la-he-carbs

Food scientists divide carbohydrates into two categories: good and bad. A good carb is one that doesn't raise your blood sugar quickly. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Many well-known diets, including the Zone diet and the South Beach diet, focus on cutting and counting carbs to varying degrees. The most famous is the Atkins diet, which starts with an induction phase, a very-low-carb diet of fewer than 20 grams daily, and ramps up the carb allotment later in the diet. Other low-carb diets are less strict. The Zone diet, also known as the 40-30-30 diet, is a calorically restricted diet that recommends that 40% of calories come from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from healthful fats (ones from plants and fish). The South Beach diet more closely resembles the Atkins regimen but does not restrict carbohydrates as much in the early phase.

Whether you're ready for a whole new way of eating or just want to cut back on carbs, here are some ways to do so:

Substitute sugar-free beverages for sugary soft drinks, sports drinks and juice.

Look for low-carb and sugar-free products in stores. Low-carb tortillas, bread, pasta and ice cream are in many grocery stores.

Instead of a starchy vegetable, such as potatoes, corn or rice, serve two green vegetables and a nonstarchy soup or salad.

Skip the bread basket at restaurants.

Have olives or cheese on high-fiber wafers as an appetizer.

Boost your intake of most green vegetables, nuts and berries.

At lunch, order an entree salad instead of a sandwich. Ask for your burger bunless, served on top of extra lettuce and tomato, with cheese.

Order your burrito naked and your tostada without the tortilla but with guacamole.

Add portions of fish, poultry, cheese, meat and eggs to your diet: These are virtually carb-free. Add peanut butter (the kind without added sugar), which is relatively low in carbs.

Get a low-carb cookbook or search for low-carb recipes online.

What the nutrition experts say

Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health:

"Almost everyone could improve his or her health by cutting back and paying more attention to carbs. Reduce refined carbs in the diet and replace them with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and fats from vegetable sources. Reduce the overall amount of carbs from 55% of calories to below 40%, and make as many of those good carbs as you can."

Dr. Ronald Krauss, senior scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and founder and past chair of the American Heart Assn. Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism:

"Avoid white starches, sugars and trans fat; look for whole kernel (not just whole wheat) grain products; load up on vegetables, limit red meats (especially processed); and don't agonize about saturated fat. Even better, burn up calories by getting plenty of exercise; then you won't have to worry as much about choosing between fats and carbs."

Dr. Stephen Phinney, nutritional biochemist and emeritus professor of medicine at UC Davis:

"A person's carbohydrate intake should match his tolerance. In my case, since I am carbohydrate intolerant, I eat less than 50 grams of net carbs a day from vegetables, berries and fermented dairy, including sour yogurt, cheese and buttermilk. I'd rather eat a diet higher in fat, rich in protein and lower in carbs than take two drugs a day with side effects, which I used to have to do to control my blood pressure."

Dr. Edward Saltzman, associate professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University:

"A very-low-carb diet is likely healthier for the long term, but it's difficult to consume given the food environment in which we live. I've never recommended a very-low-carbohydrate diet, one under 20 grams a day, for my patients, though I have suggested patients stay between 100 to 120 grams. You can eat a lot of vegetables, lean meat and some dairy and have a healthy diet not high in carbs."

Joanne Slavin, professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota, member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

"Americans have to eat fewer calories. But I see no value in making a hit list for carbs. There are many healthy eating patterns, and potatoes, pasta, white bread and rice surely fit into many of these."

Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University Medical Center:

"If we were to design a one-size-fits-all diet, it should probably be a low-carb diet. We should go back to the days of hunter-gatherers. The secret to maintaining a low-carb diet is to increase fat intake, but only natural fats, not man-made fats. I can keep patients on a low-carb diet forever if they can have cream, butter and bacon."

Dr. Walter Willet, chairman of the department of nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health:

"Eating moderate carbohydrates can be healthy if they're comprised of high fiber and whole grains. Personally, I avoid refined starches and sugars, and limit my carbohydrates to what I get from vegetables and whole grains. If I only eat healthy carbs, I feel so full, I really can't consume more than 40% of my calories from carbs per day, so I tend to stay well under that."

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