Low-carb diets serve up many different strategies. But some of the most popular plans start you off on a super low-carb diet, restricting you to about 20 grams of carbs a day. Restricting carbs to such low amounts gets your body into the fat-burning state known as ketosis. There are benefits and risks to limiting carbs to such low levels, so consult with your doctor about safety before following such a plan.
Super Low-Carb Diet
You shouldn't eat fewer than 130 grams of carbs a day, according to the National Academy of Sciences. But consuming fewer than 200 grams is considered a low-carb diet, according to a 2007 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Low-carb diets count digestible carbs that affect blood sugar, which are referred to as net carbs. They're calculated by subtracting grams of fiber from total carbs. A very, or super, low-carb diet limits your intake to 20 to 50 grams of net carbs a day.
Carbs are your body's preferred source of energy, and restricting to such low levels pushes your body to burn fat for energy instead. Ketosis is when your body is making ketones from fat to fuel your brain. This is the goal of most super low-carb diet plans.
Weight Loss on Super Low-Carb Diet
Hunger may be a major pitfall when following a weight-loss diet plan. One of the benefits of a super low-carb diet when in ketosis is a decline in appetite. The hunger control may be due to a decrease in hormones that control hunger, as well as lower insulin levels, according to the 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article. The reduction in appetite actually helps you eat even fewer calories, which may help you lose weight faster. While weight loss may vary, you may be able to lose as much as 13 pounds in two months by restricting your intake to 20 grams of net carbs a day, according to a 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Super Low-Carb Food Choices
Bread and potatoes may be out on your super low-carb diet, but you can fill your meals with a variety of foods that are naturally carb-free and low in carbs. Animal proteins, such as meat, pork, chicken, fish and eggs, should fill up most of your plate. For nutrition, add a variety of low-carb veggies such as spinach, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, endive, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. Most fats, such as butter and vegetables oils, are also carb-free and can be used for cooking and flavor. Round out your meals with low-carb foods such as cheese, nuts and various food flavorings, including salad dressing, vinegar, herbs and spices.
Very low-carb diets may not be for everyone, which is why it's so important to first discuss the diet with your doctor before cutting out all the pasta and rice from your meals. While there is debate about the safety of ketosis, high levels of ketones in the blood may cause higher blood acidity, which can lead to organ damage. Additionally, you may experience various side effects when limiting carb intake, such as fatigue, constipation or headaches. And if you're on medication, you may need to talk to your doctor about making adjustments to prevent overmedication, especially if you're on medicines for diabetes or high blood pressure.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism
- National Academy of Sciences: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Biochemistry: Each Organ Has a Unique Metabolic Profile
- New England Journal of Medicine: Weight Loss With a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean or Low-Fat Diet
- Atkins: Phase One List of Acceptable Foods
- Diabetes.co.uk: Ketosis - What Is Ketosis, Effects of Ketosis and Ketosis Levels
- Atkins: What Are Net Carbs?