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Get Started: Low Carb FAQ

“Even a low fat diet is a high fat diet. In order for someone to lose weight, your body has to eat its own fat.” -Bob Briggs, Butter Makes Your Pants Fall Off

Welcome, friends! We’ve got all kinds of new and curious faces around here, and some of you have asked for an FAQ of sorts to get started. I put together this post for newbs– or for those who are looking for a refresher course on low carb.

If you are joining us for our ’30 By Thanksgiving Challenge,’ welcome! We’re so excited you’re here and I’m personally excited to take the journey along with you. As many of you know, I struggle with my weight and have both PCOS and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, thus making weight loss a huge pain.

So, here’s your FAQ. Don’t be shy– if you’ve got questions, post ’em here! And if I’ve got answers, I’ll gladly supply you with them.

PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT a medical professional. I know an awful lot about low carb dieting, and I’ve done many years of research on the topic. However, this FAQ is NOT intended as medical advice, and you should speak with your doctor before making major dietary changes.

Low Carb FAQ

Why, exactly, would I want to lower the amount of carbohydrates I eat?

When you consume carbohydrates– specifically those found in sugary or starchy foods– your blood sugar levels will increase. When your blood sugar levels increase, your pancreas secretes insulin. When you eat too many carbs over time, the insulin starts to become less effective. This is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is extremely common in the overweight and obese population and, ironically, can make you more prone to weight gain even if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose to get into a healthy range to begin with.

By reducing your carbohydrate intake, you reduce the amount of insulin necessary to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Over time, as less insulin flows through your blood stream, your body will become adjusted to burn your fat stores and help you lose weight. That’s the basic gist of it.

What is considered to be “low carb” in terms of how many carbs a person eats?

Low carb is a very subjective term. In my VERY humble opinion, when referring to the Standard American Diet, or SAD, anything less than 100 grams of carbohydrate per day is pretty low carb. Most Americans eat 300 grams or more of carbs daily, and for some, that means they will deal with excess weight. However, many low carbers go much lower than 100 grams daily. The average carb intake for a low carb dieter is 20 grams to 50 grams daily. This is a completely individualized number, as each body is different. Some people can lose at 75 grams a day. Some can lose at 50. Some at 25. And for some, anything over 20 is ineffective.

I personally recommend following Dr. Atkins plan initially, allowing no more than 20 grams of carbs per day. Do it for a couple of weeks and then try to see if you can add small amounts of carbs back in five gram increments. If you stall loss, you’ve found your magic number. Stay below it and you should begin to lose.

What types of foods contain carbs?

Carbohydrates are found in sugar (which includes everything from table sugar to honey to maple syrup to high fructose corn syrup to fruit and fruit juice), starch (think potatoes, grains, bread, pasta, baked goods, crackers, cereal, etc.). Even ‘healthy’ grains like whole wheat, quinoa, barley and many beans are loaded with carbs. That does not mean you have to give up those items completely, but some low carb dieters choose to.

Be very careful, and until you become an expert (and even then!), READ LABELS. It is extremely important to read labels. Don’t ever assume a product is low in carbs. Even ketchup is chock full of sugar, and many condiments, dressings and sauces are. Breaded foods are often very high in carbs as well. Always read your labels.

What foods should I eat most of?

A low carb dieter’s food generally consists of meats, cheeses, seafood, poultry, spices, leafy green vegetables, low starch vegetables (basically anything except potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and peas), low sugar berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.–watch the portions), cheese, heavy cream, olive oil, coconut oil, butter (only real butter), eggs, pickles, olives, some nuts, some alternative sweeteners (we’ll get into that later) and other fats.

Are there products on the market to help me stay on track without feeling deprived?

There are low carb products everywhere. Atkins makes lots of low carb treats, including meal replacement bars and shakes, treats and breakfast items. These items are not gluten or wheat free. Some people lose well while eating them and some do not. Again, it’s an individual thing. I personally recommend eating these products only when you have to. In general, if a bag of Atkins chocolate covered almonds keeps you from diving nose first into a Hershey bar, go for it. Just practice moderation and eat mostly REAL food. Limit your ‘products’ to one a day at most.

Atkins has also recently released a line of frozen food that is low carb friendly. Most is not gluten or wheat free. There are frozen meals (like Lean Cuisines, but low carb), breakfast bowls and breakfast sandwiches. These can currently be found at WalMart.

Do I have to count calories on a low carb diet?

Yes and no. Most folks find that when they truly follow a low carb diet, they do not need to count calories. Low carb diets naturally curb your appetite, so your calories, for the most part, count themselves. There are plenty of people who’ve lost tons of weight and have never counted a calorie while on a low carb diet.

Others, however, prefer to count calories just to err on the side of caution. Don’t become too obsessed with calories either way. The do matter, but they are not the be-all end-all. Focus on nutrition, not on calories alone.

What are ‘net carbs?’

Net carbs refer to a count of “real” carbs in a food product one eats. There are two ways to calculate ‘net’ carbs. First and foremost, and this is the safest bet, you can deduct all fiber from the carbs on the labels you see. If a product has 5g of carbs and 3g of fiber, it has 2g net carbs (5g – 3 g = 2g). Most people, although not all, feel safe removing the fiber count from the food they consume. In Europe, however, the fiber count is not included in the carb count on a nutrition label to begin with. If you use imported foods, be wary of this.

The other part of ‘net’ carbs are from sweeteners called ‘sugar alcohols.’ These include sweeteners like xylitol, erythritol, maltitol, sorbitol, mannitol and isomalt. These are sweeteners that raise blood sugar less than sugar and are only partially digested. They can cause gas and discomfort in some people. Most products remove all grams of sugar alcohols from their nutrient labels. For example, if an Atkins product has 12g total carbs, 3g fiber and 6g of sugar alcohols, the product would have 3g of net carbs (12-3 = 9, 9 – 6 = 3).

However, some people choose not to deduct sugar alcohols from their net carb count, since sugar alcohols affect each body differently. In general, xylitol and erythritol are the safest sugar alcohols to remove from carb content. Maltitol is iffy, because it sometimes has a glycemic index that is near that of table sugar. However, some people remove them all and still lose effectively. I recommend limiting maltitol consumption, but you don’t have to avoid it completely unless you want to. If you gain from it, stop using it. It’s that simple.

Should I count ‘net’ or total carbs?

This is up to you. There is a saying here in the low carb world: “YMMV.” It means, “your mileage may vary.” In other words, each body is different. Some are more sensitive than others. Some can eat net and some need to count total. You won’t know until you start, but if you’re new, I recommend staying away from sweeteners for at least two weeks to allow your body time to adjust.

What are some resources that will help me stay low carb?

There are so many resources that it is hard to name them all. My blog here, Cutthewheat.com, features lots of low carb recipes that are also wheat or gluten free. I am not wheat free, but I consider myself ‘low wheat.’ All Day I Dream About Food, Fluffy Chix Cook, I Breathe, I’m Hungry and DJ Foodie are also awesome low carb bloggers. There are many, so I’ll add to this list as I can.

I also recommend reading an Atkins book if this is your first time on low carb. It will help you understand how it all works, what foods you can eat, and more. Seriously, pick it up, read it and learn from it. You’ll be glad you did.

What do I do when people criticize the way I eat?

People will criticize. Not everyone understands the weight loss and health function of a high or higher fat diet. You’ll hear people say it’s not sustainable. You’ll hear people say it’s unhealthy. You’ll hear people tell you it causes _____ disease. You’ll hear people tell you you’re going to die of a heart attack. The best thing I can tell you is to research, research, research. All scientific evidence points toward the success and efficacy of low carb diets. I will post links here soon. When you have naysayers in life, the best thing you can do is provide them with knowledge. If they bite, great. If they don’t, be confident enough to stick to your plan as long as it is working for you.

But isn’t saturated fat bad for you?

For a long, long time, governmental entities have preached that saturated fat causes heart disease. That unsaturated fat is better, and that low fat diets are healthier. For many people, this very advice is what made them sick. Fat provides your body with energy. Can it be stored in your body? Yes. However, carbs– especially excess carbs– can be stored as fat much more easily. There is no link between saturated fat and heart disease, diabetes or clogged arteries. You know what does cause that stuff? Inflammation. Inflammatory stress, inflammatory foods, and inflammatory life habits. We’ll talk about that more later.

I’m scared of getting high cholesterol. Won’t I get high cholesterol if I eat a lot of fat?

Refer to the last question. In general, low carb diets improve blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, as it turns out, the composition of your cholesterol is what’s really important– not your overall numbers. This book, Cholesterol Clarity, is an absolutely awesome read that will help you understand how it all works.

I am diabetic. Can I still eat low carb?

Yes. In fact, many people manage their type II diabetes solely through low carb eating, eliminating– or at least reducing– the need for medications and insulin. Type I diabetics can also take part, but as with anything, speak to your doctor first.

Are there hidden carbs in food and drink?

Yes. Yes, Yes, Yes. There always is, so like I said, READ THE LABELS.

OK, so I get it: I should eat more fat. What kinds of fats are you talking about?

Good, natural fat is where it’s at. Butter, olive oil, palm oil (non-hydrogenated), coconut oil, MCT oil (this is a specialty product), lard, tallow, avocado– it’s all good. You want to stay away from inflammatory high omega 6 oils such as canola, soy, vegetable and corn. While they are technically low carb, they should be eaten very sparingly. I don’t even keep them in the house. Trans-fats– which are partially hydrogenated oils of any kind– are the worst types of oils available. Avoid those like the plague.

What can I use to help me count my carbs?

Atkins has a carb counter, or you may choose to use pen and paper. Some folks use online sites like MyFitnessPal, FitDay or Fat Secret to log their carb and calorie goals.

What is ketosis?

Ketosis: not to be confused with ketoacidosis, which is harmful– is a state in which your body begins to use fat as fuel instead of carbs. The fat burned during ketosis can be either body fat or dietary fat. Most low carb dieters want to be in ketosis at least some of the time, because it means they are at least somewhat burning their body fat stores (unless caloric intake is too high).

I’ve been low carb for awhile, and suddenly I don’t feel like I have an appetite. Is that normal?

Ketosis is magical: it will knock out your appetite super fast. You may realize you’ve forgotten to eat all day. That’s normal, and awesome. Your body isn’t designed to be an endless pit. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. If you have a day where you’ve eaten 500 calories, that’s OK. No, you shouldn’t eat 500 calories a day all the time, but once in awhile, you just won’t feel hungry. Don’t worry, that’ll be balanced out by the occasions where you are very hungry all day. Let your hunger guide you! Eat until full. It’s that simple.

I’ve just gone low carb and feel awful! What’s up with that?

Some new low carb dieters will experience something called ‘carb flu.’ Carb flu is a general feeling of ickiness, which usually includes a headache of sorts, a day or two after starting low carb. It can last for up to a week. This is a sign that your body is adjusting, and it is not permanent. Obviously, if you have a fever or infection of any kind, see a doctor. However, a general yucky feeling for a few days after starting is totally normal and will go away within a matter of days.

What about diet soda? Can I have it?

Diet sodas are zero carbs. Some people drink them. Some don’t. It’s really up to you. It’s your body. Yes, diet soda is a chemical nightmare. Will it kill you? Probably not. As with anything in life, it’s up to you. There is no shame in having a can of diet Coke a day if you need to. If it’s a problem, cut back or eliminate it. It is your body and your choice.

So you say I shouldn’t eat wheat. Why?

One question I often hear is, “if you’re not celiac, why do you not eat wheat?” As I said before, I’m actually a low wheat consumer, and I am not 100% wheat free (although my recipes are). There are benefits to some for going wheat free. In general, wheat contains gluten, which can be bad for your gut, especially in excess. For more information, I recommend the book Wheat Belly.

Where can I learn more about a low carb, high fat diet and how it works– in laymen’s terms?

My friend Bob Briggs lost 145 pounds in 14 months by revamping his diet and consuming ample fat, moderate protein and very few carbs. His 30-minute video, Butter Makes Your Pants Fall Off, is one of the most clear-cut, easily digested pieces of information on LCHF out there. He explains how it works, why it works, addresses concerns and the video has tons of vital info.

Watch the video here and join Bob’s Facebook page, “Butter Makes Your Pants Fall Off,” here, for more info.

Hard Copy Resources:

Keto Clarity
A NEW Atkins for a NEW You
The Big Fat Surprise
Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It
Good Calories, Bad Calories

Other Blog and Online Resources:

All Day I Dream About Food
Fluffy Chix Cook
I Breathe, I’m Hungry
Jimmy Moore’s Livin’ La Vida Low Carb
Maria Mind Body Health
Holistically Engineered