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Complete Guide to a Low-Carb Diet

Written by Sharon Lehman on March 09, 2022


Eating fewer carbohydrates has become an increasingly popular dietary method for weight loss and better blood sugar control. Many trending diets, including keto and Atkins, center around low-carb eating patterns.

What is a Low-Carb Diet?

A low-carb diet is a way of eating that restricts carbohydrate intake. Low-carb dieters replace carbohydrates with more protein and/or healthy fat.

Although there are many diets that limit carbs, there are no agreed upon rules for how many carbs to eat on a general low-carb diet. Low-carb diets can range from very low to moderate carbohydrate intake.

The keto diet is an example of a very low-carb diet. It typically restricts carb intake to less than 10% of total calorie intake. On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this looks like 200 calories or 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Low-carb plans restrict carbohydrates to less than 26% of total calories, which is 520 calories or 130 grams of carbohydrate on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Moderate carbohydrate diets limit carbohydrate intake to 40% or less of total calorie intake. On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this looks like 800 calories or 200 grams of carbohydrates.

For comparison, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting about half of your total calories from carbohydrates with a focus on fiber-rich foods.

What You Can Eat on a Low Carb Diet

You’ll focus mostly on lean protein and healthy fats on a low-carb diet.

Foods to eat include:

  • Lean meat and poultry
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy including milk, unsweetened yogurt, and cheese
  • Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, bell peppers, celery, zucchini, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Low-sugar fruits like berries and avocado
  • Fats like butter, olive oil, olives, and coconut
  • No sugar added drinks, like water, coffee, and tea
what is low carb diet

Foods to limit on a low-carb diet include:

  • Grains like rice, oats, and barley
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and carrots
  • Beans and lentils
  • High-sugar fruits like bananas and grapes

Food to avoid on a low-carb diet include:

  • Baked goods like cake and cookies
  • Candy
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks like soda
  • Fruit juice
  • Sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave
  • High-carb “junk food” like pizza, chips, and french fries
  • Starchy foods like bread, pasta, tortillas, and crackers
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Benefits and Drawbacks to a Low Carb Diet

Cutting down on carbs can help you lose weight and stabilize blood sugar. Both health benefits may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Research has found low-carb diets are more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets.

A low-carb diet can help you eat fewer processed junk food and sugar-filled foods that are linked to weight gain and more nutrient-dense foods linked to longevity.

However, a low-carb diet may not be for everyone. Without any rules, the diet is open to interpretation. It may take some trial and error and carb counting to discover the ideal amount of carbs for you to eat on a low-carb diet.

Eliminating some high-carbohydrate foods can decrease your fiber intake. Most adults need 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Fiber is important for digestive health, regular bowel movements, and is linked to decreased risk of serious disease.

Whole grains, beans, lentils, fruit, and starchy vegetables are sources of fiber. These foods are also excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that you may also miss out on if you completely cut them out of your diet.

The Bottom Line

Although you don’t need to give up all carbs to lose weight or get healthier, a low-carb diet may help you clean up your eating habits and meet your health goals. A low-carb diet may be a good fit for you if you prefer eating more protein and vegetables over grains.

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Sharon Lehman

Sharon Lehman

Sharon Lehman, RD Sharon is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and health and wellness writer. She specializes in intuitive eating, recipe development, food photography, and hormone health. She enjoys sharing healthy living tips and recipes on her blog: www.heartandstove.com