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Low-Carb Eating Tips

When people first try to reduce their carbs, they find it hard to give up the convenience of all those grains. What do you eat instead of sandwiches for lunch? How do you give up pasta or rice as a dinner-time staple? What do you eat instead of cereal or muffins or pancakes for breakfast? Or, they can’t imagine giving up their sweet tooth. How do you go without dessert????!!!

If any of that describes you, then this post is for you. This is the culmination of all the Real Food low-carb advice I’ve given to folks over the years — the definitive guide of handy tips to help you with your adjustment.

For the record, I’m not currently on a true low-carb diet. I eat somewhere between 100-150 grams of carbs per day. To someone still addicted to eating starches or grains at every meal, that probably does seem low-carb. Trust me, it’s not. If you want to lose weight and use up your fat stores, check out the info in yesterday’s post on how to safely enter ketosis on a diet consisting of 50-80 grams of carbs per day.

Everyone will do this a bit differently, but here are the tips the most people I’ve talked to have found the most useful when trying to get down to that fat-burning range:

Breakfast

1) Eggs are your friends. They taste great with extra fat on them (butter & bacon grease are my morning favorites), and they cook fast! Get creative:

  • Eggs can be scrambled with onions, peppers, & tomatoes, but they can also be scrambled with spinach or kale.
  • Omelets are fun. I make mine with leftover meats or cheese.
  • Use herbs! Salt & pepper are good as far as they go, but try an omelet or a baked egg made with rosemary & basil.
  • Take them “to-go” by making them portable. Bake a batch in muffin-tins. Pre-fill the tins with grated cheese, chopped veggies, and bits of bacon or other left over meats, then pour the stirred eggs on top. Bake them in the tins, let cool, remove, and PRESTO! You’ve got portable breakfasts.
  • Poach them in your leftovers — stews, sauces, broths. So yummy!
  • Eat the yolks raw in smoothies.  For lower-carb smoothie options, use coconut milk, kefir, or yogurt for the liquid and be sure to add in a low-sugar fruit like berries instead of something super-sweet like bananas or pineapples. Blend in avocados, nut butters, cocoa or vanilla extract.

2) Go coconut! Coconut flour is low in carbs and makes excellent waffles, pancakes, and muffins. Use low-sugar fruits like berries to make your “syrup” or sweeten up your muffins. Check out this cookbook full of coconut-flour recipes.

Lunch

1) Leftovers make life easy! It can be as simple as eating the same thing you ate for dinner the night before, or you can get creative. Keep your meats & veggies separate when you cook them for dinner, mixing them only on your dinner plates as you serve them. Then store them separately in your fridge. After a few days of doing this, you’ll have a variety of meats and cooked vegetables. Mix & match your leftovers with different sauces and it’s like eating a whole new meal.

2) Eat salads. Big ones. Pile them with whatever vegetables turn you on and top with a source of protein. That can be leftover taco meat, leftover bits of diced steak, leftover pulled chicken, leftover diced pork chops, hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, tuna, nuts, you get the picture. Dress the salad with something REALLY fattening. I make all my own salad dressings on-the-go with whatever inspires me. Sour cream or enzyme-rich mayonnaise mixed with healthy oils make for a tasty, creamy base to which you can add various herbs or spices. Check out this Bacon, Avocado, & Egg Salad to see what I’m talking about.

Dinner

1) Replace rice with grated cauliflower! It cooks in a lot less time, has almost no carbs, and serves well to replace rice in 95% of recipes.

2) You love pasta because of the SAUCES. So keep eating all those sauces, but pour them over your meat & veggies instead of over the pasta.

3) The same thing is true for tacos, fajitas, burritos, and everything else you put in a tortilla. You love it because of what’s INSIDE it, so put the insides in a bowl and enjoy it without the extra carbs.

4) Use “pasta” that’s made from vegetables. Asian markets sell a kelp/seaweed pasta and a mushroom pasta. Or you could use spaghetti squash or stringed zucchini to get your “pasta” fix.

5) Get a good cookbook to jog your creative juices. Most low-carb cookbooks aren’t into Real Food, but The Garden of Eating cookbook is!

6) What about pizza? How can you give that up? There are quite a few recipes out there for decent cauliflower crusts, or you can do what I do: make pizza soup! All the ingredients I love in my pizza, but with extra “sauce” serving as the soup base.

Sweets

1) You’ll need to kick your sweet tooth, and it’s best to do that cold-turkey. I promise it only takes a week (two at most)! See How To Cure A Sugar Fiend.

2) If you find yourself craving sweets, eat fat! Cook those eggs in extra butter, drizzle your steamed veggies with bacon grease, stir coconut oil or full-fat raw cream into your hot tea or coffee. Eating more fat will clear your foggy-headed brain and make that carb craving disappear.

Snacks

1) Pick snack foods you actually like.

2) Make them protein-rich. Hard-boiled eggs, slices of hard cheese, a handful of nuts.

3) Explore other cultures. Asian markets have a slew of inexpensive, interesting snack-ish foods that are quite nutrient-dense — everything from dried anchovies (taste like little chips!) to kelp chips fried in palm or coconut oil.

4) Fry your own snacks! Fry cheese in coconut oil or bacon grease. WOW.  Fry veggies (I like fried onions & peppers) in coconut oil or lard until crisp.

Notes

1) Stick to eating Real Food. Don’t buy into the low-carb “alternatives” to things like pre-prackaged snack bars or Splenda.

2) Check out these tips for eating Real Food on a budget.

3) Source your foods well. Check out this series on Healthy Foods: What to Buy. It’s got the low-down on the best options for buying quality meats, eggs, cheeses, seafood, etc.

4) If raw milk is too high in carbs for your low-carb diet, check out these recipes for Healthy Milk Substitutes.

What about all you old pros at eating low-carb? What are the things you wish you had known that would have made the transition easier?

(photo by lastappetite)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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39 Responses to Low-Carb Eating Tips
  1. Alissa
    January 21, 2010 | 5:27 pm

    I find it kind of funny that one of the advertisements that popped up for this post is for the “Liberation Diet”, right underneath your “P.S. I go to great lengths to only advertise for products I enjoy and companies I believe in. That means that you’re pretty much guaranteed to be happy buying from the sponsor below. Why not visit their site and check them out? “.

    I only have one cup of caffeine per day (usually). I’m definitely going to try the cream in it instead of sugar to see if I can cut that source of sugar out. One of the few that I add directly into my day.

    • KristenM
      January 21, 2010 | 5:58 pm

      Alissa — Are you familiar with The Liberation Diet? It’s great! 100% Real Food, plenty of good fats, etc. It’s not necessarily low-carb (it’s more moderate), but it can be done low-carb.

  2. Shannon
    January 21, 2010 | 5:28 pm

    I can not emphasize enough the absolute importance of good fats in low-carb. A lot of people call Atkins and other low-carb plans “high protein”, but it really should be high fat. I am doing low carb right now and I feel so much better with tons of fat and very little food overall.

    • KristenM
      January 21, 2010 | 5:59 pm

      Amen! When I go low-carb, I typically eat 65% of my calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and 10-15% from carbs. Otherwise, the ratio is more like 55-60% fat, 20-25% protein, and 15-25% carbs. But either way, it’s still a high fat diet by just about any standard.

  3. arlojeremy
    January 21, 2010 | 5:54 pm

    When first going low-carb, the biggest tip I can give a person is to absolutely 100% ignore calories. Adapting your body to using fat for fuel is the #1 priority, and if you avoid eating when you feel hungry simply because you think you are eating too much, you’ll be much more likely to fail. YMMV.

    With eggs, something I’ve been doing recently is dumping a small shot of tomato sauce into my scrambled eggs, and that might be an option for someone who isn’t used to eating a lot of eggs and finds it overwhelming. Also, for making a great omlette, I found that you need to use a generous amount of large that heated (in a stainless steel pan preferably) to the point where … hmm… you see little lines start to form, just before smoking point.

    Also, with breakfasts… who says you can’t eat dinner for breakfast! Being single I’ll make up something like 4 servings of curry and eat it for dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Variety is over-rated. Do you really find your food so boring that you can’t eat it at every meal? I could eat roasted veggies and grilled meats every meal, every day for the rest of my life and not get tired.

    Speaking of that, one thing I noticed personally is that my relationship to food changed. It was no longer the focus of my day and indeed I wanted to make cooking as easy as possible, and now that I had all these flavourful ideas, it was easy. My stables are chili, curry and grilled meats and veggies.

    One last thing is that I found over time that all those things I though I couldn’t do without (rice, bread, pasta, etc) became entirely superfluous. I was just as full after eating a bowl of curry without the rice as I was with it.

    Going paleo/primal/low-carb isn’t really about limiting your food options, it’s also a chance to explore how to be creative with new foods and flavours… as well as appreciating quick simple meals that are delicious because you aren’t afraid of tasty fat. :)

    • KristenM
      January 21, 2010 | 8:09 pm

      Arlo — All good advice! Thanks for sharing.

  4. mailtomorley
    January 21, 2010 | 6:48 pm

    Low-Carb Eating Tips | Food Renegade: To someone still addicted to eating starches or grains at every meal, that p… http://bit.ly/7vTfxR

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. Really good advise. Me and my kids have been on the Anti-Candida diet, which is pretty strict, and it took some time getting used to the new way of eating. I know that once we can eat more foods, we’ll still stick closely to this diet of eating mostly veggies and meat.

    Nell

  6. Marci
    January 21, 2010 | 8:49 pm

    So are you saying kefir is ok for a low carb program? I began Atkins on Jan. 18 after being off it for 8 years. It’s exactly what I wanted … high fat/medium protein/low carb. But I have also been making milk kefir, water kefir and kombucha at home for several months. I put them all ‘on hold’ until I can find out if they’re ok on a low carb plan. I know ‘most’ of the sugar, esp. in water kefir and kombucha are ‘eaten’ by the grains and crystals, but who knows how much sugar or carbs is actually in the harvested product? I don’t want to sabotage my own plan by slugging back my fermented beverages thinking they’re ok if they’re not.

    • KristenM
      January 21, 2010 | 10:40 pm

      Marci — A quality kefir or yogurt (usually homemade) without added sugars, juices, fruits, etc. will have considerably fewer carbs than the milk it started from. A cup of milk has 12g of carbs, a cup of kefir has 4g of carbs.

  7. maria
    January 21, 2010 | 10:22 pm

    Just made the ‘to-go’ eggs, what a hit! I’ve been trying to find a good subsitute for cereal for my husband and I think he might be more open to ditching cereal now. Thank you!

    • KristenM
      January 21, 2010 | 10:41 pm

      Maria — They are handy, aren’t they? I like that you can make a batch of them and have leftovers for throughout the week. They make really easy, portable breakfasts that way.

  8. nichole
    January 21, 2010 | 10:52 pm

    Yaayy! Thank you so much!!! this all looks doable now…
    .-= nichole´s last blog post …I love to knit.. and I love cupcakes.. so… =-.

  9. Mark
    January 21, 2010 | 11:03 pm

    When you go low-carb and get 65% of your calories from fat, what are you using as your fat sources? What does a typical day’s eating look like?

    • KristenM
      January 21, 2010 | 11:19 pm

      Fat sources:

      ~For Cooking~
      High Heat — coconut oil; ghee, tallow, lard (all from grass-fed, foraged animals)
      Moderate/Low Heat — above plus butter

      PLUS I save my drippings from when I cook meat: bacon grease, schmaltz, etc. all gets saved and used to add flavor to other dishes

      ~For Adding To Things~
      Full-fat Raw Cream — goes into coffees, hot teas, curries
      Coconut Oil — goes into hot teas & smoothies
      Coconut Milk/Cream — goes into curries, gets used to make hot cocoa, is added to some Thai soups I make
      Butter — gets slathered on top of any hot food with which I think it’ll taste good: veggies, eggs, etc.
      Sour Cream — an amazing condiment, swirl into soups, stews, chilies, mix with oils to make salad dressings, use to make tuna or egg salads, you get the idea!
      Olive Oil — mostly gets used to make salad dressings, mayos, and for other cold things that can benefit from added oil

      Basically, fat is sooooo calorie dense that it’s not like you have to ADD a whole lot of it into your diet to get to 65% of your calories. You just need to not be afraid of cooking with it, using it to add flavor to things, or using to help make foods richer. So eat the skin on your chicken, the fat on your steak, only eat full-fat foods (rather than their imitation low-fat counterparts), and be liberal with adding fat when you cook and you’ll probably already be at 50% of your calories.

      I get to 65% by making it a point to always stir coconut oil into my daily hot beverage, by taking fermented cod liver oil, and by just being generous when I use fat. I choose to do this because buying high-quality proteins from grass-fed/wild/foraged animals is expensive, and extra fat is cheap.

  10. debbie
    January 21, 2010 | 11:27 pm

    This is so helpful. I started today with the info you gave me yesterday… and I did notice that I was eating a ton of fat. But I wasn’t really hungry, either. Thank you!

  11. kris
    January 22, 2010 | 8:21 am

    Thanks again for the timely advice! Yesterday with very low carbs I felt so sluggish -almost drugged in the afternoon. I was very short on sleep though-so we’ll see what happens today! What do you think about stevia as a sweetener?

    • KristenM
      January 24, 2010 | 4:54 pm

      This can be common in the first few days as your body adjusts to a low-carb diet. For the first little while, it’ll still want to use carbs as fuel and will be defending its fat stores. So, your metabolism will slow down a bit, and you’ll feel tired.

      Just be sure to feed yourself plenty of fats, and eventually your body will get the message: fat is fuel! Then you’ll experience a huge rush of energy, stable moods, etc. as your body starts using your fat as fuel.

      Stevia can be good as long as it’s not highly processed. I love, for example, that I can grow it in a container on my back porch! I swirl some into my tea leaves when I make tea, and that’s usually all the sweetener I need.

  12. spicemerchant
    January 22, 2010 | 8:37 am

    Low-Carb Eating Tips | Food Renegade http://bit.ly/53wKvT

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  13. kris
    January 22, 2010 | 11:03 pm

    Okay another question–do the fat burning pathways use more water than carbs? I have been very thirsty the past two days since cutting back on my carbs. Today I was around 80 grams of carbs, not very hungry but dry!
    Kris
    .-= kris´s last blog post …Screwed =-.

    • KristenM
      January 24, 2010 | 4:55 pm

      Hi Kris,

      It’s not so much that they use more water. This is (again) the result of your body’s initial adjustment. Once your body starts adjusting to using fat & proteins as fuel rather than a steady stream of carbs, the extra thirst will subside. In the meantime, drink to your thirst!

  14. Motherhen68
    January 23, 2010 | 12:13 am

    Kris, did you just begin low-carb? Typically, you’ll feel sluggish, almost flu-like for a few days.

    I forgot about the one minute muffin until yesterday when I got off of work and I had nothing to eat because I had to go to the store and I was STARVING since I had only had a smoothie for breakfast.

    1/4 cup fresh ground flax
    1 egg scrambled

    Mix the two, microwave for 1 minute. You can split it and smear it with cream cheese or kefir cheese or peanutbutter. Seriously forgot about this and it was filling and did the trick.
    .-= Motherhen68´s last blog post …22/365 Wine @ Texas de Brazil =-.

    • KristenM
      January 23, 2010 | 12:18 am

      Motherhen68 — Great tip about the muffin, although flax has a weird taste to me. Maybe the cream cheese would help. :)

      • Motherhen68
        January 23, 2010 | 8:16 pm

        It’s neutral tasting to me, so the PB really amped it up for me. It’s got a weird look though.
        .-= Motherhen68´s last blog post …23/365 Dessert! =-.

  15. Katie D.
    January 25, 2010 | 3:20 pm

    Do you eat the “to-go” eggs cold? I am trying to keep my girls off wheat/grains and replacing the pbj is a challenge. Our favorite portable lunch so far is cold roast beef and cheese. It was fun seeing my four year old practically swoon over her “delicious” lunch at the museum. :-) We have also discovered yogurt cheese as a dip for raw veggies. My youngest likes it sweet (with honey) but my older prefers it “salty” (powdered garlic and onion, salt and parsley). Thanks for the ideas!

    • KristenM
      January 26, 2010 | 9:55 am

      Katie D. — I’ve done both cold and hot. Both are good!

  16. Linda
    January 26, 2010 | 9:01 am

    When I was on the Atkins diet (which did me a LOT of good.. I managed to loose 30lbs in 3 months and it stayed off even when I ‘quit’) I loved-loved-loved the ‘chocolate mousse’ made with dutch process cocoa powder and whipped cream..

    Just put a little of both in a jam jar and shake shake shake until you can flip the jar without the insides moving ;)

    Greetings from the netherlands!
    .-= Linda´s last blog post …When time is scarce…. =-.

    • KristenM
      January 26, 2010 | 9:55 am

      Linda — That sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing.

  17. Jim Purdy
    January 30, 2010 | 9:08 am

    QUOTES:
    “Eggs are your friends.”
    “Eat salads. Big ones.”

    That’s interesting. I live in a high-rise apartment building with a cafe, and many days I have them bring me two “grilled chicken breast chef salads.” The salads have two halves of a hard-boiled egg, and those egg halves are always the first things I eat.

    The 50 Best Health Blogs
    .-= Jim Purdy´s last blog post …Comments? Questions? Suggestions? =-.

  18. morimoto
    February 18, 2010 | 2:16 pm

    Chicken wings are a GREAT low carb meal. If you eat them at a restaurant, make sure they are not breaded. Deep fried wings (or even baked) are high in fat and almost no carbs, even when slathered with hot sauce.

    Speaking of eating out, be careful with some restaurants. Some restaurants add pancake batter to their omelettes and some add bread crumbs to their hamburger. For instance, I would eat omelettes at IHOP (no bread, no potatoes, just the omelette) and would notice how full I would get in comparison to my normal meals. I finally did some research and found they add pancake batter to their omelettes to make them “fluffy”. Most successful low carbers know that if you eat properly, you never really get that full bloated feeling in your tummy. If you eat at a restaurant and feel that heavy feeling, they are probably adding carbs where you don’t expect them.

  19. LowCarbBlogs
    September 19, 2010 | 9:22 am

    Why only use the egg yolks in your smoothies?
    I use the whole egg. Wont let anything get to waste :)
    .-= LowCarbBlogs´s last blog post …Another Positive Review =-.

  20. Cindy sherman
    February 8, 2012 | 10:26 am

    Good old Bacon and Eggs – My favourite treat irrespective of whether it is part of a low carb diet or not. Why do people always have to associate carbohydrates with enjoyment?

  21. Rob Nicholson
    November 25, 2012 | 3:10 pm

    I was really enjoying your advice until I saw ‘bacon’, then I was horrified. Please check into just how bad pork is. It’s definitely not for human consumption.

    • KristenM
      November 25, 2012 | 3:13 pm

      Not so! Otherwise, how would the Okinawans be such long-lived, healthy people with their high pork, high lard diets? Pork can be quite healthy if it’s prepared in a traditional manner and from pigs that were raised well. It’s only when we raise pigs in confinement and do nothing to prepare the pork traditionally that the poor health effects come into play.

      Please read this for the full scoop:
      http://www.foodrenegade.com/pork-bad-for-you/

  22. Tim Conway
    February 21, 2013 | 8:47 pm

    QUOTE “Dress the salad with something REALLY fattening.”

    Like what? Croutons? Low-Fat salad dressing? Fat-Free cheese? They’re fattening.

  23. jessica barajas
    January 13, 2014 | 12:04 am

    Can someone who has cholesterol be on this low carb diet?

  24. ruby twoshoes
    February 28, 2014 | 9:38 pm

    Hi, great tips. As a vegetarian I find I substitute meat for carbs, alot of carbs, but I am sick of being overweight and think carbs have to go. What I would like to know is..is it okay to be vegetarian on this diet? What would u recommend to substitute for meat? Maybe I start to eat high fat fish like salmon? Is it okay to eat gluten free products? Are legumes and starchy vegetables still allowed? Thanks!

  25. Jenn Plass
    May 1, 2014 | 2:34 pm

    Kristen,
    I really enjoyed reading you article and it opened my eyes to how easy eating “low carb” can really be! This is my third day and i am really feeling the effects. I feel tired/weak and have gotten a head ache almost every day. is there any way to ease these effects as my bodys is transitioning? I AM NOT going to give up but when will my body start re-adjusting?
    thanks
    ~JP

  26. Sam #Diabetes Care
    May 26, 2014 | 5:04 pm

    This is such a helpful article for people starting out on the LCRF lifestyle! I’ve been and “LCRFer” for four months today and I’ve never felt better or enjoyed food more. Plus, I’ve lost 14 pounds! Keep it up, Kris, you’re doing a great service.
    Low Carb Diet

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My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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