Low carb diets limit the number of carbohydrates a person eats. Some people may find that low carb diets aid weight management, but others may find them unsustainable long-term.

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 are an essential energy source, but if a person consumes more than they require, the body stores them as fats.

Research shows that lowering carb intake can aid weight loss. However, a low carb diet is not a one-size-fits-all means of weight loss and may not be suitable for everyone. Anyone considering a low carb diet should speak with a doctor before starting.

This article covers different low carb food options and tips for creating a sustainable diet plan.

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Typically, a low carb diet involves a person getting less than 26% of their total calorie from carbohydrates. However, this does not mean a person necessarily needs to reduce the overall volume of their meals. To ensure they meet their calorie and nutrition needs, people can prioritize low carb foods such as:

Discover more low carb foods here.

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.

Learn about the different types of carbs

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.

Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, as they need to be broken down into simpler forms. 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.

Find alternatives

Substituting low carb or no-carb foods for high carb foods can help reduce carb intake.

Some low carb substitutions include:

  • lettuce leaves instead of taco shells
  • spiralized zucchini in place of spaghetti
  • cauliflower rice

Know the carb counts and serving sizes of foods

When eating a low carb diet, it is important to 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:

  • 2 slices of reduced-calorie bread
  • 1/4 of a large bagel
  • 1 6-inch corn or flour tortilla
  • 1/2 a cup of oatmeal
  • 3 ounces (oz) of baked potato
  • 1 cup of squash
  • 1 oz of tortilla chips
  • 1/2 cup of black, kidney, or garbanzo beans
  • 1 small apple (4 oz)
  • 1 cup of diced melon
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 6 oz of yogurt

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.

Make a meal plan

A meal plan can help make things easier. Anyone following 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.

Learn more about the science behind weight-loss meal plans here.

Prepare meals

Planning is one thing, but preparing meals ahead of time can also help. Meal prep can help people stick to their diet plan and save time in busier periods.

Having many pre-prepared meals on hand can help people avoid choosing less healthful options.

Popular low carb meals to prepare in advance include:

Carry low carb snacks

Low-carb snack options for between meals include:

  • hard-boiled eggs
  • unsweetened yogurt
  • vegetable sticks
  • nuts
  • cheese

It is essential to regulate portion size of any snacks to avoid overeating.

Consider carb cycling

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 with their doctor or nutritionist first.

Learn more about carb cycling here.

Regularly take stock of health

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 the following:

People following a vegetarian or vegan diet may need to take additional steps to ensure they maintain adequate nutritional balance if reducing carb intake. For example, some popular plant-based protein sources, such as chickpeas and lentils are naturally high in carbohydrates.

Learn more here about eating a low carb diet as a vegetarian or vegan.

Many people follow low carb diets to lose or maintain weight. Carbs are the body’s primary energy source, so reducing carb intake can lead the body to burn stored fats for energy instead.

Research shows that eating a low carb diet increases energy expenditure during weight loss. Large reviews note that adopting a low carb diet can also have a positive effect on insulin management – making it an effective means of treating obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Learn more about weight management in our dedicated content hub.

Below are frequently asked questions relating to low carb diets.

What is the fastest way to lose weight on a low carb diet?

A low carb diet can cause people to lose water weight quickly, but this initial rapid weight loss will naturally slow down. To lose fat and promote sustainable weight loss, people must develop a consistent lifestyle where they burn more calories through activity than they consume. Overall diet and lifestyle are more important for weight loss than carbohydrate levels.

What food can I eat on a low carb diet?

Eating a varied diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and filling foods is important when making any diet changes. Examples of healthy low carb foods include:

  • broccoli and cauliflower
  • lean protein sources, such as eggs and chicken breast
  • leafy green vegetables
  • sources of healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and oily fish

What are the best tips to follow on a low-carb diet?

Some tips that may help a person follow a low-carb diet include:

  • learn about the different types of carbs before starting
  • find low carb alternatives to popular foods
  • make a meal plan and prepare meals ahead of time
  • consider carb cycling
  • take regular stock of health

What should you not eat when avoiding carbs?

A no-carb diet is not advisable. Carbohydrates are essential for properly working the body, and fully excluding them can be dangerous. People wishing to reduce their carbohydrate intake should limit their intake of high-carb, low-satiety foods such as sugary snacks and drinks. These products are high in carbohydrates but often low in nutritional content and are typically not very filling.

What are the 3 main types of low carb diets?

There are many different types of low carbohydrate diets, including the paleo, keto, and Atkins diets. These diets vary in their exact nutritional composition, but all three prioritize proteins and fats over carbs.

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.