We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Low-carb diets limit the number of carbohydrates a person eats. Instead of carbs, people focus on eating proteins, healthful fats, and vegetables.
Carbohydrates or carbs are one of three main food types that the body needs to work properly. The other two are protein and fat. Carbs give the body energy. The body breaks carbs down to use immediately or later.
If the body does not need to use the carbs for energy as soon as a person eats them, it stores them in the muscles and liver to use later. However, if the body does not use these stored carbs, the body converts them to fat.
Many people find following a low-carb diet challenging, particularly at the beginning of the diet. The following low-carb diet tips might help people stick to their diet and may help them lose weight successfully.
Low-carb foods include:
Most low carb diets only allow for 20 to 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day. Because of this, it is essential that people following low-carb diets choose foods that have a lower carb count but a high nutritional value per serving.
The foods in the quantities listed below all contain approximately 15 g of carbs:
While the foods listed above all contain roughly equal amounts of carbohydrates, they are not all nutritionally equivalent. The dairy products on the list contain protein and vital nutrients, such as Vitamin D and calcium in addition to the carbohydrate content.
The fruit and vegetables also contain essential vitamins and minerals. Choosing whole-grain varieties of bread and rice will provide more nutrients than white varieties, even though the carb content is similar.
A meal plan can help make things easier.
Anyone trying to follow a low-carb diet could try mapping out their week and plan all meals before heading to the grocery store.
Planning meals in advance can help people stick to the diet.
Knowing what they are going to eat for lunch and dinner can help a person avoid making unhealthful food choices, such as stopping at a fast food restaurant.
Meal planners are available for purchase online.
Planning is one thing, but preparing meals ahead of time can also help. Meal prep can help a person:
Some people like to prepare a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches ahead of time and store the meals in containers, so they are convenient and ready to go. It is possible to freeze some meals too, meaning people can prepare even more food in advance.
Having lots of pre-prepared meals on hand can help people avoid choosing less healthful options.
Popular low-carb meals to prepare in advance include:
Low-carb snack options for between meals include:
It is essential to regulate portion size of any snacks to avoid overeating.
Carb cycling involves eating very low-carb foods for a set amount of days, followed by one day of eating higher carb meals. This helps the body avoid fat-burning plateaus that can develop after weeks of low-carb dieting.
Carb cycling is not for everyone, and anyone considering it should talk to their doctor or nutritionist first.
Carbs come in different forms.
Simple carbs consist of easy to digest sugars. Refined and processed carbs, such as white sugar and white flour, are simple carbs.
People who are starting on a low-carb diet need to think about reducing their intake of refined and processed carbs. Avoiding these carbs will be beneficial for reaching an ideal weight and for health in general.
However, not all simple carbs are created equal. Fruits include fructose, which is a simple carb, but eating fruit is recommended in a low-carb diet, as it is loaded with nutrients and is a whole-food source of carbs.
Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, as they need to be broken down into a simpler form. Complex carbs are found in more nutrient-rich foods, such as beans, whole-grains, and fiber-rich fruits, such as bananas.
Complex carbs also have the added benefit of making a person feel full faster, which might prevent them from overeating. Complex carbs also make people feel full for longer, which might help them avoid snacking between meals.
Substituting low-carb or no-carb foods for high-carb foods can help reduce carb intake.
Some low-carb substitutions include:
Exercise is an important part of overall health. People should avoid a sedentary lifestyle but refrain from excessive exercising.
Those on low-carb diets may want to avoid long periods of intense activity such as distance running. This is because people who are doing a form of exercise that requires extra endurance, such as marathon training, will need extra carbohydrates to fuel their bodies.
People should know about potential health risks before starting a low-carb diet.
Short-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include:
Long-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include:
Some people should not follow a low-carb diet unless instructed to do so by a doctor. These groups of people include those with kidney disease and teenagers.
Not everyone will benefit from, or should even consider, a low-carb diet. Anyone thinking about doing a low-carb diet should speak with a doctor before starting.
Many people follow low-carb diets on the basis that if the body does not receive extra carbohydrates, it will not store excess fat.
The idea, then, is that the body will burn some of the stored fat rather than the carbs, which will promote fat loss.
Research from 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who followed a low-carb diet lost more weight than those on a low-fat diet after 6 months, but not after 12 months.
The study noted that “longer and larger studies are required to determine the long-term safety and efficacy of low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diets.”
A low-carb diet can have some benefits, including weight loss. With some planning and appropriate substitutions, most people can follow a low-carb diet. However, a low-carb diet may not be the best way to achieve long-term or sustainable health goals.
When following a low-carb diet, it is essential that people eat healthfully and do not overeat certain foods, such as very fatty meats.
People looking to lose weight or considering going on a low-carb diet should speak to their doctor or nutritionist before making any significant changes.
Last medically reviewed on December 22, 2020
Share this article
Many people reduce carbohydrate intake to help them lose weight. Carbohydrates are important macronutrients, but cutting them can help people to lose…
Many people adopt a high-protein diet to try to lose weight. Healthful foods that are high in protein include lean meats, nuts, quinoa, and fish…
The keto diet involves restricting the intake of carbs and replacing them with fats. But how many carbs are allowed? We investigate.
A low-carb diet can help with reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, and it may especially benefit people with diabetes. This diet tends to…
In this article, we look at how the amount of carbs people eat affects weight loss. We also examine what carbs are best for people aiming to lose…