If you’ve ever dug into a cauliflower-crust pizza or bowl of zucchini noodles in an attempt to lower your daily carbohydrate intake, you’re likely no stranger to feeling pretty hungry an hour or so after eating. Low-carb diets can be tough to stick to, often because meals that keep carbs to a minimum leave your stomach gurgling for more.
Don’t throw in the towel just yet, though. If you’re interested in trying (or maintaining!) low-carb diets, these expert-backed tips make the eating style sustainable and satiating.
First, Is Low-Carb Right for You?
When you hear of people “cutting carbs,” you probably think about avoiding foods like sliced bread, rice, and tortillas. However, ‘low-carb’ can mean limiting any kind of foods with carbohydrates, including sugar, cakes, cookies, pastries, candies, soda, and dairy, says Roseanne Schnell, C.D.N., a nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe. On very low-carb diets (like keto), you may even limit healthy foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, and fruits.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend most people consume 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Low-carb, though, generally falls between 25 to 40 percent, says Schnell. (There’s no clear-cut threshold!)
Read More: No, Low-Carb And Keto Are Not The Same Thing
Though people choose to go low-carb for a number of reasons, it’s often used as a strategy for weight loss, blood sugar control, and improving metabolism, says Schnell. The idea is that eating low-carb may lower insulin, a hormone that plays a role in fat storage, blood sugar, and metabolism. Because of this, someone who is overweight, diabetic, has cardiovascular risk factors, heart disease, or metabolic syndrome may benefit, Schnell adds.
4 Ways To Make Low-Carb Diets More Filling
If low-carb eating is leaving you hungry for more, these expert strategies can change the game.
1. Try Lower-Carb Versions Of Your Favorite Foods
Instead of cutting out your favorite foods altogether, leaving you wistful for the days of warm bread loaves, there’s no harm in trying a few lower-carb processed foods, says dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Low-carb breads and buns make sandwiches, burgers, and morning avocado toasts more satisfying.
She also suggests leaning into pastas that are enriched with fiber or made from beans, which keep you satiated for longer than their white-flour counterparts.
If you prefer to cut processed foods altogether, you can choose to avoid these bread and pasta alternatives. But just because you’ve wrapped your burger in a lettuce wrap instead of a bun doesn’t mean your body suddenly needs fewer calories to stay full. One thing many people forget is that swapping out carbohydrates requires you to swap in something in its place, says Harris-Pincus.
She suggests making smart swaps, like having a side of beans for additional nutrition and fiber in lieu of a bun with your burger, or adding roasted broad beans instead of croutons to a salad for an option that’s higher in fiber and protein but still offers the satisfying crunch.
2. Tweak The MyPlate Formula
It may seem like common sense, but one of the biggest mistakes people make when building low-carb meals is failing to follow the classic MyPlate meal model, which includes fruit, protein, grains, vegetables, and dairy, says Harris-Pincus.
Since low-carb meals may not include a traditional grain or fruit, though, Schnell recommends upping sources of protein and fat. “When lowering the carbohydrates in your meal plan, the macronutrient intake of fat and protein generally increases to compensate for the reduction in carbohydrates. This can be beneficial, since fats and protein increase satiety and help reduce hunger.”
Otherwise, you can follow the rest of the MyPlate recommendations while keeping carbs low.
3. Pile On The Fibrous Foods
One thing to really focus on for a successful low-carb diet is packing in the fiber, which makes meals truly filling while also keeping your microbiome and gut healthy, says Harris-Pincus. (She recommends a minimum of 25 grams of fiber per day.)
Yes, that means you’ll have to consume some carbs. “There’s nothing that really is 100 percent fiber,” she says. “You’re going to have to have a decent amount of carbohydrates to hit that fiber.” To snag max fiber for the fewest total carbs possible, incorporate foods like chia seeds, artichokes, nuts, avocados, and cruciferous vegetables, Harris-Pincus suggests.
One of her other tricks: Stuff a sweet potato with other high-fiber foods, like beans. “There is so much nutrition in sweet potatoes; it’s not a high glycemic food (the measure of blood glucose-raising potential of a carb), and with the skin on, it’s really high in fiber.”
Schnell also loves filling a veggie vessel with protein. She suggests hollowing out fiber-filled eggplant, zucchini, or bell peppers, and stuffing them with lean ground meat and other non-starchy vegetables. For breakfast, you can even bake an egg in an avocado, which is surprisingly high in fiber.
If you’re craving fruit, “the best bang for your buck is berries,” says Harris-Pincus. “Blackberries and raspberries have the highest amount of fiber per serving size.”
If you’re still struggling to meet your fiber needs, Schnell recommends adding a Fiber Powder to your routine.
4. Go Halfway
There’s no need to abandon all your favorite carb-heavy foods in place for vegetable versions. “People think they have to cut out everything completely, but it’s not feasible or enjoyable or sustainable,” says Harris-Pincus.
When in doubt, just go halfway. For example, swap cauliflower rice for half the brown, wild, or black rice you would usually use, or add zucchini noodles to half your usual amount of pasta. This assures you won’t lose out on your favorite spaghetti but can cut down on the carbohydrates in the meal while adding extra fiber and nutrients.