How to Go Low Carb the Healthy Way

The low-carb diet trend is still going strong. Almost every one of my clients has done some variation of Whole30 or Paleo, tried to go ketogenic, or for a throwback, done South Beach or Atkins. They seem to work for a while, but they’re not sustainable. What good is it to shun carbs during the week, only to end up binging on pasta or cookies over the weekend? From a nutrition (and life) perspective, it’s not possible to completely cut carbs out of your diet. Here’s why you need to keep some carbs, and how to lower your intake the healthy way.

You Can’t Completely “Cut” Carbs

We talk about carbohydrates as if they were a food group, but in fact, they aren’t. Carbs are one of the three macronutrients, along with protein and fat, and most foods are made up of a mix of all three. Carbs are found naturally in a wide variety of foods, everything from fruits and vegetables to grains, legumes, and dairy. They’re also added to processed and refined foods in the form of sugar, in sweets, candy, soda, and so much more. But there’s a big difference, and foods that contain carbs in natural form contribute essential fiber and key vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

Your Body Needs Carbs (Really!)

Even if you could “cut” carbs out of your diet, you wouldn’t want to! Carbs are an essential nutrient—you can’t survive without them. Not only are carbs necessary to keep you alive, they have a variety of vital functions.

  • Carbs Provide Energy! Carbs are your body’s favorite fuel. They’re digested and broken down into glucose, which feeds every single cell in your body, especially your brain. Glucose is what helps your muscles do everything, from getting out of bed to walking, running, and hitting those reps at the gym.
  • Carbs Keep Your Gut Happy. Did you know that fiber is a type of carbohydrate? Yes, and you need it for normal digestion. It helps you avoid constipation and diarrhea, and reduces your risk of colon cancer. Additionally, prebiotics are a particular type of fiber, which ferment and provide food for the good bacteria living in your gut.
  • Carbs Protect Your Heart. There’s a reason why oats top the list of heart-healthy foods. Fiber-rich carbs, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes can help lower cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart disease.
  • Carbs Keep You Full. If more energy, a happy gut, and a healthy heart weren’t enough to convince you, maybe the promise of weight loss will. High-fiber carbs digest more slowly, which means you’ll stay full for longer, and can help you lose weight.

But Wait, Don’t Carbs Make You Fat?

No. Seriously, no! It’s the myth that won’t go away. Carbs alone aren’t the problem—the sticky issue is with ultra-processed foods. Unfortunately, most of the carbs in the standard American diet come from sugary drinks and refined grains, associated with weight gain and chronic diseases. Considering the large number of people in the US who are overweight or pre-diabetic, cutting back on huge servings of soda, pizza, and subs won’t hurt. But whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes have all been linked to better weight control. And long-term studies show that low-carb diets don’t lead to more weight loss compared to moderate diets.

A Healthier Approach to a Low-Carb Lifestyle

Instead of worrying about cutting carbs completely, consider setting a more realistic goal to go lower carb. Focus on eating the right portions of the right kinds of carbs, and timing them evenly throughout the day. If you’re tracking your macros, aim for about 45 percent of your total calories coming from carbs, and not going below 130 grams of carbs per day is recommended—this is the minimum amount your brain needs.

What does a lower-carb plan look like in terms of real food? Following the dietary guidelines is a good strategy: Get your good carbs from 2 pieces of fresh fruit, 3 cups of veggies, 2 cups of low-fat dairy, ¼ cup of beans or lentils, and 4 to 8 servings of grains, at least half of which should be whole grains. So you could be digging into overnight oats with fresh fruit for breakfast, a kale salad with crispy chickpeas for lunch, and brown rice sushi bowls for dinner, with a plain, nonfat latte, a piece of fruit, and a bag of veggies for snacks. Not so crazy or restrictive, right? Healthy carbs are delicious, and you don’t need to eat huge servings to make your whole diet more satisfying and sustainable. Because that’s the secret: the best healthy eating plan is one you can follow for life—not just a few weeks or months.

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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This is a truly valuable info that you share with us we rally thanks you for this…
    Generally, you might work out every day, follow a strict and severe diet and still not lose your weight. The basic question in this case is how this is possible. The answer to this question can come in various forms. The first one is that you might be a comfort eater. Comfort eaters are the ones who keep on eating to overcome any sort of sadness or loneliness or in short to cope up with life.

  • Hi my name is Diane and my story is back on March 2016 I weighed in at 204lbs. I also have type diabetes and was taking 4 insulin shots per day. I have 5 grandchildren and 1 on the way. I decided it was either diet or die. I choose diet so with the help of my oldest son I started my journey to lose some weight. I started by keeping a record of all foods that I put into my body along with the nutritional value of the foods. I cut my carbs by 75%. My daily foods were meats, vegetables and fruits, I strictly adhered to my new way of eating. And after 18 months I now weigh 204 a loss of 100 lbs. I now have my 6 grandchildren and I feel and look marvelous. So stick to a low carb diet and you will all be able to meet your goals.

  • Drinking lots of water before meals also helps. I lost 75lbs in 1 year following a sensible low carb diet and drinking a gallon of water daily (rationed throughout the day) but particularly 30 minutes before meals. That was 25 years ago and I’ve maintained!

  • No science here whatsoever. There are no essential carbohydrates. The brain and body run best on ketone bodies, the byproduct of fat metabolism. A therapeutic ketogenic WOE with 20 or fewer grams of carbohydrate a day from nonstarchy vegetables is proving to reverse conditions caused by inflammation and metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and heat disease. Time to revisit the scientific method and biochemistry 101.

    • Well said. Another uninformed regurgitation of outdate diet advice recommending “healthy carbs” with no mention of our need for healthy fats to replace the carbs we do not need.

    • So true. Just Eat Real Food – low carbs (no grains, wheat, or the like), healthy fat, and quality moderate protein. Easy, tasty, sustainable, and good for your mind and body. I have been Ketogenic for 2.5 years, and turned my metabolic life around. LCHF: the best way to eat for good health and overall wellness.

    • I agree. My husband is on the ketogenic diet to help him battle brain cancer. I can say for the first time in his life he has lost weight easily and has kept it off. I will also add his tumor has shrunk 2.5 mm The brain can feed on ketones and the body can feed on fat for energy. Supplements are important as well while on the diet.

      • Super! Im researching the keto diet. A few friends & family members have all done really well by it. How is your husband doing now?

  • Still more of the same standard dietary advice not backed up by science. The data is beginning to show that low carb high fat diet is healthier. The recommended 130mg of carbs stated in the article is way too high. Look at the rising diabetes rate in this US. That 130mg does not help

  • I think youre regurgitating material approved by the national dietetics association who also accepted funding from McDonalds in return for endorsing it. I am disappointed at FITBIT for looking more generic than even Armstrong’s website. You all huddle together, while the rest of us move forward without grains….which many eliminate to find weight loss and reduction/elimination of medical symptoms. What a great opportunity turned into white bread….oh wait, whole wheat….which has a higher glycemic index than even ice cream.

  • So much erroneous information in this article. I’ve been LCHF for 7 years now. I know people who have been following LC diets for 15-20 years, one is a long distance biker who cycles 100+ miles on nothing more than a bulletproof coffee (coffee with butter and coconut or MCT oil.

    There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate – essential fatty acids and essential amino acids, but no essential carbs. Your brain and muscles can function just as well on ketones (fat burning) as it does on glucose. And fats/protein are more satiating than carbs/fiber.

    This article is nothing more than the usual outdated, unscientific nutritional advice that has been peddled for the last 40 years.

  • This is so bad, I can’t even think of an appropriate response. If carbs are the favored fuel, I guess alcohol is the very, very favored fuel, since the body uses it even faster than carbs! And since I’m eating about 20 carbs a day and have been for nearly a decade, I guess I’m dead.

  • So very, very wrong. There is nothing in this article that makes sense. IN fact, it makes me want to take my Fitbit off and toss it into the trash. There is no such thing as a required amount of daily carbohydrate. Really, look it up! If it is true that we “need” carbohydrates for energy, then I must be dead, since I’ve been existing on 20 grams of CHO a day with no ill effects, even at the gym. I wish Fitbit would start looking into the more advanced research instead of the old CICO nonsense.

  • I am very disappointed that you removed my comments and those of another acquaintance. It is sad and telling that you are not allowing information that contradicts your opinions.

  • This is so much bullsht I can’t believe it!! Lady, YOU and so many ignorant people like you, are the reason that Type II diabetes is going through the roof!! Questions for you Kathy Higgins Sink- How much weight have YOU lost? Were you ever a T2D or pre?? Have you ever cured someone of their T2D?? Guess not, if you are suggesting that the human body & brain needs at least 130 carbs a day. If your brain is starved of carbs, it can run just fine (even better) on ketones. I am forever Fung Shweigh (the worldwide followers of Dr. Jason Fung). Heck yeah, we are angry because ignorant people like you are killing people. I am under 200 lbs. for the first time in 33 years, all labs back to normal, no longer pre-diabetic, no longer have fibromyalgia, and am able to exercise every day.

  • As someone who has a family history of colon cancer this article was very helpful. I always thought that carbs were, for the most, part unhealthy. You have changed my view of carbs and I thank you.

  • You CAN cut carbs from your diet and go on LowCarbHighFat. Actually, you’ll feel much better when your brain feeds on ketone bodies.

  • I’m a new addition to Keto! I’ve had tremendous success in weight loss the last three months!
    I WAS going to join in on this discussion group, but NO THANK YOU!!!! This is suppose to be a positive place to land!

    You act and chew each other up like raw meat! Enjoy!!!

  • It must depend on where you are getting the ‘scientific’ data from. From what I read good wholesome carbs are better for you than a high fat/low carb diet. There seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around. Not one person here has backed up their comments by research. Here are two articles for ponder.

  • The advice given here is poor, might I say nonsense, do not count cals. All animal products will make you sick, eat as much freash fruit and vegetables as you want, never be hungry, if you are looling to be healthy and happy log on to Dr Michael Gregors site a non profit totally free website with no sponsors, he does it as a community service.
    When a so called expert recommends dairy or meat its a sign they are incompetent or have been corrupted by sponsors of some sort.

  • Oh my goodness.
    This article is very unfortunate.
    As stated several times in the comments, there is NO need for humans to eat grains. There are enough carbs – if you think you really need them in your leafy greens!
    If you want a real low carb diet and scientifically backed information, check out this site –
    No need to pay for advice – all you need is there for FREE!

  • Like to read more regarding Low Carb Diet. My very first time to com across which I really and truly love it. Ottie

  • So, so sad Alissa and Fitbit that you have provided such outdated information. There are no essential carbs and it is your advice and that provided by your fellow dietitians (Not the great few that are providing their clients with Low Carb information) that have contributed to the tsunami of chronic illness we see in the world today. Please look at the latest science and have a look at the ten’s of thousands of people that are not following the current guidelines who have achieved and exceeded their health goals – you only need to see the group ‘typeonegrit’ – those who have Type 1 Diabetes (kids and adults) and are achieving and maintaining normal blood sugar levels. There are great benefits to those with Cystic Fibrosis (no you don’t need to eat the junk food most doctors prescribe to keep up your calorie intake!!), PCOS, IBS etc. It is great for Weight loss, Sports Nutrition… the list goes on.

  • This article is outdated, sad, and disturbing. This is the reason we have an epidemic of type-2 diabetes. There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate! Yes, vegetables are good for MOST people, and SOME people can tolerate starchy vegetables and fruits. Eliminating ALL grains has put my mom into full-remission with her rheumatoid arthritis! Eliminating ALL grains has improved my brain performance, normalized my blood sugar, and reversed prediabetes. 130 grams of carbs a day would drive directly to diabetes. Rediculous.

  • My wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told her a FitBit as it might motivate me to exercise nd maybe even eat healthier.

    I was diagnosed with major depression and sleep apnea almost 8 years ago and type 2 diabetes about 4 years ago. I lost 60 lbs. after changing jobs(sedentary to extreme physical). I have since put on some of the weight, apnea worsening, and depression managed by medicine.

    It’s will be my mission to reduce my BMI, weight, and borderline type 2 status.

    Can’t wait to see some results!!!

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