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The Promise

Cookbook editor and writer Fran McCullough struggled for many years to lose weight, and she's shared her solution: a low-carb diet.

In her book, Living Low-Carb, McCullough sums up low-carb diet plans, from Atkins to Paleo, and explains how each can help you lose weight. She also includes a collection of recipes to make low-carb living easier.

To help you avoid typical dieting pitfalls, the book includes how-tos for traveling, and tips to make weekly grocery shopping easier. You'll also find success stories from other low-carb dieters.

Does It Work?

Studies have shown that low-carb diets outperform low-fat diets for weight loss in the first year. But after a year, weight loss was about the same with both types of diets.

Low-carb diets seem to be fine for short-term weight loss. But whether they're safe over the long run is questionable.

Nutrition experts have some concerns with going very low-carb, if it means restricting foods like whole grains and certain fruits and vegetables. Also, the type of protein you eat matters. Too much red meat that isn't lean, for example, could be bad for your health.

What You Can Eat

If you want to go low-carb, McCullough suggests doing this:

  • Limit carbs to between 0 and 30 grams a day. How low you go depends on how much weight you want to lose.
  • Avoid white foods. That includes potatoes, rice, bread, flour, and sugar.
  • Make protein part of every meal. Eat about half a gram of protein for every pound of your ideal body weight daily. That works out to about 60 to 85 grams for an average-sized person.
  • Drink 8 to 12 eight-ounce glasses of water a day to flush toxins from your body.
  • Eat whole foods -- organic and raw, if possible.
  • Choose healthy fats. Olive oil, avocado, and nuts are smarter choices than butter and cheese.

Level of Effort: Medium

Following McCullough’s recipes and suggestions will make it easier to stick to a low-carb way of eating, but you will still need to count carbs and protein.

Limitations: If you don't want to give up every slice of white toast or baked potato, you’ll struggle with this approach. McCullough admits it's not for everyone. Anyone with kidney damage shouldn't do this diet, since eating too much protein can overwork the kidneys.

Cooking and shopping: Living Low-Carb has tips to help you navigate the supermarket, and 175 recipes for meal planning.

Packaged foods or meals: No.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Recommended.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: The diet is already restrictive, so vegetarians, and especially vegans, will need to make an effort to find enough foods to eat.

Gluten-free: Going low-carb isn't necessarily the same as going gluten-free. You would need to read food labels to look for possible sources of gluten.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: None apart from your food.

Support: You do this diet on your own.

What Brunilda Nazario, MD, Says:

Does It Work?

Yes, at least at first. Studies have shown that low-carb diets outperform low-fat diets for weight loss in the first year. But after a year, weight loss was about the same with both types of diets.

Studies have shown that diets that are higher in protein can make you feel fuller.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

It can work for anyone, but if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, ask your doctor how well your kidneys are working. A diet that is high in protein may be a limitation for you.

Also talk to your doctor if you take diuretics ("water pills"). Any high-protein diet can lead to an increase in ketones or ketosis and a well-known side-effect, bad breath. It can also spark a flare-up of gout.

The Final Word

This diet can help you lose weight, but it's not a comprehensive approach to weight management. As with any restrictive diet if you chose this approach it should only be used short term. To keep the weight off, then you also need to make lifestyle changes.

The upside to this approach is that it's simple. But like any diet, it may be more challenging if you live with people who aren't on the same plan.

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