Okay, so you’ve just decided that you want to start on a low carb diet after reading the many health benefits that it has to offer.
But these questions keep popping up in your mind… How many grams of carbs can I eat each day? What are the high carb foods that I should avoid? I don’t know anything about nutrition, so how do I even start?
I know these are common doubts and worries that newcomers to low carb diets have; don’t worry, because today I’m going to help you on how to start your low carb diet correctly, even if you know nothing about nutrition!
Starting On a Low Carb Diet – 10 Points to Remember
Starting and following a low carb diet is actually much easier than other diets – you don’t need to count or restrict calories, and there are no supplements to buy and take other than magnesium which will help you through the transitional “keto or low carb flu” period; you just eat whole natural foods that have no or little carbs until you’re full.
1. Write down everything you eat in meals and snacks in detail.
This is absolutely critical. When you take your blood sugar readings, and it spikes, refer to your food journal especially your last meal to identify the carbs that spiked your blood sugar.
2. Get a carb counter.
You can use this one or you can download one to your smartphone; there are numerous carb counter, GL and GI apps on both iOS and Android. Check out Atkins Carb Counter.
3. Get rid of all the forbidden high carb and processed foods.
The most difficult period will be the initial 2 – 4 weeks because, during this transitional phase, you’ll be tempted to revert to your unhealthy eating habits if you have all the forbidden high carb and processed foods within an arm’s length if you don’t pre-empt this temptation.
4. Have low carb foods within easy reach.
I know that this is difficult to do if the rest of your family isn’t on low carb. What you can do is get raw nuts, whole cheese, and eggs, etc. – everything that you can eat a low carb meal or snack, put them near you so if you’re tempted to cheat, then you don’t have a choice but to eat only those low carb items.
5. Sugar Cravings
If you have sweet or sugar cravings during this initial transitional phase, try squeezing the juice of half a lemon into a glass of plain water and add 2 -3 drops of liquid Stevia.
6. Low carb foods for hunger pangs.
The low carb diet emphasizes an increase in fat intake as this is the only macronutrient that doesn’t raise blood sugar at all. That being the case with fat as a substitute for carbs, you should be able to feel full between meals.
However, if you get hunger pangs, drink some coffee or tea with either coconut milk or heavy cream or have a protein and fat snacks like 1 or 2 hardboiled eggs or an avocado smoothie blended with cream or coconut milk and sweetened with a few drops of liquid stevia.
7. Always have whole and natural protein foods in the fridge.
Free range eggs and chicken, fresh pasture raised meat and offal, wild caught fish and other seafood like clams, mussels, shrimps, and oysters – so that you are able to whip up quick, nutritious meals when you want to eat.
8. Pass up the high carb foods when you’re having family meals.
This is what I do when I eat with my family who isn’t into low carb like me. If you’re the one cooking, then you can set the menu for the meals. If another person in the family does the cooking then just simply ask for more low carb foods so that you can eat until you’re full.
9. Pack your lunch and snacks from home.
When I discovered how expensive it was buying low carb food for lunch, I decided to pack my lunch to work: it was either leftover from the previous night’s dinner or a 6-egg cheese omelet with 2 cucumbers and some raw nuts.
10. Buy good quality low carb foods at low prices.
Low-carb can be done on a budget if you follow these tips:
- Buy in bulk when there are special offers or bargains,
- Buy organ meat like chicken, duck or geese gizzards and livers as they are cheaper and very nutritious.
- Eat more eggs because they are the cheapest high-quality protein food.
11 Foods to Avoid
- All grains and grain related products e.g. bread, pasta, noodles, rice, porridge & yes, not even oats or quinoa.
- All processed foods and meats.
- All root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, lotus roots, etc.
- All Legumes e.g. peas, lentils, and beans including soy.
- All milk including soy milk, almond milk, etc
- Most fruits, only berries are allowed.
- All juice, soft drinks, punch, sweetened tea, etc.
- Beer & all alcoholic drinks.
- All desserts, baked foods, sweets, ice cream, etc.
- Processed vegetable and seed oils e.g. canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc.
- Processed commercial sauces and dressings e.g. BBQ sauce, ketchup, chili sauce, etc.
10 Wholesome Foods that You Can Eat
- All meat e.g. grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, free-range poultry, organ meat, wild caught fish and seafood.
- Free range eggs.
- Cheese (NOT sliced cheese which is highly processed).
- All leafy and cruciferous vegetables i.e. most vegetables except root vegetables listed above.
- Avocados, coconuts, and olives. (Give this delicious Avocado Pesto Sauce a try!)
- All natural oils and fats e.g. extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, lard, clarified butter or ghee, cream, sour cream, and cream cheese.
- A handful of raw nuts because most nuts have carbs.
- Seeds like chia, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds.
- A little full-fat Greek yogurt.
- Coconut milk and cream – these will come in handy if and when you get hunger pangs at night.
Steps In The Low-Carb Diet
- When you start going on the low carb diet, begin by getting rid of processed food, refined carbs, root vegs and limiting to 1 or at most 2 small fruit servings every 24 hours.
- Give it a few weeks for your body to adjust. Once you’re used to the low carb diet, then you start reducing carbs further IF you’re still getting spikes in the prediabetes range from your fasting and post-grandial blood sugar readings.
- If you do decide to reduce your carbs low enough to enable your body to enter ketosis, you will encounter one or more of these transitional symptoms which will last anything from a few days to 3 weeks for some people.
Low-Carb Diet Transitional Symptoms
1. Weight Loss Especially During the 1st 2 – 3 Weeks
This is because every gram of carb holds 3 grams of water. When you drastically reduce your carbs, you’ll experience increased urination as your body sheds the extra water weight. After the 1st 2 – 3 weeks, your weight loss will be stabilized i.e. more gradual as your body starts burning fat for energy instead of glucose.
2. Irritability and Brain Fog
You can’t think at all and get irritated easily: this is perfectly normal. What you can do is to put half a teaspoon of salt into a large glass of water and drink it: after about 30 minutes such symptoms will ease. Drink this salt water drink once a day for the 1st week or until these symptoms disappear.
Another thing you need to do is to increase your fat intake dramatically. Low carb plus low fat will put your body into starvation mode, and you will feel terrible.
3. Poor Performance When You Exercise or Go to the Gym to Workout
This is because your body needs time to adjust to burning ketones (fat) instead of glucose (carbs) for energy and fuel. This adaptation will take weeks; however, the more you exercise while on a ketogenic diet, the faster the adaptation will take.
4. Constipation for Some People
Constipation happens especially if this is the first time on a very low carb diet, so the digestive system needs to adjust. There are a few ways to remedy this:
- Increase water and fluid intake
- Increase fiber intake with vegetables or psyllium seed husks
- If it gets really bad, you can use Milk of Magnesia
5. Calf Muscle Cramps
Calf muscle cramps happen when you first start the ketogenic diet because of the increased urination. You lose water through increased urination; these can decrease the minerals in your body especially magnesium. Try increasing water intake, taking a magnesium supplement and ensure you’re consuming enough salt.
If you still get calf muscle cramps, then you can increase your carbs to get out of ketosis; this will definitely put an end to the bothersome calf muscle cramps.
6. Bad Breath
Bad breath when you’re on the ketogenic diet. The smell is described as fruity, like a nail polish remover. Your body causes this is burning fat which is being converted to ketones to provide energy for the brain. This is usually temporary and will go away in a week or two.
You can use a breath freshener in the meantime to counter this. But if it persists, then you can increase your carbs to get out of ketosis – this will definitely solve the problem.
7. Heart Palpitations and Slightly Elevated Heart Rate
This is usually caused by dehydration and lack of salt. Again, this is normal and will usually resolve itself if you increase your water and fluid intake and ensure you get enough salt. But if it persists, then, by all means, get out of ketosis by increasing your carb intake.