slow carb

We hear a lot about “low carb” diets in the media, and you’ll hear us talk about “slow” or non-starchy carbs. What do these terms really mean and does AH consider itself one or the other? These are questions we’ve been asked a lot over the years, so we wanted to address them in this post.

Is the Always Hungry Solution “Low Carb”?

A lot of people think of the Always Hungry Solution (AH) as a “low carb” diet plan, and while it is true that phase 1 is fairly low carb (with 25% of daily calories coming from Carbohydrate), the plan really focuses more on the quality of carbohydrates (slow carb) than on the quantity (low carb).

AH Phases 2 and 3 include a more moderate carbohydrate intake (30 to 40% of calories), again focusing on high quality carbohydrates or “slow carbs”. This separates AH from the true low carb diets.

A keto (ketogenic) diet, for example, only allows about 50 grams of  carbohydrate per day. That’s only about 10% of a 2,000 calorie diet. However, you may be able to get the metabolic effects without going that low. In fact, AH has been called “Keto light” as a way to describe the affects this program has on your metabolism. Here’s a great article that goes in depth into this topic.

Instead of focusing on eradicating all carbohydrates from our diets, we guide our readers to change the quality of the carbohydrates they eat. In essence, AH replaces refined carbs and sugars with “slow carbs”. These are carbs that don’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. We also balance the carbs with protein, and high quality fats.

This creates a lifestyle that is more fulfilling than traditional sugary diets. It also leads to a reduction in hunger and cravings that allows for long term satisfaction and success. Ultimately, it’s a way of eating that you can stick to and love for life.

The Body’s Response to Refined Carbohydrates

Charts from ALWAYS HUNGRY? by David Ludwig, MD, PhD, and Dawn Ludwig. Copyright © 2016 by David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD. All rights reserved.

Can I leave out the carbs?

While some people find great success by following strict “low carb” or ketogenic diet plans, others find sticking with Phase 1 or 2 slow carbs more sustainable. See our post on Keto vs AH for more on ultra low carb diets.

Guiding you to listen to your body is key here. If you experiment with lowering the  carbs below Phase 1 or if you tend to be someone who forgets to add a slow carb to meals, be aware that leaving out the carbs can lead to feelings of brain fog and fatigue since your body may not be adapted to such a low intake of carbohydrates. These setbacks can cause people to struggle to incorporate AH into their lives. It can also increase cravings and lead to the yo-yoing that we work so hard to leave behind. The adjustment period to get into ketosis can be a few weeks, and staying in it requires discipline. Just proceed with caution.

And if you stay in Phase 1 or 2 remember to add your slow carb to each meal.

Remember to add the Slow Carb

No matter which phase of the program you are in, ask yourself, “which food in this meal is providing me with slow-carbohydrates?”. Remember, unlike strict “low carb” diets that focus on simply reducing all carbohydrate intake, AH focuses on the quality of the carbs. Then, we balance those slow-acting carbs with appropriate amounts of fat and protein. We’ve included a list below of examples of slow-carbs for each phase of AH.

In general, Phase 1 slow carbs come from beans & legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and whole, non-tropical fruit. Phase 2 adds whole-kernel grains and some starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and winter squashes. For a more thorough list, please see Appendix A in Always Hungry.

A more moderate, good-quality carbohydrate intake can reduce cravings and boost metabolism while allowing you to fully participate in the social aspects of eating without worrying about getting off track. It’s easy to vilify carbohydrates, but there is no reason to. Focus on quality and your body will thank you.

Slow Carb Foods

In our books, we often refer to Phase 1 slow carb foods as “Non-starchy carbohydrates”. This is a good way to recognize a slow carb. Refined carbs and starchy foods like bread or potato products are broken down quickly by the body and can act like sugar in terms of blood sugar levels and insulin response. In contrast, slow carbs digest more slowly as they maintain moderate blood sugar and insulin levels.

Slow Carb Food Ideas To Include in Phase 1 Meals:

  • Beans like black beans, white beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, fava beans, etc.
  • Puréed vegetable soups like carrot, cauliflower, tomato, roasted pepper, lentil, split pea
  • Lentils or dried split peas
  • Non-tropical fruit such as apples, tangerines, and berries
  • Parsnips (with caution: pay attention to how your body feels – may be Phase 2 for some people)
  • Unlimited non-starchy vegetables

Slow Carb Food Ideas  To Include in Phase 2 Meals:

  • Any Phase 1 slow carb
  • Bananas
  • Beets
  • Cantaloupe or other melons
  • Dried fruit
  • Green peas
  • Fruit (may include small amounts of tropical fruit)
  • Pumpkin
  • Parsnips
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Whole Kernel Grains such as brown rice, wheat berries, quinoa, or steel cut oats

Keep in mind that Phase 3 allows for the inclusion of white potatoes and some processed carbohydrates such as flour tortillas. While we recommend you choose high quality foods (for example, a hearty sourdough bread rather than highly processed white bread for sandwiches), we also want to clarify that these processed grains will not act as slow carbs in your diet. Refined carbs should therefore be included with thought and care rather than eaten at every meal. Pay attention to how your body feels: your hunger, cravings, energy, etc. Use the Daily Trackers to help  you listen to your body.

The following chart may also help you decide how to include carbohydrates into your meals.

  • Vanessa

    what about black glutenous rice and wild rice? are they slow carbs?

    • drdavidludwig

      Yes, for Phase 2, but not for Phase 1.
      — Chef Dawn