There are many reasons you might decide to change your eating habits and pursue a low-carb diet plan.
It could be that you are trying to lose weight and want to see if consuming fewer carbohydrates will help you achieve your goal. It’s possible that you feel eating fewer carbs could make you feel less bloated and could potentially help alleviate any digestive issues. Or you could be testing the low-carb lifestyle for health reasons as is the case with some people with diabetes.
But what exactly does a low-carb diet entail? Although there are different versions out there, all low-carb diet plans call for eating fewer grains as in breads and pasta, fewer starchy vegetables like white potatoes, and fruits that are high in carbohydrates.
When you eat carbs, your body digests them into sugars, and it becomes glucose in your blood. Your body produces insulin to help your body absorb glucose for energy and fuel. Typically, natural carbohydrate sources don’t result in high glucose levels, but any excess glucose that you don’t burn off can turn into fat.
Low-carb diets should help to lower insulin so that your body uses up the stored fat for energy instead of carbs which should result in losing weight.
So, what are the best low-carb diet plans?
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet was created by a cardiologist named Dr. Robert Atkins. He designed a plan to help people lose weight by changing what they ate and not fixating on counting calories. In 1972, his first book for the program was released, and the diet developed a following. Atkins cookbooks followed, and soon the company also launched their own line of snack bars and shakes.
So, what’s the basic premise behind the Atkins Diet? Limit carbohydrates to encourage the body’s metabolism to switch from burning carbs to burning fat for energy and prevent blood sugar spikes which can lead to cravings.
Atkins has two different diet plans: the Atkins 20 and the Atkins 40. If you’re pre-diabetic, diabetic, or need to lose more than 40 pounds, then the Atkins 20 is the plan you should follow. If you’re trying to lose less than 40 pounds and need a more diverse selection of food, then you’ll probably want to try the Atkins 40 option.
The Atkins 20 is divided into four phases. The first phase of the Atkins 20 diet is the most restrictive because you’ll eliminate a lot of carbohydrate sources. You’re only allowed to consume 20-25 grams of carbs per day and only from nuts, seeds, and vegetables which you’ll pair with proteins and healthy fat sources.
Also, you’ll eat every two to three hours to keep your blood sugar levels stabilized. With the Atkins plan, you’ll be eating three meals and two snacks per day.
You can stay on Phase One as long as you can handle it or are seeing significant weight loss. You should give it at least a few weeks to see results. Ideally, you would stay on the first phase until you’re about 15 pounds away from your goal. Once you pass Phase One, then on the Atkins plan you gradually increase the number of carbs you can consume.
For example, in Phase Two, you can then consume up to 50 grams of carbs per day by reintroducing fruits like berries, Greek yogurt, and legumes. In Phase Three, you can graduate to 80 grams of carbs a day and eat starchy vegetables and whole grains. In Phase Four, you can eat a maximum of 100 grams of carbs per day.
The theory is that moving through the phases will help you find your ideal carb consumption level during which you still won’t gain weight but can still enjoy eating grains, bread, and other foods for energy. Atkins produces a variety of snack foods and shakes that meet their carbohydrate guidelines to help keep you from feeling deprived so that you can stick to the plan.
Under the Atkins 40 low carb diet plan, instead of practically eliminating all carbs and then working your way up to find your carb balance, you’ll limit your consumption of carbohydrates to a maximum of 40 grams a day.
Ideally, you’ll have 10 grams of carbs in each of your three meals, and five grams of carbs in your two snacks. The carb allowance for the Atkins 40 is calculated by using net carbs which is the carbohydrate content without counting the fiber and sugar alcohols included in the food.
South Beach Diet Plan
The South Beach Diet Plan was designed by a cardiologist in Miami, Dr. Arthur Agatston, to help his patients fight heart disease. Through his plan, his patients were able to lose weight, keep it off, and live healthier lives. In 2003, Dr. Agatston released his first South Beach Diet book and now more than 11 million people have tried the low-carb diet plan.
If you follow the South Beach Diet, you don’t have to eat tiny portions to achieve your goals, just make sure that your meals include lean protein sources, good fats, vegetables, and healthy carbs. The diet has created meal plans to teach you how to find the right combination of foods to keep you satisfied and not leave you feeling foggy.
Similar to the Atkins diet, the South Beach Diet takes you through phases. In the first phase, you’re supposed to eat three gluten-free meals and two snacks a day, focusing on lean proteins and good fat sources like nuts. Unlike the Atkins diet which can last however long you need to be on it, the first phase of the South Beach diet is over after a week.
During that first week and Phase One, you don’t eat any sugars or starches to reset the way your body burns fat and uses carbs. In Phase Two, your body should reprogram itself on how it reacts to food that used to make you gain weight and you should have fewer cravings. In the second phase, you can eat good carbs that come from whole grains and fruits.
The final phase of the South Beach Diet is supposed to be where you adopt the eating habits for good so that it’s more of a lifestyle choice than a diet. If you’re interested in a diabetic-friendly diet, they do have a specific plan called Diabetes Gold. With this low-carb diet, you can choose to prepare your own meals following their cookbooks, or they have meal plans where you can have the food delivered.
The Paleo Diet
As the name suggests, the Paleo Diet is something out of the Stone Age that has been adapted as a low-carb diet plan for modern times. Created by Dr. Loren Cordain, his “Paleo Diet for Athletes” book was released in 2005.
If you follow the Paleo Diet, then you’ll be eating what people ate during the hunter-gatherer era of man’s evolutionary cycle which would be mostly meats, seafood, and vegetables. Basically, the premise is that if it’s not a food source you would be able to hunt down or pick from a tree or the ground, you shouldn’t eat it.
By sticking to mostly protein and vegetables and avoiding processed foods that don’t occur in nature, you should be able to prevent blood sugar spikes caused by carbohydrates. Also, by eating fruits and vegetables, you’ll be consuming natural dietary fiber sources that promote healthy digestion.
If you’re a diabetic and are looking for a low-carb diet plan to help you stabilize your blood sugar levels, this could be a helpful plan for you. The fruits and vegetables that are allowed on the diet are low on the glycemic index and are digested slowly by the body. That makes you feel fuller longer and could help with weight loss.
The Paleo Diet also encourages fat intake, discouraging you from avoiding fat and suggesting instead that you can still eat weight and be healthy if you eat the right fats. If you follow this plan, you’ll up your fat intake, but they’ll have more omega and unsaturated fats.
There are a variety of Paleo cookbooks that you can follow to prepare meals and see if the diet change can help you achieve the results you are looking for, whether that be weight loss, stabilizing blood sugar levels, or increasing your athletic performance output.
There are many low-carb diets out there that are very popular that you may be surprised didn’t make this list. Some, like the keto diet, are not necessarily recommended for the long-term and have not been shown to carry significant health benefits. They may even have negative impacts, especially the more restrictive ones.
This guide is focused on low-carb diet plans that are not just fads and quick weight loss schemes but also plans that have already stood the test of time.