Wellness and Diets

A Simpleguide to Low Carb Diets

Let's start with basic nutrition. There are many kinds of nutrients, of which carbohydrates, or "carbs" for short, is just one. Other nutrients include proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Whether trying to lose or maintain weight, improve blood sugar control, or prevent heart disease, calories count first, no matter what form they are in: carbs, fats, or proteins. And depending on your health goals, the idea is to find the balance of calories and nutrients that works best for you. No one diet works for all people.

Carbohydrates are the body's primary and preferred source of energy. When you eat carbs, the body converts them into glucose, or blood sugar, which the body's cells use for fuel. Think of your body as a car, with fuel, or blood sugar, being added at the gas pump. When the fuel enters your body, a hormone called insulin unlocks the body's cells and allows the fuel to be absorbed.

Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram. They can come in a simple form called sugar, commonly found in foods such as candy, soda pop, cakes, pies, cookies, and ice cream. Carbohydrates can also come in more complex forms, sometimes called starches, like bread, grains, vegetables, and fruits. And finally, carbohydrates come in an indigestible form called fiber, or roughage. Fiber is found in foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and is important because it helps to slow and regulate sugar entering the bloodstream. Fiber also provides other health benefits: it helps reduce cholesterol, aids digestion, and prevents constipation and possibly colon cancer.

People with diabetes must carefully control the carbs they eat to avoid blood sugar highs and lows. Using the car analogy again, when too much fuel enters the body too quickly, blood sugars can "spill" out into the bloodstream, raising levels. Too much blood sugar can also cause the cells to become resistant to insulin. If you are overweight by as little as 20 pounds or have too much blood sugar or insulin resistance, it can lead to a host of health problems, up to and including prediabetes, diabetes with all of its complications, and raised triglycerides (blood lipids or fats) that are implicated in heart disease.

After carbohydrates, fats are the body's secondary choice for energy, and they are also the preferred form of calories for storing body fat. Fat has nine calories per gram, or more than twice as many calories per gram as carbs. Fat calories, however, do not raise blood sugar. Fat in a meal actually helps control weight because it increases digestion time and makes you feel full. When you eat fats, some will be used for energy, but excess amounts will be stored as body fat.

The fat calories you eat, if chosen wisely, can help prevent heart disease. For example, saturated fats and cholesterol in the diet are associated with heart disease, while foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, are associated with improved heart health. Some fats, such as hydrogenated fats found in margarine, shortenings, and many packaged foods, contain trans-fatty acids, a form of fat associated with many health problems, including heart disease.

Your body's least favorite source of energy is protein because it takes longer to be converted into glucose. Proteins, with four calories per gram, are essential for growth and maintenance of muscle mass, but watch out for the fat that lurks within proteins, not only for weight control but also for your heart's health. When you eat protein it enters the small intestine where it is broken down into molecules of amino acids. These are absorbed into the bloodsteam and sent to the liver where some are converted into glucose, or blood sugar. However, the process takes some time and is not a major contributor to high blood sugar. Some of the amino acids are used to build new protein.

Three keys to long-term weight control and good health can be clearly stated: 1. balance the amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that your body needs to function properly; 2. eat healthful foods, such as carbs high in fiber and healthy fats; 3. and burn excess calories by activity and exercise.

Keeping Carbs Low
How low is a low-carb diet?
There is no standard definition. Registered dietitians recommend a minimum of 130 grams of total carbohydrate daily, that is, the minimum required for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Because the long-term effects of following a very low-carbohydrate diet are still unknown, we would not advocate eating fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate daily, which can be considered "low" compared to the Dietary Reference Intake-recommended amount of 45–65% of total calories from carbohydrates (45% of a 2000-calorie diet is 225 grams of carbohydrate; 65% is 325 grams of carbohydrate).

Net Carbs and The Glycemic Index
New research in carbohydrate metabolism indicates that not all carbs are created equal. We also took "Net Carbs" and the "Glycemic Index" into account when we developed the recipes for 1,001 Best Low-Carb Recipes.

The net carb is based on the belief that fiber sources of carbohydrate are not absorbed by the body and therefore are calorie-free, do not affect blood sugars, and do not contribute to weight gain. Since this is the case, fiber carbs can be subtracted from the total carbohydrate count of a recipe or food. The total carbohydrates minus the fiber carbohydrates leaves the "net" carbs available to the body. This difference between the total carbs and fiber is also known as "impact carbs," as these are the carbs that have an "impact" on the body. In this book we chose to use the term "net carbs," and this figure is provided with each recipe.

In addition, some carbohydrates increase blood sugar faster than other carbohydrates. The speed at which carbs are converted to blood sugar has been measured for some foods and is called the glycemic index. The higher the G.I. number, the faster the carbs change to blood sugar. With high G.I. foods, the rapid rise in blood sugar causes insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, to peak, resulting in a rapid drop in blood sugar, which then leads to hunger, snacking, and overeating. The lower the G.I. number, the slower the carbs change into blood sugar and the less insulin is released, which results in less overeating.

White bread and white sugar get the highest G.I. value of 100. When you choose carbohydrate foods to complement recipes in this book, pick those with both low net carbs and low glycemic indexes. For example, if rice is served with a stir-fry recipe, brown rice would be the better choice since it has a G.I. of 50 compared to 56 for white rice. Or, if breakfast includes fruit, ½ of a grapefruit has a lower G.I. than a banana.

The chart below lists a variety of commonly consumed foods with known glycemic indexes. 

FOOD   Glycemic index (glucose = 100)

White wheat bread*    75 ± 2
Whole wheat/whole meal bread    74 ± 2
Specialty grain bread    53 ± 2
Unleavened wheat bread    70 ± 5
Wheat roti    62 ± 3
Chapatti    52 ± 4
Corn tortilla    46 ± 4
White rice, boiled*    73 ± 4
Brown rice, boiled    68 ± 4
Barley    28 ± 2
Sweet corn    52 ± 5
Spaghetti, white    49 ± 2
Spaghetti, whole meal    48 ± 5
Rice noodles†    53 ± 7
Udon noodles    55 ± 7
Couscous†    65 ± 4
Cornflakes    81 ± 6
Wheat flake biscuits    69 ± 2
Porridge, rolled oats    55 ± 2
Instant oat porridge    79 ± 3
Rice porridge/congee    78 ± 9
Millet porridge    67 ± 5
Muesli    57 ± 2
Apple, raw†    36 ± 2
Orange, raw†    43 ± 3
Banana, raw†    51 ± 3
Pineapple, raw    59 ± 8
Mango, raw†    51 ± 5
Watermelon, raw    76 ± 4
Dates, raw    42 ± 4
Peaches, canned†    43 ± 5
Strawberry jam/jelly    49 ± 3
Apple juice    41 ± 2
Orange juice    50 ± 2
Potato, boiled    78 ± 4
Potato, instant mash    87 ± 3
Potato, french fries    63 ± 5
Carrots, boiled    39 ± 4
Sweet potato, boiled    63 ± 6
Pumpkin, boiled    64 ± 7
Plantain/green banana    55 ± 6
Taro, boiled    53 ± 2
Vegetable soup    48 ± 5
Milk, full fat    39 ± 3
Milk, skim    37 ± 4
Ice cream    51 ± 3
Yogurt, fruit    41 ± 2
Soy milk    34 ± 4
Rice milk    86 ± 7
Chickpeas    28 ± 9
Kidney beans    24 ± 4
Lentils    32 ± 5
Soya beans    16 ± 1
Chocolate    40 ± 3
Popcorn    65 ± 5
Potato crisps    56 ± 3
Soft drink/soda    59 ± 3
Rice crackers/crisps    87 ± 2
Fructose    15 ± 4
Sucrose    65 ± 4
Glucose    103 ± 3
Honey    61 ± 3

Data are means ± SEM.

Choose the Right Ingredients
In developing recipes for this book, we were careful to select carbs with low glycemic indexes and have, where possible, used whole-grain pastas rather than white semolina flour pastas, whole wheat flour rather than all-purpose white flour, brown rice instead of white rice, and brown sugar or sugar substitute instead of white sugar.

Fat in a meal helps control weight by increasing the time it takes to digest that meal, thus delaying the onset of hunger. Fat works with the low-glycemic foods to help improve your sense of fullness and satisfaction, which is why the recipes in this book mostly use full-fat products. As a bonus, full-fat foods frequently have fewer carbohydrates than the lower-fat products.

Trans-fatty acids, which are associated with LDL ("bad") cholesterol and heart disease. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats, the kind associated with HDL ("good") cholesterol, are considered healthy for the heart. These include olive oil, flax seeds and their oil, and walnuts and their oil; fatty fish like salmon or mackerel also contain monounsaturated fat. Olive oil and canola oil are used for most of the recipes in this book because of their monounsaturated fat content.