Tips for Starting a Low Carb Diet

A friend of mine just started a low carb diet and asked me for advice on snacks and such. I started to reply but my email got so long I decided it was better to put it all here in case someone else found it useful too.

The basis of low carbs is meat, eggs and fresh veggies, so the first step is to make sure your meals are centered around those. (My friend is already on the right track, so that line is for the rest of you! Smile) The rest of this post talks about the extra stuff to help make this lifestyle more pleasant and easier to stick with.

In general I try to stay away from the packaged stuff and stick to real foods (I’m not a hard-core paleo person like some; I just don’t think most of the products out there are worth the price.) When I first started doing low carb, I did find the low carb tortillas and flatbreads useful for wraps and such. Since then, I’ve been convinced by reading the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis that in addition to being low carb, we need to completely avoid wheat. And I’ve also read enough bad things about soy that I avoid it as much as I can. It’s hard to find prepackaged stuff that doesn’t contain either of those.

That being said, I realize my life is much less busy than most people’s and having things on hand you can just eat is important. I do have some ideas for that.

First of all, I do find that if I make sure to keep the fat level of whatever I’m eating high enough, I feel full longer and need to eat less often. For example, a cup of coffee with real heavy cream in it around 8 will keep me full until 11 or so. If I eat an actual breakfast with the coffee, I might not be hungry until 3 or 4.

For snacks, simple things like string cheese or individual servings of nuts work (both of those stall weight loss in some people, hence the importance of individual servings), as does packaged lunch meat. Pork rinds are the much-stereotyped Atkins snack, but they do work well as a sub for tortilla chips with salsa. Veggies with dip are always a good option. If you can make ahead stuff like hard boiled eggs, those work well too. Natural peanut butter (the kind with just peanuts and salt) can fill you up too, but it’s really easy to eat too much of it.

The Just the Cheese snacks are pretty tasty, but tearing up American cheese into little pieces and nuking them for a minute or so can give you a pretty good equivalent. We do that fairly often around here – The Big Kid loves cheese crackers, and he puts all kinds of seasonings on top of them to flavor them too.

As far as recipes go, we don’t do a lot of fancy cooking around here – mostly it’s cook some kind of meat, add either a salad or some steamed veggies, and we’re good to go. My mom keeps me supplied with boxed Indian spice mixes, so that makes for easy seasoning, but salt, pepper, onion, garlic and cayenne pepper make up our basic spice blend that we put on everything.  The kids’ food allergies mean that I’m often cooking 3 variations of something already at every meal, trying to do that while following someone else’s recipes is usually more trouble than it’s worth.

I do own all of Dana Carpender‘s cookbooks, and if I were the type to follow a recipe, those would be the ones I’d try. I also like the website 247lowcarbdiner but she’s not posting as often as she used to. There’s a ton of recipes on her site already, though. Another good one is The Lighter Side of Low Carb – she focuses mostly on desserts, and if you want killer cheesecakes, that’s the place to go.

This site is practically legendary among low carbers: http://www.genaw.com/lowcarb/
It’s just a lot of different recipes tested by a women named LindaSue Genaw, with her reviews of each one. I’ve never gone wrong following any recipe of hers (that she said she liked) In particular, her 3 minute chocolate cake is my favorite quick dessert. And her deep dish pizza crust is one I used to make a lot (I’d make a huge batch, make up 6 crusts, bake and freeze them for quick frozen pizza whenever we wanted one.) That recipe doesn’t seem to be on her site anymore, though.

There are so many easy pizza recipes out there, and everyone claims theirs is the best. I’m not the world’s biggest pizza fan, and we eat pizza here once a month at most, so I haven’t spent a lot of time playing with recipes.

Another low carb staple is cauli-rice. Shred a head of cauliflower through the food processor (or grate it through a box grater, but the food processor is much easier), then microwave it for 5 minutes or so until it’s tender. You can then saute it with some butter, onion, cream, or whatever other flavorings you want until it approximates a tasty rice dish. My favorite is butter, and then a splash of cream, and some Parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper for a “risotto.” I’ve also made “Spanish rice” by mixing in Salsa, “fried rice” by adding soy sauce, green onions, and scrambled egg, and other variations.  What I don’t like is the mashed cauliflower substitute for mashed potatoes – the texture just does not work. I find that some variation of cauli-rice usually goes well with whatever dish I’m cooking, and thinking of it as a rice substitute rather than a mashed potato substitute goes a long way towards making my brain accept it.

A similar substitution is spaghetti squash for pasta, but just like with pizza, I don’t much care for pasta dishes in general, so I don’t spend much time with that. The Little Kid adores spaghetti squash sauteed with olive oil and garlic, though.

I do like shirataki noodles, but only in Asian applications. The House Foods tofu version comes in a fettucine width, and I’ve had it with Alfredo sauce, or under beef Stroganoff, but it’s just a little too rubbery for me to do that very often. But Ramen noodles are a comfort food for me, and the original shirataki with some chicken broth, soy sauce, chili-garlic paste, and just a little bit of natural peanut butter hits all the same notes.

I find Oopsie bread useful for those times when you just really want a sandwich – or you just want to be able to pick up a hamburger instead of eating it with a fork. I don’t find them great for cold sandwiches, but grilled cheese on Oopsies are great.

The other bread substitute I like is the one minute muffin. There are tons of recipes for this one, and a quick search will give you probably hundreds of variations on it. But the reason I like it is because a savory version of it with a little garlic or onion can be cut in half and toasted and make a bread that works really well with fried eggs.

There’s tons of other low carb/paleo bread recipes out there, some of which use more specialty ingredients than others. There’s also substitutes for everything from pancakes to cookies, muffins, cakes, etc. I rarely make any of those any more. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and the kids are allergic to everything so finding recipes that work for them is almost impossible. Luckily, they don’t have a horrible sweet tooth either. I made a single-serving (flour-, egg- and dairy- free) chocolate cake for The Little Kid’s birthday party and it took him 3 days to finish it.

So that’s the gist of my advice for living the low carb life – base your meals around meat, eggs and veggies, eat enough fat to keep you full, keep acceptable low carb snacks on hand, and find the particular substitute recipes that help keep this lifestyle sustainable without trying to duplicate every high carb food you can think of.

Now, if I could only find a satisfactory substitute for French fries, I would be all set!

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