To jump-start weight loss, many low-carb diet plans start with an induction period. During this time, which can last anywhere from two weeks to two months, you're restricted to 20 to 50 grams of carbs a day. Limiting carbs to this extreme forces your body to burn fat for fuel. With fruit, bread and starchy vegetables off the table, you might wonder what's left to eat during this phase of your low-carb diet. If you're struggling to put together induction meals for your low-carb plan, consult with a registered dietitian for guidance.
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Meal Planning During the Induction Period
You'll be eating mostly proteins and nonstarchy veggies when you begin induction. Animal proteins -- beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, eggs, fish and seafood -- are carb-free and should be the stars of your plate. If you don't eat meat, you can substitute soy bacon, soy hot dogs, tofu, seitan and tempeh, but they may not be carb-free, so check the label and include any carbs in your total carb count.
Next, round out your meals with nutrient-rich low-carb veggies such as spinach, lettuce, mushrooms, peppers, onions, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. Each veggie has less than 5 grams of "net carbs" per serving, and some, such as lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and bok choy, have less than 1 gram per serving.
Fiber doesn't affect blood sugar and isn't counted toward your total carb count, according to the Atkins website. The term "net carbs" refers to the total carbs minus the fiber, and that number is used to calculate carbs for high-fiber foods such as vegetables and fruit. For example, 1/2 cup of raw, chopped red bell pepper has 5 grams of total carbs and 2 grams of fiber, so it has 3 grams of net carbs.
Cheese is also low-carb, with about 1 gram per ounce and can be added to meals or eaten as snacks. Use butter, vegetable oils -- such as olive or safflower oil -- and mayonnaise to add fat and flavor without carbs.
Add more flavor to your raw veggies and salads with ranch and Caesar dressing, and use herbs and spices such as basil, oregano and garlic to dress up your proteins. Drink mostly water, seltzer water, herbal tea or decaf coffee or tea. For a little variety, enjoy unsweetened almond and soy milk, which are carb-free beverages.
Keeping It Low at Breakfast
Eggs make a good carb-free food at breakfast during the induction phase. An omelet filled with 1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms and 1 ounce of Swiss cheese has only 2 grams of carbs. Add diced ham or a couple of slices of bacon to help you stay full. Read food labels on deli meats such as ham, as well as sausage, to make sure they're carb-free because these processed meats might contain sweeteners or fillers that add carbs. Plan ahead and make a crustless quiche filled with diced asparagus and cheddar cheese, and keep it in the fridge for a quick heat-and-eat breakfast meal. Serve with half an avocado for a breakfast with 4 grams of carbs.
You don't have to limit your breakfast to eggs during this phase of the diet. Blend 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk with 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a packet of artificial sweetener. This on-the-go smoothie has 4 grams of carbs. If you sub 1/2 cup of firm tofu for the ricotta cheese, the carb count decreases to 1 gram.
Low-Carb Lunch Meals
Lunch is a good meal to get your fill of nutrient-rich low-carb veggies. Toss 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli, 1/2 cup of cooked cauliflower, five halved cherry tomatoes, five sliced black olives and diced chicken breast with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese for a new take on your usual pasta salad. This veggie-focused lunch has only 6 grams of carbs. For a meatless noon meal, fill a lettuce leaf with 1/2 cup of soy crumbles flavored with cumin and hot sauce with half a diced avocado, a small chopped tomato and 2 tablespoons of onions, and wrap it like a burrito for a 7-gram carb meal.
And, of course, you can't go wrong with a salad during the induction phase. Create a lunch with 6 grams of carbs by topping 2 cups of raw spinach with 1/2 cup of green peppers, 1/2 cup of cucumbers, 1/2 cup of alfalfa sprouts, grilled shrimp, crumbled bacon and 2 tablespoons of Caesar dressing.
Best Meals for Dinner
Like breakfast and lunch, dinner should be simple and focused to stay within your induction carb allowance. For 6 grams of carbs, you might enjoy chicken breast topped with 1/2 cup of cooked spinach, goat cheese and 1/2 cup of red peppers baked in the oven and served with 2 cups of lettuce with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Grill up a steak and serve with 1/2 cup of mashed turnips made with butter and heavy cream and six asparagus spears. This induction meal also has 4 grams of carbs. For those going meatless, stuff a portabello mushroom with 1/2 cup of kale cooked in olive oil and garlic and topped with 1 ounce of mozzarella cheese. This meatless dinner has 6 grams of carbs.