Low-carbohydrate diets have been a fad for the past several decades, with some weight loss approaches dangerously eliminating carbs from the diet altogether. Lower carb diets aren’t necessarily unhealthy, and some people may find weight loss easier when they cut back on carbs. But the fact remains that the smartest approach to diet is not eliminating whole food groups. Instead, understanding why carbs are necessary and which low-carb foods are the best for you is the best approach to managing your carb intake.
How Low-Carb Diets Work
Low-carbohydrate diets restrict the number of calories you get from carbs in an effort to promote weight loss. While some work, not all approaches are healthy. No-carb diets cut out the carbs you get from fruits and vegetables, which are packed with essential vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. And many no-carb diets let you eat as much meat and fat as you like, an approach that may provide unhealthy types and levels of certain fats. Most Americans already eat too much protein, says the American Heart Association. High-protein foods may contain a lot of saturated fat, which may up your risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and even some cancers, depending on the food source.
However, there are several reasons why a well-managed, low-carbohydrate diet may be a healthy option. For example, carbs can lower the risk factors associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Because carbohydrates raise blood sugar, they can also help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
Best No-Carb or Low-Carb Foods
As with any long-term lifestyle change, moderation is key. Swapping out some of your most carbohydrate-dense foods for healthy, nutrient-rich, no-carb options can be a smart approach to managing carbohydrates. Be smart when you choose carbs by choosing whole foods that are less processed. Here are just a few options:
Wild-caught salmon is loaded with beneficial omega-3 fats, low in calories, and has no carbohydrates. Try our recipe for pan-seared salmon with wilted arugula and spinach.
With less than a gram of carbs and a good source of protein (about 6 grams), eggs are an easy snack or meal option. They are good for maintaining lean body mass, brain function, and eye health.
A trendy superfood, kale has earned its spot among popular vegetables. Though it only has about 40 calories per cup, it has 3 grams of protein and 6 grams of carbs, and is rich in vitamins C, A, K, as well as iron and calcium.
4. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers of all colors are a great snack. Cut them into strips and eat them with a low-carb dip instead of crackers or chips. In addition to being low calorie and low carbohydrate, they are a great source of vitamin C. Try our recipe for a bell pepper and farro salad.
5. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt can be a great low-carb option that has plenty of calcium and probiotics. Read your labels, though, because many varieties have added sugar. Your best bet is the plain, nonfat variety, which you can top with berries and nuts.
Walnuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fats and can be added to recipes or eaten as a snack.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc and are filling without being high in carbs. Try throwing them into this recipe for curried mix nuts.
Fruits are generally higher in carbs because of their sugar content but all fresh fruits provide nutritional benefits. And Blueberries are a safe bet with any meal. They have plenty of vitamin C and manganese, and are also loaded with antioxidants. Try our recipe for a Smurf-friendly, blue fruit smoothie!
The health benefits of broccoli are many. Research indicates it can protect your skin against UV rays, reduce your cancer risk, and prevent bone loss, all while delivering more than 150 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C intake.
Like bell peppers, cabbage is a good source of vitamin C. The leaves can be taken off the head and used to make veggie wraps, and who doesn’t like a good coleslaw? Try our recipe for herbed slaw with cilantro and parsley.
Low Carb, Not No Carb
Diets that completely eliminate or dramatically cut carbohydrates to unhealthy levels, like the Atkins diet, are never a good option. Not only are they unsustainable on a practical level, your body actually needs carbohydrates for energy. When it doesn’t get carbs, it turns to your muscles for fuel. According to Rush University Medical Center, a dramatically low- or no-carb diet can actually cause your body to store more fat. It will also slow your metabolism, and cause fatigue, muscle aches, higher cortisol production, and dehydration if maintained for too long.
Health experts suggest limiting, not eliminating, carbohydrates. By eating healthy carbohydrates like whole grains and fresh produce, you won’t experience the negative effects often associated with highly processed carbs including those high in sugar and processed grains.