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Lowdown on Low-Carb Diets

You may help your body burn stored fat, control blood sugar levels

Family preparing healthy food in the kitchen

Whether you want to slim down for summer or better manage your health, a low-carbohydrate diet can help. Limiting the number of carbs you eat has been popular for years, especially lately with the "keto diet." Since carbs are nutrients that affect blood sugar the most, reducing them can help care for health conditions as well as lose weight. The specific amount of carbohydrates you eat depends on your needs and the diet you choose. Ask a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) about the right plan for you.

The power of carb control

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that have the biggest impact on our blood sugar and insulin levels. As your body digests carbs, it converts them into blood glucose or blood sugar, which the body uses for energy. By eating fewer carbs your body uses stored fat for fuel. This backup source for energy is what may lead to weight loss. It can also help you control your blood sugar and insulin levels, which play a part in chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Foods to avoid

You probably know to limit high-carb foods like cake, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages. But when following a low-carb diet it's also best to avoid eating these items:

  • Grains typically found in bread, pasta, and cereal.

  • Certain fruits such as bananas, mangos, and pears.

  • Starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, and peas.

  • Dairy products including milk, even if it is reduced fat or skim milk.

  • Legumes such as beans and lentils.

Find the right amount for you

There is no one-size-fits-all amount of carbohydrates you need to eat. Your specific carbohydrate intake depends on the low-carb diet you choose to follow. Ask your health care provider before making extreme changes to your diet. An RDN can also work with you to select the best eating habits.

On average, eating anywhere between 25g and 150g of carbs each day qualifies as a low-carb diet. To meet your carbohydrates goals, you should add these items to your daily meals:

  • Protein found in lean meat, fish, and eggs.

  • Non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus.

  • Healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and almonds.

No matter the meal plan you choose, slowly moving away from carb-heavy food options is best. If you suddenly and drastically cut carbs, you may experience a variety of temporary health effects, such as:

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue or weakness

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Cut back and keep track

Using your My HealtheVet account, you can use the online food journal feature. This can help you stay in control and monitor how effective your meal plan is. If you have a Premium account, you can also send any questions or concerns to your VA Dietitian with a Secure Message (sign in required).

Read More

Diabetes: Understanding Carbohydrates (Veterans Health Library)

How to Contact a VA Dietitian Nutritionist (Nutrition and Food Services)

Weight Loss and a Low Carb Diet (Mayo Clinic)

Dietary Plan Choices (PDF) (MOVE)

Need to Improve Your Diet? VA Can Help


Updated July 30, 2019