What’s The Slow-Carb Diet?

slow-carb diet

You may have heard of low-carb diets and ketogenic diets – which are very low-carb diets with some modern variations – but have you ever heard of a “slow-carb” diet? Unlike a low-carb diet, which is exactly what it sounds like – a low-carb diet – the slow-carb diet needs a little more explanation. Here’s a look at what it is, how to follow it and why you might consider it.

What is the SlowCarb Diet?

A slow carb diet is a diet that involves eating primarily low-glycemic foods for most of the week. This diet was created by author and podcast host Tim Ferriss and is described in detail in his 2010 book, The 4-Hour Body.

How fast can you lose weight with the Slow Carb Diet? Ferriss says it is possible to lose 20 pounds of body fat in 30 days by following a slow-carb diet “by optimizing any of three factors: exercise, diet, or medication/supplement regimen.”

However, it’s well known that the results of all low-carb diets vary widely, depending on someone’s starting weight, exercise, general health, how strictly she or he follows the diet and other factors.

Rules of the Slow-Carb Diet

The slow-carb diet is based on five straightforward rules.

Rule #1: Avoid “White” Carbohydrates

This diet calls for avoiding any “white” carbohydrates.

These include a variety of processed carbohydrates made from refined flours, including pasta, bread and cereals.

If you want to increase your strength, you can consume these foods within 30 minutes of completing your resistance training. However, if you want to lose weight, you should avoid these foods completely during your weight loss day.

Rule #2: Eat the Same Few Meals Over and Over Again

The creators of this diet point out that although there are thousands of foods, only a few of them will not cause you to gain weight.

The idea is to mix and match the foods allowed in each food group to create meals and repeat those meals daily.

Rule #3: Don’t Drink Calories

This diet recommends drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Other recommended beverages include unsweetened tea, coffee or any other calorie-free beverage.

The basis of this rule is that beverages provide little to no nutritional value. Therefore, the diet recommends that you get your calories only from nutritious foods, not beverages.

Rule #4: Don’t Eat Fruit

Even though fruit is technically part of a balanced diet, the slow carb diet suggests that fruit is not helpful when you are trying to lose weight.

This idea is based on the fact that fructose, which is found in fruit, may delay the weight loss process by increasing blood lipid levels and decreasing fat burning capacity.

Rule #5: Take One Day off per Week

The Slow Carb Diet allows you to choose one day a week on which you can eat whatever you want.

On this day, you don’t have to follow any other rules. Therefore, this day to eat whatever you want is designed to allow you to indulge in any food and drink you may crave without worrying about gaining all the weight back.

What Foods are Allowed on the Diet?

Foods allowed on the Slow-Carb Diet include:

  • Animal proteins: Eggs, cottage cheese, chicken, beef, pork, and fish
  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, pinto beans, red beans, and soybeans
  • Certain vegetables: Spinach, asparagus, peas, green beans, sauerkraut, kimchi, and cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts)
  • Fats: Butter, olive oil, grapeseed oil, nuts, ghee, and dairy-free creamer
  • Spices: Salt, pepper, herbs, and seasonings

Foods to Avoid

Is oatmeal allowed on a slow-carb diet? What about other grains – for example, is brown rice allowed on a slow carb diet?

The answer is: no, and no. All grains and “white carbs” are excluded six out of seven days of the week, as are fruits and sugar-sweetened/caloric beverages.

This means that foods to avoid on a slow-carb diet include:

  • All bread
  • Rice and other grains, including whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, etc.
  • All fruit (besides tomatoes and avocados)
  • Cereals
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Tortillas
  • Cookie, cakes, pastries and other desserts
  • Ice cream and other sweetened dairy products
  • Fried foods made with breading
  • Regular milk and sweetened milks (including plant/nut/soy milk)
  • Soft drinks, fruit juices and other sugary drinks
  • White wine or beer (although small amounts of dry-style red wines are permitted)

Cheat Day

After following a slow carb diet for six consecutive days, you can have a “cheat day” where you allow yourself to eat whatever you want, basically any amount you want.

While your cheat day can be on any day of the week, depending on your schedule, if you have a typical Monday through Friday work schedule, it is better to have a cheat day on Saturday since you will probably be doing most of your socializing on the weekend.

The idea of having a cheat day once a week is this: By increasing your caloric intake, you can help support long-term fat loss and ensure that your metabolic rate doesn’t start to drop due to low caloric intake. Dieting/reducing calories can actually have an impact on thyroid function, which can cause your body to burn fewer calories and make it more difficult to lose weight.

According to Ferris, “There are no limits or boundaries in this day of gorging and enjoyment. On this or any other day, there is absolutely no calorie counting on this diet.”

Benefits of a SlowCarb Diet

While slow-carb diets are not as widely studied as ketogenic diets, there are still some studies that show promise for such diets. A 2015 study showed tangible benefits to consuming what researchers consider “slowly digestible starches.” These benefits include slower glucose release, lower post-prandial insulinemia, and stimulation of gut hormones.

For this reason, the benefits of a slow-carb diet can also help reduce your risk of cardiovascular events and even the development of type 2 diabetes.

For those who adhere to a slow-carb diet, you may also find that you are less likely to develop adipose tissue – more commonly known as fat. A study on rats showed that those who were fed a slow-carb diet had reduced expression of fatty acid synthase in their adipose tissue.

The same study on rats also concluded that there are other benefits to consuming more slow carbohydrates as opposed to “fast” carbohydrates from highly processed foods. These benefits may include:

  • Improvements in muscle performance
  • Improved insulin sensitivity and better glucose uptake
  • Increase metabolic flexibility
  • Decrease in fat/lean ratio that could prevent conditions like obesity, insulin resistance, and more

Downsides of the Slow-Carb Diet

Slow carbohydrate diets do not appear to have any significant side effects.

However, the reduction in meal frequency may lead to lack of energy and increased appetite in some people. This can be avoided by eating enough protein at each meal and drinking plenty of water.

In addition, since the slow carb diet recommends avoiding all fruits and certain vegetables, it may limit your intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients such as antioxidants.

Similarly, not eating fruits and fibrous vegetables regularly may limit your fiber intake, which can lead to constipation in some people.

In addition, eating large amounts of animal protein and limiting carbohydrate-rich foods may produce excessive water excretion and may disrupt your electrolyte balance.

Therefore, as the diet suggests, it is important to restore electrolyte levels by taking calcium, magnesium, and potassium supplements, or through foods rich in these minerals.

How to Know if Slow Carb is Right for You

By considering the potential downsides and benefits, you will be able to build a better idea of what to expect from this approach.

If slow carbs seem a lot like something that hasn’t worked for you in the past, there’s no reason to think that labeling it “slow carbs” will do you any good. Instead, you may want to try a more consistent and straightforward low-carb approach, such as a keto diet.

For those who haven’t tried a similar slow carb diet, the only way to know if it will work is to experiment with it for 2-3 months.

Throughout the process, make sure you are monitoring your physical health and mental health. Your body composition, mental health and blood work should all be moving in a positive direction after each month.

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