Skip to content

Low Carb Diets – Can They Help You Lose Weight?

Low Carb Diets - Can They Help You Lose Weight?

Low carb induction plans will kick start your low carb diet, often resulting in excellent weight loss in the first couple of weeks of your diet. In most cases, you are advised to follow the low carb induction phase for only two weeks. After that, you will begin adding some of the ‘forbidden foods’ into your eating plan in carefully limited quantities.

Low carb induction plans vary from program to program. We will first look at the best known low carb way of eating, the Atkins Diet, and then go over some of the other popular low carbohydrate diets.

The Atkins Diet – The First Popular Low Carbohydrate Diet

Dr Robert Atkins is often believed to have invented the low carbohydrate diet when he developed and published his Atkins Diet in the 1960s and 70s. But the truth is that low carb diets were being followed and even prescribed by doctors long before Dr Atkins popularized them for the general public.

Many people believe that the diet followed by human beings in prehistory, before the development of agriculture, was a low carbohydrate diet. At this time people would have eaten whatever was available to them. This was the time of the ‘hunter-gatherers’.

In some places, there would be a lot of fruit available, and it might even have been the main food source for some people. That would not be a low carbohydrate diet. But in cooler climates, people would have relied more on hunting animals, and the diet would have been high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

With the development of agriculture, of course, people came to rely more and more on high carbohydrate foods that they could grow. Wheat and other grains provided plenty of calories per acre and so these were popular agricultural foods. Of course, at that time people wanted to have a high calorie diet because starvation, not obesity, was the main risk.

But as societies became richer, weight related issues began to arise. Doctors began to be aware of the benefits of a low carb diet for certain diseases and conditions. In the early 19th century diabetics were already being advised to cut down on high carb foods like bread, potatoes and sugar.

It was just one step from there to the first low carbohydrate weight loss plan. This was published by William Banting in England in 1863. Banting was not a doctor, but a craftsman whose health had been seriously threatened by his obesity. His doctor had suggested a diabetic diet, having noticed that this had resulted in weight loss for many of his patients.

So Banting gave up most of the carbs and starches in his diet, including beer, as well as milk and butter. He ate mostly meat, green vegetables and fruit, with a little wine. He lost weight so successfully that in 1863 he wrote and published a booklet called “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public”.

This publication was hugely successful. Originally, Banting just had a few copies printed at his own expense, but soon it was widely circulated and a commercial publisher took it up. It became so well known that around the turn of the century the word “banting” was in common use, meaning “following a weight loss diet”.

Unfortunately, Banting’s low carbohydrate diet also attracted a lot of criticism, especially from health professionals who pointed to his lack of qualifications. Rumors circulated about how the diet had affected his health, although he lived to the age of 80. Similar rumors would later arise over the health and death of Dr Robert Atkins, in an attempt to discredit the Atkins Diet.

The first half of the 20th century was a lean time for most Western nations because of the wars in Europe. Weight loss became less of an issue until the 1950s and 60s, when fat was seen as the main enemy to health. So when Dr Atkins published his diet in 1972, there were not many people still living who remembered the earlier popularity of low carb diets, and most people thought it was a brand new idea. But in fact, Dr Atkins only rediscovered and revised the low carbohydrate diet.

Low Carb Dieting – The Atkins Way

The Atkins Diet (TM) is neither the newest nor the first low carb dieting plan, but it is very well established. Because of this, you can find a wide range of recipe books based on the plan as well as plenty of free recipes online. There have also been plenty of studies about the Atkins Diet and it is better accepted by health professionals than many newer diets.

If you are thinking of following the Atkins Diet you will need a copy of ‘Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution’. This is the revised version of his diet which includes more vegetables and is generally felt to be a healthier diet to follow than his first plan, so be sure to buy the book that includes the word ‘New’ in the title.

Atkins and other low carb dieting plans work by keeping your carbohydrate consumption low enough that you enter ‘ketosis’ or ‘lipolysis’. This is a natural condition of the body designed to deal with times when carbohydrate foods are scarce.

Many body functions require glucose for energy, and normally this is taken from the carbohydrate foods that we consume. But if the body is not getting enough of these, it can switch to using fat for energy. In this state it will use both the fat that we consume and the fat that is stored in the body, so we lose weight.

Unlike some other low carb dieting plans, the Atkins Diet does not restrict fat consumption. This is because the switch to lipolysis depends on the body having plenty of fat in the diet as well as using stored fat. Also, fat is a substance that makes us feel full for a long time after eating. In fact, Dr Atkins included a rule that says you must not go more than 6 hours between meals, simply because his first patients found they were not hungry, and were not eating enough.

Stages of the Atkins Way of Low Carb Dieting

First Phase: Induction

There are three stages of the Atkins Diet. The first and best known is induction, in which you are restricted to a maximum of 20 grams of carbohydrate.

Some people assume that this means that you can have 20 grams of pasta a day, but that is not the case at all. Almost all foods contain carbohydrate, except for meat, fish and oils. So if you are counting the carbs in your food, you need to do it by using an online diet tracking program.

For those who do not want to weigh and record everything that they eat, Dr Atkins gives you a list of foods that you can eat freely (e.g. meat, fish, oils) plus foods of which you can eat a certain amount each day (e.g. milk and dairy products, avocado). In addition you get to eat up to 3 cups of vegetables a day, which you take from certain lists. These do not include starchy vegetables like carrots and potatoes, which are not allowed on induction. If this sounds restrictive, you can only follow induction for 2 weeks to kick start your weight loss.

Second Phase: Increasing Carb Intake

In phase 2 you will gradually increase your carbohydrate intake and at the same time, reintroduce some of the foods that were not allowed during induction. This means more vegetables, including some beans and starchy vegetables in small quantities; more dairy products; nuts, fruits, whole grains and even alcohol.

Third Phase: Maintenance

Phase 3 of the Atkins low carb dieting plan is maintenance for when you have achieved or almost achieved your desired weight loss.

What You Can Eat

For the first two weeks of the Atkins Diet you can eat:

  • Foods that contain zero or minimal carbohydrate, in unlimited quantities. This includes unprocessed meat, fish, seafood, butter and cooking oils. Processed meats like ham, along with anything that comes in a sauce or coating, are not carb-free.
  • Low carb foods, in limited quantities. You can have up to 4 oz cheese per day (but not soft cheeses like cottage cheese). You can also have green and low carb vegetables, provided you count the carbs in them (see item 3 below). Low carb vegetables include mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, eggplant as well as most green veggies. Avocado is limited to half an avocado per day. Eggs can be eaten but they contain some carbohydrate which must be counted, as does heavy cream (limited to 2-3 tbsp per day).

Whatever you eat, you must count the grams of carbohydrate in each food and ensure that you do not exceed 20 grams per day. Over 50% of your carbohydrate must come from vegetables. The easiest way to track this is to use an online food diary site or through an app on your smart phone.

What You Cannot Eat

In brief, you cannot eat anything that is not on the list of allowed induction foods. This includes milk as well as starchy vegetables like potatoes, carrots, peas and beans, corn, parsnips, pumpkins and squashes. You will add these back into your diet in the next phase.

Low Carb Weight Loss With The South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet (TM) is a method of low carb weight loss developed after the Atkins Diet became popular. Dr Atkins’ original plan was criticized for containing too much saturated fat and not enough vegetables. Although Dr Atkins responded to this by producing a revised version of his diet in ‘Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution’, this also paved the way for other versions of low carb weight loss plans to spring up. The most popular of these for many years was the South Beach Diet.

The South Beach Diet allows more carbohydrate and less saturated fat than Atkins. So you are limited to lean or skinless cuts of meat, but you can have some milk, nuts and beans even in the induction phase. This is an easier plan for vegetarians to follow.

The South Beach Diet follows the same structure as the Atkins Diet with a two-week induction phase followed by an ongoing weight loss phase and finally, maintenance. However, the foods allowed in the different phases are not all the same.

The South Beach Diet is based on the glycemic index of foods. This is a measure of how fast the food converts to glucose in our digestive system. Sugar and refined flour convert very fast so they are high on the glycemic index and not allowed on the South Beach low carb weight loss plan. Middle range foods are restricted and may not be allowed in the first two weeks of the plan.

What You Can Eat

So what can you eat during phase 1 of the South Beach low carb weight loss program? Lean beef, chicken and turkey breast are allowed in unlimited quantities, but fatty meats and skin are not allowed, to reduce the amount of saturated fat.

However, you can have healthy oils including olive oil and mayonnaise. You can also eat non-starchy vegetables, peas and beans, seafood, eggs, low fat cheese and a small amount of nuts. With this range of foods, the South Beach Diet is probably the best low carb weight loss plan for vegetarians.

Foods not allowed during induction include regular cheese, sugar, potatoes, rice, pasta, alcohol, fruits and starchy vegetables. Most of these are added back in limited quantities in phase 2.

One of the best things about a low carb weight loss diet is that you can eat as much of the unlimited foods as you want. Unlike calorie controlled diets, you should never feel hungry, even in phase 1 of the program. You get to eat five times a day, with three meals and two snacks.

You may have some cravings for particular foods but these will pass after a few days. You will find it easier if you are able to clear your kitchen of the foods that you should not be eating. If others in your household still want high carb foods and snacks, keep them in a special place where you do not go.

What To Expect in Terms of Weight Loss

How much weight you expect to lose on the South Beach Diet mostly depends on you, but people have had losses of up to 15 pounds in the two weeks of phase 1, followed by steady losses of up to 2 pounds per week on average after that.

As with all diets, your losses in the first phase will depend on what you have been eating before. If you have been following a very unhealthy diet with a lot of sugar, salt and alcohol, your body probably has a lot of retained water that will be lost quickly in the first 7-10 days of the diet, so the scales will show a big loss.

But if you have been following a healthy diet before, your losses will be less, because your body does not have that retained water to lose. If you understand this, you will not be disappointed if your loss is less than other people’s. A low carb weight loss plan could still be just as effective for you in the long term.

The Dukan Diet

A popular example of low fat low carb diets is the Dukan Diet (TM), developed by Dr Pierre Dukan, a French doctor. The main principle of the Dukan Diet is that you should alternate days where you eat ‘pure’ protein and days where you eat vegetables along with your protein.

This is an extremely low carbohydrate diet plan that is also low in fat. It is very high in protein and does not suit everybody. We recommend that you do not attempt a diet like this without taking advice from a health professional.

In the induction phase of the Dukan Diet which only lasts 5 days for most people, you eat nothing but lean, skinless meat, fat-free dairy (including skim milk), eggs, tofu, fish and a small amount of oat bran. No vegetables at all.

Stages of the Dukan Low Carb Diet

1. Attack Phase

In the first days of the plan you may eat nothing but low fat protein foods for several days. This is called the ‘attack’ phase and it lasts for 5 days for most people, although it can be from 2 to 7 days depending on your starting weight and circumstances.

In the attack phase you can eat lean meats, skinless chicken, turkey and fish, eggs, tofu and seitan, plus fat free dairy products. You must also have 1.5 Tbsps oat bran for fiber, which most people eat beaten with eggs in a pancake or omelet. You don’t eat anything else – no vegetables, cooking fats, fruit, rice, bread, nuts, alcohol, etc.

2. Cruise Phase

After your few days in the attack phase, you move to ‘cruise’. This is the ongoing weight loss plan that you will follow until you reach your ‘true’ weight, which depends on your starting weight and may be higher than your ‘ideal’ weight. In this phase half of your days will be protein days where you follow the ‘attack’ plan, and the other half will be days when you can add non-starchy vegetables to the mix. You can do this on alternate days or have 2-5 days of one plan followed by the same number of days on the other.

During this time you still do not eat any of the other foods, i.e. cooking fats, fruit, rice, bread, nuts, alcohol, etc. Many of these foods are added back in the final ‘consolidation’ phase, although they are still limited and you will still have one ‘attack ‘ day per week.

3. Consolidation Phase

The consolidation phase lasts longer than the cruise phase, being 5 days long for every pound lost. So if you lost just 20 pounds, which you might do in 1-2 months, your consolidation phase would be 100 days long, i.e. over 3 months. Also, you might still lose weight during this phase, so do not despair if your ‘true weight’ was higher than you wanted to aim for. You could still reach your target in the consolidation phase.

4. Stabilization Phase

Finally, phase 4 is the permanent stabilization or maintenance phase. You will still have one pure protein day per week and take oat bran, but otherwise you can eat a normal diet.

On the Dukan Diet it is vital to drink at least 5 pints of water a day, or your health will suffer. You should also be getting some exercise every day, even if it is just a short walk at first.

If you are concerned about getting enough nutrients on low fat low carb diets, you should definitely take vitamin and mineral supplements. Dr Dukan does not stress this because the attack phase is so short, but if you have a lot of weight to lose you might not be getting enough of some of the vitamins that are found mostly in higher carb foods, so supplements would be a wise precaution.

Ending Low Carb Induction

In most cases, the induction phase is followed for the first two weeks only. Occasionally, you can follow a low carb induction program for a longer time. You are advised to consult with a doctor before doing this, or before following any diet plan if you have health issues.

Keep in mind that you will not necessarily lose more weight by staying in the induction phase for longer. For most people, it is better to move to the next phase of the diet after two weeks so that you learn to manage a greater choice of foods. This will prepare you better for remaining on a healthy eating plan the majority of the time after you have lost the weight, so that you do not gain it back. Low carb induction is great for starting your diet but it is not a plan that anybody could follow for life.

No Carb Foods For Low Carb Dieters

If you are on a low carbohydrate diet, you will find this list of no carb foods very useful. As you would expect, no carb foods are great for low carb dieters and it is good to know all of them.

Many people who are new to low carb dieting make the mistake of thinking that carbohydrates are only found in foods like pasta, bread, etc – the starchy foods that make up the ‘carbohydrate’ level of the food pyramid. But this not true at all.

The truth is that all foods that come from plants contain some level of carbohydrates. It may be very low, as in lettuce which is less than 2% carbohydrate, but there is always some. There is also a small amount of carbohydrate in some animal foods, including eggs, milk and its products and organ meats such as liver and kidneys.

So here is a list of no carb foods you can try for your low carb diet:

  • MEAT: Beef, lamb, pork, rabbit, venison, bison, kangaroo, reindeer.
  • POULTRY: Chicken, turkey, duck, goose, quail, pigeon, ostrich, emu, guineafowl.
  • FISH: Tuna, salmon, trout, bream, pollock, cod, haddock, plaice, mackerel, mullet, seabass.
  • SEAFOOD: Crab, shrimp.
  • FATS: Cooking oils, butter.

All of the these no carb foods must be in their pure form, not prepared with any sauce, coating or other added ingredients. For example, chicken has no carbs if you roast it without anything added, but chicken nuggets have a ton of carbs in the coating. There may also be carbs in processed meats like ham and sausages.

No carb foods can be eaten in unlimited quantities on the Atkins Diet, but keep in mind that many other low carb plans restrict the amount of fats that you can eat, especially saturated fats. Therefore, you might not be able to eat a lot of butter on your diet plan, for example.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but it is important to understand that all diet plans are carefully calculated to help you lose weight within their own boundaries. You cannot mix and match them. So although the Atkins Diet allows you to eat all the butter you want, you are more limited in the amounts of other foods, such as beans. Check the details for the plan that you are following to be sure that you do not jeopardize your weight loss.

When you are on a low carb diet, or in fact any diet plan, you are likely to become bored if you keep eating the same things every day. Keep changing your meal plan and you are much more likely to escape cravings and stay on track. A good way to do this is to be sure of all of the low carb foods that you can eat, and look for plenty of recipes for each one.

So keep the list of no carb foods where you will see it often, and try all of them. Even if you think there is something on the list that you do not like, you can probably find a way of preparing it that will make it delicious for you. Try combining it with your favorite vegetables, for example. Then you will increase the variety in your diet, helping you to satisfy your nutritional requirements as well as avoiding boredom. That is a great use of no carb foods.

Low Carb Fast Food Choices

Low carb fast food falls into two categories: first, what you can eat in fast food restaurants, and second, what you can eat at home or on the road when you need a meal or snack and you need it now.

Low Carb Fast Food in Restaurants

It is not always easy to have a low carb meal in a fast food restaurant. Some burgers contain flour, breadcrumbs or other high carb fillers. If you have a salad, it often includes potatoes or corn, and the dressing or mayonnaise may not be low carb. There is also a lot of sugar in many fast foods, even in foods that you would not think of as sweet.

The best way to ensure that you do not inadvertently cheat on your low carb diet when visiting a fast food restaurant is to check out the nutritional information of their menu choices before you go, and plan your meal based on that information. Most restaurant chains offer this information online.

McDonald’s (TM) burgers are 100% beef in the US, but recipes may vary in other countries. Many other chains will offer a similar low carb fast food choice. Of course, that is without the bun and without ketchup, onions, etc. You should count 4 carbs if you eat the burger with ketchup, onions and a slice of cheese. Don’t eat the bun or fries unless you want to stall your weight loss – they are very high in carbs.

Low Carb Fast Foods to Eat at Home or Carry

If you are traveling and you want to take food with you, many dishes can be transported in a cooler. Boiled eggs, meat, cheese and salad can all be kept cool that way.

If you are visiting somebody or attending a conference or other event out of town, it’s a great idea to take along some low carbohydrate snacks that you can eat whenever you feel hungry and there are no low carb choices available. Here are some examples:

  • Canned tuna, salmon and other fish (in salt water or oil, no sauces)
  • Canned chicken breast
  • Beef jerky
  • Pork rinds
  • Pepperoni
  • String cheese
  • Celery sticks, tomatoes to eat with any other snacks

If you are home, you can also make many low carb fast food recipes, especially if you have the use of a microwave. In many cases you can keep these in the refrigerator ready for any time that you may need a low carb snack. For example:

Eggs and bacon fried with mushrooms, tomatoes or any other low carb vegetable. This just takes a few minutes. Fish also cooks fast – try it fried in olive oil with zucchini and mushrooms.

Onion, cucumber and cream cheese dip is a great standby to keep in the refrigerator. Make a batch of this in the food processor or blender, adjusting quantities of onion and cucumber according to your taste. Don’t forget to count the carbs in the veggies, especially the onion, which can be rather high. Then you can eat this as a low carb fast food with celery sticks and other veggies whenever you have a snack attack.

You can also keep cooked chicken breast in the refrigerator to have with mayonnaise and salad – that will just take a moment to fix when you need it. You can do the same thing with canned tuna for more low carb fast food at home.

Final Words

Low carb low fat diets are not easy to stick to. One of the things that made the Atkins Diet so popular was the fact that a high fat content keeps us feeling satisfied, so we eat less. If you are often hungry, you are likely to eat more and be tempted to drift away from the plan, especially if it is very restrictive.

Another issue with this type of diet is that a lot of people just do not like to eat that much meat. This may be partly cultural. If you come from a high meat eating background, you may be happier on the Dukan Diet than some others.

Low fat low carb diets have also had some criticism from mainstream health professionals for its high quantities of protein, which could be a stress on the liver and kidneys. Dr Dukan says that his diet should not harm people who have healthy organs provided they drink plenty of water, but nobody with an existing liver or kidney disease or condition should attempt it without advice from their own physician. In fact, it is wise to talk to your doctor before starting any weight loss program, especially low fat low carb diets.

Back To Top