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5 Most Common Low-Carb Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
June 24, 2013 | by Kris Gunnars | 5,142 views | 16 Comments
A few months ago, I read a book called The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living.
The authors are two of the world’s leading researchers on low-carb diets.
Dr. Jeff S. Volek is a Registered Dietitian and Dr. Stephen D. Phinney is a medical doctor.
These guys have performed many studies and have treated thousands of patients with a low-carb diet.
According to them, there are many stumbling blocks that people tend to run into, which can lead to adverse effects and suboptimal results.
To get into full-blown ketosis and reap all the metabolic benefits of low-carb, merely cutting back on the carbs isn’t enough.
If you haven’t gotten the results you expected on a low-carb diet, then perhaps you were doing one of these 5 common mistakes.
1. Eating Too Many Carbs
There is no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a “low carb diet.”
Some would call anything under 100-150 grams per day low-carb, which is definitely a lot less than the standard Western diet.
A lot of people could get awesome results within this carbohydrate range, as long as they ate real, unprocessed foods.
But if you want to get into ketosis, with plenty of ketoness flooding your bloodstream to supply your brain with an efficient source of energy, then this level of intake may be excessive.
It could take some self experimentation to figure out your optimal range as this depends on a lot of things, but most people will need to go under 50 grams per day to get into full-blown ketosis.
This doesn’t leave you with many carb options except vegetables and small amounts of berries.
Bottom Line: If you want to get into ketosis and reap the full metabolic benefits of low-carb, going under 50 grams of carbs per day may be required.2. Eating Too Much Protein
Protein is a very important macronutrient, which most people aren’t getting enough of.
It can improve satiety and increase fat burning compared to other macronutrients (1).
Generally speaking, more protein should lead to weight loss and improved body composition.
However, low-carb dieters who eat a lot of lean animal foods can end up eating too much of it.
When you eat more protein than your body needs, some of the amino acids in the protein will be turned into glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis (2).
This can become a problem on very low-carb, ketogenic diets and prevent your body from going into full-blown ketosis.
According to Volek and Phinney, a “well-formulated” low-carb diet should be low-carb, high-fat and moderate protein.
A good range to aim for is 1.5 – 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.7 – 0.9 grams per pound.
Bottom Line: Protein can be turned into glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis and excessive protein consumption can prevent you from getting into ketosis.3. Being Afraid of Eating Fat
Most people get the majority of their calories from dietary carbohydrates, especially sugars and grains.
When you remove this energy source from the diet, you must replace it with something or you will starve.
Unfortunately, some people believe that because low-carb is a good idea, then low-fat AND low-carb will be even better. This is a big mistake.
You need to get energy from somewhere and if you don’t eat carbs, then you MUST add in fat to compensate. If you don’t, you will get hungry, feel like crap and eventually give up on the plan.
There’s no scientific reason to fear fat, as long as you choose healthy fats likesaturated, monounsaturated and Omega-3s while keeping the vegetable oils to a minimum and eliminating trans fats.
Personally, my fat intake hovers comfortably around 50-60% of total calories when I strictly stick to a low-carb plan. According to Volek and Phinney, fat around 70% of total calories may be even better.
To get fat into this range, you must choose fatty cuts of meat and liberally add healthy fats like butter, lard, coconut and olive oil to your meals.
Bottom Line: A very low-carb diet must be high in fat, otherwise you won’t be getting enough energy to sustain yourself.4. Not Replenishing Sodium
One of the main mechanisms behind low-carb diets is a reduction in insulin levels (3, 4).
Insulin has many functions in the body, such as telling fat cells to store fat.
But another thing that insulin does is to tell the kidneys to hold on to sodium (5).
On a low-carb diet, your insulin levels go down and your body starts shedding excess sodium and water along with it. This is why people often get rid of excess bloat within a few days of low-carb eating.
However, sodium is a crucial electrolyte in the body and this can become problematic when the kidneys dump too much of it.
This is one of the main reasons people get side effects on low-carb diets… such as lightheadedness, fatigue, headaches and even constipation.
The best way to circumvent this issue is to add more sodium to your diet. You can do this by adding more salt to your foods, but if that doesn’t suffice then you can drink a cup of broth every day.
I personally like adding a bouillon cube into a cup of hot water, then drinking it like a soup in a cup. It actually tastes really good and supplies 2 grams of sodium.
Bottom Line: Low-carb diets lower insulin levels, which makes the kidneys excrete excess sodium from the body. This can lead to a mild sodium deficiency.5. Not Being Patient
Your body is designed to preferentially burn carbs, if they are available. So if they’re always available, that’s what your body chooses to use for energy.
If you drastically cut back on carbohydrates, the body needs to shift to the other energy source… fat, which either comes from your diet or your body fat stores.
It can take a few days for the body to adapt to burning primarily fat instead of carbs, during which you will probably feel a little under the weather.
This is called the “low carb flu” and happens to most people.
In my experience, this can take about 3-4 days, but full adaptation can take several weeks.
So it’s important to be patient and be strict on your diet in the beginning so that this metabolic adaptation can take place.
Bottom Line: It can take a few days to get past the “low-carb flu” stage and several weeks for full adaptation to a low-carb diet. It is important to be patient.Take Home Message
I personally believe low-carb diets to be a potential cure for some of the world’s biggest health problems, including obesity and type II diabetes. This is well supported by science (6, 7, 8).
However, just cutting back on carbs isn’t enough to get optimal results.
Second set of five from Jimmy Moore
My 5 Low-Carb Mistakes And How Nutritional Ketosis Rescued Me From Them
October 4, 2012 By Jimmy Moore 124 Comments
In my previous CarbSmart column, I explained the distinction between the traditional low carb Atkins diet millions of people have used to lose weight and regain health and the revolutionary concept ofnutritional ketosis. You may be hearing a lot about nutritional ketosis this year due to the influence of a fantastic new book by low-carbohydrate diet researchers Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Stephen Phinney called The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.
I’ve been doing my own n=1 experiment of nutritional ketosis since May 2012 updating my blog regarding this every 30 days (read my four 30-day update posts: Day 1-30, Day 31-60, Day 61-90and Day 91-120). Today I want to share 5 mistakes I was making in my own low-carb plan that prevented me from reaching the needed level of nutritional ketosis. Correcting these mistakes has helped me effortlessly shed 50 pounds (and counting!) in less than five months. This is not a comprehensive list of the common low carb mistakes. However, these are worth a closer look if you are struggling with your weight and health goals. You might just be surprised!
1. Consuming too much protein.
What?! But I thought a low carb diet was supposed to be “high-protein!” We hear this a lot, don’t we? The reality is that a well-formulated low-carb diet is actually high in FAT, not protein. I bet you never thought that protein could hinder your weight loss – but it can. Why? Here’s the word: GLUCONEOGENESIS! When you consume excess protein, your liver transforms it into glucose (sugar). If you are eating a bunch of lean meats like chicken breasts, turkey and lower-fat cuts of beef or pork, you might be defeating the purpose of your low carb lifestyle. Try choosing fattier cuts of meat and controlling the absolute amount of protein you are eating – I aim for 12% of my total calorie intake – to see how that impacts your blood ketone levels.
2. Using urine ketone testing sticks to measure ketosis.
This is a biggie! Low-carbers have long relied on urine ketone test sticks (Ketostix) to detect the level of acetoacetate the body is excreting. Watching the sticks magically turn light pink to dark purple has always fascinated low carb dieters, myself included, making them feel they are doing something constructive. It feels like a reward for our low-carb efforts. Unfortunately, these pee sticks are inexact. Further, they don’t measure the specific kind of ketones your body can use as fuel. As I learned in the Performance book, it’s better to test your blood for beta-hydroxybutyrate. This indicates whether or not you are keto-adapted, burning fat and ketones for fuel – the true essence of nutritional ketosis. You’re looking for a level between 0.5-3.0 millimolar for optimal fat loss and keto-adapted performance. You’ll need a blood ketone meter like thePrecision Xtra from Abbott. The test strips vary in cost from $1-6; for example you can get them for $3.50/strip from this Canadian pharmacy. The information gained from measuring blood ketones instead of urine ketones is solid gold for knowing how well you are doing on your healthy low carb lifestyle!
3. Not eating enough dietary fat.
One of the lingering effects of the low-fat propaganda machine over the past 3+ decades is the idea that dietary fat is harmful, that it will clog your arteries and make you fat. So it’s probably not surprising to hear that many who begin a low carb diet simultaneously cut their fat intake. They erroneously think that if low-carb is good, low-fat and low carb is perfect. That’s a fatal error in your attempts get into nutritional ketosis, staving off hunger and cravings. Even if you think you’re eating pretty high-fat you may need to ramp it up a bit. I’m eating around 85% of my calories from dietary fat during my n=1 experiment. It’s pretty simple to get there: consume butter, coconut oil, sour cream, cream cheese, full-fat meats and cheese, avocados, full-fat Greek yogurt and more! Get creative and don’t fear the fat. While you may not necessarily need to eat 85% of your calories in the form of fat, you’d be surprised how adding just a bit more fat to your diet can make all the difference in reaching therapeutic levels of nutritional ketosis, helping you shed pounds and gain the health benefits that come with it.
4. Eating too often/too much food.
Am I talking about calories on a low carb diet? Yes and no. Yes, it is indeed possible to eat beyond satiety and consume more food than you really need. But I’ve learned these past five months what happens to the body once you become keto-adapted: hunger is completely zapped, you “forget” to eat and you generally feel energized and alert while going many hours between meals. Your body is “eating” stored body fat all day long (as my friend Dr. Ron Rosedale would say) and your brain is fueled efficiently by the ketone bodies you are producing. I’ve fallen into a regular pattern of eating a calorie-sufficient meal with 85% fat, 12% protein and 3% carbohydrate, consuming high-quality, nutrient-dense real whole foods. This one meal can keep me satiated for upwards of 12-24 hours. As you can imagine, this period of spontaneous intermittent fasting helps naturally lower overall food and calorie consumption without the need for feeling miserably hungry between meals. Too many people habitually eat three full meals and two snacks daily because they always have. But if you allow your cultural paradigms about food to shift from eating by the clock to eating when hunger kicks in, you might be pleasantly surprised to see your blood ketones increase and healthy weight loss commence.
5. Failing to stabilize blood sugar levels.
What does blood sugar have to do with nutritional ketosis? Why should you worry about your blood glucose levels if you’re not a diabetic? The reality is everyone should be using a glucometer – they’re available from any pharmacy or Walmart - to know exactly where they stand in their blood sugar numbers. (Listen to whatAngela Ross shared with me about this in Episode 591 of “The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show” podcast.) Keeping carbohydrate intake to your personal level of tolerance, moderating your protein intake to the best amount for your metabolic needs, and eating ample amounts of satiating fats will lower your fasting blood sugars down into the 80s and even the 70s. When I first began my blood ketone experiment, my fasting blood sugar was regularly in the upper 90s/lower 100s. Once I attained an average blood ketone level of 2.0 millimolar over a period of time, my blood sugars suddenly dropped to an ideal level. Normalized blood sugar has kept my hunger at bay, regulated my mood and given me a sense of well being not experienced with the rollercoaster ride that alternating hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia produce. Get blood sugar regulated and nutritional ketosis will be easier to attain – and conversely, nutritional ketosis will help you regulate your blood sugar.
Be encouraged! You are not alone if you’ve been struggling with your low carb program. Even those of us who have been doing this for many years are susceptible to low-carb mistakes that can can make all the difference to success. In my next CarbSmart column, I’ll be providing more practical details about specific changes you can make to your low carb diet and lifestyle to bring yourself into nutritional ketosis and experience the benefits you’ve been hearing about. Have you been making any of these mistakes in your low-carb lifestyle? What other mistakes have been hindering your low carb success? Share your experience in the comments section below.