A registered dietitian with experience in both the NHS and her own private practice, Ro Huntriss is an expert in helping people achieve their nutritional goals. In this article, Ro has written about what a low-carbohydrate diet is and what it means for your everyday eating habits.

Traditional public health guidance recommends that we consume a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. But, a low-carbohydrate diet is becoming the dietary alternative of interest for many people.

Whether it be to lose weight, to control diabetes or to adapt sports performance, more people are starting to consider changing the proportion of nutrients in their diet by reducing carbohydrates in favour of substitutes from other food groups.

How low-carb is low-carb?

A low-carbohydrate diet may not be as low carb as you think though. If we’re talking grams per day, a low-carbohydrate diet is a diet of under 130g each day. To put that into context, an average piece of bread contains around 15g carbohydrate, as does a heaped tablespoon of rice. So you still can consume some starchy carbohydrate on a low-carb diet, it may just be a little less than normal.

The impact of carbohydrate substitutes

Remember that carbohydrate does not just come from starchy foods such as cereals, bread and pasta. Sugars are also a form of carbohydrate, so when you’re counting up your carbohydrate intake for the day, you need to include things like fruit and milk which contain natural sugar, and cakes and biscuits which contain added sugar.

We still want fruit, milk and dairy (or their alternatives) in our diet as they provide us with many nutrients. But, considering reducing the amount of added sugars would not only aid in reducing carbohydrate intake, but would also help to improve the nutritional quality of your diet. 

Top tips for maintaining a rounded meal plan whilst on a low-carb diet

When undertaking a low-carb diet, there are a number of things to be aware of.  Firstly, your diet doesn’t have to be high in saturated fat (for example, high in butter or fatty meats).

A low-carb diet can be accompanied by a diet rich in unsaturated fats (for example, those from plant sources or oily fish) and your protein intake could be raised instead of solely relying on increasing fat. Increasing protein helps especially when trying to lose weight as it keeps us feeling full. Foods high in protein include eggs, chicken, cottage cheese and Greek yoghurt.

The second thing to be aware of is your fibre intake. As a nation we eat insufficient fibre anyway, so embarking on a low-carbohydrate diet could compromise your fibre intake further as this comes from carbohydrate-containing foods.

Therefore, it is important to choose higher-fibre foods within your low-carbohydrate diet. Choose wholemeal or whole grain breads, brown rice or pasta and include things like nuts and seeds in addition to your fruit and vegetable intake.

What are the health benefits of a low-carb diet?

A low-carbohydrate diet is a key method in promoting weight loss and improving diabetes control. Although this can only be judged on a case-by-case basis, fantastic results have been seen following a low-carbohydrate diet. But if you wish to follow this approach, ensure that you are well supported, either by a trained health care professional or by rigidly following a robust plan to help you to sustain this in the longer term.

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