You're interested in eating low-carb to lose weight because you've seen other people's success eating this way, but you have tons of questions. Can I eat fruit? What about whole grains or whole-wheat pasta? And if so, how much? You definitely don't want to go completely carb-free because you know your body needs some carbs to function normally, so follow this simple guide from certified dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition. It will make going low-carb so much easier.
When going low-carb for weight loss, Leslie recommends that around 25 percent of your diet be devoted to carbs. If you're trying to maintain your weight or feel healthier and less bloated, go for 40 percent.
You can figure out how many carbs to eat in a day with this formula from Leslie: start with your daily calorie goal, multiply that number by 0.25 (25 percent), then divide that by four (there are four calories per gram of carbs), and this will give you the total grams of carbs for the day. For example, if your goal is 1,500 calories a day, the equation looks like this: 1,500 x 0.25 = 375; 375/4 = 93.75 grams.
But what can you eat? To avoid going crazy counting every single gram of carbs, Leslie suggests a clean Mediterranean-style diet that includes:
- Complex carbs (2 to 3 servings): 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1/2 cup whole-wheat pasta, 1 slice whole-wheat bread, 1/2 cup sweet potato, 1/2 cup corn
- Fruit (1 to 2 pieces): banana, apple, orange, 2/3 cup berries
- Dairy (1 to 2 servings, unsweetened): 1 oz. cheese, 6 oz. plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup milk
- Proteins (no limit on meat): fish, lean chicken, lean turkey, lean beef, tofu, a moderate amount of beans (1/2 cup contains 18 grams of carbs)
- Healthy fats (2 to 3 servings): 1/2 avocado, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon nut butter, 1/4 cup nuts (keep in mind that cashews are higher in carbs than other nuts)
- Nonstarchy veggies (as many as you want): salad, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, cucumbers, etc. (not including starchy veggies like peas, corn, or potatoes)
Leslie recommends eating complex carbs in the morning to help with satiety, swapping your usual lunchtime sandwich for a salad to cut carbs, and limiting your whole grains at dinner to 1/2 cup. Don't waste carbs on soda or other sugary drinks, opt for fruit instead of juice since the fiber will keep you full, and try to avoid processed foods.
Example Daily Menu
Breakfast: Overnight oats made with 1/2 cup rolled oats, 6 oz. plain Greek yogurt, 2/3 cup berries, 1 teaspoon chia seeds, 1 tablespoon honey
Morning snack: 1/4 cup almonds or 1/2 avocado with a pinch of sea salt
Lunch: Large veggie salad made with lettuce, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, celery, cabbage, etc., 3 oz. grilled tofu or grilled chicken, 1 tablespoon olive oil/vinegar dressing, and an apple on the side
Afternoon snack: 1 oz. cheese with sliced red peppers or sugar snap peas
Dinner: 3 oz. roasted salmon with roasted beets and carrots, 1/2 cup brown rice, and side arugula salad with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Balance is key here to being successful, and not every day is going to look this perfect. If eating 25 percent carbs feels too restrictive, use a range of 25 percent to 40 percent. Or maybe start off in the 40 percent range, and as you become more comfortable, you can decrease to 25 percent. This is an eating pattern you want to sustain in order to lose weight, so if you give up on day one and bake and devour an entire pan of brownies because you miss carbs so much, that won't help you reach your weight-loss goals. But don't be too hard on yourself! Leslie says, "Balance is best, 80 percent good food, 20 percent fun." Take care of yourself, eat healthy foods most of the time, and make sure to leave a little room for indulging so you don't feel like you're missing out.