The low-carb diet

No bread zoneThe low-carb diet has been popular for more than two decades as a way of losing weight and eating more healthily. But does it actually work? If so, how? And does a tasty low-carb meal really exist?

We roped in Mumsnetter BIWI, widely acknowledged as low-carb maven and Bootcamp cheerleader on the  Mumsnet Talk Big/Slim/Whatever low carb boards, to create a guide to low-carb dieting. So, without further ado...

What is low carbing?

A low-carb diet aims to re-balance the proportion of the different food groups you eat, ie protein, fats and carbohydrates. Instead of a diet based mainly on carbohydrates, with lesser amounts of protein and fats, a low-carbohydrate diet is largely founded on fat, followed by protein and then a smaller amount of carbohydrates.

The main aim of a low-carb diet is weight loss, but you can reap a number of health advantages by following a long-term, lower carbohydrate diet. A diet high in carbohydrates is associated not only with weight gain but also with conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Many foods are sources of carbohydrates, but the ones you need to avoid on a low-carb diet are those most disruptive to blood sugar levels, and which provoke a higher release of insulin. These are, typically, refined carbohydrates such as sugar, bread, pasta, along with potatoes and rice.

The carbs that you should be including in your diet are those which have a much more limited impact on blood sugar - and these are typically (most) vegetables and salads.

There are many different low-carbohydrate diets, the best known of which is Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution. Generally speaking, low-carb diets have one or two different phases, starting with a very strict phase.

As you progress through the diet and start to lose weight, you gradually start to increase the amount of carbs that you eat, until you reach your maintenance level.

Everyone is different in terms of how their body responds to carbohydrates, so it isn't possible to set a daily limit for the number of carbs you should eat to maintain your weight. There's more info on maintaining your target weight on our Low-carb diet plan page.

What is low carbing not about?

Despite what you might hear in the media, low carbing is not about eating endless plates of bacon and egg, steak and pints of cream. This belief stems from a misinterpretation of the induction phase of Dr Atkins' diet. In the first, strict phase, carbohydrates are restricted to 20g a day, but most of these should come in the form of salad greens and other vegetables.

Not surprisingly, people who try to follow a meat-only form of low carbing quickly get bored and demotivated. A good low-carb diet will include all food groups and plenty of vegetables and salad. Even if you're sticking to 20g of carbs a day, you can still eat lots of these.

What Mumsnetters say about low-carb diets

  • I really notice a difference with my insulin resistance (because of PCOS) and feel a lot better. AuntieMaggie
  • I felt so energised when I low-carbed before and when I had lost the weight and gone into the 'maintenance' way of eating, I stayed slim and lovely. StarfishEnterprise
  • I started low carbing to lose weight and found that I felt a lot better and that my fasting blood glucose went from borderline pre-diabetic to perfect, and my blood pressure dropped by 30/20. QueenStromba



Disclaimer: The information on our diet and fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Mumsnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.

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Last updated: about 3 years ago