You probably prefer not to spend lots of money on books, online subscriptions or weight-loss centers in a quest to drop a few pounds. Reducing your carbohydrate intake is one of the most effective weight-loss measures possible, found a 2014 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and it doesn't have to cost anything extra. You can navigate a low-carb diet on your own for free, but it's a good idea to check in with your doctor before you make major changes to your eating plan.
Atkins Free Program
The Atkins diet plan is one of the most well-known low-carb plans. It's has numerous free tools available online, including a recommendation as to how restrictive of a low-carb plan you should follow based on your weight-loss goals. The stricter Atkins20™ Plan begins with about 20 grams of carbs per day for a few weeks and gradually raises your carb intake to find your personal carb tolerance level -- the place where you maintain a healthy weight. This may be around 100 grams of carbs per day. The Atkins40™ Plan is for people looking for less dramatic weight loss, and it starts with 40 grams of carbs per day for several weeks.
Free tools on the Atkins website include meal plans, carb counting and tracking phone apps, grocery lists and recipes.
Paleo as a Low-Carb Diet
A paleo diet plan is based on foods enjoyed by early humans who thrived prior to the agricultural revolution.The theory is that your body hasn't evolved to adequately digest all the foods of modern times, including highly processed snacks, grains, dairy and beans/legumes. These "modern" foods are supposedly responsible for unwanted weight gain, inflammation and poor energy. The diet isn't inherently low-carb, as you could load up on sweet potatoes and fruits, but if you avoid the few allowable higher-carb options, it's a free way to eat a low-carb diet.
A paleo diet emphasizes low-carb staples of grass-fed and/or wild proteins -- such as beef, pork, fish and poultry, as well as eggs. High-fiber, watery vegetables -- think lettuce, kale, broccoli, celery, peppers, cauliflower and summer squash -- are other low-carb foods encouraged. Cold-pressed oils are sources of important healthy fats to include on a paleo diet. A paleo diet does permit fresh fruit and nuts, but stick to modest servings as these foods do have carbs. For example, 24 whole, raw almonds contain about 3 grams of net carbs, and an apple contains about 16 grams. You might want to stick to raspberries or blackberries, which have minimal carbs per serving.
Counting Carbs on Your Own for Free
Many low-carb diets are defined as containing between 50 and 150 grams of carbs daily. Count these carbs by yourself with an online food diary, such as LiveStrong's The Daily Plate. Input the foods and servings you eat -- or plan to eat -- and these programs will record how many carbohydrates, protein and fats you've eaten each day.
You determine the number of carbohydrates you need daily to achieve your goals. Aim for 100 to 150 grams per day if you're already near your goal weight, quite active and are trying to lose just a few pounds or maintain. A 50- to 100-gram per day diet assists with weight loss, but still permits some carbs from one or two pieces of fruit, 1/4 cup servings of brown rice or a 1/4 cup of beans at meals.
Ketogenic Diet Plan
Low-carb diets with fewer than 50 grams per day can be extreme, but are OK if your doctor says so. When you choose to dramatically decrease your carb intake to below 50 grams per day, you're essentially putting yourself into a state of ketosis. This is a natural body state, but involves switching fuel systems, so it takes time for your body to adapt. Instead of running off of glucose, your body becomes more efficient at burning fat and produces chemicals called ketones to use as fuel.
You don't need a lot of expensive guidance to follow this plan -- simply focus on eating mostly no-carb foods, such as meats, fish, poultry and eggs. Round out meals with modest servings of leafy green vegetables and lots of healthy fats, which help keep you in ketosis. If you go low-fat and low-carb, you'll likely put your body in an unhealthy state of starvation due to too few calories. Healthy fats on a ketogenic diet include extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, cream and butter.
The standard ketogenic diet has you consume approximately 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbs. If you take in 2,000 calories per day, this is about 167 grams of fat per day, 100 grams of protein and just 25 grams of carbs. Use an online food diary to record your intakes. But if you stick to approved foods, you'll likely stay low-carb without having to do any carb counting or calorie keeping.
Note that the first few days, and up to two weeks, of a ketogenic diet can make you feel lethargic. The symptoms should pass and be replaced with feelings of great energy, but if they persist, consider increasing your carb intake slightly to limit the side effects.
- Annals of Internal Medicine: Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial
- Atkins: Atkins 20 Diet Plan: How It Works
- Atkins: Atkins 40 Diet Plan: How It Works
- Atkins: Free Tools
- The Paleo Diet: What to Eat on the Paleo Diet
- Atkins: Carb Counter
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism
- Authority Nutrition: How Many Carbs Should You Eat Per Day to Lose Weight?
- Authority Nutrition: The Ketogenic Diet 101: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide