7 Things You Shouldn't Do on a Low-Carb Diet, According to Dietitians
Pictured Recipe: Cider-Braised Brussels Sprouts
If you're on a low-carb diet, like Whole-30 or the more restrictive keto diet, you're limiting carbs and sugar in favor of other nutrients, like fats, greens and protein. And while a low-carb lifestyle might help you feel healthier or lose weight (at least in the beginning) there are certain things you should make sure you're doing to maintain as healthy of a diet as possible while cutting out carbs. When you cut out carbs, you also end up cutting out fiber (which comes from whole grains, beans and starchy veggies), and other important nutrients, so avoid doing these other seven things that can make matters worse and prevent you from reaching your goals. You can also consider working with a dietitian who can help guide you through the process to avoid mishaps.
Don't Skimp on Veggies
"Any low-carb dietary pattern should include a lot of vegetables. These foods are naturally low-carb (think all green leafies, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers and beyond)," says Ginger Hultin, MS, RD and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Maximize your intake, especially when restricting carbohydrates to bulk up on fiber and other key nutrients. Plus, they have high water content to also beat bloating and to keep the body hydrated and regular. Build half your plate with green veggies to reap the benefits and help you fill up faster, too.
Related: Try These Healthy Veggie Recipes
Don't Fear Fruit
Fruit is higher in carbohydrates, generally, than vegetables, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve a place in your diet. Even if you can't eat tons of fruit, you can pick a few of your favorites that are lower in carbs and budget them into your carb bank. "Watermelon, berries and peaches can commonly be included even when restricting carbs. Don't forget that tomatoes and avocados are also fruits," says Hultin. With fruit you're getting good fiber, vitamins and antioxidants.
Don't Use It as an Excuse to Skip Your Workout
Thinking you don't need to exercise because you're getting rid of carbs is the wrong idea, as activity is healthy and it can help speed weight loss (if you're looking to drop pounds). Hultin says, "It's important to balance your healthy diet with daily physical activity and both are needed for your health. If you're so focused on your diet that fitness goes to the wayside, or if you don't have enough energy due to lowering carbohydrate intake too much, it may be time to assess if the diet is working for you." A good mix of cardio and weights is ideal, where you can choose which types of workouts feel the best for your body.
Don't Be Too Restrictive
Most of our favorite comforting foods have carbs (think mac n' cheese, pizza, cookies, ice cream and more), so if you're too strict on ditching carbs, you might feel like you're missing out on all your favorite treats. This can cause you to give up out of frustration, or end up binging on too many carbs at once.
"If you're feeling hungry, hangry or deprived on a low-carb (or any) diet, it's likely not sustainable and not a good quality of life," says Hultin. "Make sure that you're maintaining a positive relationship with food and with your body and that you're getting guidance from a qualified professional, like a registered dietitian, to help you better understand your unique needs and how not to feel deprived or restricted," she says.
Don't Eat Too Much Bacon
Especially with super restrictive high-fat, low-carb diets, like keto, it's often assumed that it means you can dig into fatty, greasy bacon as much as you like. "When going keto we make fat a primary fuel, so the goal is to have healthy fat in our diet. You certainly can get to a ketogenic state using tons of bacon, but this is not the healthiest way to do it," says Randy Evans, MS, RDN, LD. "You can have some bacon, but not for every meal, every day." When you do have bacon, go for uncured options (to cut down on sodium) that are made without added sugar.
"The goal is to use a variety of healthy fat and protein sources," he says, which is important for everyone, whether or not you're on a low-carb diet. Include plenty of plant-based oils like olive oil and canola oil, and nuts and seeds to get more of those healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that our heart loves. Opt for leaner cuts of protein, seafood that delivers heart-healthy omega-3 fats (like salmon) and plant-based protein sources, like tofu and tempeh, which are lower in carbs than beans and lentils.
See More: High-Protein Low-Carb Meal Plan
Don't Forget to Drink Water
It's not enough to just cut back on carbs and sugar to lose weight. You also need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, avoid constipation and keep your body humming along as it should.
You're also at a greater risk for dehydration because your body holds on to less water and is trying to pee out ketones. Hultin says, "Make sure that you're staying very well hydrated when entering into ketosis, especially if you're experiencing the keto flu. You can help your body adapt and lessen the symptoms of dehydration if you pay close attention to your water intake."
Keep a big bottle of water on your desk, set a timer to drink fluids or choose foods with a high water content, like watermelon, cucumbers and citrus to help keep you hydrated. "Each individual should definitely meet with a registered dietitian to learn about their own water needs, but, generally, the 'adequate intake' is set at 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for women," Hultin adds.
Don't Give Up All Starchy Veggies
While low-carb diets encourage you to eat mostly greens and low-carb veggies and limit starchy vegetables (as there are more carbs in things like potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash), you don't have to get rid of them completely. "You often hear 'I can't have starchy vegetables because it will give me too many carb grams'," says Evans. You can still be on a low-carb diet without giving them up completely, so including some starchy vegetables and fruit means you'll be getting more of those important nutrients that you miss out on when cutting out too many carbs.
Related: 30 Healthy Low-Carb Foods to Eat