Carbohydrates are one of the 3 major macronutrients that make up your diet.
They are quite essential for the body since glucose is the preferred form of energy for the cells in our body.
Carbohydrates are made up of units called saccharides.
Simple carbohydrates are made up of just one saccharide unit whereas complex carbohydrates made up of more than one unit of saccharide.
Good carbohydrates are those that are harvested straight from the farm and are generally made up of complex carbs.
Bad carbohydrates are those that are refined by industries and lack nutrition and impair blood sugar levels. (Read Carbs: Tipping the scales towards weight loss)
Since the low fat diet was implemented, there was an increase in obesity rates and it was observed that people were replacing fats with carbohydrates.
So if you are on a low carb diet or thinking of reducing your carbohydrate intake then here are 20 simple ways of reducing your carbohydrate intake.
However we would like to mention that it is the refined grains, high sugar intake and added sugars that cause weight gain and affect metabolic health.
Good sources of carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, whole grains should be included in diet to get vital nutrients and fibre.
20 Ways to Reduce Carbohydrate Intake For Healthy Weight Loss
Here are 20 simple ways to reduce carbohydrate intake so as to improve weight and health.
1. Eliminate sugar sweetened beverages
The number one step you should take when it comes to reducing carbohydrate intake is to eliminate sugar sweetened beverages from your diet.
Sugar sweetened beverages includes colas, carbonated beverages, soft drinks and even fruit juices with added sugars.
Sugar sweetened beverages have the maximum contribution to the obesity epidemic and is the single largest source of added sugar.
Average sugar sweetened beverages provides calories from as much as 10-18 teaspoons of sugar!
Consuming sugar sweetened beverages even propels the genetic risk of developing obesity.
Apart from the calories that sugar provides via such beverages, consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has been associated with higher calorie intake from other sources which also contributes to the weight gain.
However other reports suggest that artificially sweetened beverages may hamper appetite and there ability to support weight loss depends on a number of other factors such as calories from other sources or compliance to diet and weight loss program. (Read Do artificial sweeteners really help in weight loss?)
However there is quite a bit of evidence available on the fact that reduction of consumption of sugar sweetened beverages significantly reduces body weight and prevents long term weight gain.
As an alternative you can stick to water, real fruit juices free from added sugar, or coconut water or juices mixed with plain soda such as lime or orange juice.
What does this mean? Eliminating sugar sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages from diet gets rid of maximum calories and maximum added sugar from diet thereby reducing carbohydrate intake. This is essential in terms of weight loss, preventing weight gain and improving metabolic health.
2. Replace carbs with high quality proteins
If you are cutting down on carbs you definitely need to replace it with something nutritive and satiating at the same time. High quality proteins are the best choice.
You already know that proteins help with weight loss as they stimulate metabolism and help burn fat and they also aid with lean gains. (Read How Proteins Help In Weight loss)
A high protein diet fares better than a low protein diet (lower substitution of carbs with protein) when it comes to reducing abdominal fat and cholesterol levels.
A study published in Obesity (Silver Spring Md) 2014 reveals that replacing carbohydrates with proteins leads to a significant reduction in belly fat and waist circumference.
What does this mean? Replacing a sufficient proportion of carbs with proteins in daily diet supports weight loss and leads to reduction in belly fat.
3. Use healthy fats
Another satiating replacement for carbs is fats. But make sure you use healthy fats which also help in weight loss. (Read An evidence based guide to choosing healthy fats, 5 ways Fats Help In Weight Loss)
Low carb diets which are high on fat have better weight loss outcome with improvement in insulin sensitivity than low fat diets.
Low carb high fat diets also support better utilization of fats during exercise.
High fat low carb diets also bring improvement in inflammation and cholesterol levels. When using fats to replace carbs use olive oil or coconut oil.
What does this mean? Replacing carbs with healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil helps in weight loss, improves metabolic health. Also fats are satiating and help control appetite.
4. Swap cereals for eggs at breakfast
Breakfast cereals are good for weight loss only if they are free from added sugars and rich in fibre.
However if you want to cut down on carbs, this is another area you can focus on. One awesome way to replace breakfast cereals and lose weight at the same time is to replace them with eggs.
Eggs are a good source of protein and its saturated fat does not hamper cholesterol levels.
A study published in International Journal of Obesity, 2008 showed that egg breakfast enhances weight loss.
In the 8 week study, egg diet (2 eggs at breakfast) was found to cause 61% greater reduction in BMI an 65% greater reduction in weight loss than bagel breakfast.
Also a 31% greater reduction in waist circumference and 16% greater reduction in body fat was observed with egg diet.
What does this mean? Replacing breakfast cereals with eggs supports significant weight loss and results in reduction of carbohydrate intake.
5. Use low carb flours
Wheat flour is a high carb ingredient which finds its way in your diet through baked goods, fried goods, breads, pasta etc.
There are some great low carbohydrate flour alternatives that can help to cut down on these carbs.
Coconut flour is one great option. It provides 64.8g of carbs per 100g but 38.5g is dietary fibre.
Coconut flour is can replace 2-3 times the quantity of wheat flour. Glycemic index of coconut flour based food items is less due to it’s high fibre content.
Other options include soy flour, flour made from nuts and beans like almond flour, flaxseed meal etc.
These also pack in some healthy fats.
What does this mean? When cooking replace whole wheat or refined wheat flour with low carbohydrate flours like coconut flour, almond flour, soy flour. They are high in fibre. However one must be careful while cooking or baking with these flour since they are gluten free and are used in lesser quantities.
6. Opt for non starchy veggies
Vegetables are a rich source of nutrients and fibre. However many low carb diet courses instruct limiting vegetable intake during early stages of the diet.
In order to keep your carb intake low, you should opt for non starchy vegetables like leafy greens.
Starchy vegetables include sweet potatoes, carrots, beetroot, corn etc. Opt for vegetables like avocado, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, kale etc.
What does this mean? Though not a mandatory but one of the last resorts of reducing carb intake is to opt for non starchy vegetables. These will still provide you antioxidants, nutrients and fibre.
7. Opt for low carb snacks
Most of the items that we snack on contain carbs say chips, pretzels, cookies etc.
Steer clear of these carbs by opting for low carb or high protein snacks.
Opt for small quantities of nuts as snacks.
A mid morning snack of almonds is found to be very satiating and thereby reducing calorie intake in subsequent meals.
A study published in Appetite, 2015 demonstrated that equal calorie snack of berries reduces appetite better than confectionery sweets and is also nutritive.
Replacing high carb snacks with nutritive, high fibre snacks is found to be effective for weight loss.
Researchers at University of Missouri found that high protein snacks like yogurt were more satiating than high fat snacks like crackers and chocolate.
This study reported that yogurt consumption delayed subsequent eating by 30 minutes and 20 minutes compared to chocolate snack and cracker snack.
Also the yogurt snack led to reduced calorie intake at dinner by 100 calories compared to other snacks.
Higher the protein content of the snacks greater the reduction in appetite, prolongs the gap between the next meal and also results in lower calorie consumption in subsequent meal.
What does this mean? Replace high carb snacks with low carb snacks like yogurt free from added sugars, nuts, berries etc. Opt for low carb high protein snacks.
8. Replace sugar with natural sweeteners
Sugars are not permitted on a low carb diet but it is difficult to skip the sweet taste.
Honey has roughly the same proportion of glucose and fructose as sugar but it has some valuable health benefits and can be used in moderation.
Stevia is a zero calorie natural sweetener which is gaining popularity.
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol are also considered as potential zero calorie sweeteners as they are non-cariogenic.
There are safety concerns associated with other artificial sweeteners; so it is best to limit intake of sugar and stick to natural alternatives.
What does this mean? On a low carb diet there is no room for sugar. However if you must, then opt for moderated intake of stevia, sugar alcohols and honey.
9. Opt for low carb dairy items
However when choosing dairy foods make sure they are free from added sugars.
This is not the case for fruit flavoured yogurts, frozen yogurts and flavoured milk beverages.
Opt for high protein but low carb dairy items like Greek yogurt and cheese. These are good for metabolic and heart health.
Also these are a good way of cutting down on sneaky sources of sugar.
What does this mean? When choosing dairy items, check that they are free from added sugars. Opt for high protein dairy foods like yogurt and cheese.
10. Check food labels
The last option but the one that should not be neglected is reading food labels. Food labels generally list the carbohydrates and their breakdown as fibre and sugars.
Keep a track of added sugars and their various names used by manufacturers. You can find these names in our article Sugars and obesity: Habit or Addiction.
Also one very important point is to identify the number of carbohydrates for the particular serving.
Packages contain more than one serving and the carbohydrates listed are only for one serving.
So multiply the number of carbohydrates with the number of servings to identify total carbohydrates in the package.
What does this mean? When shopping for processed foods read the food labels appropriately and identify the total carbohydrates and added sugars in them to keep a tab on your carbohydrate intake.
11. Make smart choices while eating out
Eating out can be a little tricky when on a low carb diet, but often you can make some smart choices. Opt for veggies over potato and bread. Choose non starchy vegetables.
Replace buns with lettuce wraps. Choose water over carbonated beverages or sugar sweetened beverages. Go for grilled food items to avoid the flour in fried items.
Avoid ketchup and barbecue sauce and keep an eye on the extra carbs present in sauces and condiments.
What does this mean? When eating out try to swap starchy vegetables with non starchy options, choose water over sugar sweetened beverages, avoid breads and high carb sauces. These choices will help you follow a low carb diet even when eating out.
12. Eliminate refined grains
When on a low carb diet, it is advised to eliminate or limit intake of grains.
However if you are looking for a moderate reduction in carbohydrate intake, you should avoid refined grains.
Refined grains are complex carbohydrates but due to high processing they lack fibre and nutrition.
Additionally they lead to spike in glucose levels which reduces satiety and increases appetite.
Refined grain intake is also associated with increase abdominal obesity and fat depot. Diets rich in refined grains usually lack fibre leading to increase in metabolic and heart diseases.
White rice, white bread or bread made from refined flour, pasta made from refined flour and even cold cereals, croutons, crackers, granola bars or any other item using refined flour constitutes food item made from refined grains.
Eliminating refined grains is a great way of reducing carbs and improving health. However if you occasionally do want to include grains in your diet, opt for whole grains that have fibre and nutrition intact.
Increasing whole grain intake is associated with lower visceral adipose tissue or reduced deposition of harmful fat around organs.
Nutrients found in whole grains are found to be beneficial in weight loss.
What does this mean? Eliminate refined grains and products made from refined grains from your diet to reduce unwanted carbs. Replacing refined grains with whole grains is a wise alternative but should be done in moderation if you want to reduce carbohydrate intake.
13. Cut out sneaky sources of fructose
Added sugars just find their way into almost any food item.
These added sugars are mostly high fructose corn syrup and fructose has been associated with development of various diseases related to metabolic health, heart health and even cancer.
First step is to avoid any sugar sweetened beverage, even if it is the so called ‘healthy’ fruit juice or a delicious packed milk beverage.
Added sugars in liquid form are more likely than solid added sugars to cause insulin related disorders in those who are at risk of developing obesity.
Even many breakfast cereals are made from refined grains and laced with sugar. You can check the ingredients list for added sugars.
In fact added sugars has as many as 61 alternative names used by manufacturers.
Watch out for added sugars in sauces and condiments. Avoid ketchup, honey mustard, barbecue sauces.
Always check the ingredient of salsa or different condiments and sauces and if eating out always ask for the ingredients of the sauce or request it as a side.
Sweetened dairy products, sweetened liquors, honey roasted nuts, candied dry fruits, and even milk substitutes that have been sweetened contain added sugars.
What does this mean? Avoid sneaky sources of added sugars and excess carbs such as those present in sauces, condiments, sugar sweetened beverages, candied dried fruits, and sweetened milk substitutes.
14. Limit or Avoid bread intake
White bread is high in carbohydrates and affects blood sugar and insulin activity.
When on a low carb , you must avoid bread.
There are low carb breads available such as those baked from coconut flour, soy flour etc.
A review study of 38 studies demonstrated that dietary pattern involving whole grain breads is not associated with weigh gain.
However consumption of refined grain bread is linked with increase in abdominal fat.
A clinical trial demonstrated that inclusion of bread in a low calorie diet increased adherence to diet. In that case make sure you consume whole grain bread.
What does this mean? It is best to avoid bread if cutting down on carbs. However on occasions you can opt for whole grain bread or bread prepared from low carbohydrate flours.
15. Eliminate frozen pre made meals
Yes everyone is on the go and it is really difficult to get time and energy to prepare your own meals at home.
But if you want to cut your carbohydrate intake and optimize your nutrition you need to eliminate frozen pre made meals.
Frozen readymade meals contain artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
They are high in saturated fat and sodium and lack fibre.
A recent report suggests that processed foods contribute to 75% of added sugars and 57% of sodium.
Interestingly cooking at home is associated with a healthier diet and lower consumption of calories, sugar and fat.
What does this mean? Ready made or frozen meals have hidden sugars or imbalanced nutritional profile. Eliminate such ready to eat meals to cut down on unwanted excessive carbohydrates.
16. Swap smoothies with protein shakes
Smoothies are really good if you are making them at home with some healthy ingredients, otherwise they are just a sugar bomb.
If your smoothies contain chocolate or fruit syrup, ice cream, premade fruit juices, non organic peanut butter, sweetened milk etc then you are definitely consuming a lot of sugars.
Choose healthy ingredients like fresh juice, unsweetened milk or almond milk, tea, fresh fruits, seeds, oatmeal, stevia or organic honey in moderation.
Else you can swap your smoothie with a protein shake. This could add more protein to your diet and help in weight loss. (Read 25 ways to Add more Protein to your Diet)
What does this mean? Make sure that smoothies you consume for weight loss or as a meal replacement are free from added sugars. Opt for high quality protein shakes.
17. Eliminate junk food
That is not new advice; everyone attempting to lose weight is advised to eliminate junk food.
A recent report evaluating popular fast food chains in USA reported that they food items are of poor nutritional quality.
One of the potential suggestions of improving fast food quality was reformulation of food items high in sodium and added sugars.
Fast food restaurants account for 35% of the empty calories of children’s intake followed by 32% from schools.
Addition of soda to fast foods increases sugar content by 10 folds and fast foods can be addictive.
Fast foods apart from the excess calories, can hijack your appetite mechanism and lead to subsequent weight gain.
Recently a link between functional gastric disorders and consumption of fast foods has been identified.
What does this mean? Junk foods, with addition of sugar sweetened beverages or soda, increases sugar intake by 10 folds and also contributes to trans fat in diet. Elimination of junk foods can significantly reduce your carbohydrate intake.
18. Entertain sweet tooth with dark chocolate and fruits
Reducing carbohydrates is really difficult for some individuals for whom carbs are a staple; but some individuals manage to go low carb.
However quitting desserts is the last straw. In fact quitting desserts is associated with poor adherence to weight loss diet.
So anything that is sugar laden needs to be eliminated from diet to reduce carbohydrate intake.
However you can still have fresh fruits such as berries, cherries, apples which are good forms of sugar and also provide nutrients and fibre.
If you are craving chocolate, then you can opt for dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa free from added sugars and milk solids). Dark chocolate is great for heart health and weight loss. (Read Chocolate and weight loss)
What does this mean? Replace sugar laden desserts with whole fruit and dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa) to reduce sugar intake.
19. Replace fruit juices with whole fruit
Various fruit juices are marketed suggesting that they are healthy because they are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Most of them have added sugars, preservatives and are fortified or infused with vitamins.
Make sure that you get rid of such ready made fruit juices from your diet.
If you must have fruit juice then make sure it is fresh juice extracted at home.
Even better, would be to replace fruit juices with whole fruits. Whole fruits add more fibre and nutrition to your diet.
What does this mean? Eliminate artificially sweetened or sugar sweetened fruit juices from your diet and replace them with whole fruits or fresh juices.
20. Opt for weight loss friendly fibre
While focusing on reducing carbohydrate intake, do not miss out on your required fibre intake.
The recommended fibre intake is somewhere between 20-30g.
Inclusion of weight loss friendly fibres like fruits, leafy greens, nuts, glucomannan, wheat bran, pysillium husk are a must.
What does this mean? Even when reducing carbohydrate intake make sure you are getting good quality fibre in your diet.
When reducing carbohydrate intake, make sure it is a gradual process and adequately replaced by other nutrients.
This is because: one you should not starve yourself and two your body should get used to using other nutrients as fuel.
Also drastically reducing carbohydrate intake may cause low carb flu. This is characterised by dizziness, irritability and fatigue. Gradual reduction of carbs can help prevent this.
Also remember to get all your nutrients and fibre from other sources in diet.
Simple but wise diet choices can help you reduce your carbohydrate intake. Low carb diets are found to be beneficial for weight loss. (Read Atkins diet and weight loss)
Apart from reducing carbs also focus on replacing bad carbs with good carbs like fruits, veggies and whole grain so as to get enough nutrition and choice.
This is essential for weight maintenance.
However if you find it difficult to go low on carbs then opt for a balanced diet which not only aids in weight loss but works as a lifestyle change and benefits overall health.