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What can you eat on a low carb diet?
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for human beings. A low carbohydrate (carb) diet contains less carbohydrate than what we usually consume. Generally, we get about 60 % of our energy requirement from the carbohydrates in our diet. That is, if our kcal requirement is 2000 kcals, carbohydrate provides almost 1200 kcals.
A low carb diet can be any diet which provides less than 50 % of calories required. A diet can be classified as follows (1, 2).
Very low carbohydrate diet
This diet contains less than 10% carbohydrates or 20-50 gm carbs/day
A low carbohydrate diet is that which has less than 26% carbohydrates or less than 130 gm carbs/day
A moderate carbohydrate diet contains 26-44% of carbohydrate
A carb diet comprises 45% or more carbohydrate.
Popularity of low carb diet
Low carb diets are also called keto or ketogenic diet. In the recent past keto diet has started gaining popularity as a weight loss diet and it has been observed that it is quite successful at least on short term basis (3).
What foods you can include in a low carb diet? (4)
Egg is a low carb source of food, it has less than 1 % of carbohydrate. Egg is a good source of complete protein, several vitamins and minerals. It is a versatile food that is several recipes can be made out of it.
Chicken, lamb and pork have no carbohydrate. These can easily fit into a low car diet and they are good sources of very good quality protein.
Except for clams which have about 4 % carbohydrate all other sea foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, trout and white fish have no carbohydrate. Fish also is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. Sea food is a good option for low carb diet.
Milk and milk products
Dairy products can be clubbed under low carbohydrate foods. Milk products such as whole milk, skim milk, butter milk and plain yogurt have about 4 -5 % carbohydrate. The different types of cheeses have about 1 to 2 % carbohydrate.
Butter and ghee (clarified butter) have no carbohydrate either. In general, we can say unless sweetened dairy products are low carb foods.
Walnuts and Macadamia nuts have about 14 % carbohydrate, peanuts about 16 %, almonds 22 % and cashew about 30 % carbohydrate. As nuts are not eaten in large quantities, they can be easily be included in a low carb diet as a good source of protein and healthy fat.
Most vegetables except for the veggies that have more starch such as potatoes, beets, carrots etc are low in carbs. The carbohydrate of vegetables, most of it is in the form of dietary fiber. Most vegetables, for example cucumber, spinach, bell pepper, cauliflower have about 4 to 5 % carbohydrate. Onion, okra, egg plant and broccoli etc have about 6 to 9 % carbohydrate.
Vegetables are great source of vitamins and minerals, low in carbs, rich in dietary fiber and low-calorie foods.
Most fruits have high content of water. But most of the fruits have carbohydrate in the form of simple sugars though low in carbs.
Watermelon contains 92 % of water and 8 % carbohydrate. The carbohydrate content of some fruits such as papaya is 10 %, lemons is 9 %, oranges is 11 %, apple is 13 %, guava is 14 % and mangoes is 15 %.
Based on the carbohydrate content you want in your low carb diet you can choose the fruits to include in the diet. Fruits are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Make sure you incorporate fruits in a low carb diet.
Green tea, black coffee, black tea and water do not have any carbohydrate.
There are some issues with low carb diets such as ketosis, may affect cardiovascular system and renal function because of high fat and high protein content (1, 5). And keep an eye on the fiber content if it is too low then problems such as constipation and piles may occur.
But to a certain extent when carbohydrate content is lowered it may aid in weight loss, blood glucose management in type to diabetes and also may decrease triglycerides as high carbohydrate containing diet increase serum triglyceride levels (1, 6, 7).
Going on a low carb diet? Talk to your doctor and then decide how low you can go on the carbohydrate content and follow the diet under doctor’s supervision.
- Oh, R. and Uppaluri, K. R. (2019) Low Carbohydrate Diet, StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537084/
- Paoli, A. (2014) Ketogenic diet for obesity: friend or foe?, International journal of environmental research and public health. Vol. 11(2).
- Masood, W. and Uppaluri, K.R. (2019) Ketogenic Diet, StatPearls Publishing.
- National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release, United States Department of Agriculture.
- Eat right academy of nutrition and dietetics (2019). What is the Ketogenic Diet?
- Parks, E. J. (2001) Effect of Dietary Carbohydrate on Triglyceride Metabolism in Humans, The Journal of Nutrition. Vol. 131 (10). https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/10/2772S/4686463
- Harvey, C., Schofield, G. M., Zinn, C., Thornley, S. J., Crofts, C. and Merien, F. (2019) Low-carbohydrate diets differing in carbohydrate restriction improve cardiometabolic and anthropometric markers in healthy adults: A randomised clinical trial, PeerJ. Vol. 7 (6273).