If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past five years, you already knowing that cutting carbs is a huge trend that actually might have some science to back it up. Yes, going low-carb can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease and help us lose weight—but we’re still trying to figure out how to cut carbs without missing the hell out of our morning bagel.
Of course, not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are good carbs (whole grains, fruit, legumes) and there are bad carbs (white flour, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white rice.) The big difference: Bad carbs don’t offer much in the way of nutritional value and tend to be digested so quickly that they can cause our blood sugar to spike, leading weight gain and other pretty serious health problems.
However, while good carbs are excellent for your overall health, it’s clear from the study that making some adjustments to your carb intake can be extremely effective. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever eat a piece of fruit or a bowl of brown rice, but making smart swaps can result in weight loss and overall improved health. Below, we’ve mapped out 7 easy tips to cut carbs from your diet, and still be healthy and stay sane.
1. Commit to cutting out bread
Obvious, but incredibly effective when it comes to losing weight. Bread—even most mass-market whole wheat varieties—are packed with carbohydrates and refined sugars, so if you’re looking to slim down by cutting carbs, commit to cutting it out. This means abstaining from the bread basket at restaurants, foregoing sandwiches at breakfast and lunch, and not snacking on things like crackers.
The good news is that with a few simple swaps, you’ll notice that eliminating bread will keep you fuller longer. If you eat a turkey and cheese sandwich on a crusty roll every day for lunch, try putting the protein over a bed of kale, lettuce, spinach, or any other green veggie you like instead. From there, add a splash of olive oil and some fresh pepper for flavor.
Breakfast can be a little more difficult, so try to pre-plan as best you can by making protein-heavy foods like hard-boiled eggs the night before, low-carb shakes, or, in a pinch, grabbing a Fage 0% yogurt, which has a somewhat inoffensive 7 carbs per container).
2. Swap some fruit for veggies
We’re not saying fruit isn’t good you, it is. But there are also lots of natural sugars present, so if you’re really trying to cut back on your carb intake, replace fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, and pears with sliced cucumber, crunchy celery, or raw peppers.
3. But know not all veggies are low in carbs
Certain vegetables should be avoided if you’re looking to go low-carb. Examples include starchy or sweet-tasting veggies like peas, corn, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
4. Mind your condiments
You might not realize it, but common condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce have a fair amount of carbs thanks to their sugar content. (there’s around 7 grams in a mere tablespoon of barbecue sauce.) Instead, start doctoring up your food with things that add amazing flavor and are also super-low in carbs like mustard, tons of fresh spices, flavored vinegar, or fresh lemon juice and pepper.
5. Watch what you drink
We probably don’t need to tell you that most booze is packed with carbs and sugars, so it’s best to take it easy while you’re trying to slim down. If a cocktail or two is necessary during the weekend, stick to small amounts of clear alcohol like vodka and add plain club soda and a squeeze of lemon or some fresh cucumber. (Check out our comprehensive guide to healthy alcoholic drinks for more ideas!)
It’s also key to stay away from sugar-packed non-alcoholic drinks like sports beverages, lemonade, iced tea, and—of course—soda. Your best bet? Drink as much water as you can.
6. Commit to saying no to dessert and sugary snacks
Not that we all don’t indulge now and again, but the fact remains that sugar is really, really bad for us. In order to do an effective carb cleanse, abstaining from desserts and sugary snacks is key. If you’re looking for something sweet after dinner, try a hot cup of tea or a glass of iced green tea with a splash of almond milk—it’ll quell any cravings.
7. Ask for things to be prepared your way
If you’re out to dinner, don’t be afraid to ask your waiter or waitress to prepare foods exactly how you want them. For example, ask them to double up on veggies instead of potatoes, to prepare that fish without the breadcrumbs, or to place the sauce on the side. If you’re proactive, you’ll find eating out isn’t as difficult as you’d think it is while watching your carb intake.
Originally published March 2015. Updated July 2017.