If you’ve been keeping up with the most popular dietary trends and regimens, you’ve probably heard of the low-carb diet.
That said, this diet doesn’t only go by one name. You might have heard of the Atkins diet, keto diet, Whole30, or Dukan diet, all of which are different variations of a low-carb dietary regimen.
Say you’re looking to get started on a low-carb diet. In that case, we’ve got you covered with this comprehensive beginner’s guide covering the ins and outs of this diet, including its pros, cons, and tips for starting a low-carb diet.
What is Classified as a Low-Carb Diet?
There isn’t a universal or medical definition of a low-carb diet. Going on a low-carb diet regimen generally looks different for everyone. Essentially, it’s simply consuming fewer carbs than you normally would since a low-carb diet restricts your consumption of carbs.
To compensate for the reduction in calories from carbs, people on a low-carb diet usually increase their intake of proteins and fats.
Science-Backed Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet
Many people decide to adopt a low-carb diet to lose weight.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the different health benefits tethered to the low-carb diet.
Facilitates Weight Loss
Researchers have found that a low-carb diet promotes rapid weight loss in the first 6-12 months. Some research even suggests that a low-carb diet is more effective than a low-fat diet in facilitating weight loss, though more research is still needed to prove these claims .
As of now, scientists still aren’t sure of the exact mechanisms by which a low-carb diet can help you lose weight.
One possible explanation is that the low-carb diet usually leads to an increase in protein and fat intake to compensate for a lower carb intake. The higher intake of protein and fats may help to increase satiety, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer, and this may reduce your overall calorie consumption .
Apart from this, the low-carb diet may also encourage you to burn more calories compared to a high-carb diet. Of course, these mechanisms still remain controversial .
Despite these debates, there is still a lot of promising evidence that a low-carb diet is as effective compared to other diets, if not more, for weight loss and fat loss .
Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
Another popular benefit of the low-carb diet is related to the management of blood sugar levels.
Research studies have demonstrated that the low-carb diet is at least as effective as other dietary regimens in improving blood glucose control and reducing the risk of heart disease in people with Type 2 diabetes .
That’s because a low-carb diet can reduce insulin resistance and increase your body’s sensitivity to the effects of insulin .
Improves Cholesterol Levels & Blood Pressure
Researchers have found that a low-carb diet can have favourable effects in managing heart disease risk factors in the first 6-11 months.
Based on research findings, a low-carb diet contributed to an increase in good cholesterol levels and a decrease in bad cholesterol levels. This dietary regimen may also help reduce your blood pressure .
Risks & Limitations of a Low-Carb Diet
Despite the science-backed benefits of a low-carb diet, this regimen comes with its own set of risks and limitations.
The low-carb diet may not be suitable for everyone. For instance, pregnant or breastfeeding women, those with a nutritional deficiency or medical condition, and those on any long-term medications should approach any dietary changes cautiously.
Additionally, the low-carb diet may not suit those who require more carbs to fuel their lifestyle. If you’re constantly on the go, facing high-stress situations, working a physically taxing job, or just getting into a new workout routine, a low-carb diet might leave you with much less energy and fuel than you need.
And, of course, cutting back on the amount of carbs you consume could cause you to get hungry faster if you don’t compensate with enough proteins to keep you satiated.
If you’re unsure whether the low-carb diet is suitable, it’s always best to seek advice from a healthcare professional, like your nutritionist, dietitian, or doctor.
At the end of the day, the best diet isn’t necessarily low-carb; it’s one that provides your body with the nutrition and fuel it needs to thrive.
How to Get Started on a Low-Carb Diet
Say you’re interested in getting started on a lower-carb diet. There’s quite a bit to unpack, like which foods are great for a low-carb diet and which are best avoided. Maybe you’re wondering how much to cut back on while you’re at it.
Let’s explore some tips that may help jumpstart your journey!
What to Eat and Avoid on a Low-Carb Diet
In general, a low-carb diet will focus on moderate proteins, whole foods, healthy fats, and non-starchy veggies.
Here are some recommended low-carb foods to include in your low-carb diet plan:
- Meat, such as chicken and pork (lean meat is even more so recommended)
- Seafood, fish, and eggs
- Certain dairy products, such as Greek yoghurt, and hard cheeses like Cheddar and Swiss cheese
- Leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and zucchini
- Nuts, like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and Brazil nuts
- Seeds like chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Healthy fats and oils like olive oil, avocado oil, and butter
- Lower-carb fruits, such as avocados, raspberries, strawberries, and apricots
- Certain low-carb whole grains, like oats, quinoa, and bulgur (a type of cereal grain)
The foods you should limit on a low-carb diet include:
- Bread, rice, wheat, and oats
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Certain high-carb fruits, such as apples, bananas, and mangoes
- Starchy vegetables, like yam, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets
- Beans and legumes
- Yoghurt with added sugars
- Sugary foods like cakes, cookies, and candy
- Processed snacks, such as potato chips and crackers
While this list may feel a little restrictive, there are many low-carb alternatives you can purchase from the grocery store. Low-carb bread, cookies, potato chips, and yoghurt are commonly available options that may allow you to incorporate these foods into your diet without hurling you off track with your goals.
And while a low-carb diet usually means restricting your intake of highly-sugary foods, this does not mean that you can’t ever satisfy your sugar cravings. Some great sweeteners that fit into a low-carb or keto diet include stevia and erythritol.
How Much Carbs to Cut Back On
There aren’t any specific parameters or guidelines detailing how much carbs you can have on a low-carb diet. So it really boils back down to your personal preference and physical needs.
This also gives you leeway to curate your menu based on what foods you wish to include, rather than going off set-in-stone rules that someone else has put together.
In general, most people on a low-carb diet usually get 25-100 grams of carbs per day.
Based on some research studies, the different degrees of a low-carb diet may be defined as follows: 
- Very low-carbohydrate: Less than 10% of total calorie intake or less than 20-50 grams per day
- Low-carbohydrate: Less than 26% or less than 130 grams per day
- Moderate-carbohydrate: Around 26% to 44%
- High-carbohydrate: 45% or greater
For a keto diet, most guidelines typically recommend less than 50 grams of carbs per day to achieve ketosis.
What is the Difference Between a Low-Carb Diet and Ketogenic Diet?
There are some similarities between the low-carb diet and the keto diet. The most apparent resemblance is the reduced intake of carbs. But there are also some stark differences between both these popular diets.
For starters, the low-carb diet is typically less restrictive compared to the keto diet. To practice a keto diet, you’ll have to limit your intake of carbs enough to nudge your body into ketosis, and at the same time, increase your intake of fats. On the other hand, the low-carb diet gives you more flexibility when curating the macronutrient ratio of your meals.
Apart from that, the main goal of a keto diet is to achieve ketosis. Meanwhile, not all forms of a low-carb diet will result in ketosis, especially if you consume more than 50 grams of carbs per day. A keto diet is also more likely to lead to side effects like the keto flu.
The basic low-carb diet is more likely to be suitable for a larger group of people since it’s less restrictive and generally more sustainable in the long run.
Types of Low-Carb Diets
If you’re looking for a low-carb meal plan with pre-existing guidelines, here are a few of the different low-carb diets that may be worth a try.
- Ketogenic diet: The keto diet is a moderate-protein, low-carb, and high-fat diet that’s well-known to promote weight loss. This diet drives your body to burn fat as fuel instead of carbs. As your body breaks down fats for energy, it produces ketones, a compound that becomes the primary fuel source for your brain and body.
- Atkins diet: The Atkins diet is a high-protein diet that emphasizes consuming fats and proteins and restricts carbohydrate intake. Because of this, your body is forced to burn fats as an energy source.
- Whole30 diet: This dietary regimen can be considered a way to push the reset button on your health and nutrition. For 30 days, you’ll eliminate foods that you believe have undesirable effects on your health. While the Whole30 isn’t directly marketed as a low-carb diet, people who practice this diet generally consume fewer carbs than usual.
- Low-carb Paleo diet: The Paleo diet is designed to mimic what our human hunter ancestors ate thousands of years ago. You’ll consume whole and unprocessed foods on this diet and limit or avoid processed foods, artificial additives, trans fats, and sugary beverages and foods. This diet isn’t specifically designed to be low-carb, but it does help you cut out many unhealthy sources of carbs.
- Low-carb Mediterranean diet: This dietary regimen emphasizes consuming plant-based foods and healthy fats. It’s rich in all the healthy foods you can think of, such as veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seafood, nuts, and seeds. It can be easily modified to become a low-carb diet by limiting the consumption of bread, grains, starchy vegetables, and high-carb fruits.
- Dukan diet: This high-protein and low-carb diet focuses on the consumption of lean proteins, poultry, seafood, non-fat dairy, and eggs.
Getting Started on a Low-Carb Diet
The low-carb diet is one of the most flexible meal plans that can help enhance fat loss, weight loss, and heart health.
If you’re looking for something sustainable, you can gradually cut back on your consumption of carbs instead of heading for a very low-carb regimen right off the bat. Alternatively, you can simply reduce your consumption of sugary and highly-refined carbs.