A low-carb diet is a style of eating that restricts the number of carbohydrates you eat, such as those found in bread, pasta, and rice, and processed foods with added sugar. Instead, the diet focuses on protein and fats while including plenty of fresh produce.
There are different versions of low-carb diets, and some allow small amounts of certain carbs, while others cut them out completely. However, all low-carb diets share a common goal: to minimize carb intake and encourage the body to burn fat for fuel.
How the Low-Carb Diet Works
The low-carbohydrate diet should involve plenty of healthy fats and proteins. Try to source these from various foods, not just meat and dairy products. Some studies show that saturated fats can lead to heart disease, so choose wisely. It may be low in carbs but not healthy.
Fresh produce is a must. Opt for dark leafy greens. These provide calcium and iron for overall health and immunity. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables for vitamin C will help overall health and immunity.
As a guide, the best foods on a low-carb diet are:
- Protein sources like meat, legumes, soy products, and pulses.
- Fish is another staple for the low-carb diet, especially salmon, trout, and haddock.
- Eggs provide a range of nutrients, including protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vegetables are another major diet staple, especially dark leafy greens like broccoli, kale, and spinach.
- Nuts and seeds are an additional source of protein and healthy fats.
- Full-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt (full-fat options will likely have less sugar).
- Cooking oils and spreads include olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oil.
The Diet Plan
All diets need a good balance of fresh produce, healthy fats, and protein. Unless you are on a heavily restricted diet, some carbs are okay, especially as a source of fiber. Opt for the whole grain variety when including a carbohydrate in a meal. Complex carbohydrates (whole-grain varieties) take longer for the body to digest and do not spike blood sugar levels.
- Eat 20-50 g of carbs (or less) per day
- Consume 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight
- Healthy fats should constitute up to 70% of daily calories
How Is the Low-Carb Plan Different From the Keto or Atkins Diet?
The low-carb, keto, and Atkins diets are all similar, but the main difference is that the keto diet is a stricter form of the Atkins diet, limiting carbs to 20 grams per day or less. Low-carb dieting is any diet that restricts your intake of carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches.
The low-carbohydrate diet cuts out cheap staples like bread, rice, and pasta. It can be expensive to purchase low-carb options, like pasta made from legumes or other non-wheat-based foods.
However, if well-planned, the diet does not have to be too expensive, especially as many staples like beans and lentils can be bought dry, in bulk. This may just add some time to your weekly food preparation.
Dos and Don’ts
- Carefully plan meals for the week and consider options for on the go.
- Include a range of foods in meals while seeking freshness and variety.
- Meal-prep and store food for the week.
- Combine healthy eating with plenty of exercise.
- Keep hydrated: drinking 6-8 cups of water per day is recommended.
- Eat plenty of fresh produce, especially dark, leafy greens.
- Replace carbs solely with saturated fats.
- Rely on heavy animal fats.
- Overlook critical nutrients like vitamin B12.
- Entirely cut out carbs unless on a stringent diet.
Sample Diet Plan
Breakfast: 1 cup raspberries with greek yogurt and a sprinkling of sliced almonds
Lunch: Omelet with seasonal vegetables
Dinner: Sauteed spinach with butternut squash and roasted chickpeas
Snacks: Trail mix, small pieces of fruit, slices of cheese
Health Benefits and Drawbacks of the Low-carb Diet
There are many potential benefits to the low-carbohydrate diet. These include weight loss, lower average BMI, improved energy levels, and lower risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
When done right, this diet can provide sustainable health benefits. The low-carb diet can promote overall health and wellbeing combined with regular exercise and plenty of water.
Carbohydrates often provide a source of fiber. This can help gut health and maintain good digestion. A sudden drastic reduction in carbohydrates/fiber can cause some discomfort, such as:
- Muscle cramps
Usually, these side effects are temporary, but they can make the diet problematic initially.
Consider reducing carbohydrates slowly to reduce these symptoms.
Carbohydrates are the basis of many foods. It can be difficult to find easy low-carb options on the go, so be sure to plan meals and keep the pantry well-stocked.
The Bottom Line: Is the Low-carb Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
Low-carbohydrate diets can be a great way to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle overall. When well-planned, the diet provides all the essential nutrients the body needs while providing various benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
However, it is crucial to prioritize proper nutrition over drastic weight loss. With regular exercise and plenty of water, a low-carb diet plan can work for long-term weight loss without depriving the body of essential nutrients.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.