1 - Stocking up and getting started
- Get a good pocket carbohydrate counter. Make sure it lists values for raw vegetables, fruits and cooking ingredients, not just prepared foods. Go for one that shows fractions of grams (those that round up to the nearest whole number are not terribly helpful if you are only aiming at a total of 15 to 20 grams a day). Note that many so-called calorie counters actually list carbohydrate values as well.
- Stock up with unsweetened soya milk if you can't face life without tea or coffee and don't like to take them black (cow's milk will take up too much of your daily carbohydrate allowance). Soya milk brands vary tremendously, but the 0.6 g carb per 100 ml type is probably the most useful. Lower carb versions do exist but tend to taste as though they are simply more watered down, ie false economy on both budget and storage fronts! After opening, packs keep for up to a fortnight in the fridge, so it's not a problem if there is only one low carber in the household!
- Stock up on hard cheese, low carb nuts, eggs, salami, ham, ricotta, full fat cream cheese etc so that there is always something readily available for when you want a snack, need to eat on the run or have simply forgotten to cater for yourself in the rush to get the rest of the household fed.
- Get some psyllium husk capsules (available from health food stores) or other natural fibre-based product to avoid constipation if you are prone to it (and don't forget to drink lots of water). Better still, get some soya bran as well, and incorporate a spoonful of it into your daily diet. Adding it to ricotta cheese with a little liquid sweetener makes great low carb porridge!
- Get ketone testing strips from your local chemist. Testing is not mandatory, but is helpful as an indicator of how near you might be to slipping out of ketosis. Some also find it psychologically helpful to see that the ketosis is still happening each day. Many people find the best time to test is around 6pm, before their evening meal. Try cutting the strips in half lengthwise to double the number of tests for your money!
- Start taking a good multivitamin/mineral if you aren't already (sugar and starch free). Low carb diets, when properly done, are not deficient in essential nutrients, but you may already have deficiencies caused by previous ways of eating. Many people, even those who consider they have a so-called balanced diet have a sub-optimal nutrition status and this may affect weight control.
- Additional non-stimulant supplements from reputable sources such as the vitamin biotin, the amino acid L-carnitine and the mineral chromium may help your body to break down its fat stores and normalise blood sugar levels. But make sure you check these out with your doctor first, particularly if you are pregnant or have any medical condition.
- A set of measuring spoons is useful for accurate measurement of small quantities. Measuring cups are also very handy, especially for recipes calling for a baking mix comprising small quantities of a number of ingredients. The most useful cups to get are probably the Australian Standard 1 cup = 250 ml, occupying as they do the middle ground between the larger British and the smaller American ones. Australian Standard cup measures are used in many cookbooks sold in the UK, in any case, and are widely available in the UK.
- A grinding machine is required for recipes using ground flax or sesame seeds - flax meal and ground sesame seeds are not readily available in the UK and spoil quickly in any case. Most large electrical stores stock a variety. The small, relatively inexpensive sort with a fully removable and washable grinding chamber is generally ideal.
- An electric yoghurt maker is a boon (although not a prerequisite) for those wishing to make their own yoghurt. A selection can be found at larger electrical stores or from catalogue/on line suppliers of kitchen equipment.
- Use-again non stick liner is particularly useful when making recipes using flax meal. This can be purchased from kitchen shops or, again, from catalogue/on line kitchen equipment suppliers.
- Start reading nutrition labels and getting used to the fact that, on low carb diets, you are generally not looking for low fat versions of foods. (These usually equate to 'fat content removed and replaced by sugar or other refined carbs'.)
- Be aware that 'diet', 'light' or 'no added sugar' products, especially drinks, may still contain more carbs than you can afford to spend.
- Get wise to the many ways in which sugar and flour can be disguised in ingredient lists, eg glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, corn syrup, sorbitol, lactose, maltose, maltodextrin, cornstarch, rusk, modified starch, dried skimmed milk.
- Don't assume processed meats are sugar or starch free - check the label first.
- Cut down or preferably cut out coffee, strong tea, flavoured fizzy drinks (diet or otherwise) and fruit juices before starting your diet. If you are a heavy consumer of coffee/cola drinks, you may well get headaches and other caffeine withdrawal symptoms for a while after stopping. Weaning yourself off caffeine beforehand will avoid the danger of abandoning the diet because you think it is making you feel ill - don't let your diet take the blame for your caffeine addiction! Try drinking very weak tea, fizzy water or iced still water if you really can't face good old tapwater. It's surprising how quickly you get used to it once you are no longer getting your regular sugar or caffeine fix.
- Make yourself a chart for recording your weight, daily carbohydrate total and daily ketone test results. You can either record your weight every day, recognising that a pound or two up or down is just a normal fluctuation, or decide to weigh yourself once a week.
- Keep a record of your measurements, too - measure say every month. This is important, as there will probably be weeks when you don't appear to be losing, or you may even gain a pound or two on the scales, although your tape measure will prove to you that the diet is still working. When cells lose some of their fat content, they usually want to fill up with something else and so they inflate themselves with water. Even though you have lost fat it may take your body some time, possibly a month or two, to adjust and release this water. Also remember, if you have been doing resistance exercise, that you may have been replacing fat with muscle - and muscle, being denser, fits into a smaller space for the same weight.
If you would like to contribute any hints and ideas, please contact us.