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  • Writer's pictureAntonella Volpicelli

Low-carb diet for beginners

Updated: Mar 3

Low-carb diets, known as the restricted consumption of carbohydrates in the diet, have gained popularity in the past few years. People that are working towards better blood glucose management or looking for weight loss may find this type of diet to be beneficial.

Before starting this diet, ask yourself, is this the healthiest way to lose weight? Is a low-carb diet a sustainable lifestyle for my health? Once you have a better understanding of what low-carb means, you can decide if you should try it and how to get the most benefits from going low-carb.

Food sources, mainly animal protein such as chicken and salmon; fat, coming from cheese and milk; and non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, reflect what a low-carbohydrate diet can look like

How do I start a low-carb diet for beginners?

What is a low-carb diet?

A low-carb diet restricts carbs and encourages caloric intake from the other two macronutrients — fat and protein — instead. This does not mean eliminating carbs altogether, but rather eating carbs in lower quantities and/or frequencies than what you usually eat. Research shows that a low-carb diet typically consists of less than 26% of total caloric intake coming from carbohydrates (approximately less than 130 grams of carbs per day).

Yes, short-term, low-carb diets may be beneficial for weight loss. However, following a low-carb diet long-term may not be effective due to the plateau effect, otherwise a reduction in benefits over time.

What are carbs and what role do they have in the human body?

Carbohydrates, aka carbs, are one of the three main macronutrients that your body needs to support its daily activities. Carbs are digested into a sugary component called “glucose”, which is the main source of fuel for your body. Think, carbohydrates = energy!

Carbs come from the starches, fibers, and sugars primarily found in cereals, grains, starchy vegetables (like potatoes), fruit, and dairy. Low-carb generally refers to low-sugar and low-starch, as fiber cannot be digested by the human body. This distinction is important when starting a low-carb diet.

How do you start a low-carb diet as a beginner?

Now that you know the basics about carbs and why people may restrict them, how do you start a low-carb diet?

First, remember that any major dietary changes should be discussed with a nutrition professional to lower any potential risk of nutrition deficiencies.

Then, identify what are some common carbohydrate sources. Some common sources include bread, pasta, beans, and whole grains such as rice, quinoa, farro, and corn.

Lastly, identify a plan in which rather than filling your plate with a wide variety of carbs, you are balancing in terms of quantity and quality along with lean protein and healthy fats. A low-carb diet will still have the presence of carbohydrates on your plate, just in a smaller quantity.


Can you lose weight in 2 weeks by cutting carbs?

Losing weight can sometimes be frustrating, and is hardly ever a breeze. While genetics, health status, diet quality, and caloric intake all impact one's ability to lose weight, this is what most people can expect after 2 weeks of cutting carbs:

At the beginning of your low-carb diet, you may start to experience some weight loss, in fact, it is normal as research shows that due to changes in your body’s preferred source of energy and shifting, there is a loss in total water volume followed by fat loss. Approximately 1 to 2 pounds of weight per week is considered to be healthy weight loss. The first good rule of thumb, if you are doing a low-carb diet, would be to consume good quality, whole and unrefined, carbohydrates and pair them with healthy fats, lean meats, and a wide variety and a colorful addition of vegetables.

Second rule thumb: small steps, take you to big places. Can you lose weight in a short period of time? Yes! Can cutting carbs help? Yes! But this is not due to consuming fewer carbohydrates in quantity precisely. For example, think of a time when you have tried a diet for a short period of time and found it hard and unsustainable. This is what happens when trying to lose weight in a quick manner, which is why, cutting carbs, or carbohydrates themselves, is not the only factor affecting weight loss.

You should rather focus on the consumption of carbohydrate sources packed with dietary fiber, along with lean meats and healthy fats, which proves to be more beneficial when all together and trying to lose weight.


Will I lose belly fat if I stop eating carbs?

Belly fat, what is it? There are two types of fat in the abdominal (aka. belly) area, subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. The first one, the subcutaneous one, is the fat found directly under your skin. When you pinch your skin and see a fat roll, that’s subcutaneous fat. The second type of fat, visceral fat, wraps around the abdominal organs. Unfortunately, this type of fat is associated with a higher risk of health diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. You can think of visceral fat as “bad fat”.

While losing weight can decrease visceral fat overall, there is not enough evidence to prove if following a specific diet — like a low-carb diet — can target fat spot reduction. There’s no guarantee that a low-carb diet alone will result in belly fat loss.

Great news — a balanced diet that emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods are associated with improved body fat percentage. As it relates to carbohydrate intake, reducing the consumption of unrefined and ultra-processed carbs such as baked goods, fried foods, and food with added sugars is associated with reduced abdominal fat and improved health outcomes overall.


What are the side effects of not eating carbs?

Plant foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, not only contain carbohydrates but also are a good source of fiber. By cutting out carbs, you may also be unknowingly cutting out fiber from your diet.

Higher risk for heart disease

Fiber, whole grains, and phytochemicals (non-nutritive compounds found in food that are beneficial for health) are known for reducing heart disease risk. Reducing the intake of high-fiber and whole-grain sources of carbohydrates could have a long-term effect on heart protection and overall heart health.

Higher risk of constipation

Fiber, which is found in carbohydrates, helps your stools move through your intestines. Reducing your intake of fiber-containing carbs can potentially lead to constipation and other GI issues.

Reduced weight management

Fiber slows gastric emptying, providing a feeling of fullness (satiety) while eating. Reducing the intake of high-fiber foods can lead to an increase in hunger cues, which could lead to more snacking making weight management more difficult.

Higher risk of colon cancer

Soluble and insoluble fiber provide phytochemicals, which are known to help remove cancer-causing agents, specifically those that cause colon cancer. Reducing the intake of fiber may lead to less protection in your colon from such a disease.

Overall side effects

Carbs (glucose) are the preferred source of energy for your body. Cutting out carbs completely can lead to a drastic change, known as ketosis. This is a process where your body uses fat stores for energy when glucose is no longer available. While breaking down fat stores for energy may sound great, it can lead to some serious side effects such as fatigue, constipation, bad breath (keto breath), nausea, and general weakness.

We recommend consulting with your healthcare provider or with a nutrition professional before beginning a low-carb (or keto) diet. Under guided supervision, a low-carb diet may be a great choice for you.

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