Read This Before Starting a Low-Carb Diet
By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
How Carbohydrates Actually Work
- The body converts digestible (non-fiber) carbohydrates into glucose. The glucose then enters the bloodstream. Insulin is secreted from the pancreas, which allows the glucose to enter the body s cells to be used as fuel. Some glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for future use, like fueling a long workout. If there is extra glucose, the body will store it as fat.
- The speed at which carbohydrate foods are digested and utilized by the body, as well as the increase in blood sugar level and insulin production, depends on many factors. These factors include the following: the type and amount of carbohydrate eaten, the amount of fiber contained in the food, other foods that are eaten with the meal or snack, physical activity, stress and certain medical conditions.
Chemically speaking, there are three types of carbohydrates:
- SimpleCarbohydrates are composed of one or two sugar units and are found in both natural (strawberries) and refined (white table sugar) forms.
- ComplexCarbohydrates (also referred to as starch) are made up of many sugar units and are found in both natural (brown rice) and refined (white bread) forms.
- Non-DigestibleCarbohydrates (also called fiber). The body is unable to breakdown fiber for absorption. As such, it is not an energy source for the body but does promote health in many other ways.
All Carbs Are Not Created Equal
- Fruits contain primarily simple carbohydrates but also valuable vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.
- Vegetables contain varying amounts of simple and complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.
- Legumes such as beans, peas, soybeans, lentils and legumes contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein.
- Milk products such as fluid milk and yogurt contain simple carbohydrates along with protein, calcium and other nutrients.
- Whole-grain products contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. The amounts vary depending on the type of grain used and the amount of processing.
Shoddy Carb Foods:
- Examples of calorie-containing sweeteners include white sugar, brown sugar, syrups, honey, and molasses. Sprinkling these added sugars into coffee or using them as a major ingredient in sweet treats and beverages can quickly add unwanted carbs and calories.
- Refined-grain products contain complex carbohydrates, but much less fiber, vitamins and minerals when compared to their whole-grain form. The nutrient amounts vary depending on the type of grain used and the amount of processing.
- French fries, breaded and fried vegetables, and potato chips are examples of over-processing that turns that nutrient-rich vegetable into a high-calorie, nutrient-lacking creation.
How the Body Responds to a Very Low-Carb Diet
Rule #2: For accuracy, weigh and measure all carbohydrate-containing foods using standard food portion sizes.
Rule #3: Include the correct number of carb-containing food servings in your eating plan.
Whole Grains and Starchy Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings daily (approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate/serving)
- 1/2 cup corn, peas, potato, sweet potato
- 1 small potato, sweet potato
- 1/2 cup legumes, lentils, beans (black, garbanzo, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, soybean)
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, whole-grain pasta, oatmeal
- to 1 cup whole-grain cereal
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread
- 6 whole-grain crackers
- 3 cups air-popped popcorn
Refined Grains: no more than 1 to 2 servings daily, preferably 0 servings (approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate/serving)
- cup cooked white rice, pasta, noodle
- 1 small flour tortilla, muffin, roll
- 1 piece of a thin crust, 12-inch pizza
- small bagel, hamburger or hotdog bun
- to 1 cup refined grain cereal
- 1 slice white bread
- 6 crackers
- 20 oyster crackers
Fruit: 2 to 3 servings daily (approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate/serving)
- 1 small apple, banana, orange
- cup diced peaches, pears, pineapple, fruit cocktail fresh, frozen, canned
- 1 cup berries or cubed melon
- 17 grapes
- 2 tablespoons dried fruit
- cup 100% fruit juice (limit to no more than 1 serving daily)
Dairy: 1 to 2 servings daily (approximately 12 grams of carbohydrate/serving)
- 1 cup low-fat, no added sugar yogurt
- 1 cup skim or low-fat milk
Non-Starchy Vegetables: 3 to 7 servings daily (approximately 5 grams of carbohydrate/serving)
- 1/2 cup cooked asparagus, green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, onions, greens, kohlrabi, mushrooms, pep pods, peppers, radishes, spinach, summer squash, tomatoes or turnips.
- 1 cup raw or leafy greens
- cup 100% juice (limit to no more than 1 serving daily)
Shoddy Carbs: No more than 1 to 2 servings weekly (approximately 15-20 grams of carbohydrate/serving)