‘There are various ways to approach a low-carb diet, but the common thread is the dramatic restriction on the amount of carbohydrates eaten,’ says nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam. Grains, legumes, starchy vegetables and most fruits are cut back or excluded entirely. Instead, you fill up on non-starchy vegetables, meat (often including the fat), fish, eggs, full-fat dairy and nuts.
‘People following this diet will be excluding sweet treats and fatty carbohydrate-based foods such as chips, pastries and fried snacks,’ says Bridget. So far so good. ‘The high protein content of such diets is likely to keep people feeling fuller and, in the short term, high- protein diets seem to be effective for weight loss. But this difference isn’t maintained in the longer term,’ she warns. ‘Such diets also exclude a lot of foods that are important for a healthy, balanced diet.’
Try this: Choose lower-fat animal proteins, such as poultry and fish, rather than always opting for red meat. ‘Pick plant-based proteins, too,’ suggests Bridget. ‘Low-carb diets can be meat heavy, but going for pulses, nuts and other protein-rich vegetarian options such as tofu, tempeh, seitan or quinoa gives more variety. They’re often high in fibre and usually contain very little saturated fat.’
• ‘Fans of low-carb or no-carb, high-fat eating refute the vast amount of scientific evidence around the heart-health dangers of consuming large amounts of saturated fat,’ says Bridget.
• There are good reasons to eat carbohydrate-rich foods, such as fibre-rich potatoes with skins and wholegrains, especially for bowel health.
• This diet may be difficult to implement in a busy lifestyle and sustain long term as a lack of carbohydrates leaves our energy stores depleted, which causes us to feel tired and run down. Consuming so much meat can also prove expensive.