WHAT IS A LOW CARB DIET PLAN?
A low carb diet plan is a way of eating that is high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. It ends the rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes, allowing the body to burn fat.
There are different variations of low carb, and the keto diet is a special type of low carb with added characteristics. The number of carbohydrates will vary depending on your insulin tolerance and activity level, but on average, these are the common numbers of carbs:
- Keto diet – Under 20g net carbs per day (sometimes under 25g or 30g works)
- Low carb diet – Under 50g net carbs per day
- Moderate low carb diet – Under 100g net carbs per day
Some people opt to count carbs diligently and some choose to simply focus on eating low carb/keto foods.
WHAT ARE NET CARBS?
Net carbs are simply total carbs minus fiber and non-digestible sugar alcohols, like erythritol. (This doesn’t apply to high glycemic sugar alcohols, like maltitol.) We don’t have to count fiber and certain sugar alcohols in net carbs, because they either don’t get broken down by our bodies, are not absorbed, or are absorbed but not metabolized.
Some people on a keto or low carb diet choose to count total carbs instead of net carbs. This makes it more difficult to fit in more leafy greens and low carb vegetables (which are filled with fiber), so you should only try that if you don’t get results with a net carb method. And, start with reducing sugar alcohols and low carb treats before deciding to do a “total carbs” method.
BENEFITS OF A LOW CARB OR KETO DIET
Low carb diets have numerous benefits, including:
- Weight loss
- Stable mood & energy levels
- Blood sugar control
- Reduced cravings & appetite
- Lower blood pressure
- Higher good cholesterol
- Skin improvements
- Digestive support
- Even possibly increased lifespan
WHAT IS THE KETO DIET PLAN?
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet plan, is a specific type of low carb diet that is focused on a specific ratio of macronutrients, or macros, with a goal of reaching a state called ketosis.
Macronutrients are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet is generally 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. It’s very effective for weight loss, energy, and mental clarity.
Ketosis is the primary goal of the keto diet plan. We achieve it by severely limiting carbohydrate intake, not calories, but calories are often restricted as a byproduct. In the absence of carbs, the body switches to burning fat for fuel.
Signs of ketosis include increased energy and focus, decreased appetite, and changes in the smell of breath or urine. You can test yourself for ketosis using ketone test strips, or a blood monitor if you want to be super accurate (not usually necessary).
It usually takes about 3 days after starting a ketogenic diet to enter ketosis, but a few weeks before you are “fat adapted” and burn fat efficiently.
The keto diet plan has the same benefits as low carb diets in general (above), but they are usually amplified. In particular, the weight loss results, mental focus, and energy levels on a keto diet can be incredible.
HOW TO START A KETO DIET OR LOW CARB DIET
If you want to start a keto diet or low carb diet, it can be intimidating. I get it! I have been counseling clients on the keto lifestyle for many years and it is not for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for how to start a keto diet or how to start a low carb diet, there are lots of similarities. I’ll break it down for you to make it as easy as possible…
EASY STEPS FOR HOW TO START A KETO DIET OR LOW CARB DIET
The main point to start a keto diet plan or low carb diet is this:
RESTRICT CARBOHYDRATES. This is the most important! Restrict to less than 20g net carbs per day for a keto diet (some people can get away with under 30g). For a low carb diet, aim for under 50g net carbs per day, though some variations limit to somewhere between 50-100g per day (mostly if you are more active).
Get the carb limit down and you’re most of the way there! But to ensure your success, here are some additional tips for getting started on a keto diet or low carb diet:
- Limit protein intake. A keto diet or low carb diet is not a high protein diet! Low carb is generally higher in protein than keto, but be careful with both. High protein diets can stress the kidneys, and besides, excess protein converts to glucose. Make your protein intake a goal to meet each day, but more than that is not better.
- Use fat as a lever. We’ve been taught to fear fat, but don’t! Both keto and low carb are high-fat diets. Fat is our source of energy as well as satiety. The key to understanding, though, is that fat is a lever on a low carb or keto diet. Carbs and protein stay constant, and fat is the one you increase or decrease (push the lever up or down) to gain or lose weight, respectively. So if your goal is weight loss, eat enough fat to be satisfied, but there’s no need to “get your fats in” once you’re satisfied.
- Drink lots of water. This is especially crucial on a low carb or keto diet. Why? When you eat carbohydrates, your body stores the extra as glycogen in the liver, where they are bound to water molecules. Eating low carb depletes this glycogen, which allows you to burn fat – but it also means you are storing less water, making it easier to get dehydrated. Instead of the traditional recommendation of 8 cups of water per day, aim for 16 cups when following a low carb lifestyle.
- Keep up the electrolytes. The major electrolytes in our bodies are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Because a low carb diet (especially a keto diet!) reduces the amount of water you store, this can flush out electrolytes and make you feel sick (called “keto flu”). This is temporary, but you can avoid or eliminate it by salting your food liberally, drinking broth (especially bone broth), and eating pickled vegetables. Some people also choose to take supplements for electrolytes, but it’s best to first consult a doctor that understands and supports keto/low carb lifestyles.
- Eat only when you are hungry. Get out of the mindset that you need to eat 4-6 meals per day or constantly snack. Eating too frequently on a keto or low carb diet is not necessary, and can affect weight loss. Eat when you’re hungry, but if you aren’t, don’t. Eating fewer carbs will make this much easier, as it naturally suppresses appetite.
- Focus on whole foods. Although eating natural or whole foods is technically not 100% required to restrict carbohydrates, eating processed foods will not help you get rid of cravings or be good for your body. Check the section below for more on what low carb foods are best.
- Exercise. This is not required for a low carb diet but recommended. You’ll feel better, improve your health, and if your goal is weight loss, it will happen faster!
LOW CARB & KETO MACRO CALCULATOR
The above list will give you the basics of how to start a keto diet plan or low carb diet plan.
But, if you really want to be sure that you are eating the right amounts, Balanced Meal Plans can help you with your macro calculations, or here is a great resource I wrote on how to calculate your macros.
As a general guideline, here are the macro percentages for a low carb diet plan:
- Fat: 40% to 70%
- Protein: 15 to 30%
- Net carbs: 15% to 30%
… and for a keto diet plan:
- Fat: 60% to 75%
- Protein: 20% to 25%
- Net carbs: 5% to 10%
SUPPORT FOR YOUR KETO DIET PLAN
Trust me when I say it gets easier with time – and I’m here to help you every step of the way.
First, Balanced Meal Plans will do a lot of the work for you! Every week, you’ll get a custom meal plan with macros, recipes, shopping lists, meal prep guides and more.