What CAN I eat?
December 26, 2013 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Going to finally really commit to low-carb. Past attempts have obviously failed. Please set me up for success.

There are a million bajillion books and websites out there which undoubtedly contain all the information I need, but I am overwhelmed and need to put info in one place that I can refer to, so hence my question. (This got long and feels really negative to me, sorry, clearly I just really need a place to start so any tips would be appreciated.)

I've half-heartedly tried low-carb in the past, but I think my fatal mistake was I just tried to, you know, cut out the carbs. But I didn't have a plan to replace the carbs with stuff that I could eat, and more importantly, that I liked to eat so much that I could feel it was sustainable.

I would get sick of chicken for lunch and dinner after like 3 days, and get sick of almonds for snacks after 4 or 5 days (in fact, just the thought of these foods still makes me want to give up before even starting) so what I really, really need is a list of ideas for simple snacks and meals that are low-carb and also have enough variety that I'm not sick of them after a week. I'm not a huge fan of meat, which I think is part of the problem. I like eggs and cheese. I can't stand sausages and salamis and pepperonis and that kind of thing.

And also importantly, I really prefer to buy meat that is not full of antibiotics and misery, so the meat I do like it eat is generally really, really expensive. Is there any way to low-carb that's not insanely expensive? Currently our grocery budget is $125/week for a family of 3.

I do like big salads, and beans (are those low-carb enough?), and stir-frys though I'm terrible at making stir-frys at home.

I think the main thing is that I am surrounded at work by sugar and carbs -- the candy bowl is between my desk and the bathroom, the vending machines are nearby, and we have a donut shop in the lobby. It's also a drive to get to anywhere with food from my work, so if I don't bring enough stuff to eat (that I really WANT to eat) for the day, I can quickly turn to the junk food options at hand. And then when I get home, I have a toddler and a spouse that both enjoy some carbs and I just want dinner to be done and sometimes we'll just end up getting a pizza or boiling some pasta and I don't know what the alternatives are to those cheap, easy nights. I mean, it's just as easy to throw chicken into the oven as it is to throw pasta into boiling water but oh my god chicken gets so old. (And I even asked a question about chicken a few months ago. Some of them are carby, and some are too complicated.)

I generally make more dinner than we need so I can take leftovers to work the next day (and usually have leftovers for breakfast too, maybe I need breakfast ideas too, since starting out the day successfully would probably help -- it's easy to give up when it's 9am and you've been at work for 3 hours and realize you have no good options for eating right planned out).

I also have this problem where I cannot log what I eat, because I quickly become obsessive about what I'm eating and I end up having to abandon it because I'm thinking about it CONSTANTLY and it gets really mentally unhealthy.

So, I just really need a go-to list of low-carb things that I can eat that are really tasty and easy to make. And also any tips for staying with it, and not feeling deprived, and secrets that you've discovered. Help me really do this.
posted by rabbitrabbit to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
How do you feel about fish/fishy tasting things? A can of sardines with a little sriracha can be a really good "I forgot to do food" kind of solution. I have also been known to make a lunch of a tupperware full of baby spinach and the contents of a can of sardines as topping+dressing (I don't really like regular salad dressings that much).

Another "I forgot to food" solution of mine is a half (or whole) avocado, drizzled with sriracha and eaten with a spoon. The problem with avocados (for me in the Midwest, at least), is that you kind of have to get a rhythm going with them so that you always have some ripe ones, and if the rhythm gets a little off it can get expensive to be throwing out the overripe ones. When I'm on my game, it's something like: week 1, buy avocados, leaving on counter; week 2, buy avocados (even though you have some at home), consume week 1's avocados; week 3, buy avocados, consume week 2's avocados... repeat.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:35 PM on December 26, 2013

You need to use a crock pot! You can cook meat with veggies and have enough to put in tuppeware/take to work for at least a week.It helps to have some kind of low-carb sauce to add when you reheat it to liven it up. There are many you can buy.
posted by emjaybee at 1:22 PM on December 26, 2013

my solution for the candy bowl at work is to get my own bowl and fill it with sugar-free gum. It "helps" "clean" your teeth, too!

As for almonds, have you tried making roasted/toasted almonds? Toss blanched almonds in oil and spices, then roast them at 350 for about 8 - 12 minutes. I know what you mean about almonds getting old (im eating them right now - bleh) but hot, spiced nuts fresh from the oven are something I don't think i'll ever get tired of.
posted by rebent at 1:27 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've posted it here before but one of my favorite sites for low carb recipes is Your Lighter Side. It has a lot of recipes that use substitutions so you need to stock up with non-standard baking goods like alternative sugars (i.e. Splenda, stevia) and coconut flour, almond flour, etc. However this allows you to make all sorts of things that make you feel less like you are denying yourself foods you like. This Easy Pizza Crust is one of my favorite recipes there. You basically just blend up meat and cheese, add some herbs, and roll it out into a crust and top with whatever you like. I am vegetarian for the most part so I use Quorn "chicken" and it works great.

I also work in a place where people are constantly bringing around baked goods and candy and stuff. I found that I need to have alternatives that I truly enjoy, then I don't want the carb things anymore. For me, that is full fat plain yogurt with berries and a little agave mixed in, as one example. So I would suggest for you, instead of using almonds which don't feel like a splurge at all (in my mind) but just give you something to chew on - use something like your favorite cheese cut up into cubes or something.

On preview, I also like the sugar free gum option, and I additionally will have some sort of fancy coffee drink but use sugar free flavor syrup and Splenda in it, I find that this tastes delicious and decadent and gets my mind off whatever else I shouldn't be eating.

Also, if you are worried that salads are not low carb enough, you ought to do more reading on glycemic index versus glycemic load as you start back on this diet. Glycemic index is not what you should be basing your dietary choices on. This NYT piece, "Fear Not That Carrot, Potato, Or Ear of Corn" explains it well.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:33 PM on December 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lara bars. Carry them around and you'll never get stuck with hunger driving you to the pastries. For breakfast, I microwave a chopped up apple, throw a few nuts and flax seeds on top, sprinkle with cinnamon and pour a little plain almond milk on top. Very good substitute for oatmeal and the nuts stick with you. Sliced apples and almond butter make a really good snack. Roasted veggies are so easy and good. Carrots, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes. I also carry a little bottle of vinegar and oil salad dressing in a ziplock bag in my purse. It turns most grilled chicken salads into low-carb meals. Garlic, Italian spices, olive oil and vinegar. Couldn't be simpler.
posted by raisingsand at 2:16 PM on December 26, 2013

I'm not on a "low-carb" diet as such, so I don't really have any recipe tips, but I have changed the balance over the past year from mostly-bread-and-pasta to mostly-veggies-and-protein. My number one tip for sustainable change would be to take it gradually. Don't just chuck out all your rice and flour on Jan 1st, but slowly make dietary adjustments week by week, month by month. I've found this is the most effective way to make long term changes and stick with them. This way my diet becomes part of "how I live," not just "something I do".
posted by Naanwhal at 2:28 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a higher tolerance for repeat foods than you do, but as far as office temptations go, one trick I learned was to eat a small amount on a schedule throughout the day, so that I'm never hungry enough to think that the candy dish "couldn't hurt."

So every Monday I bring the following with me X 5:

Hardboiled egg for breakfast (shortly after arriving at the office)
One ounce container of cheese (Trader Joe's has quite a variety) for midmorning snack (usually around 11)
Approximately one ounce of deli meat, like fresh sliced turkey or chicken or ham, for lunch with a small amount of fruit, like a small apple or a tangerine. Lunch is around 1 or 1:30
Another cheese stick in the afternoon around 3:30.

I also bring a few extras. Like instead of 10 cheese sticks, I'll bring 12 so if I get really hungry during the day, I can have another cheese. Or if the meat comes in a 7 ounce package, I'll make 7 little snack bags of 1 ounce each, so I can have extra of that.

I'm told -- and I have more or less confirmed it by experience -- that one trick for hunger abatement is to never eat bare carbs. So you can't have the apple without the meat.

The thing is, all of these are pretty little. The cheeses are about 80 calories each. So if you can stick to say 5 or 6 ounces of chicken or fish (or whatever you prefer), and a cup or two of steamed green vegetables for dinner, you can really take the weight off without too much pain.
posted by janey47 at 3:13 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: I totally get where you're coming from with regards to boredom. One thing to remember is that "low-carb" doesn't mean no-carb. That said, certain diets might be helpful to you if it's easier for you to follow rules, like no beans, no pasta, etc. ect.

To that end, I would look into either South Beach Diet or the paleo way of eating.

South Beach has been super helpful to me because foods are limited, but no food is 100% off-limits. I also LOVE seafood and SB recipes are mostly very, very simple (like, 3-5 ingrediants) and incredibly tasty.

I don't necessarily believe all the conclusions paleo eaters have come to about things like grains and legumes, but again, rules are helpful to me, and the thing I most love about paleo is the huge variety of recipes and the simplicity of those recipes. The paleo ethos, in particular, advocates organic, non-processed eating (while South Beach relies on a lot of processed food alternatives).

For both of these diets, recipes on the internet are a dime a dozen. Especially with paleo, there are thousands of recipes for crock pot cooking, which is super helpful to me for lunches the next day. In my household we aim to eat at home six nights a week, and cooking in bulk allows us to have leftovers for lunch, which soothes some of the temptation to eat junk during the day. Buying ingredients in bulk is also cheaper.

Honestly, 75% of the work of changing the way you eat is just planning ahead.
posted by Brittanie at 3:28 PM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

One thing that I learned when trying out low-carb diets is that to process protein your body needs at least one of three things: 1) carbs 2) water 3) fat. If you're anything like me, the reason you got so sick of high protein foods like chicken and almonds is because you took away the carbs your body needed to process them, but didn't add in more fat or water, and therefore it was stressful and unappealing to keep eating that way. So the best advice I can give you for your next low-carb attempt is to start eating more fat or drinking more water.

My own experience was that eating more saturated fat (coconut oil, butter, beef fat, pork fat, chicken fat, etc.) was the most effective way to make protein interesting again, and to reduce cravings for carbs.

Have you come across the idea of ketosis? I don't know the details, but ketosis has to do with switching your body from using carbs for energy to using fat instead. It's an important part of why low-carb diets work, so if you want to do this seriously then I would advise learning more about ketosis.
posted by sam_harms at 3:32 PM on December 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

There are standard recipes that are low-carb friendly; one of my favourites is Nigella Lemon Garlic Chicken. We make it with thighs or thighs and legs to cut the cost and leave out the wine to cut out the carbs. It's great cold for lunches.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:40 PM on December 26, 2013

You mentioned low-carb, but nothing about cranking up your healthy fat intake. The latter is the key, in my experience, to thriving on low-carb.

How low-carb are you looking to go, and what are your reasons for doing so? Short term weight-loss, or long-term lifestyle change, or...?

I do the ketogenic thing, and got through the initial weeks with info and support from reddit's r/keto community. Whatever you may think of reddit as a whole, that particular sub-forum is quite good, and tightly-moderated (in a good way), so it might be a useful resource for you.

In terms of feeding yourself at work: I'm not a fan of nutrition bars or other pseudo-candy-snacks (and most nutrition bars are not at all low carb). Hard-boiled eggs are excellent and portable.
posted by nacho fries at 3:43 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

WRT sam_harms and nacho fries' comments, this is highly-recommended reading: The Best Diet Plan. It'll show you how to calculate the exact percentage of macronutrients you need for the customizable diet of your choosing.
posted by Brittanie at 3:46 PM on December 26, 2013

> Lara bars

They're tasty, but with around 30g of carbohydrates they're they're not good if you're low-carbing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:47 PM on December 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah my advice is to pick a system, paleo, primal, atkins (I recommend the 2002 version of this).

Linda's Low Carb was a game changer for me when I first went lowcarb.
posted by PlutoniumX at 6:45 PM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here to recommend Protein Power (no, not misspelled). It's a bit of philosophy/case studies/recipes/etc. and is pretty persuasive. I found that reading about it helped me stick to it. I started with this book.

Then I went to a bookstore and browsed low carb cookbooks. You want to find one with the most recipes you'll tend to like. For me that meant as little "substitute regular bread for xyz" as possible.

I found an awesome frittata recipe, for instance, that could've been in any cookbook; they're just inherently low carb. I measured amounts while baking and did the math just once, and that became my go-to breakfast, because I could switch up the veggies every time I cooked it.

Lastly, I went to Trader Joe's and scoped out everything they had looking for low carb this and that, especially prepared foods. Again, if I could do the meal planning ahead of time, I wouldn't obsess during the week, and I could stick to the diet.

I would also let myself cheat a bit on the weekends as a policy. No one's perfect.
posted by nadise at 7:01 PM on December 26, 2013

Soup has been huge for us in terms of using very high quality meat cheaply. I wonder if various crock pot soups would work for you? You can cram a ton of veggies into soup. I often find I want something alongside it, so I'll have a bit of cheese and a piece of fruit if I'm not eating bread. We also always freeze some of the leftovers, so when we grab soups for lunches, there's a variety to choose from.
posted by linettasky at 7:40 PM on December 26, 2013

Let the recipes get made for you. Eat This Much.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:49 PM on December 26, 2013

Best answer: You've had lots of suggestions for protein and fat. Explore vegetables. It depends how low carb you actually want to go but you could do a lot worse than ramping up your vegetable intake both for variety and for nutritional balance. Also, unless your family also needs to lose weight please let them substitute liberally with starchy veg and legumes, even if you feel you cannot to get to a low enough carb intake. Unless you can make this sustainable for all of you it's not going to stick.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:19 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I could write a post similar to yours. I have been on and off low carb for years, and the biggest hurdle for me is that I get so sick of the food that I feel queasy at the thought of eating much of the time I'm low-carbing. It seems like the flavor palette is so limited on low carb, and the predominate flavors are either blah or very, very salty.

I still don't have it figured out by a long shot, but thought I'd contribute a few things that have been helpful to me:

Celery with cream cheese - the fresh, watery crunch of the celery cuts the richness of the cream cheese, which itself jazzes up the bland flavor of the celery

Turkey bratwurst (Jenny-O brand) - these are really good and super-easy... just throw them in a baking dish and stick them in the oven. Make a veggie side dish for everyone (I like coleslaw) and throw a couple of baked potatoes or sweet potatoes in the microwave for non lc-dieters and you've got a quick, easy supper

Cucumbers in sour cream/mayo dressing - this is a nice refreshing side dish, it goes especially well with fish (particularly salmon)

Coleslaw - get the bagged shredded coleslaw and use Splenda in place of sugar in the dressing (it's basically just mayo, apple cider vinegar and sweetner)

Cottage cheese - I find this makes a good, easy breakfast or lunch, particularly with some raw veggies alongside.

Chicken bouillion - I like to spice it up a little with some cayenne pepper and lemon juice. It is salty but sometimes it sounds good as a snack when nothing else does.

Roasted vegetables - root veggies are a no-no when low carbing, but green beans, brussels sprouts, cabbage, zucchini, onions, peppers etc. are allowed and taste absolutely amazing when spritzed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and/or herbs. One of the best things I've eaten recently is sliced zucchini, red pepper and chunks of tomato sprinkled with olive oil, italian seasoning and salt and roasted in the oven.

Crystal Light drink mixes - when I do low carb, I always feel vaguely thirsty and dehydrated because of all the frigging salt in everything. And I really miss "refreshing" flavors (like orange juice with my bacon and eggs, for example.) I've recently started drinking Crystal Light, and it really satisfies my longing for something fresh and fruity. I like the cherry pomegranate and raspberry green tea flavors.

BACON - after all my bitching about salty-meaty flavors on low carb, I have to say that I never seem to get sick of bacon. I get the pre-cooked kind because slice-for-slice it is not really that much more expensive than raw bacon, and it crisps up in about a minute in the microwave. I like to sprinkle mine with some cayenne pepper, it is almost too good if you like spicy stuff.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:20 AM on December 27, 2013

Oh, and here is a low carb dessert recipe I created. This is really good when you want something warm, creamy and sweet. To me it tastes a lot like bread pudding but without the bread. The entire recipe is one serving.

Microwave Breadless Pudding

4 oz. cream cheese
1 egg
4 T. heavy cream
1/2 t. vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/4 c. Splenda

Soften cream cheese in microwave until not quite melted. Beat egg, cream, vanilla and salt together in a separate bowl with a fork. Add to softened cream cheese. Beat together with fork until most large lumps are smooth. Stir in Splenda, mixing well. Microwave for approximately 2 minutes, or until set like custard.


And here is a recipe for Chocolate Mousse from Dana Carpender. This is really good, you would never know there is tofu in it. It is creamy, chocolatey and delicious.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:38 AM on December 27, 2013

If you like fish, the small cans of flavoured tuna can be a godsend. I keep a couple in my desk, and one in my purse, in a Baggie with a plastic fork. That way I always have some emergency food. I have even added it to the garden salad in restaurants where there is nothing else low carb to eat.

Also, watch out for artificial sweeteners. Some people are fine with them but others, like me, react to them like they are sugar.
posted by navizzar at 7:17 AM on December 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. I talked it over with my husband last night and though he's kind of skeptical, he agreed to let me try PaleoPlan linked by sio42 above. The recipes look simple and quick and I think it will be nice to have everything planned out so I don't have to think about it or decide what to eat while I'm hungry.

One of the things he was skeptical about was the no dairy or grain, so like koahiatamadl suggests above, we're probably going to do sides of rice, potatatoes, bread, or pasta for the spouse and kid. The kid is 3 and an avid milk drinker, so of course I'm also not going to take that away.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:38 AM on December 27, 2013

Re: dairy, there's no reason to give it up. Cheese, full-fat greek yogurt (check the labels -- some are higher-carb, but for example, Fage is reasonably low), heavy whipping cream for your coffee...these are all low-carb, satisfying foods. Full-fat dairy can be a very useful (and delicious) way to keep your fat intake up (and with it, your satiety).

Another suggestion: Stevia is a nice, non-Frankenfood no-carb sweetener that doesn't jack with your insulin response or GI tract. Try it as a sugar replacement if you have a sweet tooth.
posted by nacho fries at 9:50 AM on December 27, 2013

Something was nagging at me overnight and I finally decided to come back and mention it. If you're doing this to lose weight, the nuts were very likely sabotaging you. They're great for you and chock full of calories. If you eat the same size portion of almonds as you might of pasta you could get double the calories. Use caution with nuts & seeds.
posted by janey47 at 3:55 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to what janey47 said, I found that a lot of cheese on Low Carb was sabotaging my loss. I had to really watch portions of cheese. :-/
posted by getawaysticks at 10:01 AM on December 30, 2013

« Older Was this car dealer taking me for a ride?   |   Which to watch first? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.