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What Is a Low-Sugar Low-Carb Diet?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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A low-sugar low-carb diet is one that heavily restricts the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as grains, potatoes, beans, and dairy. Rice, most fruits, pasta, and bread, as well as processed sugar, are also avoided. Popular low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, and the Zone diet, are also defined as low-sugar diets because carbohydrates are converted to sugar during the process of digestion.

Excess sugar is moved by insulin to the liver and muscles, where it is stored as glycogen for use as energy. The higher the level of blood sugar, the more insulin the body manufactures. A low-sugar low-carb diet is designed to halt this process; it is based upon the theory that, because insulin directs blood sugar for energy use, the stored fat the body would otherwise draw upon for energy is not used. When insulin levels are lower, stored fat becomes a primary source of energy.

Low-sugar low-carb diets prioritize high-quality proteins such as those found in fish, chicken breasts, turkey, and lean cuts of pork and beef. Nonmeat sources inlcude egg whites and many vegetables. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, corn, and peas must be avoided. Most other vegetables are encouraged.

Among the variations in low-sugar low-carb diets are some that permit limited consumption of whole grains, such as brown rice, whole barley, and steel-cut, minimally processed oats. Proponents of this variation of a low-sugar low-carb diet claim that whole or unprocessed grains take longer to digest than processed carbohydrates. The results are twofold: Slowed digestion means the dieter feels full for a longer period of time, and unprocessed carbohydrates do not result in insulin spikes created by their highly processed counterparts.

Strictly adhered to, a low-sugar low-carb diet produces greater weight loss over a shorter period of time than traditional calorie-restrictive diets. Critics of this type of diet claim the initial weight loss is primarily water weight as the combination of permitted food act as diuretics. They also claim that some variations of a low-sugar low-carb diet that limit vegetables to nearly nothing in the first weeks can be dangerous if the dieter doesn’t prioritize mono- and polyunsaturated fats over those high in cholesterol.

A low-sugar low-carb diet that encourages a limited amount of whole grains and lean meats or other protein sources can become a lifestyle choice. The fewer processed foods such a diet contains overall, the healthier it is. It’s important to consume enough fiber in the form of certain plant foods, unprocessed grains, and seeds, such as flax or chia. Fiber simultaneously contributes to a sense of fullness, moves food through the body, and prevents constipation and has been proven to be an effective guard against high cholesterol and cancer.

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Discussion Comments
By ninetydegree — On May 24, 2011

Now that I've lost the weight I needed to lose, I'm ready for some new low carb diet recipes.

I'm so excited that now I can add in brown rice and steel-cut oatmeal, I missed them!

But as for sugar-free foods, ugh, I'd rather do without. I'll take an apple with cheese over a sugar-free chocolate cake any day. I'm on the hunt for more low-carb, sugar-free (naturally) recipes.

Anyone have any favorites to share?

By Jester39 — On May 22, 2011

I've been on the zone diet, the best low carb diet for me, to re-set my weight. I lost 25 lbs in 5 months and have kept it off this whole year.

I think the reason this diet has been a success for me is partly due to the fact that I look at it as a LIVE-it, not a DIE-it. It's a way to live your life, being mindful of what you put in your mouth.

Instead of whining about not being able to eat my favorite food (any kind of bread), I've allowed myself to eat bread once a week. Not gorging on it, mind you, just having some.

Then the day after my cheat-day, I'll be a little more determined to eat clean for a day or two and voila, the weight stays consistent.

The zone diet is the only one that has ever helped me stay positive. I know it's different for everyone, but ask your doctor about it and see if he thinks it's the right one for you. Then there will be two of you to do battle together!

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