Is this a low carb diet?
Yes and no. This eating plan alternates between low-carb meals and lean slow-carb meals. Your body needs carbohydrates, but it doesn’t need high-glycemic foods like corn syrup and sugar. By alternating between low carb and slow carb, you get the best of both worlds, and your body gets all the nutrients it needs and keeps your blood sugar low.
What about honey, fruit juices, and my organic raw sugar products?
I hate to say this, but natural sugars are still sugars. Even if they are local, whole, and organic, they still do bad things to your insulin levels. Save them for treats.
What about artificial sweeteners?
As long as they don’t spike your blood sugar, they are allowed. You can use the herb stevia or the artificial sweetener Splenda. I haven’t experimented with agave nectar, because I’ve read mixed messages about whether it spikes your blood sugar. Aspartame spikes your blood sugar, plus it has some other questionable health concerns, so it is not recommended. Maltitol is allowed since it does not raise your blood sugar. Unfortunately, though, if you eat it in any serious amount you are likely to get really bad gas. Really bad. Eat maltitol only when you are planning on being alone.
What about fruit?
Fruit is pretty high in sugar, but does contain a lot of vitamins and nutrients. You can sneak some in, but you need to think of it as a bit of a treat. Avoid drinking fruit juice (a can of fruit juice has the same amount of sugar as a can of soda). Eat the whole fruit, which contains fibre, because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar as much as juice. And check the glycemic index of the fruits — apples and berries are much less sugary than tropical fruits and oranges. Avoid bananas altogether. Lemons, limes, and cranberries are fine, since they don’t contain any sugar. But while you are trying to lose weight, try to eat more veggies and less fruits. When you reach your goal weight, incorporate more fruit back into your diet.
What kind of hidden sugars do I need to look out for?
Sugar, honey, corn syrup, fruit juice, most things that end in “ose” including fructose, thickeners like cornstarch and tapioca.
Can I drink milk? Cream?
Dairy can be classified as a carb, a fat, or a combination of both. Skim milk has no fat, and is classified as a carbohydrate. Heavy cream (33%MF e.g. whipping cream) has no carbohydrate and is considered a fat. When you follow this plan you choose between skim milk and heavy cream — use skim milk with slow carb recipes and heavy cream with low carb recipes. All of the other kinds of milk, for example, 2%, homo, and light cream combine carbohydrates and fats and are not allowed.
I’m a vegetarian. What about tofu?
This eating plan is a bit more challenging for vegetarians, since a lot of the low carb meals use meat. Tofu, unfortunately, contains a combination of fat and carbs and doesn’t really qualify as a low carb or lean slow carb food item. However, if you are a vegetarian, don’t despair, you can substitute tofu for meat, but it might slow down your weight loss a little bit. Super-firm tofu has less carbohydrate and is a better choice. You can also eat plenty of beans, which are counted as a slow carb, and there are plenty of meals you can make with eggs. If you are a vegan, then just focus on sticking with whole grains and cut back on the sugars, especially when you eat fats.
Um, that’s a lot of fat. It has to be bad for you.
Well, that is a concern that a lot of people have. If you’re worried about eating too much fat, then just stick to the lower-fat recipes most of the time.
It’s certain that eating a lot of fat at the same time as eating sugar is not good for you, but it’s not clear whether or not it is the sugar or the fat that really does the damage. It’s up for debate right now, and there is new information coming out all the time. I can tell you one thing from personal experience, however. My mother (a senior) had marginally bad cholesterol before she started this diet. She was on the diet for a few months and went back to have her cholesterol measured again. She was afraid of the test results, because she had been eating a lot of fat! It turned out that her bad cholesterol had lowered and her good cholesterol had gone up a bit. Her doctor did not believe her when she told him what she had been eating.
This eating plan is a general guideline about how to eat, and there is a lot of flexibility within the plan. If you are worried about your fat intake, avoid the fatty low-carb meals and eat a lot of the lean slow carb meals.
What kind of veggies can’t I eat?
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, orange squashes, and the rest of the starchy vegetables spike your blood sugar. (Spaghetti squash is OK). Avocados and olives mix fat and carbs and are off the list as well (though they are probably fine in small amounts).
What about eating out?
Eating out is a challenge on any diet, but fortunately there are lots of good options with this eating plan. However, you almost always end up having to choose a low carb meal, because finding nonfat whole-grain food at a restaurant is really difficult! Plain oatmeal, dry whole grain toast, or a whole-wheat vegetarian sub (without cheese or mayo) are the only low-fat, whole-grain carbs I’ve managed to find. A low-fat quinoa salad could be a good choice, as long as it doesn’t contain any hidden sugars or much fat.
It is really easy to find a low carb meal at a restaurant, especially in the last few years as low-carb diets have become popular, but be careful that it is very low carb, especially if it is high in fat. A good choice is to ask for a meat/chicken/fish dish, and substitute green veggies or a salad for the rice or potatoes. Omelettes, dry ribs, caesar salad, chicken wings with salt & pepper are all favourites of mine.
What about alcohol?
Yeah, you know what I am going to say here. Alcohol is a sugar. This doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely — you can use it as one of your ‘treats’ and you can minimize the damage it does by not eating fat at the same time as you have your drink. One strategy I use is to eat a meat & veggie dinner, and then have a glass of wine an hour later as a nightcap, after the fat has passed through my digestive system. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s much better than having the drink with dinner, which causes your blood sugar to spike while there is fat in your system.
What kind of condiments can I use?
Mayo and mustard are your friends, since they don’t contain sugar. Ranch dressing and caesar salad dressing are generally OK (check the labels for added sugar), as are many vinaigrettes. Or whip up a simple oil and vinegar salad dressing yourself. Ketchup, relish, and teriyaki sauce are all super-sugary, and most thickened sauces use starches to thicken them. Again, you need to check the labels.
I’ve got a special occasion and I plan to cheat a little. How can I minimize the damage?
When you cheat on this diet, you can reduce the effect of eating sugar by eating other foods that lower your blood sugar at the same time. Eating fibre or low-fat protein at the same time as sugar will keep your insulin level from rising as much as it would otherwise. For example, if you eat a piece of birthday cake, follow it up with a glass of fibre drink (e.g. Benefibre, Metamucil, or a psyllium husk drink). The fibre keeps your insulin level from spiking as much as it would otherwise. Just don’t get caught thinking that you can keep cheating by adding a bit of fibre – it reduces the damage of eating sugar but doesn’t eliminate it.