Once you’ve been eating low carb for a few weeks your body should have adjusted so that you don’t just rely on burning easily digested carbohydrates for fuel.
At this stage you should be happy burning fat and accessing your body’s fat stores for fuel. This means that your blood sugar will be more stable and you will experience fewer hunger pangs and cravings.
You may stick to eating three meals a day or you might find that you’re satisfied with two. One day, for example, you could eat a late breakfast or brunch and then have an evening meal. On another day you may skip breakfast and have your main meal at midday.
There IS flexibility with your low carbohydrate approach and for those who think it initially sounds a bit draconian and can’t completely give up on carbs, try to reduce them incrementally as you go. Cutting out carbs completely will have an immediate and positive effect on your blood glucose levels, but if you can manage to at least sharply reduce them you will begin to push your levels in the right direction!
Of course, it goes without saying that your new low carb approach must go hand in hand with ditching or significantly cutting all the sugary foods, snacks and drinks in your life, as well as all those sugar-laden ready meals and takeaways.
Let’s start with breakfast
Since the post-war boom of the 1950s the traditional English breakfast fell out of favour as American food, in particular sugary cereals, landed in Britain.
Where the nation once ‘went to work on an egg’ now we routinely fill a bowl with cereal and cold milk. Quick and convenient yes, but is it healthy?
Breakfast cereals are starchy carbohydrates made from grains, primarily from the processing of corn and wheat. When we eat cereals we quickly digest their chains of starch down into molecules of glucose which raises blood sugar.
It might surprise you to learn that a small 30g serving of cornflakes digests down into several teaspoons of sugar. So much for a ‘healthy’ breakfast! Add to this a glass of fruit juice and a banana and you have digested the equivalent in carbohydrates of almost 30 teaspoons of sugar. Not the best way to start your day!
So what are some low sugar, low carbohydrate breakfast options that will keep us full until lunch and keep our blood sugar levels steady?
We can learn much from the 1950s and 60s slogan of ‘Go to Work on an Egg’
Eggs are a great mix of protein and healthy fat, plus important vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy.
But perhaps the main advantage is their versatility and portability. Whether poached, scrambled, fried, boiled or made into an omelette or pancake, paired with bacon and/or veggies, there are a multitude of meal and snack options using eggs! No time to cook? No problem! Pre-boil eggs and keep them in the fridge so you can grab and go with some ham and cheese or pre-bake egg and bacon muffins.
Non egg-based super quick breakfast ideas include full-fat Greek yoghurt with a handful of berries and chopped nuts, pre-made grain free nutty granola or overnight chia seed pudding.
It makes sense to eat only when you are actually hungry! Therefore if you don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning, and you are not taking medications, breakfast is not essential. Often, when people have been eating low carb for a while, they find coffee with a dash of cream satisfies them until lunch.
But beware, if you skip breakfast and do get hungry mid-morning you’re more likely to make poor food choices, so pre-plan and take a healthy low carb snack with you if needed.
Take a look at these 23 easy and delicious low carb breakfast ideas. Lots of these recipes can be made in advance and even frozen to make life easier:
Remember the low carb way of eating is all about keeping your carbs low and not worrying about consuming the healthy fats found in real foods!
Main meals: veggies, protein and healthy fat
The beauty of a low carb way of life is having the freedom to be flexible with meal timings to suit your schedule and appetite.
For this reason we have not used the terms ‘lunch and dinner’ . Instead it makes more sense to talk about ‘meals’ as these can be eaten at any time of the day depending on your needs and preferences.
When starting out with low carb meal planning it’s best to keep it simple. There are three components that should be included on your plate for a healthy low carb meal : a protein source + healthy fats + veggies.
Protein sources include fresh meats, fish, eggs and veggie proteins eg tofu. As a general guide have a piece of protein at least the size of the palm of your hand. This is important since lack of protein in the diet is not only detrimental to health but it also drives hunger.
Healthy fats include butter, olive oil, seeds, avocado and the fats from the meat/fish. Remember, fats are extremely important for a healthy body and brain and for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Low carb vegetables are non-starchy and grow above ground e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts etc. and these should make up half of your plate. Choose a variety of brightly coloured varieties for each meal to maximise their health benefits. You can add flavour by roasting veggies and be sure to always butter and season well so they taste delicious!
A few times a week you could try small quantities of root vegetables e.g. celeriac, parsnips, swede and sweet potato if you feel that you have your blood sugar is under control or you have reached your weight loss goals.
These basic low carb meal principles apply whether it’s brunch, lunch or dinner – all that changes is the size of the portions on your plate, depending on how hungry you are.
Once you have mastered these principles feel free to branch out and try the multitude of savoury low carb recipes available!
When cooking, get into the habit of making extra so that you have convenient leftovers. These can be stored in glass containers in the fridge and will save time in the kitchen the following day.
For beautifully illustrated simple and tasty meal ideas use the interactive meal planner at: eatthebutter.com
Post meal why not opt for a cheese board (with celery instead of crackers) rather than dessert but if you do prefer something sweet after your meal then go for a small handful of berries with a little cream or a few squares of very dark chocolate.
Control that snack attack
Truthfully the best low carb snacks are no snacks at all!
Once you’ve been eating low carb for a while and your body has transitioned from burning glucose to burning fat you’ll probably find that your appetite between meals subsides and you rarely feel the need to snack. This is because once your insulin is low, and your blood sugar levels balanced, your hunger is naturally kept in check.
Often snacking can be driven by carb cravings (particularly at the beginning of your low carb journey) or just by being simply bored!
Before snacking to identify true hunger ask yourself “could I eat cooked chicken, steak or tinned fish right now?” If the answer is NO you are NOT truly hungry. You’re either craving CARBS or you are just simply BORED!
Some great strategies to prevent you eating just because you’re bored or have the carb cravings are:
Distraction which could be going for a walk, for example. Or why not do some indoor exercises, get stuck into a good book or tackle the housework?
Drink a glass of water or make a hot drink. Often hunger signals are really thirst signals.
If you are truly hungry and don’t have time to cook, choose from the following selection of great low carb, portable snack options:
- Pre-boiled eggs
- Cheese chunks/ mini Babybel
- Nuts – almonds, walnuts, macadamia, pecans
- Cold meats e.g. chicken, ham
- Half avocado with salt, eat with teaspoon
- Celery with cream cheese/ cottage cheese (full fat)
- Coffee/decaf with double cream
- Small apple with almond butter
- Pork rinds/ scratchings (sugar & MSG free)
- Beef jerky (sugar free)
- Fresh coconut chunks
- Small tub full-fat yoghurt/ coconut yoghurt
- A few squares of very dark chocolate >70%
These snacks are filling options so start with a small portion – no more than a small handful – and you should find your hunger is under control until your next available low carb meal!
There are several different types of fats, which can be important when considering nutrition. These are:
SATURATED FATS which occur in butter, cheeses, creams and eggs. They are also present in lard, coconut oil and meats. Some saturated fat is also present in milk.
The official advice in the past few decades is that we limit our intake of these foods because it is alleged they increase the level of cholesterol in the blood and therefore also increase the risk of developing heart disease.
This theory is, however, severely flawed with recent science pointing to huge benefits from these foods, which are the cornerstone of a low carb/high fats diet.
It should be noted that these foods also contain the other types of fat.
POLYUNSATURATED FATS are mainly liquids and there are two main families of polyunsaturated fats: Omega-6s are found in seeds and oils such as sesame, safflower, soya, sunflower and corn.
Omega-3s are mainly found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring and sardines. They also occur in nuts, cold pressed flaxseed and chia seeds.
Omega-6s and the omega-3s are both essential and ideally the ratio should be 1:1 but in the UK national diet the ratio can be 30/40 in favour of the omega-6s.
These are regarded as “healthy” by the official bodies because it is believed they reduce the blood cholesterol and therefore help to lower the risk of heart disease.
TRANS FATS occur in processed foods including highly processed biscuits and baked goods as wells as crisps, pizza bases and pies. In food manufacturing, the polyunsaturated fats are often processed to improve their stability for use in the preparation of baked products. This process causes the formation of trans fatty acids.
It has recently been shown that these can be damaging to health and may be responsible for heart disease, stroke, infertility, colon cancer, depression and endometriosis. Although still in use, steps are being taken to reduce the amounts used in foods.
Here in the UK, members of the British Retail Consortium, which includes the major UK supermarkets and fast food chains, have stopped using trans fats as an ingredient in foods. However, food imported from outside the UK could still contain them.
It is anticipated that the World Health Organisation will implement a worldwide ban by the year 2023.
DIETARY CHOLESTEROL can be found in foods including eggs, kidneys, liver, and shellfish.
Low Carb Skipton agrees with scientists who say there is now convincing evidence that cholesterol is not a genuine risk factor for heart disease. This means that the case for reducing saturated fat in the diet does not stand up to examination.
In fact, the latest research strongly suggests that many of the individual saturated fats should be part of a healthy diet.
Similarly, there is no justification for the current high content of omega-6s in the diet. In reality, the high content in the UK diet is likely to cause inflammation, which can trigger many of the common chronic diseases.
Some of the evidence which shows why cholesterol is not a valid risk factor for heart disease: http://vernerwheelock.com/179-cholesterol-and-all-cause-mortality/
Do you find the information presented on food labels and packaging confusing? Do you know what to look for when trying to make healthy low carb food choices in the supermarket?
This low carb guide to food labelling should help you identify what to put in your trolley and importantly what to leave on the shelf.
Low carb is a low carbohydrate, high healthy fat nutrition plan, NOT a calorie restricted or low fat way of eating. Therefore remember when reading food labels, the most important factor to be aware of is ‘total carbohydrate’ content. The next most important thing is not to buy anything labelled low fat/ reduced fat!
Front of pack: ignore it!
Often when a health claim is made on the front of a package it has been designed to conceal a less healthy aspect about that food!
You may see phrases such as ‘wholegrain’, ‘multigrain’, ‘high in fibre’, ‘contains vitamins and minerals’, ‘no artificial colours or flavours’, ‘source of calcium’ but don’t be fooled! In fact, these six phrases are all used on the front of one pack of popular breakfast cereal, which has only green and amber traffic lights and yet delivers 72% carbohydrate content equivalent to 6g of sugar per small 30g serving!
Meanwhile, another misleading marketing phrase to avoid, ‘provides one of your five a day’, has appeared on high sugar products from tinned soup to ketchup!
Front of pack nutrition
Only on the back of pack will we find the information that is critical to our decision-making – primarily the total carbohydrates per 100g. As a general rule we want to purchase foods that are 10g total carbs (or less) per 100g.