Counting carbs and not calories may be one of the reasons you decided to go with a low-carb diet. But if you're struggling to lose or ready to maintain you weight, you may consider monitoring calories too. An 1800-calorie diet can help most men and very active women lose weight, while assisting moderately active women in maintaining their weight. Because of potential side effects when restricting carbs and calories, always consult your doctor first for advice and guidance.
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Balancing Carbs and Calories
When it comes to counting both carbs and calories, you may find it easier to stay within your limits by first counting carbs. So it's important to know how many grams of carbs you need on your diet plan. There are no set low-carb diet guidelines, but many low-carb diets start by restricting your daily carbs to 20 to 50 grams, then adding carbs as you lose to reduce the rate of weight loss, with limits ranging from 50 to 150 grams. Your doctor can help you determine the amount of carbs you need.
If you're at the point where you're counting calories in addition to carbs, you're likely not in the very restrictive carb stage. To slow down weight loss, you may be allowed as many as 120 grams of carbs a day, which is equal to 480 calories. That leaves 1,320 calories for protein and fat.
Meat, low-carb veggies, cheese, tofu and various seasonings and condiments are the focus of most low-carb meal plans. Start here when counting calories and carbs. Keep calories in check, choosing leaner cuts of meat such as pork chops, sirloin, white meat poultry and seafood, and keeping portions at about 4 ounces per meal. Also, carefully portion out the higher calorie foods. For example, limit cheese to a 1-ounce serving and measure out 1 teaspoon of oil. In addition to being low in carbs, vegetables are also low in calories, making them a good choice for filling out your meals to control hunger.
On a less restrictive low-carb diet, include lower calorie carbs such as fruit, starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, and peas, beans and whole grains.
Use net carbs, which are total carbs minus fiber or sugar alcohol, to calculate carb counts for all your carb-containing foods. For example, 1 cup of strawberries has 11 grams of total carbs and 3 grams of fiber, which is equal to 8 grams of net carbs. Plan to eat three meals and one to two snacks a day.
1,800-Calorie Low-Carb Menu
Say you're on a 120-gram low-carb diet -- a breakfast meal might include 1 cup of cooked oatmeal made with 1 cup of low-fat milk topped with 10 chopped walnuts and served with 1 boiled egg. This breakfast has 500 calories and 37 grams of net carbs. At lunch, top 2 cups of romaine lettuce with 4 ounces of broiled salmon and 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing. Serve with a medium apple and six whole-grain crackers. This lunch has 500 calories and 40 grams of net carbs. End the day with 4 ounces of grilled sirloin steak with a medium baked sweet potato and 2 cups of broccoli sauteed in 2 teaspoons of olive oil, which provides 500 calories and 31 grams of net carbs.
For snacks, get through the mid-afternoon munchies with 15 pecans, with 150 calories and 1 gram of net carbs. In the evening, 1 cup of whole fresh strawberries and an ounce of cheddar cheese makes a good choice with 160 calories and 9 grams of net carbs.
Tips and Concerns
Counting both carbs and calories can be difficult. Take time out once a week -- say, Sunday -- to plan what you're going to eat each day to help you stay within your daily needs. Keep your house stocked with the right foods that fit your meal plan to prevent straying. This is especially helpful on those nights when you don't feel like cooking.
Also, when restricting your carb intake, be sure to monitor how you feel. Common side effects when limiting carbs include constipation, headaches, weakness and muscle cramps. Consult your doctor to discuss any ill effects and the best ways to manage them.