One of my closest and dearest relatives is now trying to follow a low carb diet.
(A convert! Wow!)
Since I've been low carb for almost three years now I've put in the hard yards and skilled up by negotiating the challenge of parring back the carbohydrates.
So I'd like to pass on a few tips, drawing on my own experience, about how you could possibly do it too.
But first some discourse:
RELATIVE: Breakfast is hard because I need something really quick, this morning I have yoghurt but I'm just worried whether this will have the energy I need. For lunch I use to have tuna and rice but now I have tuna with biscuits which are still carbohydrates but a lot less that tuna. I need to get a bit more inventive with lunches but it's hard at work when I only have a half hour time slot. Dinners are pretty easy, I usually have stir fry but now I just cut out the rice. I've been finding myself being hungry after meals so I think I need to eat more or it's just my body adjusting.
Breakfast is an open wound away from cereal and toast as grain eating is our after dawn collective norm. I usually eat sausages and sauerkraut or an egg or two but I also often eat yogurt smoothies. My preferred yogurt mix is either Greek yogurt (the lowest carb yogurt) with frozen berries or paw paw or yogurt blended with paw paw and avocado. If time is a factor -- and even cooking eggs aren't an option, maybe boil them up the night before? There's also cheese options. If you have time to fry: then fry up snags, eggs or bacon. An omelet would be even quicker.
As for lunch -- the body has to shift over to metabolising stuff other than easy carbs so there is a transitions phrase which may be a bit rough on the body. I will often eat a can of sardines for lunch or have a salad ( with cheese or nuts or some sort of meat) or a soup.
If out and about eating lunch is a big problem such as at any shopping centre. I look for the fried stuff like chicken wings without batter or a Chinese meal minus rice or a sate stick and hopefully without sugar added. Instead of sushi maybe sashimi.
The main challenge, I reckon, is to keep what you eat at all three meals -- breakfast, lunch and tea -- in your head so that you can balance out what you may need to make up or desist from. Do I need more veg or less protein...? What's my carbohydrate intake for the day so far?
This brings me to a few precepts that I adhere to.
- Know how many carbs are in the food you put in your mouth. This means you have to do some research on what you eat and always read the labels on the food you buy. My initial rule of thumb was to eat foods that were less than 15-16 grams of carbohydrate per serve. This enabled me to persist with a slice of bread each day and a small serving of Basmati rice weekly or so in the form of a risotto ( stretching it a bit at 19 grams/serve). But that was my rule which served me well and formatted my consumption. Having given up both rice and bread, I now try to stay below 10 grams per serve but it took me over a year to attain that easy focus.
- Aim for a carbohydrate threshold.If you know how many carbs are likely to be on your plate you can begin to manipulate your intake with some aim in mind. What do you want to eat? 130 grams of carbohydrate per day? 100 grams? 70 grams? Under 50 grams? Well you have to do your sums and change your diet to suit your preference. Some low carb diets begin with a very low carb induction phrase. I didn't bother with that. I gradually worked my way down instead. I did nonetheless have the advantage of testing my blood sugars daily to see how my low carb diet was impacting on my body (and its diabetes). So I guess you need a working criteria that you can often refer to to judge your progress. So what would that be? Energy levels? Weight loss? Hunger?
- Understand your food from the diet's perspective. Recognize that if you are cutting back on carbohydrates you need to generate your energy reserves elsewhere -- from either protein or fat sources. That's a fact. You still have to eat to live and work. You do indeed have a choice and how you proceed is up to you. I think the literature suggests that your best option is to eat more fat rather than to drastically increase your protein intake. So we're talking cooking oils, salad oils, cream, cheese, fats on animals, eggs...whatever. The fats will not only fuel you but they will also satiate you so that you will indeed be less hungry and -- here's the rub -- you will end up eating fewer calories. So if you eat a fish for lunch -- make sure you eat fish bathed in an oil. In contrast, the literature suggests that an elevated carbohydrate consumption fosters hunger for more of the same.
- Recognize that you can eat anything but chose to not eat certain foods. I think this is important. While there are food intolerances and allergies, low carb eating is not about treating carbohydrates as poisons. You have to make do as best you can. Nonetheless, you can eat a lot of stuff -- a massive range of vegetables, indeed most vegetables -- despite your low carb regimen. As for the carb dense ones, if you have to eat them , eat less of them. The guidelines are pretty simple: stay away as much as you can from all grains and legumes(that's lentils, dry beans and such); be careful of fruits (esp bananas and mangoes!); and don't eat tubers. On this last point I'm flexible as I do like a once a week dose of sweet potato and I eat carrots because they fall within my 'under 10 grams of carbohydrate' rule.
- Be aware that there are hidden traps that may undermine your low carb diet. The biggest trap of all, in my experience, is milk. Most cheeses are good, so too is Greek yogurt and cream -- but milk is a high carb drink. So shift from lattes to something blacker. Other traps are sausages with heaps of 'non gluten' fillings or anything that has been thickened with corn flour. Similarly you may be eating a lot of sugar when ordering Asian food dishes. Chinese cuisine especially but Vietnamese less so. Seldom with Indian curries (but watch out for the lentils and chickpeas).
- Snacks -- if you need them, make em low carb. Most snack foods like crisps are very carbohydrate dense so you need to step away from that. You may need snack foods to get you through some days. I find mixed nuts best preferably with a mix low in peanuts. Peanuts aren't big time carb eating but they are higher in carbs than a lot of other nuts. My other preference is cheeses and smoked small goods like salami. These I consume occasionally as tasty morsels. But the nuts are my most relied on option. But then, eating low carb I don't often get hungry.
- No beer and no sweet drinks. Sorry but low carb grog is different and this has nothing to do with its alcohol content. Your top shelf low carb preference is wine, red wine esp, followed by spirits. Low carb beers exist if you want to drink the stuff but you gotta check your tipple for its carb hit. When you get to cider and the rest of the alcohol universe you are tippling at over 15 grams per glass. Do the sums and a few drinks wipes away what you didn't eat at breakfast, lunch and tea.
- Remember that carbohydrates aren't the same as calories. You need to note the difference and transcend the bogefying of fats as obesity drivers. (See the literature on this - sample) In fact you have to turn nutrition on its head and think differently. You also have to ask the frank questions about what passes as dietary wisdom. Do you need 5 servings of vegetables a day and two fruits in order to eat well? Who said that? Where is the science that confirms this? While it may seem easier to simply eat more meat it may not be a good idea esp for your kidneys. So while you may indeed be eating five servings of veg per day -- if you want -- all you need to do is make sure that those servings are low carb. You'll also find that if you eat more fat , rather than a high protein diet, you won't suffer from constipation.