With different names and recommendations, low-carb diets might look confusing on the surface. The basics, however, are the same: While you don’t count calories on these diets, you do restrict the type and amount of carbohydrate-containing foods you eat daily. One of the best known low-carb plans, the Atkins Diet, features an “induction” period – the initial two or more weeks in which you consume plenty of quality protein and fat along with very few carbs in order to jump-start rapid weight loss.
Low-Carb Induction Basics
The classic Atkins Diet – now called Atkins 20™ – consists of four phases, each one progressively less strict. Phase One, also called “induction,” takes a minimum of two weeks but can last as long as you need to get within 15 pounds of your target weight. In this first phase, you eat protein and fat for satiety but consume so few carbs that your body starts burning fat, which triggers weight loss.
During induction, Atkins recommends aiming for 20 grams of net carbs daily, 12 to 15 of which should come from the plan’s list of “foundation vegetables.” You calculate net carbs in one of two ways. For foods like vegetables and nuts, you subtract the food’s grams of fiber – which do not contribute to weight gain – from its total grams of carbs. For sugar-free foods sweetened with sugar alcohol, refer to the nutrition facts list on the package and subtract the grams of sugar alcohol from the total carb count.
Atkins provides an extensive list of foundation vegetables, most with fewer than 3 net carbs per serving, so you have a wide variety to choose from every day. The list includes leafy greens like raw lettuce, arugula, watercress, escarole and spinach, and cooked bok choy, turnip greens, beet greens, collards, Swiss chard and kale. Allowed green vegetables include broccoli, okra, celery, peppers, cabbage, zucchini, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, snow peas and cucumber. Other vegetables that fall under the “foundation” rubric are olives, eggplant, scallions, yellow squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, fennel, radishes, artichoke, red and white onion, rhubarb and jicama, among others.
During Phase One, you also pay close attention to the serving size for each of these, which varies by vegetable. Cooked and raw vegetables are generally 1/2 cup, but foods like olives and cherry tomatoes have individual counts. Note that some allowed vegetables are significantly higher in net carbs; 1/2 cup of cooked tomato, for example, provides 9 grams.
If your induction period runs longer than two weeks, Atkins allows you to incorporate a small amount of nuts and seeds – no more than 3 grams of net carbs -- in place of some foundation veggies.
Be aware that fruits and juices, legumes and dairy foods like yogurt and cottage cheese are not permitted until Phase Two of the Atkins Diet, and starchy vegetables and grains are off-limits until Phase Three.
Throughout the four phases, Atkins encourages eating quality protein in the form of meat, fish, poultry and eggs -- most of these foods either contain no carbs or a negligible amount. The plan makes a few exceptions: Oysters and mussels are higher in carbs, so Atkins recommends limiting yourself to 4 ounces a day. In addition, processed meats, bacon and ham may be cured with sugar, which is a carb, so the plan advises limiting these, too. Putting breading on your meat or fish will also add to the carb count, so bake, grill or broil your protein with herbs and spices instead – some of which have zero net carbs – for best results.
Fats and Oils List
Butter, mayonnaise without sugar, vegetable oils and olive oil are all allowed during induction, in the recommended serving size of 1 tablespoon. Cheese contains about 1 gram of carbs per ounce, so the plan advises you to stick with just 3 to 4 ounces a day. An ounce is about the size of a 1-inch cube. However, no mozzarella or cottage cheese is allowed until Phase Two.
Other Allowed Foods and Beverages
If you treat yourself to a green salad with foundation vegetables and protein, you can use 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing. The plan states that any prepared dressing with no added sugar and fewer than 2 grams of net carbs per serving is allowed; making your own from scratch is the best bet because you control the ingredients.
Permitted beverages during induction include clear broth, coffee and tea, club soda and seltzer, diet soda and unflavored soy or almond milk. Limit your light or heavy cream intake to 3 tablespoons a day. The plan suggests drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, whether filtered, spring, mineral or tap. However, keep your use of flavorings such as lemon or lime juice, which contain carbs, to 3 tablespoons daily.