INTRODUCTION TO THE SLOW CARB DIET
The Slow Carb Diet was created by Tim Ferriss in 2010, making it a relative newcomer in the healthy field, but reducing processed foods and replacing them with whole, natural foods is anything but new. Ferriss says that this diet can help you lose weight quickly, fat in particular (his exact claim is that you can lose 20 lbs. in 30 days). Tim Ferriss is well-known for following the minimum effective dose or ‘MED’ principle in many areas of his life, including diet and exercise. What this means is getting the maximum benefit with minimum input.
The generally idea is that eating a lot of protein but very few carbs helps you lose weight because the body will burn fat rather than sugar. At the same time, you will feel satisfied, not hungry. On this diet, there is no sugar (including fruit), dairy or grains, and fats are also limited. You eat from a short list of foods 6 days per week, and then have a ‘cheat’ day where you can eat anything you want.
HISTORY OF THE SLOW CARB DIET
The Slow Carb diet may be new, but the principles of limiting carbs to lose weight and get other health benefits is not. The ketogenic diet has been around for a hundred years and was originally used to control seizures in epileptics. It has been known since ancient times that fasting helped stop seizures, but a person can only fast for so long. In the 1920s, it was discovered that eating low-carb mimicked being in a state of fasting, but the diet never really took off because anti-seizure medicines became a more popular way of treating epilepsy. The ketogenic diet hung around in the shadows of the weightlifting world, picking up speed with diets like Atkins, until it finally become mainstream in the new millennium through the influence of people like Joe Rogan and Gary Taubes. Tim Ferriss put his own spin on the basics of the keto diet, and allows legumes (beans) and cheat days which are not part of the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD).
SLOW CARB DIET MACROS
You do not need to track macros or calories with the Slow Carb diet.
Protein is the focus, and you could easily eat 100 grams of protein or more per day. Fats should be healthy and eaten only in moderate amounts. If you are trying to lose weight, high-calorie fats like nuts, seeds and hummus should be avoided. The only carbs you eat are from legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils. Green vegetables should be eaten every day, and tomatoes and avocados can be enjoyed in moderation. Snacks are not encouraged, but eating to satiety at meals is. Meals should be enjoyed at a slow pace, so that you have time to feel full naturally.
BENEFITS OF THE SLOW CARB DIET
Most people start a diet because they are looking to lose weight, but it can be hard to stick to if you feel hungry all the time. The emphasis on protein and fiber in the Slow Carb diet help you to feel fuller, longer. Also, by slowing down and enjoying your meals, you may find that you consume fewer calories than when you grab a bag of fast food and mindlessly munch while driving to or from work.
EASY TO FOLLOW
The Slow Carb diet has few rules, and most of them just make sense. By simply replacing processed carbs and sugar with veggies and protein, your diet will automatically improve and provide better nutrition. The staples of this diet are filling and nutritious. With the weekly cheat day, it is also flexible enough to not make you feel like you’re suffering. The cheat day may also help prevent your metabolism from slowing down, which is a possible side effect from eating a calorie-restricted diet. There is some scientific evidence that eating more calories than usual for a short time (aka a ‘refeed’) can boost the hormones which makes you feel satisfied. But the main reason for the cheat day to alleviate the mental stress of dieting.
Protein is necessary for the proper function of your entire body. It boosts metabolism and increases fat-burning. It can lower your blood pressure and improve your blood lipid levels. Everyone knows protein is used to build muscle, but it is also needed for healthy bones and to help the body heal, keeping you younger, longer. As if that weren’t enough, protein helps you to feel full, and can reduce cravings and the urge to snack late at night, helping you to shed those pounds permanently.
Between the meat, eggs, veggies and beans, the staple foods on the Slow Carb diet cover all your bases nutritionally. Removing processed food from the menu is good for everyone, and avoiding fruit and dairy shouldn’t cause any deficiencies.
NO CALORIE COUNTING
With Slow Carb, you don’t have to count calories, macros or anything else. You simply eat to satisfaction. Even on your cheat day, you don’t have to count. This plan is designed to be as easy as can be.
DOWNSIDES OF THE SLOW CARB DIET
CHEATING CAN BACKFIRE
While it’s great to get to eat whatever you want once in a while, a cheat day every week can slow your weight loss. Even when cheating, some self-control may still be necessary, which might be hard for some people.
NOT A LOT OF GUIDANCE
Having few rules is a double-edged sword. If you struggle with overeating, no instructions on how to manage portions can be tough. And even if you’re eating healthy food, it is possible to overeat, which can stymie weight loss. A handful of nuts can look pretty measly, and yet those nuts contain beaucoup calories.
Also, we naturally resist change, and that counts double when it comes to our favorite foods. Even without counting calories, our body is finely tuned to how many calories we are consuming and it is possible with this diet to plateau at a certain point. In which case, you may need to try something else, such as keto, to get the weight loss started again.
Not having to track macros is great — except if you’re someone who is looking to drop those ‘stubborn last ten pounds.’ The closer you get to your ideal weight, the slower weight loss happens, and if you aren’t in a calorie deficit, weight loss will not happen. Because the Slow Carb diet doesn’t make you track, it may not be rigorous enough to help you reach this goal.
While it may be useful to some to have limited choice, others may feel it is too much like punishment. Likewise, eat the same things over and over is a time-saver for some, and super-boring for others.
Any diet that doesn’t involve pizza, burgers, donuts and the like is going to be tough to stick to at times. You may sometimes feel like it’s you against the world. Find new hobbies that don’t involve food to minimize the pressure to succumb to old (bad) habits.
SLOW CARB DIET DETAILS
In the Slow Carb diet, there are 5 main food groups: animal protein, vegetables, legumes, fat, and spices. You can have as much as you want of the protein, veggies, and legumes, but only limited amounts of fat and spices.
Rule 1: No ‘White’ Carbs
By ‘white,’ Ferriss means refined carbs, including bread, pasta, tortillas, baked goods and the like. If you are looking to gain muscle, you can eat a few carbs within 30 minutes of a resistance training session, but if weight loss is your goal, you should avoid these foods entirely (other than on your cheat day).
Rule 2: Eat the Same Things
Novel flavors make you want more. Ferriss says that eating the same foods over and over makes you less hungry, as well as frees up your time.
Rule 3: Don’t Drink Your Calories
While water should be drunk throughout the day, your only calories should come from food. Unsweetened tea, coffee, or other zero-calorie beverages are okay, although chemical-laden ones (diet soda) should be drunk only rarely.
Rule 4: No Fruit or Dairy
There’s no love for fruit on the Slow Carb diet. Ferriss says fruits can prevent you from losing weight due to its high fructose content which impairs fat-burning. Dairy raises insulin levels and is not great for weight loss. Cottage cheese is the only exception, but it should still be eaten in moderation.
Rule 5: Take A Break
Ferriss encourages you to take a day off once per week and eat whatever you want. This cheat day is meant to help you stick to the plan on the other six.
Rule 6: Eat Protein
One of the core principles of Slow Carb is eating enough protein. Ferriss recommends eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking and at least 20 grams at each meal, and preferably more.
Rule 7: Take Your Time
Eat slowly, don’t feel rushed or stressed, and take at least 30 minutes per meal. This allows your body to feel the signal that it is full.
Rule 8: Eat Low-Calorie
Calorie-dense foods such as fried foods, nuts, hummus and the like will slow weight loss. Besides, breading that fried foods are usually coated in is not part of Slow Carb.
Rule 9: No Snacks
Another important component of the slow carb diet is only eating a few satisfying meals, but not in between. It’s okay to feel hungry sometimes, within reason.
Ferriss also encourages taking supplements to speed weight loss, but this is not required.
BEST FOODS TO EAT ON THE SLOW CARB DIET
- Beef — Preferably grass-fed. Meat is protein and the focus of the Slow Carb diet.
- Pork — Same as beef. Get the best quality you can find.
- Poultry — Chicken breasts or thighs are preferred for being low in fat and high in protein.
- Fish — A great source of omega-3s but source carefully to avoid heavy metals.
- Eggs — Eggs provide protein and are versatile. Eggs whites should be prioritized, but you can add 1-2 whole eggs for flavor.
- Lactose-free, unflavored whey protein powder — While eating animal protein is encouraged, you do not need to eat it in order to follow this diet. Whey protein can be an additional source of protein for meat-eaters as well.
- Legumes — This includes black beans, red beans, pinto beans, lentils, peas, green beans and soybeans.
- Vegetables — Veggies provide micro-nutrients and fiber, both of which are necessary for good health. Canned or frozen vegetables are okay. Prioritize green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus. Cauliflower is great too, as well as versatile. It can be turned into things like mock mashed potatoes and mock rice.
- Healthy fats — Butter, ghee, grape seed oil and macadamia oil can be used for cooking. Olive oil can be used for low-heat cooking or to drizzle over salads. Nuts including almonds, walnuts and the like should be eaten in moderation. Non-dairy creamer is allowed in moderation as well. Do not have more than 1-2 teaspoons per day.
- A glass or 2 of red wine (preferably dry) per day is allowed on this diet.
- You may season your food with salt, garlic salt, white truffle sea salt and herbs.
Note that while it is recommended to eat meat on this diet, it is not necessary. You can be a vegetarian and still follow it.
FOODS TO AVOID ON THE SLOW CARB DIET
- Processed carbs, grains, & starchy vegetables — Bread, sugar, rice, pasta, corn, potatoes, etc. are to be avoided 6 days per week. However, you can indulge on your cheat day.
- Fried foods — Because most fried foods are dredged in flour or breadcrumbs, fried foods should be avoided. Fried foods also tend to be high in calories but low in nutrition.
- Dairy — All dairy products including milk, yogurt, cheese, heavy cream, kefir, and so on are out. Cottage cheese may be consumed on occasion because it contains a lot of protein but is relatively low in lactose.
- Fruit — All fruit is to be avoided, with the exception of avocados and tomatoes which are technically fruits. These can be eaten in moderation.
- Beverages containing calories — Drink water, unsweetened tea and coffee. Herbal tea is also okay. Diet soda is acceptable, but should not be a regular feature of your diet.
Remember that all these items can be enjoyed on your cheat day. It is recommended that this diet be followed for 2 months, followed by a week off.
KEYS TO SUCCESS ON THE SLOW CARB DIET
GET ENOUGH PROTEIN
Protein should be eaten at every meal. Breakfast should contain at least 30 grams, and every other meal should have at least 20 grams. Not eating enough protein will result in feeling hungry, leaving you open to temptation. You may also be at risk for losing lean muscle mass and your metabolism slowing down.
Eat protein every single day for breakfast, even and especially on your cheat day.
While there aren’t many rules with this diet, in this case, timing matters. Breakfast is meant to be eaten within 1 hour of waking up. After that, space meals approximately 4 hours apart.
When it comes to things like nuts, peanut butter, hummus and the like, it’s easy to overdo it. These are known as Domino Foods because they easily lead to overeating. You’ll need to watch carefully to not eat too much. If your goal is weight loss, Ferriss says to eliminate them altogether.
You don’t need to smell the roses, but you should have enough time to smell (and taste) your food. Eating slowly helps you to feel full, and it also results in less of a blood sugar spike.
Ferriss is all about simplicity. Keeping the basics on hand such as eggs, frozen vegetables, canned beans and tuna will be a stress- and time-saver when you are in a rush.
DON’T OVERDO THE EXERCISE
Ferriss applies the Minimum Effective Dose to every aspect of his life. He only works out 2-3 times per week for about 30 minutes and he says that’s all anyone needs.
Don’t feel like this is an all-or-nothing proposition. If radically overhauling your diet seems too overwhelming, take baby steps. You can start by following the recommendations for a protein-filled breakfast each day shortly after waking up, and then slowly add the other components as you get more comfortable with the plan.
Staying hydrated is essential to good health. Drink plenty of water all day long.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT THE SLOW CARB DIET
SLOW CARB IS JUST THE LATEST FAD DIET
If you take this to mean this is a newer diet, that is true. If you think it means Slow Carb won’t work, that is false. There are many scientific studies that prove eating this type of diet can help you lose weight and improve your health. And it’s just plain common sense that eating less processed food and replacing it with whole, natural foods will be good for you.
IT’S TOO HARD TO STICK TO
Ferriss is sensitive to this claim, and that’s why there’s a cheat day built in to every week. The Slow Carb diet also encourages you to eat until you feel satisfied. But if you still think 6 days is too long to wait to enjoy a donut, be sure you’re eating enough of the staples of protein, vegetables, and legumes which help you to feel full, not deprived. Slow Carb isn’t harder to stick to than any other healthy diet.
I’M ONLY LOSING WATER WEIGHT
Carbs are stored in the muscles and liver. These stored carbs, known as glycogen, bind with water. When we decrease our intake of carbs, glycogen stores decrease, leading to some loss of water weight. A diet that is lower in carbs also reduces insulin levels, which signals to the kidneys to excrete excess sodium and water. This too leads to a loss of water weight. But studies have shown that this type of diet also helps the body shed fat, particularly around the middle which is considered the worst place to store fat due to the risk of squeezing internal organs.
Rapid weight loss at the beginning of a diet can be good for you psychologically and help give you the incentive to continue. Either way, do you want to lug around 10 extra pounds of water that you don’t need?
IT’S ONLY WORKING BECAUSE I’M EATING FEWER CALORIES
Is that a bad thing? Following the Slow Carb diet will probably result in your consuming fewer calories, but the explanation as to why is not that simple. With Slow Carb, you eat less but still feel full. You don’t have to count calories or weight or measure your portions. This makes it easier to follow, without feeling deprived.
While it’s true one of the Slow Carb tenets is to eat repetitive meals, you don’t have to do this. Be creative as you like (just don’t let it lead to overeating). Also, with a cheat day once every week, you’ll have plenty of time to indulge in your favorites, and the fact that you didn’t have them all week will make them taste even better.
IT’S TOO MUCH AT ONCE
Ferriss wants you to be successful. Even if all you do is cut out sugar from breakfast and replace it with protein, that’s already a big step forward. Some people need to make dramatic change while others do better easing into a new diet. Everyone is different. Do what works for you.
COMMON MISTAKES ON THE SLOW CARB DIET
NOT EATING ENOUGH PROTEIN AT BREAKFAST
Skipping breakfast is a common habit, and a lot of people think it’s even a good idea. You’re eating fewer calories that way, right? Wrong. Eating a high-protein breakfast will set you up to feel fuller all day long. Remember to eat within 1 hour of waking.
NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBER
Eat your veggies and legumes. They are low in calories but high in fiber and micronutrients, which helps you feel full. Bonus: you get to eat more of them because they are not calorie-dense.
EATING TOO MANY DOMINO FOODS
Domino foods are foods that are easy to overeat. This includes nuts, peanut butter and hummus. Determine what a portion is and measure it out. So take a baggie with 10 almonds in it to work, not the jar. Another thing to look out for are low-carb prepackaged foods. They often have ingredients that aren’t part of this diet, such as sugar alcohols that are meant to replace sugar, but are actually just as bad as regular sugar.
Related to overdoing it on the Domino Foods and convenience foods, you must be vigilant about things you might be eating ‘just this once.’ If the numbers on the scale start to climb more than a couple of pounds, you’ve got to take a hard look at what you’re really eating versus what you think you’re eating.
NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER
Water is essential for good health, but it is especially true when eating a high-fiber diet. Get into the habit of carrying a water bottle with you wherever you go.
MISSING OUT ON SLEEP
Staying up late watching the boob tube or even reading a book doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but in fact it can have a serious impact on your health. You may have noticed that you feel hungrier on days when you’ve missed out on sleep. That’s not your imagination. Sleep deprivation creates hormonal imbalances which can cause you to gain weight. It also impacts your decision-making abilities, such as whether or not a 10 a.m. donut is a good idea. Get yourself some vitamin Zzz.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SLOW CARB DIET
DON’T I NEED TO EAT DAIRY FOR CALCIUM?
Calcium is an essential nutrient, but it is found in plenty of foods besides dairy products. Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, spinach and kale contain calcium. Doing resistance exercises also promotes strong bones.
ISN’T IT BAD TO EAT A LOT OF MEAT?
Eating too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and liver. This is why it’s important to sit down and slow down and enjoy your food so you don’t overdo it.
WHERE DO I GET FIBER WITHOUT GRAINS?
Vegetables and legumes contain tons of fiber, and these things are much healthier for you than most grains are, especially processed ones.
WHAT ABOUT EATING OUT?
A piece of meat and a green vegetable is available just about anywhere, and most restaurants offer low-carb options, such as replacing the starch with extra veggies. Even the majority of burger joints now have ‘protein-style’ options and offer a lettuce bun. If nothing else, you can ask your server to simply leave off the bread, rice or pasta.
SLOW CARB VS KETO
Because the Slow Carb diet eliminates sugar and grains (6 days a week anyway), it will likely result in your eating fewer carbs than the standard American diet (SAD). However, because you can still eat things like beans, your carb intake will be much higher than with the keto diet. With keto, you must also track your macros whereas this is not required with Slow Carb. But probably the biggest difference between the two is that for keto, the focus is on staying in ketosis (burning fat rather than glucose). It is possible to enter ketosis while following a Slow Carb diet, but it is not the goal of Slow Carb. Also, you will eat much more protein on the Slow Carb diet than with keto, where consuming fat is what matters.
There is also no cheating on the standard keto diet (SKD), although there are variations, such as the cyclical keto diet (CKD) which allow for carbs on some days. If keto sounds too difficult and you are looking for a transitional diet from the standard American diet before you plunge full-on into keto, the Slow Carb diet may be the right choice.
SLOW CARB VS LOW CARB
There is no consensus on what the low carb diet is, beyond eating fewer carbs (usually fewer than 100 per day). So the Slow Carb diet is similar to low carb because certain foods such as processed grains and sugars are restricted or eliminated. However, a low carb diet may allow for fruit and/or dairy products. Beans and other legumes probably won’t be part of a low carb diet as they tend to be higher in carbs. Another difference is that with many low carb diets, it is often required that you track your macros whereas with Slow Carb, you do not have to count macros or calories, but simply eat until you feel full.
SLOW CARB VS PALEO
Slow Carb and Paleo have a lot in common. They both focus on animal protein, green vegetables and eating unprocessed foods. There is also no tracking of calories or macros. The biggest difference being that Paleo does not allow legumes. Also, with Paleo, season fruits are allowed.
Paleo also does not have any allowance for weekly cheat days. While Slow Carb says you can have a diet soda on occasion, being artificial, this is not allowed on Paleo where the focus is on fresh, natural foods our ancient ancestors would have eaten. Which diet is more restrictive would be a toss-up.
BEST SLOW CARB DIET SUPPLEMENTS
For the Slow Carb diet, certain supplements are recommended. Potassium, magnesium and calcium are meant to help you replenish lost electrolytes:
- Potassium — 99 mg tablets, taken with each meal. Potassium is essential for the proper function of the heart, kidneys and other organs.
- Magnesium — 400 mg per day, along with an added 500 mg before bedtime to improve sleep. Most people do not get enough magnesium, which is essential for energy production, blood clotting, muscle contractions and cellular metabolism.
- Calcium — 1,000 mg per day. Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth, but also for proper functioning of muscles.
To help with weight loss, the following are recommended:
- Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) — 100-300 mg. ALA is an antioxidant that has also been shown in studies to be also useful for weight loss because it helps the body to absorb carbohydrates into the liver and muscles rather than converting them into fat.
- Green tea flavanols (decaf) — It should contain at least 325 mg of EGCG. Epigallocatechin (EGCG) helps the body to burn calories. EGCG has also been shown to cause the death of fat cells.
- Garlic extract — A minimum 200 mg. Garlic is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Policosanol — 20-25 mg. Policosanol is a plant extract. It has been shown to raise HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels, as well as decrease LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. It is generally well-tolerated.
The ALA, green tea and garlic should be taken before breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and take the Policosanol with ALA and garlic before bed.