To effectively reduce carb intake, there are some key food groups to focus on eating more of on a low-carb diet:
- Meat: beef, chicken, pork, lamb, etc.
- Fish and seafood: salmon, trout, shrimp, etc.
- Vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- High-fat dairy: cheese, full-fat yogurt, heavy cream
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Healthy oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil
Foods to eat in moderation or minimize:
- Fruits: berries are lowest in carbs
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, corn, peas, etc.
- Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas
- Whole grains
- Sugary foods: candy, sugar, baked goods, etc.
Potential Drawbacks of Low-Carb Diets
While low-carb diets can be effective for weight loss, there are some potential downsides to consider:
- May be difficult to stick to long term due to restrictions
- Can cause low energy, irritability, headaches initially
- Nutrient deficiencies possible if diet is not well-planned
- May increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in some people
- GI issues like constipation due to lower fiber intake
To minimize potential issues, it’s important to eat a variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods on a low-carb diet. Consulting a registered dietitian can also help ensure balanced nutrition.
Sustainable Low-Carb Diet Tips
Here are some tips for following a low-carb diet in a healthy, sustainable way:
- Gradually reduce carbs instead of drastically restricting overnight
- Focus on nutrient-dense whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats
- Include fiber-rich foods like nuts, seeds and low-carb vegetables
- Stay well hydrated and eat electrolyte-rich foods to reduce flu-like symptoms
- Allow for occasional higher carb meals or “cheat days”
- Choose high-quality carb sources like quinoa, sweet potatoes, fruits
- Monitor cholesterol levels and nutrients of concern like fiber, vitamins C and K
Should You Try a Low-Carb Diet?
Research shows low-carb diets can be very effective for weight loss, especially for reducing belly fat. However, results vary by individual.
Low-carb diets are worth considering if you have struggled to see results on other diets or have issues managing hunger and cravings. Just be sure to take a balanced approach focused on healthy low-carb foods.
As with any major diet change, discuss things with your healthcare provider first, particularly if you have any medical conditions requiring special nutrition needs.
With a well-planned low-carb diet full of nutrient-dense foods, this approach can be a sustainable, healthy way for many people to shed excess weight.
How Low Should Carbs Go?
There’s no universally agreed upon definition of a “low-carb” diet. However, typical recommendations are to limit carbs to somewhere between 50-150 grams per day. The lower end around 50g is considered a very strict low-carb or ketogenic diet.
Moderate low-carb diets of around 100-150g of carbs are often recommended for sustainable weight loss. Going below 50g takes more planning to avoid nutrition deficiencies.
What Are Net Carbs?
The total carb content on nutrition labels includes fiber. Fiber does not raise blood sugar or insulin much, so some low-carb dieters only count net carbs, which is total carbs minus fiber.
Focusing on net carbs provides more flexibility to include high-fiber foods like non-starchy veggies and nuts on a low-carb diet.
Typical Weight Loss Timeline
On average, people may lose around 2-7 lbs in the first 1-2 weeks on a low-carb diet. Rapid initial water weight loss often occurs as glycogen stores are depleted. After this, aim for 1-2 lbs of fat loss per week.
For most, significant weight loss on a low-carb diet becomes noticeable after 2-4 weeks if followed consistently. But the rate of weight loss tends to even out after the initial rapid drop.
Patience and consistency are key for seeing lasting low-carb diet results. Avoid frequent scale weighing, instead going by how clothes fit.
Transitioning Off Low-Carb
Low-carb diets are often used short-term for weight loss. To transition off low-carb after reaching goals, gradually add in healthier carb sources like fruit, starchy vegetables, legumes and whole grains while reducing fat intake to avoid weight regain.
Some choose to remain in a low-carb maintenance phase longer term due to preferring this way of eating or feeling it keeps their weight stable. Work with a dietitian to ensure balanced nutrition if staying low-carb long term.