12 Steps to Start a Low-Carb Diet

Consider these 12 helpful tips when switching to a low-carb diet.

How Do I Begin?

Switching to a low-carbohydrate diet requires more than just swapping meat for pasta, and eggs for your morning bagel. The following tips, suggestions, and advice will help ease the transition from a high- to low-carbohydrate diet.

1. Make every carbohydrate count. When you eat carbohydrates, reach for complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads and pasta, legumes, nonstarchy fruits, and vegetables.

2. Pick produce that triggers lower glucose response. Fruits and vegetables with the lowest glycemic index include apples, apricots, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cherries, cucumber, grapefruit, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, plums, spinach, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. Moderate-GI produce includes cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, orange juice, peaches, peas, pineapple, yams, and watermelon. High-GI fruits and vegetables include bananas, beets, carrots, corn, potatoes, and raisins.

3. Read labels. Food labels are required to show how many grams of carbohydrates are in each serving. By reading labels carefully, you can track how many carbohydrate grams are in all the foods you eat.

4. Skip the soft drinks. Soda, sports drinks, sweetened juices, and other soft drinks are chock-full of low-quality carbohydrates. When you're thirsty, choose diet sodas, sugar-free iced tea, or seltzer water with a splash of lemon instead.

5. Think ahead when dining out. You can eat in restaurants when you're on a low-carbohydrate diet. Pick a restaurant whose menu doesn't revolve around bread or pasta -- a seafood restaurant is an excellent choice. Second, plan your day's diet around the restaurant meal. If you've got your heart set on a hunk of French bread at dinner, go light on carbohydrates at breakfast and lunch. Third, when you place your order, don't be afraid to ask the waitress to leave off the bun or breading. You're paying for the meal, after all, and it should be served the way you like it.

6. Stock your kitchen with low-carbohydrate foods and snacks. Fill the pantry and fridge with nonstarchy fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and shellfish, lean meats and poultry, dairy products, and low-carbohydrate snack bars.

7. Go nuts about nuts. A variety of studies have shown that peanuts and other nuts, which are rich in monounsaturated fats, help contribute to weight loss and heart health. What's more, they are rich in magnesium, folate, fiber, copper, vitamin E, and arginine, all of which play an important role in the prevention of heart disease. Smear peanut butter on a sliced apple, sprinkle chopped almonds on a salad or in yogurt, or reach for a handful of nuts instead of a bag of potato chips.

8. Have an oil change. Select heart-healthy monounsaturated oils such as peanut, olive, and canola oil for cooking and salad dressings.

9. Watch your condiments. Carbohydrates hide in condiments such as relish and ketchup, which each have 4 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon, and barbecue sauce, with about 8 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon.

10. Choose lean meats. If you're switching from a low-fat to a low-carbohydrate diet, you might think you now have license to eat lots of fatty meats. Forget it. Fatty meats are high in saturated fat, which is bad for your heart. Select lean beef, pork, or poultry. Remove any skin and trim visible fat.

11. Fill up on fish. Seafood is high in protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids that protect against heart attack and are vital to the proper function of brain and nerve cells. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly abundant in higher-fat, cold-water fish such as mackerel, albacore tuna, salmon, sardines, and lake trout. All seafood, including shellfish and crustaceans such as oysters and shrimp, contain omega-3 fatty acids.

12. Get out and move. Exercise is a crucial part of any diet. It speeds up metabolism, burns calories, strengthens and tones muscles, increases flexibility, boosts mood, improves circulation, and so much more. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking, biking, or swimming at least five days a week, and more if you can fit it in. Make exercise more enjoyable by working out with friends, giving yourself nonfood rewards when you reach your goals, and trying new sports. Combining moderate exercise with a healthful, low-carbohydrate eating plan will help you lose weight and stay healthy.

Originally published in the Easy Everyday Low Carb Cookbook, from the Editors of Better Homes & Gardens magazine.


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