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June 22, 2021 / Nicole Villeneuve

The Slow-Carb Diet: Your Complete Guide

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You may have heard of the benefits of a low-carb diet, but what about a slow-carb diet? Not all carbs are created equal. Some metabolize quickly, leaving you tired and hungry; others take their time, helping you feel full and energetic for longer.

The slow-carb diet has gained attention because it claims to be able to help you lose weight quickly and sustainably. The diet relies upon low glycemic index carbohydrates for its effectiveness. Here, we’ll cover what the glycemic index is and go over everything you need to know about the diet, including guidelines, foods to eat or avoid, and helpful tips.

The Glycemic Index Explained

How can you tell what carbs are slow-carbs? That’s where the glycemic index (GI) comes in. 

The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates on a scale of 1 to 100 based on how much they release glucose into your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar. The higher the number, the quicker your body turns those carbs into glucose, and the quicker your blood sugar will rise and fall. The lower the number, the slower the process, which means your blood sugar levels will fluctuate less.

The glycemic index was originally designed to help diabetics manage their blood sugar levels, but it has since become more widely recognized as having benefits for all. Managing your blood sugar levels can actually help reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes, as well as help you maintain weight loss and support heart health. Learning how to lower blood sugar naturally is a helpful tool for anyone but it is especially important for people with prediabetes or diabetes.

GI Rankings

Harvard Health offers a helpful guide to the GI numbers of 60 different items, but what do those rankings mean? The Glycemic Index Foundation provides a breakdown for what numbers constitute a low, medium, or high GI ranking for individual foods:

Some foods naturally contain low glycemic index carbohydrates--like beans, vegetables, fruits, and even pasta--while others have notoriously high GI carbs--like white bread, rice, and potatoes. Avoiding high glycemic index carbs is one of the main principles of the slow-carb diet. Let’s go over the five food groups to eat—and avoid—on the slow-carb diet.

Foods You Can Eat

There is no limit to the number of calories you can have each day on the slow-carb diet, but these calories must come from specific foods. Feel free to eat as much as you’d like from the following five food groups:

  1. Proteins: Eggs, chicken, beef, pork, fish, lamb

  2. Legumes: Pinto beans, black beans, red beans, lentils, soybeans

  3. Vegetables: Spinach, green beans, peas, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), sauerkraut and kimchi, asparagus

  4. Fats: Olive oil, butter, grapeseed oil, macadamia oil, nuts, ghee, dairy-free creamer

  5. Spices: Salt, pepper, seasonings, herbs

Foods to Avoid

For the slow-carb diet to work as effectively as possible, there are certain foods the diet recommends you avoid entirely. These foods include:

  1. Fruits: Although fruit is usually considered a part of a nutritious diet, the slow-carb diet does not allow them because it does not consider them helpful for weight loss.

  2. Dairy: Insulin levels can rise as a result of dairy consumption and the diet finds this detrimental to weight loss efforts.

  3. White-flour foods: Most of these foods are processed and made from refined flour that will cause a spike in your blood glucose level and hinder weight loss.

  4. Fried foods: Fried foods tend to have high calories and little nutritional value. They are also often cooked with breadcrumbs, which you cannot eat on this diet.

  5. Alcohol: Although there is an exception made for dry red wine, most alcohol contains sugar and calories that slow down weight loss.

Guidelines for Successfully Following a Slow-Carb Diet

Now that you know what types of foods to eat and avoid, use the following guidelines incorporate the slow-carb diet into your daily life.

Guideline #1: Avoid “white” carbohydrates

The slow-carb diet prohibits all bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, and grains. These “white” carb sources, and any other foods filled with starches, should be avoided on this diet because they contain high glycemic index carbs. Instead, carbs should come from legumes and low-carb vegetables, which contain slow-digesting carbs.

Guideline #2: Eat the same meals repeatedly

Plan to eat the same few meals every day from the five approved food groups. This diet especially encourages you to prepare the same meals for breakfast and lunch to make it easier for you to stick with the diet.

Guideline #3: Skip drinks with calories

Water, unsweetened tea, or coffee are the beverages of choice for the slow-carb diet. Alcohol, soda, smoothies, juice, and other beverages with calories are not on the menu. Not only are these other beverages full of calories but they are also full of sugar which works against a person’s weight loss goals. The one exception to this guideline is dry red wine, which you can have one or two glasses of each night.

Guideline #4: Do not eat fruit

All fruit is avoided on this diet because every type of fruit contains a natural sugar called fructose. The diet purports that this simple sugar is turned into glycerol phosphate by the body, which leads to more body fat. There are two fruits that the diet allows, and these are avocados and tomatoes. Fruit is, however, allowed on the one cheat day each week.

Guideline #5: Have one day off per week to cheat

Take one day a week out of seven to eat and drink anything you want. If you’ve been craving sugar, this is the day that you can give in to your cravings and break all four of the previous guidelines. The hope is that a day off can help alleviate any stress being on the diet may cause.

Six Tips for Staying On Track

Trying a new diet can be challenging, and when you want to succeed with a diet like the slow-carb diet, it helps to have some tips.

Tip #1: Get adequate protein

Consuming adequate protein at each meal is important for this diet. Aim to eat at least 30 g of protein at breakfast and no less than 20 g at every other meal.

Tip #2: Time your meals accurately

The slow-carb diet prescribes the timing of your meals. Breakfast should be eaten within an hour after you wake up, and each meal after that should be consumed approximately every four hours.

Tip #3: Exercise in moderation

This diet is capable of producing weight loss without a tremendous amount of physical activity. It recommends that you exercise for 20-30 minutes just two or three times a week to see results.

Tip #4: Eat slowly and until full

By eating your meals slowly, you can decrease your body’s glycemic response, and you will be able to stop eating when you are full, rather than beyond that point.

Tip #5: Opt for vegetables over carbs when dining out

Many restaurant side dishes involve high glycemic index carbs like potatoes, rice, or bread. Instead of going off the diet, choose vegetables and beans for your sides.

Tip #6: Prepare for travel ahead of time

This diet requires a considerable amount of control to ensure you only eat from the five approved food groups. When you travel and are eating out, it may be difficult to source a meal that adheres to the guidelines of the slow-carb diet.

The best option for these times is to prepare ahead of time and pack items that work with the diet, like tuna packages, nuts, or protein powder you can drink with water.

The Takeaway

For some people, the slow-carb diet is an effective way to shed pounds and inhibit stored fat. As with all diets, it’s important to speak with your healthcare practitioner to determine what your nutritional needs are and if this diet is right for you. Whether a slow-carb diet plan or a prediabetes diet plan is right for you, let PlateJoy Health support your journey toward better health and overall wellness. From custom meal plans to personalized recipes, we provide the tools you need to live a healthier lifestyle. Start your free trial today!

Nicole Villeneuve

Nicole Villeneuve is a certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. A graduate of Yale University, she previously worked in book publishing, with a focus on cookbooks and health, and ran the food blog Paper and Salt. Her writing has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Daily Beast. Nicole lives in San Francisco and loves cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, and running by the ocean. You can (very occasionally) find her on Twitter.

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