Diet fads come and go, but the truth-of-the-matter is that cutting carbs can drastically help cut pounds. Before starting a low carb diet, it is important to remember that you NEED some carbs to survive. When trying to decide what foods to eliminate and what to keep around, remember the less processed, the better. In a competition between putting something natural in your body versus filling it with chemicals, I’d always opt for the fewer ingredients. Whether you’re trying the Keto Diet or carb cycling, here are a few beginner tips and recipes that will help you cut back on those pesky little boogers while maintaining your sanity.
THE RUN DOWN
Two of the most common carb-related terms in the health and fitness industries right now are the Keto Diet and carb cycling. Here’s the run-down of both of these bad boys:
The Ketogenic Diet is similar to the once-popular Atkins Diet and primarily focuses on switching your body’s fuel source to burning fat for energy, meaning an obvious increase in fat loss. The daily intake allowance for this diet plan can be anywhere from 20g to 100g per day, with most people falling in the 20 to 50g per day bracket, although some go as low as 13g. To put that in perspective, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests 45% to 65% of your daily calorie intake be carbohydrates, which equates to about 900 to 1,300g per day based on a normal 2,000 calorie diet.
Carb cycling quite plainly put means that you eat drastically different levels of carbohydrates each day based on your exercise level (among other factors) for the day. This method is used primarily by weight-lifters and fitness enthusiasts who are focusing on cutting weight and trimming. High carb days would be on days of the week that you lift heavy weights, so as to increase energy before a workout and in-turn maximize muscle growth. Low carb days are focused on maximizing fat loss and would be planned for your rest days. This method claims to keep your metabolism amped up during both points in the cycle. It’s also used when preparing for a big competition or race, so as to maximize and sustain energy levels for an extended period of time. The downside of carb cycling is that low carb days can become rather difficult, as the cravings can get pretty tough to withstand.
Now that you’ve learned a little about what carbs do for your body, let’s get to the good part… food!
In the grand scheme of things, potatoes are probably the healthiest high carb food because they come from good ole’ Mother Nature. However, these delicious dirt balls can contain on average 37g of carbs in just 1 medium potato. That doesn’t even count for the butter, sour cream, and cheese most people slop on top of these delicious veggys. The most common substitute for potatoes (and as you’ll see later on, for many high carb foods) is cauliflower. Although a head of cauliflower still packs a whopping 29g, it goes a lot farther than just 1 potato. Some of my favorite no-potato recipes include Loaded Cauliflower and Upside-Down Shepard’s Pie over “Mock” Mashed Potatoes.
Talk about the ultimate sacrifice. I don’t know about you, but giving up pizza just isn’t an option for me. Papa John’s may have to wait though, because most traditional crusts contain upwards of 36g of carbs. Good news awaits though, because you can still satisfy that craving and go to bed feeling healthy. If you’ve got a little bit of time on your hands, try substituting dough for a home-made cauliflower crust. And if you’re like me and just don’t have the time or patience for that prep, order some CauliPower pizzas and keep those babies in the fridge for days when you just need a slice or two to stay alive.
Let me just say that I live for noodles (or maybe it’s just the wine that goes with the noodles…). Spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair… you name it. What I had to learn the hard way during my journey to weight loss, was that noodles and their 40g of carbs per serving had to go. The idea of going cold-turkey just wasn’t an option for me, so I started researching ways to still enjoy my favorite meals on a healthier level. The first thing I came across was spaghetti squash. Maybe I grew up too far south, but I hadn’t even heard of these things! Before I knew it, Tex Mex Spaghetti Squash Boats were my new favorite dinner go-to. I loved this substitute but after a while hated how long it took to cook and that I could never seem to get the consistency right (mine were always a little crunchy). On with my journey I went, during which I found the wonderful world of zoodles and sweet potato noodles. I tell you what, investing just $10 in a Spiralizer was a sound decision that I very much endorse for my health conscious friends. Spaghetti Zoodles are a regular occurrence in my home and if you ask me, should be in yours as well. Just remember to buy more zucchini than you think you think you need, they shrink drastically when cooking. I usually go for 1 to 2 zucchini per person. Another favorite recipe would be Thai Peanut Chicken with Sweet Potato Noodles. And if you just don’t have the time or patience for any of the above noodle variations, stock up on Miracle Noodles and call it a day.
It just doesn’t seem American to wrap your meat (que immature giggle) in anything less than bread, but I can promise you it’s possible and not all-together terrible. Sandwich bread contains an average of 12g of carbs per piece (and who really eats just one piece?), hamburger buns come in next with about 21g, and a standard 6-inch flour tortilla wrap isn’t too far behind with about 14.5g per serving. Don’t fret just yet, you can still have your sandwich but in a slightly healthier way. Try making a fresh swap by wrapping shrimp or ground meat in lettuce, or stuff your favorite bell pepper for a fresh take on dinner. Another great option is to ditch the bun completely and replace it with a juicy Portabello mushroom cap or slices of eggplant. Two of my favorite recipes that leave the bread behind include Asian Shrimp Lettuce Wraps and Low Carb Stuffed Bell Peppers.
Believe it or not, there is a way to indulge in those crunchy morsels without the guilt afterwards. Just about any vegetable can be substituted for the potato version of this Godly snack. Slice up your favorite veggy, add a butt-load of seasoning, and bake them for a treat you won’t want to put down. Don’t believe me? Take these Healthy Baked Carrot Fries for a spin before heading to McDonalds!
The verdict is still out on dairy and whether or not it plays a vital part in our health. Although it does undoubtedly provide a great source of calcium, it can be hard to digest for many. Whether you are counting calories or carbs, it’s important to understand that just 1 cup of regular milk contains 12g of carbs (almond milk trumps it with 16g per serving), while some yogurts contain upwards of 20g in one serving. If you need your dairy fix, try a low carb yogurt option. Most grocery chains contain a generic version of their take on this trend. Harris Teeter carry Carb Masters with just 5 to 6g per serving, and Kroger’s CarbMaster version is right there with it. Some flavors of Dannon’s Light & Fit have even less, with just 3g under their cap. The important take-away here is to always check the label before making a decision. Just because it says gluten-free or organic doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your diet.
First off, let me say NEVER SKIP BREAKFAST. Eating a healthy breakfast gets your metabolism going and gives you the energy and concatenation you need to get through the day (and your diet) successfully. If you need to load up on carbs, do it in the morning so that your body can process them and turn those babies into little energy rockets. However, if you’re strong enough to ditch the toast, I can help get you there. Instead of impressing your kids by cooking eggs inside their toast or wrapping your scrambles in a breakfast wrap, how about trying these recipes for Avocado Breakfast Bake and Eggs in Pepper Cups. Eat the rainbow, not the carbs.
If the numbers above scared you, you might want to turn away now. Rice is staple side dish, but contains FORTY FIVE grams of carbs per serving in most cases. Quinoa is a great substitute and first step in the carb-less dinner scheme with a range of just 5 to 20g per serving. If you’re ready to master the world without rice, you can make a great substitute out of… you guessed it… cauliflower. Cauliflower rice has under 10g of carbs per serving with a very similar texture and taste to the classic dinner dish we’re used to indulging in.
So in conclusion, go by a ton of cauliflower and get to cooking 🙂