If you have stopped losing weight on your low carb diet, there are several things you can try to kick-start your metabolism back into fat-burning mode. The first is to be honest — look for ways you may have been eating hidden carbs (i.e, in salad dressings and sauces).
If you are sure you are doing all the right things and you are still having a hard time try drinking more pure water (soda and coffee do not count towards your daily water intake.) If that does not work, another common reason people hit a low carb diet plateau is because they do not eat enough fat.
Dr. Atkins explains very simply why you may need to increase your fat intake if you are not losing weight on his plan: “it takes fat to burn fat.”
Good Fats, Bad Fats
All fats are not alike. Some types of fats are essential for good health. Other fats can raise blood cholesterol levels or have other negative effects on cardiovascular health. Eating too much fat of all types can add excess calories and lead to weight gain. This handout will help you sort out the “good” (heart healthy) fats from the “bad” (unhealthy) fats.*
Even though many studies show that low carb diets can actually reduce “bad” cholesterol, even when the diet is high in fat, it is still wise to eat mostly healthy fats. Contrary to what the general public seems to think about low carb diets, Dr. Atkins’ plan never recommended eating all the “bad” fats you want. Instead, he emphasized choosing fats your body needs and can benefit most from.
Heart Healthy Fats
The fats in this category are unsaturated fats (the term unsaturated refers to the chemical structure of these fats). Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods or in fish that eat microscopic plants. One type of polyunsaturated fat — omega-3 fatty acids — has been found to have many positive effects. For example, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce excess blood clotting. Other polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats will lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol when used in place of saturated fat. Foods rich in these “good” unsaturated fats are listed below:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (a type of Polyunsaturated Fat)
- Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3 oz. servings of fatty fish per week.
- Flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil (all contain a less active form of omega-3)
Other Polyunsaturated Fats (called Omega-6 Fatty Acids)
- Vegetable oils: corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil
- Soft (liquid or tub) margarine, ideally one that is trans fat-free
- Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Soy “nuts” (roasted soy beans), soy nut butter and tofu
- Vegetable oils: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios
- Peanut butter and almond butter
* All foods and oils contain a mixture of fats (fatty acids, to be more precise). Foods are categorized here by the predominant type of fat or are included in a category if the fat is present in significant quantities.
Fats with negative health effects are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are found primarily in high-fat meats and dairy foods. Trans fatty acids (called “trans fats” for short) are present in foods that contain “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oils: fried foods, stick margarine, crackers, microwave popcorn, baked goods and other processed foods.
Studies have shown that both saturated fats and trans fats can raise LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol. Saturated and trans fats may also make the lining of blood vessels (the endothelium) less flexible. In addition, trans fats may depress the “good” blood cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) when eaten in large quantities. The foods listed below contain these unhealthy fats and should be avoided or eaten sparingly.
- Fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb
- Poultry skin, chicken wings, dark meat chicken
- High fat dairy products: cheese, butter, whole milk, 2% reduced fat milk, cream, cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream
- Tropical oils: coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter
Trans fatty acids (or “trans fats”)
- Stick margarine and some tub margarine
- Vegetable shortening (e.g. original Crisco)
- Fried foods: doughnuts, French fries, other deep fried fast food items
- Commercially prepared foods containing partially hydrogenated oils: crackers, cookies, cakes, pastries, microwave popcorn and other snack foods
A Word About Dietary Cholesterol
Cholesterol is not a fat. It is a waxy substance found only in foods of animal origin: meat, poultry, seafood, egg yolks and dairy products. Humans do not need to consume any cholesterol because our cells can produce all the cholesterol our bodies need for use in cell membranes and hormones. High intakes of dietary cholesterol can raise LDL cholesterol and can increase heart disease risk in other ways. However, this effect is generally not as strong as that of saturated fats and trans fats. People who have high blood cholesterol levels, heart disease or diabetes should limit their intake of dietary cholesterol. The foods listed below are relatively high in dietary cholesterol:
- Dietary Cholesterol
- Egg yolks or whole eggs: limit to 2 per week
- Organ meats: liver, brains, kidney and sweetbreads
- Shrimp and squid/calamari (one serving a week is okay)
- Meat, poultry and seafood in large amounts (i.e. more than 5 or 6 oz./day)
Source: Jane Borchers, Preventive Cardiology Clinic, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, October 2004. Standford Hospital List of Heart Healthy Fats and Oils (.pdf)