Many diet trends at the moment are having you severely restrict sugar and carbohydrates (looking at you, keto) or ditch them altogether. But since many healthy foods — like fruits, veggies and whole grains — contain these nutrients, is a strict no carb, no-sugar diet the way to go for weight loss or health?
Carbohydrates provide energy for your body along with essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. So, if you're thinking of starting a no-carb, no sugar diet, read on for what you need to know, and be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before making any major dietary changes.
Low-Carb Diet Plan
The ketogenic diet, a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is currently a popular weight-loss approach. Typically, the keto diet bases meals around 65 percent fat content, 30 percent protein and 6 percent carbohydrates, which often comes to about 30 grams of carbs per day, depending on the individual's daily caloric intake, according to a May 2017 study published in Nutrients.
The keto diet is largely known for its fat-burning abilities, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Typically your cells use blood sugar (from carbs) to create energy. But in the absence of carbohydrates, your body breaks down body fat into ketones for energy.
High-fat, low-carbohydrate diets may initially promote more weight loss than low-fat diet regimens, according to a December 2018 study published in the Official Publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. However, despite the diet's ability to use body fat for fuel, it seems to lose to its effect after about a year of dieting.
No-Sugar Diet Plan
When diet plans indicate "no sugar," they typically suggest cutting added sugar and not the type of sugar that's naturally found in foods like fruit or milk.
Added sugar is sugar that has been added to a food during processing. This includes ingredients like maple syrup, honey, cane sugar, beet sugar, date sugar, agave and coconut sugar, among many others. Added sugar itself isn't necessarily bad for your health — the issue is that it's usually found in less nutritious, processed foods, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Added sugar should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories, which is about 200 calories or 12 teaspoons, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Foods like sodas, flavored yogurts, cereals and cookies are usually high in added sugar and should be eaten in moderation to stay within the daily recommendation.
Low-Carb, Low-Sugar Diet-Friendly Foods
There are plenty of foods out there that contain few carbohydrates and/or added sugar. However, following a regimen that is low in carbs and sugar will generally require some planning and preparation, considering most processed convenience foods are high in both.
If you're looking to cut back on carbohydrates and sugar, limiting your processed foods is a great place to start. For instance, soft drinks or flavored beverages (coffee included) are typically high in carbohydrates and added sugar, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Switching to water, plain herbal tea and black coffee will still give you variety and hydration without carbohydrates.
If you're looking to cut carbs, you can replace high-carbohydrate foods like bread, rice or potatoes with lower-carb options. Replacing white rice with riced cauliflower, for example, or swapping bread for avocado is a healthy way to cut back on carbohydrates while maintaining nutrient-dense foods in your meals.
Low-carb eating means cutting back on your sugar intake, too. Foods like cereal, cookies, syrups and jellies are high in sugar and high on the glycemic index, which means they have a tendency to spike your blood sugar, according to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. When it comes to sweets, opt for nutrient-dense options like berries, tomatoes and avocados, which are low in carbs and full of healthy nutrients.
Following a keto-style diet also entails raising your healthy fat content. Foods like fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds are good choices, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Is Following a No-Carb, No-Sugar Diet Healthy?
While a low-carb diet can be followed with healthy foods, a no-carb diet is likely unsustainable and may leave you nutrient-deficient. For instance, vegetables are a carbohydrate food but also supply essential nutrients (like fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals) you need to stay healthy.
The same goes for a no-sugar diet: This approach is only healthy if you're cutting added sugars. Nixing foods with natural sugars, like fruit and dairy, makes it extremely difficult to get the nutrients your body needs.
If you decide to try a low-carb, no-sugar-added diet, it's important to fill your plate with healthy, unsaturated fats, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Also, many people tend to over-consume protein and poor-quality fats on this type of diet, so it's important to keep ingredients and portion sizes in mind.
As always, speak with your healthcare provider if you want to drastically alter your diet. Your health, risk factors and any current medications can all be affected by the foods you eat. A medical professional can help guide you on which foods are appropriate for the diet you choose, ensure all of your nutrient needs are met and minimize the risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Fiber
- Nutrients: Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies
- Mayo Clinic: "Added Sugars: Don't Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Ketogenic diet: Is the Ultimate Low-Carb Diet Good for You?"
- Official Publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada : "Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Cut Down on Added Sugars"
- NHRMC: "Glycemic Index"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Know the Facts About Fats"