sugar? Most people do not realise that starches are just long chains of glucose and can act just like sugar in the body.
The digestion of starch occurs as soon as the food enters your mouth. Amylase is a digestive enzyme which is released in your saliva when you start chewing. This breaks down the starch into disaccharides which are two glucose molecules joined together. Further digestion occurs in the duodenum as the pancreas releases more amylase to break down the disaccharides into single glucose molecules ready for absorption into the blood where they can be used for energy.
Are carbohydrates essential in the diet?
Carbohydrates are non-essential in the diet as the body makes its own glucose through a process called ‘Gluconeogenesis’ as long as adequate protein and fat are consumed. Humans can survive very healthily without them. This is not saying not to eat carbohydrates, but to learn where our carbohydrates come from, how much carbohydrate is in our food and to find out your own individual tolerance to carbohydrate.
What to eat?
Proteins – Animal
This list is an example of protein sources but it is not exhaustive. Free range if possible and naturally raised or grown.
Use this Ideal Body Weight Calculator to determine your ideal body weight.
- Choose protein sources that come from all meat, poultry and eggs.
- Wild game meats, venison, duck, wild pork. rabbit, ostrich.
- Naturally cured meats such as salami, bacon, pancetta, pastrami and beef jerky.
- Wild-caught seafood if possible, most salmon is farmed. Shellfish, crab, prawns, herrings, sardines, anchovies and caviar.
- Offal is often forgotten but one of the most nutritious. Beef and chicken liver, heart, tongue, tripe, brains, trotters etc.
- Remember that protein from animal sources do not contain carbohydrate.
- Any animal fat, such as lard, beef tallow, lamb fat, duck fat, butter and ghee from butter fat.
- Tropical oils, coconut and red palm oil.
- Cocoa butter
- Nuts and seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, walnut oil, avocado oil and hemp seed oil. Use unrefined oils that have been cold-pressed or expeller-pressed.
- Cheeses, chedda, colby, swiss, parmesan, blue, mozzarella
- Mayonnaise and French dressing made from natural oils as above.
Low Carb Vegetables
All leafy greens and herbs. Choose vegetables that grow above the ground mostly as they are nutrient dense and have less carbohydrate.
Leafy green vegetables that grow above the ground can be eaten freely and are also high in prebiotic fibre.
- Eat freely: Asparagus, Advocado (technically a fruit), Spinach, Kale, Silverbeet (Swiss Chard), Arugula, Celery, Lettuce, Beet Greens, Tat Soi, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Cauliflower, Watercress, garlic.
- Eat only occasionally and in small amounts vegetables that grow under the ground as they are higher in carbohydrates: sweet potato, potato, carrots, parsnips, taro, onions.
Low Carb Fruit
Fruit is nature’s candy and is generally higher in sugar.
- Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries have the least amount of carbohydrate. Avocado is included here, as it is technically a fruit. This is also the same for tomatoes and olives.
- Other fruits have more carbohydrate, so limit quantities and only have occasionally. e.g., apples, bananas, grapes, mangoes and kiwifruit.
- Dried fruit is concentrated sugar. Avoid, eat sparingly or not at all.
Fermented foods contain live microorganisms called probiotics that can provide a benefit towards a more favourable gut environment in the body. (2) Naturally fermented foods are best made at home as canned pickles use vinegar which prevents the natural fermentation, therefore NO probiotic effects. The high heat of canning kills all bacteria, good and bad.
Studies also agree that probiotics support a healthy immune system, however, some strains may be more effective than others. (3)
Probiotic bacteria research is also showing they are a safe and natural strategy for allergy prevention and treatment. (4)
Examples of fermented foods are:
Sauerkraut, fermented pickles (no sugar), Kimchi, Greek or Coconut yoghurt, Kombucha and Kefir
If you are wanting to keep your carbohydrates low and maintain ketosis, the process in which the body uses fat for fuel, a daily consumption of 20 – 30g of carbohydrates is what you should be aiming for or 5 – 10% of your caloric needs.
This means there is little room for drinks which contain calories, usually in the form of carbohydrates.
Best Drinks on a Low Carb or Keto Diet
- Herbal tea, can add slices of lemon or fruit, or herbs e.g., mint.
- Soda water.
- Tea or coffee without milk. You can add cream if desired. However, if weight loss is your goal, then stick to clear drinks as the extra calories can add up quickly.
- Bone broth
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are about 10% protein, contain heart healthy fats, moderate to low in carbohydrate and are a good source of fibre. (1)
They are, however, high in fat (70 – 80%). There is about 10g of fat in 2 tbsp and 3g of net carbohydrates. Exercise self control if you are trying to lose weight as these calories can add up quickly (Kcal 111).
- All raw nuts: macadamia, brazil, walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachio, hazel nuts, cashew and peanuts (technically a legume).
- Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia, flax, hemp.
Full fat cheese is a great adjunct to a low carb or keto diet as it is low in carbohydrate and very tasty as well. Even though it is high in fat, studies show that it can help to reduce insulin resistance important for keeping blood sugars within a normal range and can have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease.(1) Limit to about ounce or 28g per serving or about 1/4 cup.
Milk products like Greek Yoghurt and full fat milk have about 7g carbohydrate per 100g.
Be also aware of the carbohydrates in coconut milk 4g/100ml and rice milk 10g/100ml in your daily total. Check the label for total carbohydrate. These are best used in small amounts, about 1/4 cup per serving.
Almond milk has only 0.6g carbohydrate and 1.1g fat per 100g.
Dried Legumes and Pulses
Legumes and Pulses are best used in small amounts. They come together with larger amounts of carbohydrates, about 14 – 16g/100g, so are best avoided on a ketogenic diet. They can be a useful adjunct to a vegetarian or vegan diet.