Here are 31 of the most useful tips for making low-carb eating a part of your life. From what foods to choose and what to avoid to tricks for dealing with cravings and snacks, all of these helpful hints are designed to speed you along the road to low-carb diet success, no matter which program you’re on.
Don’t Do Anything Else While You’re Eating
You’re trying to bring mindfulness and consciousness to the table when it comes to eating so that you can reduce some of the automatic eating that takes place when you’re thinking about other things. A good way to do that is to make eating time eating time, not reading the paper time or watching television time. The more you can do this, the better, and the less likely you are to consume food while you barely notice you’re consuming it!
Eat Slowly and Savor Every Bite
Here’s another tip you can file under “Grandmother knew best.” The fact is that chewing your food slowly and thoroughly, putting your fork down between bites and actually enjoying what you’re eating can help you lose weight. Here’s why. The brain doesn’t really get the message “Hey, he’s full!” from the stomach until about 20 minutes after you’ve eaten enough. That’s how long it takes for the hormone CCK to do its job and signal “Enough!” to the brain. So fast eaters frequently overeat before their brain gets the signal that they’re not really hungry anymore. You can go a long way toward enhancing natural appetite control by taking advantage of your body’s excellent communication network, but you need to give it enough time to work! Also, eating slowly and actually experiencing your food works against the kind of unconscious, mindless eating that caused you to put on weight in the first place.
Eat the Bulk of Your Food Earlier in the Day
Adele Davis used to say, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” She was right. One important study showed that when people were fed a 2,000-calorie meal for breakfast (and nothing else during the day), they lost weight, but when they were fed the exact same meal at night, they gained. Spread your food out during the day to control your blood sugar and insulin levels, but try not to eat too much in the evening.
Eat Breakfast Every Day
When you skip breakfast, among the many other negative things that happen is that insulin release is greater at the next meal than it would otherwise have been. Blood sugar is destabilized. You’re more likely to be subject to cravings. In all likelihood, you’re running on empty and masking it with coffee. If you’re one of those people who have no appetite in the morning, it’s probably because you’ve just conditioned yourself to this unnatural way of eating. A good place to start with the rehabilitation of your appetite is with a protein shake. Even people who are not hungry in the morning can get one of these babies down, especially if it’s delicious and made with good extras like berries or a tablespoon of peanut butter. Eventually, you should transition to a real-food breakfast (at least for most days), and make sure it contains protein and some good fats. If you need some additional motivation: At least seven studies have found a correlation between being overweight and skipping breakfast.
Eat Protein at Every Meal
Every single meal should have protein in it. Ideally, so should every snack. Protein has less of an effect on insulin than carbs do, is more satisfying and requires more energy (calories) to break down and assimilate. The body recognizes protein (and fat) as something that you have a need for; therefore, the appetite-control mechanisms that send messages from your gut to your brain signaling that you’ve had enough food work well with protein (something they do not do with carbohydrates). A greater ratio of protein to carbohydrate at a meal stabilizes blood sugar and reduces insulin response. And new research suggests that leucine, an amino acid found in protein, specifically helps you to maintain muscle mass while losing body fat during weight loss.
Bring Your Own (Food, That Is)
One problem for a lot of my clients is that they don’t know how to stay on their eating plan once they’re out and about, running around or stuck at the office. That’s probably because the whole world is set up for quick and easy junk food, and chicken breasts don’t fit in a vending machine. Don’t be a victim of circumstance. Take control of your own life. Start thinking about packing your own lunches, or at the very least your own snacks. Bodybuilders have been doing it for decades. You can, too.
No kidding. Water can — and does — affect fat loss. If you’re on a ketogenic diet (Atkins induction phase, Protein Power phase one, etc.), it’s essential to flush out the ketones and waste products from the fat you’re losing. Even if you’re not on a ketogenic diet, it’s essential to prevent constipation and to optimize kidney and liver function (remember that the liver is the main fat-processing factory in the body, and if it’s not working properly, neither is fat metabolism). Eight glasses a day is the minimum and is not enough for most overweight people.
Consider Salmon for Breakfast… or Lunch or Dinner
Not all tips are applicable to all readers, but if you can make this one work, you’ll reap a lot of results. Unfortunately, farmed salmon — which is what you’ll get most often in restaurants — has all the problems other farm animals have. The fish are raised in pens, fed grain and given antibiotics. As a result of the grain diet and the lack of exercise, their omega-3 fat content is not nearly as good as that of their wild brethren. However, with wild fish there is always the slight risk of mercury. So what to do? There are such huge benefits to eating salmon that I recommend it anyway. If you can get Alaskan wild salmon, that’s great. Consider, however, some amazingly healthy varieties of canned salmon, which also taste delicious. The red sockeye kind is the best.
Use Cabbage Leaves for “Bread”
You could use lettuce leaves, but red cabbage is stronger. You can make a “sandwich” (or a grain-free “wrap”) of virtually any meat you like — deli turkey, real turkey, chicken, even a hamburger — by wrapping it in a big, hard leaf of cabbage or an outer leaf of lettuce. Try chicken with a few avocado slices or beef with tomato. Consider using this tip in conjunction with “Bring Your Own”!
Get a Coffee Grinder and Use It for Flaxseeds
This is just an all-around great health tip in general, but it can be especially useful to low-carbers for the following reason: Flaxseeds (as opposed to flaxseed oil) are a significant source of fiber, which is not only protective against diseases like colon cancer but is also demonstrably related to weight loss. Fiber blunts blood sugar response and adds to a feeling of fullness. At least a dozen clinical studies demonstrate the effect of fiber on weight loss. In addition, flaxseeds are one of the best sources of the omega-3 fat ALA (alpha linolenic acid), which has documented heart-protective effects as well as being anti-inflammatory. Inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) are produced, among other places, in the fat cells, so if you’re very heavy, you’re also likely to have a problem with inflammation. All in all, freshly ground flaxseeds are a terrific addition to your program.
Sardines: The Health Food in a Can
ou simply cannot beat sardines as a quick, easy, inexpensive source of first class protein and omega-3 fats. I learned the usefulness of sardines as a fast and easy pick-me-up when I was traveling in Florida with the famous New York nutritionist Oz Garcia and giving seminars. We had a brutal schedule and almost no time between events to grab anything to eat. Whenever Oz felt his blood sugar dropping or his energy flagging, he would stop and run into the nearest convenience store or bodega and grab… a can of sardines! I learned firsthand how energizing and satisfying this food can be, right out of the can! If your particular low-carb program permits it, eat sardines with some low-carb, low-sugar crackers like Wasa bread. If you’re in somewhat more relaxed circumstances than we were, sardines over any kind of green salad makes the perfect low-carb meal. The best kind (if you can find them) are packed in sardine oil. Do not buy the kind in soybean or cottonseed oils, as these are way too high in omega-6s.
Add Yogurt or Kefir to Your Daily Program
Cultured milk products restore healthful bacteria to your body and are usually well tolerated even by people who have problems with dairy. You need to eat the plain yogurt with the real live cultures (not the junk food with the tons of fruit on the bottom). Even better, use kefir. Here’s the deal with the carb content: It’s not as high as the package says. In fact, for 1⁄2 cup of yogurt, kefir or buttermilk, you need to count only two grams of effective carbohydrate!
How can this be? It’s because of the way the government measures carbs. They measure everything in the food — water, ash, protein, fat — and then assume that what’s left is carbohydrate. This works fine for everything, including milk, but it doesn’t work for fermented milk products. As Dr. Jack Goldberg of GO-Diet fame points out, when you ferment milk, you inoculate it with lactic acid bacteria, which then “eats up” almost all of the milk sugar (lactose) and converts it into lactic acid, the stuff that curds the milk and gives the product its unique taste. So the milk sugar that the government thinks is left in the product is really just about gone — it’s been “converted” in the fermenting process by the lactic acid bacteria. The “real” amount of carbohydrate left in 1⁄2 cup of plain yogurt or kefir is only two grams — this has been measured by Goldberg in his own lab. I recommend that you get the full-fat variety of kefir or yogurt and enjoy it on an almost daily basis.
Replace Grains with Greens
There are lots of reasons why grains may not be the healthiest food in the world for most people. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, grains contain little vitamin C and no vitamin A, and two of the major B-vitamin deficiency diseases are almost exclusively associated with excessive grain consumption. Fiber — with very few exceptions — is present in paltry amounts in most processed grain products like cereals and breads and, in any case, can be gotten from vegetables and other sources. Though some people do okay with grains, if you’ve got a weight problem, you are probably not one of them. Get your carbohydrates from vegetables, at least most of the time. C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D., author of Diabetes: Prevention and Cure, once told me that if she could have her overweight and diabetic clients make only a single change, the one that would have the most impact on their lives would be to remove wheat from their diets. Think about it.
Use Green Drinks
Green drinks is the general category name for juices from barley, wheatgrass, magma or any combination of whole green foods. They are very stimulating to the immune system. Green drinks pack an incredible nutritional wallop and usually have amazing phytonutrient and vitamin profiles. They are very alkalinizing (and are thus a terrific balance to a higher-meat diet), they’re usually made from organic sources, they’re very low in calories and most have no more than three to four grams of (low-glycemic) carbohydrate, an insignificant amount unless you are on the strictest of induction-stage diets (and even then you can work them in). You can find them in most health food and whole food supermarkets, and you should definitely consider making them part of your program.
Eat Almonds — but Portion Them Out
Nuts are a great addition to the low-carb lifestyle — but they can also slow weight loss because they are so easy to overeat and are so high in calories. If you’re going to eat them during the weight loss phase of your program, divide them into appropriate portions. Fifteen almonds is a portion. If you buy those big convenience bags, don’t take the whole bag with you to “snack” on — portion out your serving, put it in a little bag and put the rest away.
If You Need Dessert, Ask for Cheese and Berries or Berries and Cream
Dr. Jack Goldberg of the GO-Diet recommends this one, and adds that you can sweeten with the no-calorie sweetener on the table if you like. If it fits into your carb allowance and you’re doing the berries and cream at home and you must have sweetener, try xylitol.
Watch Out for Protein Bars
You gotta be careful with these. I definitely don’t recommend them during the first two weeks, when you’re adjusting to this new way of eating. For one thing, the market has been saturated with this new class of candy — I mean snack food — and predictably, the bars vary in quality from complete junk to not so bad. Some of the best are PaleoBar, available only through Designs for Health, Sears Labs’ Omega-3 Zone (don’t confuse them with the Zone bars found in every grocery store) and the Atkins bars, available everywhere.
All protein bars are not created equal, and the term energy bar is a complete marketing scam. “Energy,” in the parlance of nutrition, simply means “calories,” but manufacturers want you to think that eating one of their bars will make you feel like running a marathon. Not so. In fact, most “energy” bars are loaded with carbs. Almost all have hydrogenated fats (trans-fats). Protein bars specifically have more protein and often less carbs, but you still have to read labels. Some are as high as 330 calories, not exactly snack food. In addition, they have sweeteners like sorbitol or mannitol, which are sugar alcohols that still need to be counted if you’re counting carbs. Mannitol, especially, may give you gas. And even dear Dr. Atkins doesn’t count the glycerine (also known as glycerol) when he tells you there’s only two or three grams of effective carbs in his bars. That’s controversial: Glycerol — an odorless, colorless, sweet-tasting liquid — is used as a sweetener and is classified as a carbohydrate, but Atkins claims that because it does not impact blood sugar in the same way sugar does, it shouldn’t be counted as part of the net (effective) carb content in his bars. Maybe; maybe not. Many low-carbers do find that it slows down their weight loss; others don’t. In any case, stick with real food and hold off on the bars for a few weeks until you get your bearings in this new way of eating.
When Eating Out, Send Back the Bread
Don’t even let the waiter put it down. If it sits there, two things can happen to it — you can eat it, or you can not eat it. If you send it back, you eliminate the first possibility.
Repeat After Me: Fruit Juice Is Not — and Never Was — a Health Food
One of the many triumphs of marketing by the giant food conglomerates was convincing America that fruit juice is good for you. There are ads that proclaim proudly that some stupid sugar-laden soft drink is actually 10 percent real fruit juice. Fruit juice is not fruit (and for carb addicts, even fruit itself has to be watched, at least in the beginning). Fruit juice is plain and simple junk food. It’s loaded with sugar, it has none of the fiber of real fruit, it has a high glycemic load and it contributes absolutely nothing of value to your diet except for a few measly vitamins that you can easily get elsewhere.
Watch Those “Legal” Desserts
Just because something is low-carb does not mean it is no-calorie and definitely does not mean you can eat unlimited amounts of it. Don’t make the same mistake the low-fat dieters did when they consumed massive amounts of junk food, thinking it was perfectly okay because it was low-fat. There are plenty of delicious low-carb desserts, and it’s nice to be able to have them once in a while, but if they trigger eating binges, then step away from the dessert! It’s also not a good thing if they start to replace real food on a regular basis (same problem with low-carb bars).
Carry Protein-Rich Snack Food with You
Forget the vending machines, the airport kiosks and the 7-Eleven stores. Start thinking of snack food in terms of real food, and start thinking of real food in terms of protein (and fat) — just what your hunting and gathering ancestors would most likely have been munching on while taking a break from stalking wild game. Think nuts, cheese (string cheese is a great choice), hard-boiled eggs, jerky or some leftover chicken in a plastic bag. You can occasionally add a piece of fruit to the mix if your particular plan permits it, but what you can?t do is grab a bag of chips or pretzels or a chocolate chip cookie — not if you want to get or stay slim!
Craving Sugar? Try Sautéed Almonds
Here’s a neat treat that’ll satisfy a craving for dessert: Sauté some raw almonds in butter, or bake them and melt a little butter on top. Use a bit of sea salt if you like. Remember to watch the portion size.
Try This Super Craving Buster
Mix together 1 tablespoon each of sesame tahini and organic soy miso, and use the mixture as a spread on celery, lettuce or even low-carb crackers like Wasa. It’ll satisfy cravings and help reduce mineral deficiencies.
Crave-Bust with This Amino Acid
A tablespoon of powdered glutamine (an amino acid) sweetened with xylitol and dissolved in a tablespoon or two of heavy cream or half-and-half will disarm even the most demanding sugar craving.
Here’s a Way to Become a Vegetable Lover Instantly
Even the most ardent anti-vegetable person is won over by a plate of roasted vegetables. Take a bunch of veggies — all kinds of peppers and root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets and onions respond well to this method — cut them up and arrange them in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and put ?em in the oven for 30 or 40 minutes. The roasting brings out sweetness and flavor you never knew existed.
Do Damage Control with Pasta
You don’t have to give up pasta forever, especially once you’re at your goal weight. But lower the glycemic load significantly by cooking it al dente. The less time you boil it, the more the long chains of starch molecules in the pasta remain closely packed, making it difficult for enzymes to break them down and thus lowering the impact the pasta has on your blood sugar. Better yet, get one of the new lower-carb, higher-fiber pastas and cook that al dente.
Shop for Color
I read the women’s magazines all the time to stay up-to-date on the kind of nutrition information being disseminated (I read the men’s magazines too, but only, of course, for the articles). One of the very best tips I ever read was this one: Shop for color. If you don’t want to memorize a whole bunch of antioxidants and proanthocyanidins and phytochemicals, the easiest way to ensure you?re getting the best nutritional bang for your money is to look at what the contents of your cart look like on the checkout counter. Does it resemble one of those great postcard pictures of a European outdoor market? It should be overflowing in greens, reds, oranges and even blues. All those colorings in fruits and vegetables are there because they are natural antioxidants that will serve a similar purpose in your body. If everything you buy is the color of cardboard, you’re doing something wrong.
Shop the Outside Aisles
Want to magically reduce the number of calories you’re eating from sugar, processed foods and junk carbohydrates? Here’s a simple trick: Step away from the inner aisles of the supermarket. All the good stuff is on the outside. Spend your time in the periphery of the supermarket. (It also seems to be the secret to a good singles pickup; after all, no one ever turned to a stranger to ask, “How do you tell if this cereal box is fresh?”)
Buy Some Cookbooks
If I had a mere nickel for every client who asked me “What can I eat?” or who complained of being bored with the same old choices, I would be one very rich nutritionist! The answer to the question became abundantly clear to me while researching this book. There are dozens — I mean dozens — of amazing cookbooks and recipes out there for virtually every level of ability and interest in cooking, from complete novice (me) to gourmet chef. There’s a lot more to low-carb eating than just chicken and vegetables.
“All-Natural” Doesn’t Mean All-Good
Another triumph of the marketers was convincing us that “natural” on a food label actually means something. The term all-natural is a wholly unregulated, utterly meaningless term. Anyone can use it on anything. What’s all-natural about frozen dinners, “energy” bars or even cut-up chicken parts in the meat section of your supermarket? You mean they were “naturally” fed a diet they normally wouldn’t eat, fed “natural” antibiotics and then all by themselves just “naturally” morphed into chicken parts in little yellow “all-natural” Styrofoam containers? Forget the term natural. Toxic mushrooms are all-natural, and so is crude oil, but we don’t eat those. Look for real food, preferably without a bar code. Think about what you could have hunted, fished for, gathered, plucked or grown if you were with your original ancestors on the savanna. That’s natural food. Eat it.
Read Labels and Be a Sugar Detective
Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in order of amount; the first ingredient makes up the largest proportion of the product, and the last ingredient is present in the lowest proportion. Most manufacturers don’t like saying that sugar is the main ingredient, even though it’s true. So they label their products with small amounts of a ton of different forms of sugar — sucrose, glucose, corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltodextrin, invert sugar, concentrated fruit juice, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, barley malt, malt extract and the absolute worst of all, high-fructose corn syrup. By putting in small amounts of a mix of these, they can legally disguise the fact that the main ingredient in the packaged food you are holding is… sugar! If you want to know how many teaspoons of added sugar is in a food you are eating, just divide the number of grams of sugar on the label by four. You’ll be amazed to find that some cereals have seven teaspoons of sugar per serving, and those serving sizes are tiny!