10 Rules for a Healthy Low-Carb Diet

Ditching grains and starches is only half of the equation. Make sure what's left on your plate is good for your body with these low-carb tips.

August 17, 2016
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In our modern age of mass-produced commercial foods, we have to be aware of several other important diet issues to maximize health and reach a healthy weight. None of these achieve the outsize benefits of grain and wheat removal, but just as quitting cigarettes yields terrific health benefits that you could partly sabotage by drinking too much bourbon, we don't want to botch up the wonderful grain-free start we obtain by making unhealthy choices outside of wheat and grains.

More: 5 Ways to Ease Wheat Withdrawal

To start on your grain-free and low-carb journey, implement these 10 food rules into your diet to help make healthy eating even easier, and could result in a weight loss bonus: 

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1. Low-Carb Tip: Choose uncured and unprocessed meats without sodium nitrite

Processed meats such as sausage, pepperoni, bacon, and salami have no place in a healthy diet since they often contain the color-fixing chemical solution known as nitrite. When cooked, sodium nitrite reacts with the amino acids in meat to yield nitrosamines that, in every animal experimental model, have been linked to gastrointestinal cancers and, in several human epidemiological studies, have been associated with greater cancer incidence. Look for meats that are processed naturally and do not contain sodium nitrite. 

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2. Low-Carb Tip: When it comes to dairy, always choose organic

Many commercial dairies milk pregnant cows during pregnancy, so products made from this milk often contain increased levels of estrogen. To avoid this problem, as well as exposure to bovine growth hormone, choose milk, sour cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter from organic producers that practice a more limited milking period. 

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3. Low-Carb Tip: Consider fermented foods

In the absence of fibrous grains and wheat, coconut or dairy yogurt, kefir, fermented radishes, fermented cucumbers, and fermented onions are an easy and delicious way to obtain healthy quantities of probiotic-like bacteria to benefit bowel health. You can eat fermented foods as is, added to salads, or dipped into hummus or salsa. 

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4. Low-Carb Tip: Don't limit salt

Although the Institute of Medicine stands by its advice to limit salt to no more than 2,300 mg per day, the average salt intake in the United States of 3,400 mg is a perfectly fine level. In fact, for the vast majority of people practicing a grain-free or wheat-free lifestyle, light to moderate use of mineral-rich forms of salt such as sea salt is actually healthier than severely restricting salt, particularly when that salt is combined with healthy, potassium-rich foods such as vegetables, avocados, or coconut. 

However, there are serious health problems associated with unlimited salt use, so don't go crazy with that salt shaker. In fact, salt intakes in or above the 6,000 to 10,000 mg range per day can be associated with adverse cardiovascular effects. Also, a minority of people, such as people with kidney disease, do have sensitivities to salt and should not engage in unrestricted salt intake. If you have such a health condition, a sodium prescription should come from your doctor. 

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5. Low-Carb Tip: Use safe sweeteners

If you're familiar with the Wheat Belly book diet or have read the Wheat Belly 30 Minute (Or Less!) Cookbook, you know that it's relatively easy to create grain-free versions of cookies, muffins, and other goodies using the alternative sweeteners that are safe for consumption—namely liquid or powdered stevia, stevia with inulin (but not maltodextrin), monk fruit (AKA Lo Han Guo), erythritol, and xylitol. A few people may experience a triggering of their sweet tooth with these sweeteners, leading to sugar cravings, but most dieters do well with safe sugar substitutes, and will continue on their weight loss journey. 

Just be sure to avoid fructose-filled sweeteners such as grain-sourced high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose (50 percent fructose), and agave nectar (90 percent fructose). Some people choose to use honey and maple syrup because they are natural sources of sugar, but both are high in fructose and should be used sparingly, since the sugar has been linked to obesity and a higher risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.

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6. Low-Carb Tip: Choose organic vegetables and fruits

If they're available and your budget permits, make organic your first choose. This is especially important when the exterior of the food is consumed, as with blueberries and broccoli, for example. With bananas, avocados, and other foods where the exterior is not consumed, it's not as important, though pesticides and herbicides can still penetrate to the interior so it can't hurt your health to go all organic. If you cannot choose organic, rinse your fruits and veggies thoroughly in warm water to minimize residues of pesticides and herbicides such as perchlorates, which can block thyroid function.

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7. Low-Carb Tip: Minimize exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA)

This compound, found in polycarbonate plastics (clear hard plastics with recycling code #7) and the resin lining of cans, exerts endocrine disruptive effects that may cause numerous heart problems, including congestive heart failure, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and weight gain. Native Forest and Natural Value are among the first brands to declare that they use BPA-free cans, but as the controversy over BPA heats up, more and more manufacturers are converting to BPA-free linings. 

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8. Low-Carb Tip: Avoid soft drinks and carbonated beverages

The acid effects of carbonation erode bone health because carbonic acid is neutralized by extracting calcium salts from bones. Instead of sipping on a soda, drink diet-friendly water (with lemon, lime, cucumber, kiwi, mint leaves, or orange), teas (black, green, or white), infusions (teas brewed from other leaves, herbs, flowers, and fruits), unsweetened almond milk, unsweetened coconut milk, coconut water, hemp milk, and coffee instead. You'll not only save save the health of your teeth and bones, but you'll also benefit your weight loss. 

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9. Low-Carb Tip: Avoid hydrogenated fats

Hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, that fill processed foods contribute to heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. The worst culprit is margarine because it is made with vegetable oils hydrogenated to yield a solid stick or tub form. Many processed foods, such as cookies and sandwich spreads, contain hydrogenated oils and should be avoided for their trans fat content as well as their grains and sugars. 

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10. Low-Carb Tip: Minimize exposure to high-temperature cooking

Cooking in temperatures that exceed 450 degrees Fahrenheit, reactions called glycation or lipoxidation will occur between carbohydrates or proteins with the fats in foods, and it's one of the 9 cooking methods making your food toxic. These contribute to hypertension, formation of cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. These reactions develop with deep frying (but not sautĂ©ing), broiling, and any other form of cooking that involves charring the food's surface. 

Adapted from Wheat Belly Total Health

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