Carbs have long been known as the mortal enemy of dieters, but just because they have a bad reputation doesn't mean they have to be your dieting downfall. Learn the best ways to eat (and not eat) carbs, all while keeping your waistline where you want it.
Credit: Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Common Carb Mistakes

Cutting Out All Carbs
You may be tempted to totally rid your diet of carbohydrates, but it's better to just reduce your intake. Carbs help give your body (and brain) energy, and without them, you'll end up feeling sluggish and in a constant brain-fog. The key is balancing your diet, not eliminating a food group. 

Choosing Empty Carbs
Now that you're going to include some carbs in your diet, it's important to focus on what kinds of carbs you're choosing. Don't take this as an easy-pass to splurge on cookies, fries, or sugary cereal. These empty carbs aren't a great source of nutrition and will leave you feeling hungry soon after your last bite. Choose more complex carbs like whole grains or starchy vegetables.

Only Avoiding Bread and Pasta
Carbohydrates come in all shapes and sizes. Starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes), fruits and their juices, and certain dairy products all contain a hearty dose of carbs. If you're really looking to reduce your carb intake, you'll need to do some label reading. Sugar is a common sneaky ingredient that will dramatically increase the amount of carbs you eat. Be carb-conscious when eating foods like baked beans, store-bought salad dressings or condiments, and flavored coffee drinks. Just because they don't look like traditional carbs doesn't mean their numbers aren't high.

Not Practicing Portion Control
You're reducing your carb intake, but that doesn't mean it's a free-for-all with all other food groups. It's still easy to overeat your daily calorie and fat needs even when avoiding carbohydrates. Be aware of how much is going on your plate and how full you feel as you eat. Being mindful of what foods and how much you're eating can really make an impact on your daily caloric intake. 

Getting the Most From a Low-Carb Diet

Make Smart Swaps
You don't have to change your whole diet in order to be smart about carbohydrates. Making simple ingredient swaps can make a big difference between a carb-packed or carb-conscious meal. Here, a few easy swaps that anyone can do:

  • Brown rice instead of white rice
  • Flavored water instead of fruit juice
  • Corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas
  • Sweet potatoes instead of russet or golden potatoes
  • Spiralized zucchini (zoodles) instead of white pasta
  • Whole grain toast instead of sugary cereal
  • Nuts instead of pretzels

Focus on Calories, Then Carbs
If the goal of your low-carb diet is to shed some pounds, calories may be the bigger culprit in your weight-loss journey. Focus on making meals that help you stay within your daily calorie range, then consider lowering your carbohydrate intake. If you fill up on vegetables, fruits, complex carbs, lean meats, and legumes, you're sure to feel satisfied and lose weight.

Try Out SmartCarb
The newest specialized meal plan on the Cooking Light Diet, the SmartCarb option, will lower your overall carbohydrate intake while also helping you avoid processed foods and refined sugar. With dishes like Lemon-Garlic Pork and Broccoli Bulgur Bowl and Skirt Steak with Corn and Red Pepper Puree, you definitely won't feel like you're on a diet.