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Following a low-carbohydrate lifestyle

Low CarbWhy do so many people fall off a low-carb diet?  To sum it up, one word – bread.  Who can resist a warm crusty piece of bread with butter?  Tough, but you can.  Does following a low-carb eating style mean you can never eat bread again?  No, but you will want to stay away from bread and other high carb foods while on a low-carb, optimum protein weight loss program.
Carbohydrates – what you should eat and what you should avoid -
Carbohydrates are from plants and appear in the Western Diet in the form of vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains (processed pasta, cereals, breads and sugar.)  Because carbohydrates vary greatly in their nutritional value and fiber content, one must be savvy about choosing the best carbohydrates for successful weight loss, long-term health and weight management.  How?  By eliminating the worst offenders, those high-carb, low-fiber, processed foods that contain empty calories and by choosing low carb, high fiber, nutritionally-rich foods.   Sound boring?  Doesn’t need to be – there are many delicious low-carb foods and cookbooks on how to prepare these delicious good-for-you carbohydrates.

The very best carbohydrate choices are found in nature, are unprocessed, and contain dietary fiber.  Fiber-rich carbohydrates are lower in calories, contain vitamins and minerals, help reduce cholesterol levels, reduce fluctuations in blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and help keep the intestinal tract moving.  Fiber-rich carbohydrates produce satiety, help control hunger, and should always be a large part of your daily diet. 

Ever notice when you eat a piece of bread, you are never full and can eat two or three more pieces even when your meal is finished?  Most breads have minimal fiber and without the fiber to bulk your stomach up, you never feel full, you keep eating, and typically overeat. This is what happens when you consume processed foods full of empty calories.     

If you want to bulk up your stomach, feel full and satisfied without the high carbohydrate burden, choose vegetable carbohydrates.  Most vegetables are naturally low in calories, high in fiber and water content, rich in vitamins and minerals, and are the best carbohydrate choice for weight loss and long-term maintenance. Most legume carbohydrates have fiber and contain some protein, and some whole grains contain fiber and some protein but typically come with a higher calorie burden.  Most whole grain foods are not good sources of fiber compared to the total carbohydrate grams.  Few fruits have high fiber content but can be rich in vitamins and minerals.  Choosing low-carb, or low sugar foods, will provide you with the best nutritional value overall.

How to count carbs on a low-carb diet and find the “Net Effective Carbohydrate” intake on a food label -
Dietary fiber is not absorbed in the GI tract and therefore, has no caloric impact on the body.  When counting carbohydrates for a low-carb eating style, you should subtract dietary fiber grams from total carbohydrate grams.  What remains is the “Net Effective Carbs,” the total carbohydrates grams after dietary fiber grams have been subtracted.  To find the Net Effective Carbohydrates on a nutritional label, look at the example below.  The following nutritional label is for one “Mission brand Carb Balance Whole Wheat Fajita Size” tortilla.

Serving Size – 1 tortilla (28 grams)

Grams per Serving

Calories per Serving


Fat Grams


Total Carbohydrate Grams


- Dietary Fiber
- Sugars


Protein Grams


         * Each carbohydrate gram equals 4 calories.

Total carbohydrates above = 12 grams.  Subtract dietary fiber, 8 grams, from total carbohydrate grams, which leaves 4 grams of net carbohydrates. This Mission brand Carb Balance tortilla contains “4 net effective carbs,” 8 grams of fiber, and a net caloric serving of 48 calories.  For a processed grain product, this is an excellent high-fiber, low-carb, low calorie choice.

Never assume a food label is correct without doing the math yourself.  In addition to dietary fiber, many food manufacturers deduct other sugars, such as sugar alcohols, to determine the “net carbs.”  Only deduct fiber grams when counting carbs - all other carbohydrates count.

Daily fiber intake – how much should you be consuming? -
For long-term maintenance, we recommend a MINIMUM intake of 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men.  However, when on a carbohydrate restricted diet such as the VLCD or LCD, it will be difficult to consume this amount without going over your prescribed net carbohydrate intake.  But, you can get close by consuming the highest fiber vegetables possible while staying within your limit.  Remember, the weight loss diet is temporary.  If you need more fiber while dieting, supplement with an over-the-counter fiber product. Consuming higher amounts of water and engaging in daily exercise will also help prevent constipation.      

Our Advice – When counting carbs, deduct ONLY dietary fiber from total carbohydrate grams to get the Net Effective Carbs.  Always choose more high-fiber, low carb foods for long term weight management.                     

Good luck,  Dr.P