The low-carb diet

A low-carb diet means eating as few foods containing carbohydrates as possible. The main idea is clear from the name: a low intake of carbohydrates. What daily meals should look like beyond that is not specified. Over time, many diets have evolved around eating low-carb. In 2004, the University of Bristol declared the low-carb diet the most widespread nutritional trend in the USA. However, the low-carb diet actually dates back to the 19th Century in Great Britain. 

The history of low-carb

The English undertaker William Banting, born in 1796, suffered from a number of health problems due to being overweight. In 1862, when he was about to lose his hearing, his doctor, William Harvey, recommended that he should abstain from starchy products. Bread, sugar, beer and potatoes were now off the menu. Banting lost 23 kg within a year and his hearing improved. He described his experience in the booklet “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public”. The publication became a bestseller and marked the birth of the low-carb diet.
 
Today, the best-known proponent of this diet is probably Dr Robert Atkins. His version of the low-carb diet is known as the Atkins diet. Dr Atkins spent decades researching the low-carb diet. In 1972, he published his first book on the topic, called “Diet Revolution”. Twenty years later, he summarized further findings in “Dr. Atkin's New Diet Revolution”.

What happens when you switch to low-carb?

The healthy body stores carbohydrates very quickly as fat, breaks down excess protein and excretes it through the kidneys. Under a low-carb diet, we eat plenty of fat. But since there are no carbohydrates, our body directly uses this fat, along with excess body fat, to generate energy.
 
The lack of carbohydrates also keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low, which makes it easier to burn fat and impedes the storage of fat. This helps reduce our weight quickly

What is included in a low-carb diet?

Low-carb generally means avoiding foods that contain carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. Legumes are often avoided as well – except in a vegan diet, where the high protein content of legumes acts as a substitute for animal products.
 
Also prohibited: alcohol and sugar of any kind, including soft drinks, sweets and sugar-rich fruit. Depending on the specific diet, you can eat between 0 and 150 g of carbohydrates per day, ideally in the form of complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread or fruit. Valuable proteins and fats are on the menu instead. 
 

Low-carb foods include:

  • Vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Oil
  • Fish
  • Mussels
  • Milk
  • Tofu
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms

 
What is the best way to replace carbohydrates? We present some delicious alternatives:
 

Carbohydrate-rich food Alternative
Bread Low-carb bread
Potatoes Cauliflower
Rice Quinoa
Wheat pasta Vegetable pasta
Wheat flour Almond or coconut flour
Sugar Stevia

Different types of low-carb diet

There is no clear definition of the term “low-carb”. Countless types of low-carbohydrate diet have emerged since William Banting’s experiences were published. Here are some of the best known:
 

Atkins diet

Allows hardly any carbohydrates in the beginning and is very high in fat and protein.
 

Glyx diet

Focuses on a maintaining a low glycaemic index. The glycaemic index is a measure for determining the effect of a food that contains carbohydrates on the blood sugar level.
 

LCHF (low-carb high-fat)

Reduces carbohydrates to a minimum (0-50 g/day) and replaces the missing volume with natural fat (e.g. fatty meat, nuts, avocado, butter).
 

Lutz diet

Limits carbohydrates to 6 BE (German carbohydrate unit) or 72 g.
 

Paleo diet

Also known as the Stone Age diet, as it touts a way of eating that was common during the Palaeolithic era, i.e. the Stone Age. This means it excludes sugar, soft drinks and legumes.
 

Ketogenic diet

Places emphasis on a diet that is low in carbs and high in fat. Generally allows around four per cent carbohydrates or about 20 g per day.
 
Each type of low-carb diet has its own specific traits and rules. The amount of carbohydrates varies. Some diets place more restrictions on them, others are more lenient. If you intend to change your diet, you should choose the type that best suits your lifestyle.  

Is a vegan low-carb diet possible?

The classic low-carb diet largely depends on animal fats, but you can still eat low-carb as a vegan. You eat a maximum of 130 g of carbohydrates per day and supplement them with high-quality plant-based protein sources, including legumes, nuts, almond butter, mushrooms and tofu.

Advantages and disadvantages of a low-carb diet

A diet that is low in carbohydrates and rich in protein prevents sudden food cravings. Energy and blood sugar levels remain steady. You can concentrate better, since you avoid the afternoon low that occurs when the body converts carbohydrates into sugar. Your sleep improves. You can also lose weight.
 
Like any diet, the low-carb diet also has some disadvantages. You may suffer from low mood during the initial transition. After quitting the diet, the undesired yo-yo effect may occur. An excessive intake of protein and fat increases the risk of kidney damage and may raise cholesterol levels. In addition, consuming too many animal products for an extended period of time can lead to illness: Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are strongly acidifying foods and affect our organism and bones over time.
 
Ideally, a low-carb diet should only last a few weeks. Consider seeking the help of nutritional experts if you wish to make long-term changes to your diet.

Meal planning

Choosing the right meals for low-carb can be difficult sometimes. To make it easier for you, we have put together a meal plan for one low-carb day as an example:
 
Breakfast: Almond flour pancakes with fruit
Lunch: Sweet and sour tofu
Dinner: Chicken satay with spring cabbage and pea salad
 

More low-carb recipes:

 

Breakfast:

Fresh chia seed and lemon pudding (vegan)
Green smoothie (vegan)
Kiwi and spinach smoothie
 

Lunch and dinner:

Honey fennel carrots and roasted chickpeas
Thai chicken with cashew nuts
Pickled vegetables
Edamame bean & avocado salad with ginger & citrus dressing
Tofu Kung Pao (vegan)
Grilled halloumi with green asparagus skewers
 

Snacks:

Sugar-free almond and apricot energy balls (vegan)
 

Dessert:

Mango and coconut pudding
Almond and chocolate fudge (vegan)
Cranberry marble cheesecake 
Vegan strawberry cake
 
Please note:
The recipes are low-carb, but not in accordance with Atkins, the best-known low-carb diet that is also the strictest in the first few weeks.