If you made a resolution to cut back on carbohydrates this year, you’ll be thrilled to learn that your menu options are vast. The truth is, you can enjoy complete meals that are so satisfying, you’d forget they're virtually carb-free.
Studies consistently show that when people reduce their intake of carbohydrates and enjoy more protein and healthy fats, they ultimately consume fewer calories. This is partially because protein and fat generate a greater feeling of satiety and reduction in appetite. And the recipes below are about as satisfying as you can get.
But first, let's talk about what carbohydrates are.
What is a low-carb diet?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a low-carb diet is one in which you limit your daily intake to 20 to 57 grams of carbohydrates, which is around 80 to 240 calories from carbs.
When we eat carbs, our body breaks them down and, if we need the fuel, they’re immediately used as energy. If we don’t need the fuel, the body stores them in our muscles and liver. If we don’t end up using those excess stored carbs, they’re converted to fat.
Can a low-carb diet help with weight loss?
If weight loss is your goal, you’ll be pleased to hear that people on low-carb diets typically lose more weight faster than those following a low-fat diet. This holds true even when those on a low-fat diet actively restrict calories.
What accounts for the rapid weight loss? Low-carb diets rid the body of excess water, which produces speedy weight loss in the first week or two. There’s also fat loss and, the great news is, a large percentage of that is abdominal fat, harmful adipose tissue linked to serious health issues.
It's worth noting that to maintain any newly acquired weight loss, you must sustain a healthy, balanced diet and exercise routine.
Are there other benefits to a low-carb diet?
Healthy, low-carb diets can help reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, blood triglycerides (fat molecules that increase your risk of heart disease), blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol. A reduction in carbohydrate intake can also increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.
In a nutshell, a sensible, low-carb diet can effectively reverse all five key symptoms of metabolic syndrome — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. This cluster of conditions increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and a lower-carb diet can help.
What can you eat on a healthy low-carb diet?
I hate to break the news to you, but cutting out carbohydrates doesn’t mean loading up on bacon.
A nutritious, low-carb diet means one that’s rich in lean protein, healthful fats and nourishing produce. In general, a low-carb menu includes lean meats (sirloin, chicken breast, pork tenderloin), seafood, eggs, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli), nuts and unsweetened nut butters, seeds, oils (coconut, olive, rapeseed), some fruit (apples, blueberries, strawberries) and unsweetened dairy products (plain whole milk, plain Greek yogurt, cheese).
As you can see, the range is huge, which means you shouldn’t feel deprived while eating low-carb.
The main items to steer clear of are sweets, white breads and pastas, white rice and most starchy foods, including potatoes.
Don't despair, the recipes below showcase how you can create easy weeknight dinners so delicious, you won't miss a single carbohydrate.
Recipe: Steak Florentine with creamed spinach
Pan seared steaks served with a silky blend of fresh spinach, garlic, parmesan cheese and cream feels indulgent, but this one-pan meal couldn't be easier and is ready in less than 20 minutes.
Makes: 4 servings
4 lean steaks, about 4 to 5 ounces each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Crushed red pepper flakes for serving, optional
Season both sides of the steaks with salt and black pepper and let them rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steaks and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side for rare to medium-rare, or longer for more fully cooked meat.
Transfer the steaks to a plate and tent with foil.
Melt the butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until wilted but still vibrant green, stirring frequently to move the spinach from the bottom of the pan to the top.
Stir in the cream and parmesan cheese and cook until the liquid reduces. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Transfer the steaks to individual plates and serve with the creamed spinach. Top with red pepper flakes for a little heat and serve.
Recipe: Turkey Parmesan Meatballs
You'll only need one pan, a handful of ingredients for these juicy, parmesan- and herb-spiked meatballs swimming in marinara sauce and blanketed with gooey cheese. Put it all together and let the oven do the work for you.
Makes: 12 meatballs (4 servings)
1 pound ground turkey or ground chicken
1 large egg
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
Salt and ground black pepper
1 ½ cups marinara sauce of choice, or tomato sauce
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, or more if desired
Chopped fresh basil or parsley for serving, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, egg, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Mix well and shape the mixture into 12 meatballs.
Transfer the meatballs to the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and spoon the marinara sauce all around the meatballs. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the meatballs are cooked through (a meat thermometer should register 165 degrees).
Top the meatballs with the mozzarella cheese and bake for 2 to 3 more minutes or until the cheese melts.
Top with basil or parsley (if using) and serve.
Recipe: Cajun Baked Salmon
These tender salmon fillets, scented with sweet butter, fresh lemon and tantalizing Cajun seasoning will bake to perfection in less than 10 minutes.
Makes: 4 servings
1 ½ pounds salmon (either a larger fillet for sharing or 4 individual fillets)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
Chopped green onions, for serving
Lemon slices, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and arrange the salmon on the prepared pan. Season with salt and black pepper.
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, lemon juice and Cajun seasoning. Spoon the mixture all over the salmon.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the salmon is fork-tender.
Top with green onions and serve with lemon slices on the side.
Questions or comments? Email the culinary team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Low-carb dinner ideas: easy weeknight steak, meatballs, salmon recipes