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A Low-Carb Diet: Your Free Beginner Guide

A low-carb diet is one of many eating habits that aim to reduce inflammation, melt excess fat, and improve general health by following an elimination lifestyle. Low-carb diets minimize the intake of unnecessary foods, including carbohydrates in different forms, to induce ketosis, which leads to various health benefits. Although low-carb diets are elimination diets, they allow you to consume a wide range of foods and drinks.

A Low-Carb Diet: Your Free Beginner Guide
Highlights
  • A low-carb diet is a dietary approach to decrease carbohydrates and increase protein and fat.
  • A low-carb diet can help reduce inflammation, boost weight loss, improve digestive health, manage blood sugar levels, and improve cognitive function, and heart health.
  • A low-carb diet can cause temporary constipation, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, and low energy levels during the initial adaptation phase.
  • There are various low-carb vegetables, fruits, nuts, snacks, alcohol, fats, sauces, drinks, sweeteners, and dairy products.

What Is a Low-Carb Diet?

A low-carb diet is any diet that focuses on lowering or minimizing carbohydrate intake by avoiding foods high in carbohydrates to get rid of the health problems caused by carbs.

Common examples of low-carb diets include

Cutting or reducing carbohydrates can have positive impacts on inflammatory diseases, weight management, digestive health, blood sugar control, brain function, and cardiovascular health.

Learn More: A Zero-Carb Diet: All You Need to Know

Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet

Eliminating unnecessary foods (carbohydrates) can significantly affect different parts of our body, from the brain and heart to blood sugar and the digestive system.

Various studies report that low-carb diets can help manage diabetes, boost weight loss, reduce triglycerides, and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels [1]. Let’s get into the details.

A Low-Carb Diet Can Help Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the biggest health concerns that can lead to various chronic diseases, from constriction in arteries to kidney dysfunction.

A 2014 study indicated that going on a low-carb diet and minimizing carbohydrate intake in type 2 diabetic patients significantly improved the subclinical inflammatory state [2].

A Low-Carb Diet Can Boost Weight Loss

Various studies show that a low-carb ketogenic diet can lead to weight loss by activating a metabolic switch to oxidize fats, which can suppress hunger by producing ketone bodies [3] [4].

A 2023 study on the effects of low-carb ketogenic diets on weight loss showed that limiting carbohydrate intake can lead to rapid weight loss (due to water weight loss) and sustainable weight loss (fat loss) over time [5].

A 2007 study comparing different low-carb diets over a year indicated that the lowest-carb diet showed better results in weight loss [6].

A Low-Carb Diet Can Improve Digestive Health

Different studies have supported the positive impacts of a low-carb ketogenic diet on metabolic health and lower seizure activities, which are influenced by the gut microbiota [7]

A 2007 study on the effects of nutrition on weight loss and diabetes suggested limiting carbohydrate intake can shift the energy source from glucose and fatty acids to fatty acids and ketones, which can help suppress appetite, boost weight loss, and improve surrogate markers of cardiovascular disease [8].

Learn More: The No-Carb No-Sugar Diet: Everything You Need to Know

A Low-Carb Diet Can Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels

A 2005 study on 10 obese patients with type 2 diabetes indicated that going on a low-carbohydrate diet for 14 days led to reduced energy intake, weight loss, improved 24-hour blood glucose profiles, insulin sensitivity, and hemoglobin A1c; and decreased cholesterol levels and plasma triglyceride [9].

Different studies indicate that carbohydrate restriction is an effective approach to controlling type 2 diabetes and reducing medications, even more effective than other approaches [10] [11].

A Low-Carb Diet Can Improve Brain Function

Studies on the effects of low-carb ketogenic diets on brain function indicate that a ketogenic diet can positively impact neurological disorders by balancing pro- and antioxidant processes and pro-excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, and regulating inflammation or altering the composition of the gut microbiome [12] [13].

A Low-Carb Diet Can Improve Heart Health

Various randomized controlled trials on the effects of low-carb diets report positive impacts of such diets on reducing body weight and improving cardiovascular risk factors [14] [15].

Despite these positive effects, a low-carb diet may lead to temporary side effects in some individuals, especially during the initial adaptation phase.

Side Effects of a Low-Carb Diet

Changing your eating habits and starting a low-carb diet causes your body, especially the digestive system, to go through changes to adapt to the new eating habits.

This initial adaptation phase may cause temporary constipation, diarrhea, low energy levels, nausea, and headaches, which usually fade away after some days, especially if you consume enough water  [16] [17] [18].

Although these possible side effects may happen in sensitive individuals, some groups of people should take more caution regarding a low-carb diet and consult a healthcare professional first because of their specific needs.

Who Should NOT Do a Strict Low-Carb Diet?

While low-carb diets can be effective for many people, they may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals who should approach or avoid low-carb diets include:

  • Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: Carbohydrates are important in fetal development and milk production. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should go on a well-balanced diet to ensure they meet the increased nutritional demands during these periods.
  • Athletes with Those with High-Intensity Training: Some endurance athletes need carbohydrate-rich diets to support their energy needs during intense workouts.
  • People with Certain Medical Conditions: Individuals with conditions like kidney disease should consult with a healthcare professional before going on a low-carb diet, as limiting carbohydrates may worsen existing health issues in some cases.
  • Those with Eating Disorders: Individuals with a history of eating disorders need to consult a healthcare professional or dietitian to modify the low-carb diet based on their needs.
  • People on Certain Medications: Some medications, such as those for diabetes or high blood pressure, may require adjustments when following a low-carb diet. It's important to consult with a healthcare provider to ensure proper medication management.

Learn More: Taking Medications on Intermittent Fasting: Do Medications Break a Fast?

To start a low-carb diet, you need to know the low-carb foods you can and cannot consume. Despite what many may think, you can consume a wide range of foods and drinks.

'Meat saved our lives': These people lost 200 lbs and healed 5 common chronic diseases with Carnivore.

Low-Carb Diet Food List

Here are the best low-carb vegetables, fruits, nuts, snacks, alcohol, fats, sauces, drinks, sweeteners, and dairy products.

Learn More: High-Protein, Low-Carb Breakfast without Eggs: 15 Recipes

Low-Carb Vegetables

Low-carb vegetables are excellent choices for those following a low-carbohydrate diet. Here's a list of low-carb vegetables:

  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, Kale, Swiss chard, Arugula, Romaine lettuce
  • Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Kale
  • Bell Peppers: Green peppers, Red peppers, Yellow peppers
  • Zucchini and Squash: Zucchini, Yellow squash, Spaghetti squash
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cucumber
  • Tomatoes (in moderation, as they contain some carbs)
  • Green Beans
  • Mushrooms

Low-Carb Fruits

While fruits generally contain carbohydrates, some are lower in carbs than others. Remember to consume them in moderation. Here's a list of relatively low-carb fruits:

  • Berries: Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries
  • Melons: Watermelon (in moderation), Cantaloupe, Honeydew
  • Avocado
  • Peaches (in moderation)
  • Plums
  • Lemons and Limes
  • Kiwi (in moderation)
  • Guava (in moderation)
  • Rhubarb

Low-Carb Nuts

Nuts are generally nutritious but can vary in their carbohydrate content. Here's a list of low-carb nuts:

  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Brazil nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pine nuts

Low-Carb Snacks

Here are some low-carb snacks:

  • Cheese Cubes or Slices
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs
  • Nuts (in moderation)
  • Vegetable Sticks (e.g., cucumber, celery) with Hummus or Guacamole
  • Greek Yogurt (unsweetened)
  • Beef Jerky (watch for added sugars)
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Olives
  • Pork Rinds
  • Seeds (e.g., sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • Avocado Slices
  • Berries (in moderation)
  • Smoked Salmon or Sardines
  • Cheese Crisps
  • Pickles

These snacks can provide a satisfying and nutritious option for those following a low-carb lifestyle. Remember to check nutritional facts on the labels for hidden sugars and portion sizes to manage your carbohydrate intake effectively.

Learn More: The 25 Best Low-Carb Candy Brands to Buy on the Keto Diet

Low-Carb Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages can vary in their carbohydrate content. Here's a list of relatively low-carb alcoholic options:

  • Dry Wine: Red, white, or sparkling wines tend to have lower carbohydrate content compared to sweeter varieties. Dry wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Champagne are generally good choices.
  • Light Beer: Light beers typically have fewer carbohydrates than regular beers. Examples include light versions of popular beer brands.
  • Distilled Spirits (Spirits/Hard Liquor): Most distilled spirits like vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey have zero carbs. However, mixers can contribute to the overall carbohydrate content, so choose low-carb mixers like soda water or diet tonic water.

Learn More: Low-Carb Wine: The 10 Best Red and White Wines

Low-Carb Fats and Sauces

  • Low-Carb Fats: Olive oil, Avocado oil, Coconut oil, Butter (preferably from grass-fed cows), Ghee (clarified butter), MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides), Lard, Duck fat
  • Low-Carb Sauces: Mayonnaise (check for added sugars), Mustard, Pesto sauce (watch for added carbs), Soy sauce or tamari (in moderation), Hot sauce (without added sugars), Ranch dressing (choose low-carb varieties), Caesar dressing (watch for added carbs), Sugar-free ketchup or tomato sauce

Learn More: Are Sunflower Seeds Keto? 5 Ways to Add Them to Your Diet

Low-Carb Drinks

  • Water: The best zero-carb drink
  • Unsweetened Herbal Tea
  • Black Coffee: Plain black coffee without added sugars or syrups
  • Green Tea
  • Sparkling Water: Plain or flavored, without added sugars
  • Unsweetened Almond Milk or Coconut Milk
  • Bulletproof Coffee: Coffee blended with butter and MCT oil.
  • Diet Soda: Some diet sodas are low in carbs, but be mindful of artificial sweeteners.
  • Lemon or Lime Water
  • Bone Broth

Learn More: 20 Best Zero-Calorie Drinks: Are They Healthy for Weight Loss?

Low-Carb Sweeteners

Here's a list of low-carb sweeteners that are commonly used as sugar substitutes:

  • Stevia: A natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant
  • Erythritol: A sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods
  • Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo): Extracted from the monk fruit, it's a natural sweetener with zero calories.
  • Xylitol: Another sugar alcohol found in small amounts in various fruits and vegetables
  • Allulose: A rare sugar found naturally in certain fruits, it has a similar taste to table sugar.
  • Sucralose (Splenda): A synthetic sweetener that is much sweeter than sugar and has zero calories.
  • Aspartame
  • Saccharin

Low-Carb Dairy Products

Here's a list of low-carb dairy options:

  • Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Gouda, Feta
  • Soft Cheeses: Cream cheese, Brie, Camembert
  • Full-Fat Greek Yogurt (unsweetened)
  • Heavy Cream
  • Grass-Fed Butter
  • Sour Cream
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Mascarpone Cheese

You need to avoid consuming sweet or high-carb foods and drinks on a low-carb diet.

Learn More: The 20 Best Low-Carb Beers: Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Options

What Should I Avoid Eating on a Low-Carb Diet?

  • Sugary Foods: Candy, pastries, cookies, cakes, and other sweets
  • Grains and Starchy Foods: Bread, Pasta, Rice, Potatoes, Breakfast cereals
  • High-Sugar Fruits: While some fruits are lower in carbs, high-sugar fruits like bananas, grapes, and mangoes should be avoided or consumed in moderation.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Processed Foods: Many processed foods contain hidden sugars and unhealthy fats. Avoid items like sugary cereals, energy bars, and pre-packaged snacks.
  • Sauces and Condiments with Added Sugars: Check labels for added sugars in sauces like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and some salad dressings.
  • Sweetened Beverages: Regular sodas, fruit juices, and sweetened drinks
  • Alcohol with Added Sugars: Some alcoholic beverages, especially cocktails and sweetened mixers

To help you get started, I have provided a sample 3-day low-carb meal plan. You can always change the foods based on the specific diet you follow and your goals and needs.

Sample 3-Day Low-Carb Meal Plan

Here's a sample 3-day low-carb meal plan:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach cooked in olive oil
  • Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with a side of broccoli and cauliflower
  • Snack: Handful of mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts, and pecans)
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with asparagus and a side salad with olive oil dressing

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt with a few raspberries and a sprinkle of chia seeds
  • Lunch: Turkey lettuce wraps with mayo, mustard, and avocado
  • Snack: Celery sticks with cream cheese
  • Dinner: Zucchini noodles (zoodles) with pesto sauce and grilled shrimp

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Omelette with mushrooms, bell peppers, and cheese
  • Lunch: Cobb salad with grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, and blue cheese dressing
  • Snack: Sliced cucumber with guacamole
  • Dinner: Beef stir-fry with broccoli, bell peppers, and snow peas in olive oil

Remember to stay hydrated with water, herbal teas, or black coffee throughout the day. Adjust portion sizes based on your individual needs and goals.

Learn More: Carnivore Diet Meal Plan: Your Free 30-Day Beginner Guide

Summary

A low-carb diet can be a good dietary approach to improve health and lose weight. Although almost all low-carb diets focus on lowering the carb intake and increasing fat and protein, each low-carb diet has its specific rules and goals.

Also, it’s wise to consult a healthcare professional to check your health status, needs, and goals to modify the diet based on them, and help you reach your health and fitness goals.

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