Carbohydrates – or carbs – are a type of macronutrients, found in food.1
They are found in sugars, starch, and fibres. Food such as bread, potatoes, pasta and sweets are rich in carbs.
The healthiest carbs are those that are unprocessed. Food such as grains, fruits and vegetables can provide the essential nutrients needed for a healthy, balanced diet.
Why are carbs important?
Carbs are an important food group. They are a source of energy and can be broken down into glucose to fuel the body for activities.2
However, like all food groups, it is vital to eat them in moderation.
Eating too many processed carbohydrates can result in you becoming overweight, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
It can also make you feel tired and lead to a poorly functioning digestive system.
What are low carb foods?
For a healthy balanced diet, you should eat enough fruits and vegetables that contain the right vitamins and minerals every day.
While some fruits are classed as being high in sugar, there are also many low carb fruit alternatives available.
Nowadays, there are also plenty of low carb meals and alternatives.
For example, you could introduce low carb snacks, low carb bread or even low carb pasta into your meals.
What low carb diet options do I have?
If you are looking to decrease your carbohydrate intake, you could try one of these diets: Atkins, Dukan, South Beach, Ketogenic or Low carb paleo.3
The Atkins Diet
An American physician, Robert Atkins, devised this low carbohydrate diet.
It is supposed to help the body to burn fat while reducing the amount of carbs consumed.
The first phase involves a protein-rich diet, with low carb vegetables.4
Phase two to four helps to ease the speed of the rapid weight loss, through slowly adding low carb foods, until the body is able to maintain a healthy weight.
Another low carb diet plan is by nutritionist, Dr. Pierre Dukan.
The Dukan Diet involves high-protein and low carb consumption. Similar to the Atkins diet, this low carb plan has four phases to gradually reduce and maintain carb intake.
Phase one includes a strict protein diet, which is based on a list of 72 low-fat, protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, eggs, fish.5
The weight loss is fast, and no carbs or vegetables are allowed for the first phase.
Fruit, vegetables and carbs are to be incorporated back into the diet for phases two to four.
The South Beach Diet is a low-glycaemic index (GI) diet.6
GI is a ranking of carbohydrates on how they affect blood glucose levels.
Food such as green vegetables, mushroom, tomato, garlic and chickpeas have a low GI, which means that they are easily digested.
This diet has no limits on portions or requirements to count calories.
Those willing to follow the plan must follow an exercise regime too.
Much like the Dukan Diet, phase one involves eating lean protein such as fish and beans.
Phase two and three involve eating low GI carbs for gradual and sustainable weight loss.
More commonly known as the ‘keto’ diet, this plan involves high-fat, low carb foods.
This reduction in carbohydrates puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
A state of ketosis means the body is using fat to create energy.7
High carb foods must be avoided on this diet, either to be restricted or cut out completely.
Meat, fatty fish, eggs, butter, cream, cheese, nuts and seeds, healthy oils such as olive and avocado, and low carb vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and peppers are good for this diet.
No carb diet
For a more extreme version, there is the option of the zero-carb diet.
As carbohydrates provide your body with energy, a person on a no carb diet must consume enough protein or fat, such as meat, fish, eggs, to have an alternative energy source.
Similar to the Keto diet, this plan encourages you to eliminate almost all carbs from entering the body, while allowing you to gain calories from proteins and fats.
If you wish to follow the No Carb diet, you must avoid high carb foods, such as baked goods, sugary drinks and starchy vegetables.
Following a low carbohydrate diet
If you are considering trying out any of these diets, it is always advisable to first contact a GP, nutritionist or dietician, to ensure that this is the right diet for you.
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
Last updated: 11 December 2020