10 Tips for Cutting Carbs

colorful salad
Jill Chen/Stocksy United

Your experience starting and sticking with a low-carb diet will be unique. Some people may not know how to cut carbs while others find it difficult to get started but can motivate themselves easily once they start to see results. Some start off strong but find it difficult to stick with their diet if they run into challenges along the way or don’t get results immediately.

You may not see and feel the benefits of a low-carb diet until you’ve hit your body’s proper and particular carb level. That’s not to say you won’t start noticing a difference in how your body looks, feels, and moves as you begin eating low-carb. You just have to figure out what you need to feel good about your plan and stick with it long term.

Here are 10 tips on how to cut carbs, face low-carb diet challenges, and stay motivated as you work toward reaching your goals.

Hydrate

Staying hydrated is one of the best ways you can care for your whole body. While you'll definitely need to avoid dehydration if you're exercising regularly, even mild dehydration can affect everything from your skin to gut health.

Proper hydration is vital to promoting regular digestion. Since low-carb diets can cause constipation, making sure you're getting enough fluid each day is essential.

Water should be your go-to choice for hydration. In addition to the potential for negative effects of sugar on your health, sweetened drinks usually offer very little, if any, nutritional value.

Avoiding sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks is especially important if you're trying to cut carbs. Choosing water will also help you avoid adding extra calories—either from the beverage itself or overeating later.

When you reach for a sweet drink instead of a meal or snack when you're truly hungry, you’re not likely to feel satisfied and may fill up on "empty calories."

One hundred calories of apple juice will leave you hungrier than 100 calories of an actual apple.

Eat Your Veggies

When you first start a low-carb diet, one of the food groups you’re likely to stock up (and fill up) on is non-starchy vegetables, like greens, sprouts, cauliflower, avocado, and mushrooms.

Not all vegetables are created equal on a low-carb diet, though: Limit veggies high in starch, like potatoes and corn, which are best enjoyed with small portions and in moderation.

More Healthy Fat

The idea of a “diet” is not usually synonymous with “eat more fat,” but when you’re reducing your carb intake, you’ll need to make up those calories and nutrition elsewhere. One of the most satisfying and nutritional ways is to add healthy fats. 

Diet goals aside, your body needs enough fat to function properly; eating a diet that includes plenty of healthy fat is important to your overall health. While you may want to limit certain types of saturated fats in your diet, you don’t have to avoid all fat.

Focus on including fat from olive oil, nuts, avocado, fatty fish, and flax seeds.

Pack Protein

As you're adjusting your carb and fat intake, don’t forget about protein. Protein-rich foods will help keep you fill and also offer many additional health benefits. Many sources of protein are also rich in amino acids, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients, such as:

Whether you experiment with adding more or change up your sources, The National Academy of Science recommends up to 35 percent of your daily diet come from protein.

Your individual protein needs will also depend on how active you are, your muscle mass, and your individual metabolism. 

Check for Hidden Sugar

Some sources of carbs will be obvious and easy to watch for—but others, especially those from sugar, may be more difficult to spot. Added sugar can even pop up in typically savory rather than sweet spots, like salad dressing.

While you may diligently read nutrition labels and ingredient lists, it's easy to miss sugar when it goes by another name. These “hidden sugars” can easily add up and throw off your diet plan. Keep an eye out for some of the common names sugar goes by on food labels, including dextrose, fructose, cane crystals, maltodextrin, xylose, and malt syrup.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

As you increase your intake of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats, keep cutting back on high-carb foods—especially when you aren’t in charge of portions. For example, while you might be served a full bowl of pasta at a restaurant, the serving size for a meal is closer to one cup of al dente pasta.

The actual portions of high-carb foods may be smaller than you think: A standard serving of potato or rice is one half-cup. If you’re at home and can measure, you’ll be able to keep track of portions more closely. But when you’re dining out, it’s probably safe to assume what you’ve ordered is actually two (or three or four) servings

When you do allow yourself a treat, have something you enjoy—just keep an eye on portion size. You’ll feel more satisfied having a small slice of delicious cake than if you try to fill up on a sugar-free, fat-free, low-carb alternative that isn’t what you really want. In fact, this approach may lead you to overeat.

Go for Grains

When you’re choosing between carbs, the ones you choose makes a difference. When you have the choice, go for brown rice instead of white rice, and whole wheat bread instead of white.

It’s better to eat your grains whole rather than ground up into flour.

In fact, some people choose to cut carbs with a "no white diet" which removes potatoes, white rice, white sugar, or white flour.

Swaps and Substitutes

One of the easiest ways to cut carbs is to substitute lower-carb alternatives for high-carb meal staples. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with low-carb ingredients and get creative with recipes.

Follow these tips to cut carbs throughout the day:

  • Start your day with high-fiber low-carb cereal for breakfast.
  • Swap the bread on your lunchtime sandwich for a low-carb wrap or use lettuce.
  • Reach for fresh fruit or a protein bar instead of hitting the vending machine.
  • For dinner, cook up some spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
  • Snack on a package of nuts instead of candy or buttery popcorn at the movies.

Use Tools

Even if weight loss isn’t your ultimate goal on a low-carb diet, keeping track of what you eat (and how much you eat) can be very helpful. Guessing or estimating portion sizes or nutrition information can easily get you off track.

If you’ve been keeping track and suddenly you hit a weight loss plateau, having all the data in front of you can help you come up with a solution.

If you’re already counting calories, many apps and tools let you track your macronutrients as well.

Keeping track of how your calories each day are divided up into fat, protein, and carbohydrate can help direct your food choices.

Find Support

Change, even when it’s a positive step, is not always easy. The ups and downs of adjusting to the changes you make, finding ways to solve problems, and staying motivated for the long haul will be easier to get through if you have support.

You may have a supportive partner, friend, or family member who can be there for you, but it can also be helpful to find others who are going through the same process.

Ask your doctor about local support groups for diet and weight loss, especially if you have a chronic health condition like diabetes. Your local gym or fitness center may offer classes as well.

Many online groups or forums exist, and some of them even let you link up your fitness app, activity tracker, or calorie counter with others for day-to-day support—and maybe a little healthy competition.

The most important thing is to pay attention to how you feel, physically and mentally, as you make these changes. It's not uncommon for the first few weeks of a low-carb diet to be uncomfortable physically and mentally. Whenever you make a major lifestyle change, it will take some time for your body and mind to adjust.

During the first few weeks on a low-carb diet, you may experience frustration as your energy levels and mood dip. You may also be dealing with appetite changes and gastrointestinal symptoms. While these discomforts are temporary, they may make you feel like giving up. This is why it's so important to have people around you, whether your friends and family or a support group, who can help you stay motivated.

Your body’s response will guide you and give you clues about when it’s time to add or reduce your carbs, get more activity, or take another look at the low-carb food pyramid. Listening to what your body needs and honoring it will help you reach your personal best and thrive.

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