Low Carb

How Low Carb is Low Carb?

How few carbs are there in a low-carb diet? It depends. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve and who you are.

Generally speaking, the fewer carbs the more effective it will be. Faster weight loss without hunger. More rapid and powerful reversal of type 2 diabetes. But also more restrictive and possibly more challenging.

Here are three examples of how a low-carb meal can look, depending on how many carbs you eat per day (the yellow stuff is delicious herb butter).

 

Strict

Under 20 grams per dayStrict low carbStrict low carb is also called “keto” or “ketogenic“.
 
(this meal: 6 grams)

Moderate

20-50 grams per daymoderate low carb(this meal: 16 grams)

Liberal

50-100 grams per dayLiberal low carb(this meal, including
sweet potatoes: 37 grams)


Our definition

Here’s the way we define different levels of low carb at Diet Doctor:

  • Strict low carb <20 gram carbs per day. This is a ketogenic diet (if protein intake is moderate). This level is defined as below 4 E% carbs in our recipes
  • Moderate low carb 20-50 grams per day. This level is defined as between 4-10 E% carbs in our recipes
  • Liberal low carb 50-100 grams per day. This means 10-20 E% carbs in our recipes

For comparison, a regular Western diet can easily contain 250 grams of carbs or more in a day, most of them bad refined carbs, including sugar.

Fibre

The above numbers refer to digestible carbs, and discount the fibre. You can deduct them from your carb counts, i.e. eat all the natural fibre you want from vegetables, for example.

Another word for digestible carbs, with the fiber deducted, is “net carbs”.

However, don’t be fooled by the label “net carbs” on processed products, like chocolate bars. That’s usually just a way to trick you, and these products are often full of sugar alcohols with negative effects on your weight and blood sugar. I suggest not eating anything with the words “net carbs” printed on it.

An effective low-carb diet should be based on real food. Learn more


 

How to choose

Some people need to keep the carbs very low for maximum effect – a strict low-carb diet. This includes many people with significant weight issues, diabetes (mainly type 2) and food or sugar addiction, for example.

Others – less carb-intolerant people – do great on a more liberal low-carb diet. This also minimizes the risk of any side effects.

A third group of healthy, lean, active people may not even need to eat very low carb, as long as they mainly eat unprocessed slow carbs.

If you want to start doing low carb, I suggest starting out on a strict version, just to experience the power of it. Later, as you hopefully approach your weight and health goals, you can try adding more natural carbs to see how much you tolerate.

Here’s a two-week guide to a strict low-carb diet.

Meal plans

Get lots of weekly low-carb meal plans, complete with shopping lists and everything, with our premium meal planner tool (free trial).

More

Low Carb for Beginners

Low-Carb Recipes – marked strict, moderate or liberal

A Ketogenic Diet for Beginners (strict low carb)

Low-carb basics videos

How to eat LCHF4.5 out of 5 stars5 stars71%4 stars14%3 stars8%2 stars2%1 star2%912 ratings91211:18 How to Do an LCHF Diet – Dr. Eric Westman4.6 out of 5 stars5 stars78%4 stars10%3 stars7%2 stars1%1 star1%128 ratings1281:00:45The 5 common mistakes on LCHF4.7 out of 5 stars5 stars84%4 stars8%3 stars2%2 stars1%1 star2%156 ratings15609:25

Note

LCHF means low carb, high fat. It’s the only way to successfully do a low-carb diet long term.

Low Carb Made Easy How to Lose Weight Low-Carb Recipes Low-Carb Success Stories

47 Comments

  1. Allison
    Where could i find a list of all the grams of the carbs that I can eat on this diet? If I want to do a strict low carb diet and can not pass the 20 grams allowed daily how would i know?
  2. Ian
    There is a free app called 'Carbs & Cals'. This may be of use in resolving your dilemma.
    Reply: #39
  3. Lynda
    What about high cholestrol? I did this lchf duet and lost 15 pounds but my cholestrol has skyrocketed!
    Reply: #4
  4. You can find some interesting reading here:

    http://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/side-effects#cholesterol

    What about high cholestrol? I did this lchf duet and lost 15 pounds but my cholestrol has skyrocketed!

  5. Elizabeth
    I am a mother of 6. I am 5'3" and 159 lbs. I also, breastfeed my 6 month old. I have been on this for 2 weeks. I lost 10 lbs. but have actually stopped losing weight. I am stuck at 159. I walk every other night carrying my baby around 3-4 miles but still not losing. I am eating 24 carbs- 35 carbs a day. Drinking around 120 ounces of water a day. Any advice?
    Replies: #16, #23, #35
  6. rick
    I have been doing low carb for 5 years. I lost weight and kept it off but I wanted to lose more and couldn't. I tried the 5-2 diet and lost another 10% of my body weight. Two days a week (not in a row) you have less than 600 calories a day. The other 5 days you eat your normal (low carb) diet. Now I am "fasting" only one day a week to maintain this new lower weight.
  7. Vandna
    If I am doing LCHF Liberal diet, then what should be the consumption of Fat and Protien?
    Reply: #8
  8. Hi Vandna!

    That's easy :)
    (Values below are per day)
    * Liberal LCHF is 50-100 grams carbs
    * Protein is approx 1 gram protein per kg body weight (your target weight)
    * Fat is the rest

    If I am doing LCHF Liberal diet, then what should be the consumption of Fat and Protien?

  9. Manon
    I don't eat meat or dairy. I don't like meat and diary is not working for my body.
    I do eat eggs and fish.
    My mainfood is kinda coconutbased. Coconutoil, flakes, coconutmilk (organic) and coconutyogurt (also organic). My morningcoffee is filled with coconutoil and coconutmilk. Eating a lot of seeds (chia, sesam, pumpkin, sunflower and flax) in my coconutyogurt or salads.
    Breakfast is mostly eggs or a coconut/chia/rasberry smoothie. Lunch a big veggie salad when i'm on the road or some kind of veggiesoup. For dinner veggie's with fish/shelfish or mushrooms/portobello's as "meat".
    Lovely veggie curry's with cauliflowerrice or veggie pastasauce with zucchini pasta. Eggplant lasagna a.s.o., everything with lots of coconutoil/Oliveoil.
    Never thought this would be so easy even though I'm kinda limited in my foodchoices. Feeling so much better, lost some weight but was not overweight.
    My skin looks better without grains and sugars.
    Did not find anyone else who eats LCHF this way...
    Are there any? Please respond!
    Reply: #10
  10. Ana
    Hi Manon!
    I do eat meat and dairy but most of the time I eat exactly like you describe. I love coconut products, vegetables and nuts and seeds. I wasn't overweight but I have lost a bit too. I find I feel so much better so I am happy about it.
  11. tina
    I do not like meat either so this has been a challenging thought for me when I think about starting this. Can you post a list of what you do eat on a daily basis?
    Reply: #14
  12. Paul Lawrence
    Hi all, I have been on the low carb diet now for over 6 weeks and have only lost 4 kilos. I started at 92 kilos and now weigh 88.7 and have been stuck on this weight for the last three weeks.
    That said, I have noticed a distinct difference in my waste size (sides only) as I am fitting into jeans and shorts and shirts of smaller sizes. This obviously does make me feel good apart from the general well feeling from beign on the diet.
    May I ask if anyone else has the same experience with slow weight loss?
  13. Linda McPherson
    Paul Lawrence...I have had the same experience, I may have lost 5 pounds but my pants are loose now and I can zip them without struggling. However, years ago I did the EAS Bodybuilding challenge. During that process I went from a size 12 to a size 6 but never lost a pound. I started at 151, ended at 151. I was walking 3 mi/day and was not very disciplined about my gym work. That diet was similar to this in that I had reduced my carbs to about 80-90 per day and increased my protein. So, it's my belief that the scale is less important than how you look and how you feel. I also believe that your body will adjust to the weight it SHOULD be rather than what we force it to be. So maybe you are supposed to be around 88 k and you will continue to trim down as your carb (fatty) weight turns into protein weight (muscle). I'm not an expert, and I've only done two systems but this has been my experience. If it works...it works.
  14. Manon
    Hi Tina!
    My morningritual is usually 2 decaf coffee filled with coconutmilk (around 25 ml in each cup) and in each cup a big tablespoon of extra virgin coconutoil. This is at 6 pm. My job starts at 7 pm.
    At work I usually have some green tea and lots of water (like 3 half liter bottles in the morning)
    When I started this way of eating, I needed 2 hardboiled eggs at 10 pm, otherwise I could'nt make it till lunch. I work till 1 am, and eat lunch at home.
    Sometimes coconutyoghurt with seeds and nuts (and some organic coldpressed olive oil to make it fatter) sometimes a salad with olive oil (made with spinach, avocado, cucumber, tomato, pickles, sauerkraut, a.s.o)
    Since a week or two, I found out that my body can handle oopsiebread! (With a little creamcheese in the batter) so I can eat them with coconutoil (used as butter and peanutbutter (wow, that taste so good!!)
    For dinner I also make big salads, with sauteed mushrooms as meat, canned tuna or sardines a.s.o. Veggie pastasauce with zucchini pasta, veggie curries with cauliflowerrice, salmon with broccoli and cauliflowermash (with coconutoil) stuffed portobello's with peppers, spinach, garlic and pine nuts made in the oven, and so on and so on. Everything with lots of olive oil!
    Now that I am "fat addapted", my two morning coffee's fill me up till lunch and I have only 2 meals a day.
    I hope this will help you out a little, otherwise, let me know.
    Just don't be afraid of the fat! It makes me feel sooo much better then I could imagine!
    So start, use google to find recipes and just try things to find out what works for you! Good luck! Manon
  15. Manon
    Oops..6pm is ofcourse: 6am a.s.o.
  16. E
    If you're breastfeeding, you need to eat enough calories to nourish your baby and yourself!!!!
  17. Jkeeling
    Not enough calories! I am newly diagnosed diabetic and the hospital nutritionist recommends 45 carbs per meal! My friend had lost 85 pounds on 84 carbs per day total. You are starving yourself and your body is holding on to the calories you get. Add more!
    Reply: #47
  18. Frances
    Hi Elizabeth,
    Sounds like you might be a bit overweight, but while you're breast-feeding it's probably not a good time to be thinking of dieting. The most important thing is to eat healthy, unprocessed food as far as possible and enjoy being a mother!
  19. Cathy
    I am 46 years old, 5'2" & weigh more now than I ever have, even when I was pregnant. I need to lose at least 40 pounds. What level do you recommend I start with?
  20. Rhonda
    Why don't the recipes have nutritional data per serving?
    Reply: #22
  21. C.H.
    I have sustained 3 pregnancies and have breastfed for 40 months and counting (cumulatively) on a low-carb diet. In fact, the only reason I was able to have children in the first place was due to my diet change, as I had been diagnosed with infertility via PCOS 9 months prior. I wouldn't recommend IF during those times, but if you otherwise do well on a keto diet, you should have no problems. I am nursing my third beautiful 4-month-old daughter as I type this with my free hand!
  22. Hi Rhonda!

    They have...

    If you hover your mouse over the symbol for "Strict/Moderate/Liberal Low Carb" on the pictures for all our recipes then you will get the nutritional facts.

    The amount of displayed carbs is net carbs (Total amount of carbs - fiber).

    Why don't the recipes have nutritional data per serving?

  23. angela mccray
    I read here about that its called... How do I know if I’m stalling/plateauing?!

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nFFXn_Uve5uh0qtqdAa0HvpEqqwKn6K00...

  24. Colleen
    Manon,
    I've been a vegetarian ( no eggs, but yogurt, & a little cheese) for over 12 years.
    I just went low-carb a month ago because I'm hypothyroid and I tried dieting and using an app for over a year and didn't lose a pound!
    In the past month my stomach has shrunk immensely and I've lost about 10 pounds.
    It is more difficult not eating meat and I try to limit cheese because I am lactose intolerant.
    I use almond milk or coconut milk and low-fat cheeses.
    I'm following a diet called Metabolism Miracle where you can slowly add some more carbs in later ( after 6-8 weeks), so right now I'm in the strict to moderate stage.
    Because of this diet I had to start eating eggs and a little more cheese. Even though it makes it more challenging there is no way I will ever eat meat ever again.
    It's a little more work but totally doable and totally worth it. I feel so much better. I was very addicted to carbs and sweets and I'm not craving them, which shocks me.
    For sweets I make coconut oil chocolate and low carb brownies.
    I just found this website and it's awesome thanks for having it!!!!
  25. Melissa Roach
    I'm 63 and have been on a low carb (less than 30 a day) and have lost very little weight. Would love some suggestions or ideas of what I may be doing wrong.
    Replies: #26, #27
  26. Hi Melissa!

    You probably have read our best tips regarding losing weight, but if not just follow the link below.

    https://www.dietdoctor.com/how-to-lose-weight

  27. Barbs
    Melissa I'm the same age as you and chased the same 6 to 7 lbs up and down the scales for months. I was only eating one meal a day on most days and under 20g of carbs so in effect I was fasting for 20 plus hours a day. It wasn't until I bought Dr Jason Fung's book The Obesity Code and started watching his video's on here that it all clicked into place for me. I believe that our bodies have a weight set point. Dr Fung talks about this in his book. Last week for the first time I incorporated 2 x 48 hour fasts into my working week (I can't seem to fast at weekends just yet) and finally the scales went below a certain figure I hadn't seen in a long time.
  28. Robyn
    Am I right in thinking that most of the Apps (fat secret, my fitness pal etc,) count total carbs rather than net carbs? If so, how do we calculate net carbs for veg etc?
    Reply: #43
  29. Sean
    Hello all! Obesity and wt loss resistance is an epidemic in America and becoming a major problem all over the world. I love the fact that you are all making the shift from the avg American diet to a healthier more balanced diet. For over 40 years now we have been duped into thinking sat fats and cholesterol are the problem and the simple fact is they are the answer! However, the major problem that keeps us in wt loss resistance and a multitude of chronic, non-infectious, degenerative diseases is cellular inflammation. We cannot get rid of the inflammation with a regular detox, I.e. colon cleanse, liver, gall bladder, juice fast, etc. You have to get to the source and the cell to get well. Find someone near you who does True Cellular Detox and your life will be change forever like mine was!!!
  30. Debbie
    Hi pls is it ok to eat minimal rice when on a liberal lchf.
    Reply: #33
  31. gbl
    I eat minimal grain carb a couple times a week, usually 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or 2-3 ounce cooked root vegs like a sweet or baking potato. A few weeks ago I had a 3 ounce toast of heavy high seed and whole grain (not flour) pumperknickel bread spread with rich liver pate.
  32. gbl
    That should have said, I eat minimal non above ground carb a couple times a week. I have eaten oatmeal and rice once in the past month but root vegs several times. Debbie check the low carb food charts and online brochure within this site. The answers to all your questions are there.
  33. Hi!
    Yes minimal is OK, like 20 grams. :)

    Hi pls is it ok to eat minimal rice when on a liberal lchf.

  34. Trisha
    Is being on a strict low carb / ketogenic diet safe during pregnancy?
  35. Tom
    Eating too many carbs or not enough protein
  36. ali oneale
    When I was in a diabetic ward in the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh ..they were giving them choc sponge and lemon drizzle cake to eat in the evening and then having to inject the same patients with insulin in the morning as their blood level were 20! Crazy!
    Couldn't label patients either as that was an infringement of their human rights.
  37. Sinvanor
    I'm a 5'3'' or 160cm female at 107 kilos currently. I did Ketogenic for 6 months two years ago and lost about 20 or so pounds or about 10 kilos. I went off of it after Christmas and a year later (And lots of stressful stuff happening), I'm 35 pounds higher than I have ever been in my life.
    I'm not blaming LCHF at all, I think for me, the super low carb was too strict and 20 pounds seemed a little low when my male partner lost 60. I was unhappy with how many cravings I had and from a mental standpoint, not having easy to make meals drove me mad. (I fully admit a lot of my food issues are mentally based from my childhood and they are incredibly hard to get past.)
    I'm going to permanently stick to a cross between moderate and strict low carb diet and follow the food guides of insulin.
    By far my biggest issue is my mental association with sweets, combined with depression and ADHD which my psychiatrist told me that it's very common to get an addiction due to it.
    I'm hoping desperately that time and having some berries and cream for "dessert" will help with the cravings, because they are the worst thing I know besides the extra unwanted weight.
    Mentally I'm not fit for ketogenic, I can't handle the restriction, it just increases my cravings. Lately as a replacement for dessert of any kind, I have a square or two of dark chocolate, some frozen mango pieces in milk with a drop of stevia (it sounds strange, but I really like it) and it's not ideal, but it's a lot better than a bag of candy and tears.
    Anyway, I wish the best of luck to you all, and am cheering you on, no matter what obstacles you face, and that it is okay to fail, every second is a new one to try again. Don't be hard on yourself, it will not help, I would know.
  38. Kayle
    I did a low carb strict diet when I was 19 I weighed 210 and in three weeks I weighed 105 then I got pregnant It was really bad because my body was so used to not eating a lot of food but I was thinking of doing it again I need to lose weight my ex started me on it he would eat I front of me snacks whatever and I was ok with it I'm very strong willed so hopefully this one works ?
  39. Raquel lozdyejski
    Quiero saber si está dieta puede ser contraprodusente para personas mayores por la falta de calcio.
    Reply: #46
  40. Camilla Sorensen
    I have insulin resistance, and my doctor told me to eat 40% carbs, 40% fat and 20% protein, and to choose wholegrain instead og regular (pasta, bread, rice).
    Would this diet work for me? When carbs makes you produce insulin, I would think, that the less carbs I eat, the better?

    Merry Christmas

    Replies: #41, #42
  41. Apicius
    I think the real "choice" you are facing is not what food to eat, but, what doctor to take advice from. Do you know someone who went through a physical transformation with low carb? If so, give them a call. Ask them what doctors advice they have received. Maybe it was just as bad as yours, or you may be surprised, perhaps they have a doctor who respects low carb, too.
  42. Drachula
    Hi Camilla
    Your doctor is giving the standard advice (actually better than standard advice which would argue even lower fat), but there are a number of doctors out there, myself included, who advise lower carb as a more logical and effective way of keeping yourself healthy when you have insulin resistance (and many other conditions)
    Switching the beige food for colourful food is a great place to start, so cutting out pasta, bread and rice (which all turn to sugar in the mouth and stomach within a matter of minutes) and switching to vegetables is perfect. They also give you all the fibre your guts need. Nuts and seeds help too.
    I have just discovered veg roasted in lots of olive oil, or coconut oil, or (cold pressed) rapeseed oil, with lots of herbs or spices. My food is so. UCL more interesting than when I ate boring starchy food!
    Enjoy!
  43. shotgunman006
    You just subtract dietary fiber from total carbs to get net carbs. I know myfitnesspal does total carbs but it also tracts fiber seperately so you can look at your daily total of carbs and subtract the fiber pretty easily. I'm not sure if this view is only available in paid version though but I like the features so I pay for it yearly.
  44. Jenn
    Is there a list of fruit choices? I wanted to know if i could have a quarter or half of a pomegrante? I saw the couple of berries but what about pomegranete? Thanks
  45. Vipin das
    I eat 4 scrambled eggs , 2 milk tea with sugar, 2 carrots
    150g fried cauliflower, 300g friedchicken per day. Can the be Accounted to a strict low carb diet?
    If not kindly advise.
  46. Irval
    Se puede comer queso y yogurt altos en grasa sin azúcar. Puede tomar suplementos de calcio en forma de pastillas pero no puede tomar leche de vaca o comer yogurt con sabor y endulzados. Tampoco puede comer queso bajo en grasa.
  47. rebecca
    This absolutely baffles me I have been type I, for over 30 years, I eat about 40 net carbs a day, I have never been told to consume more, I also have other serious autoimmune diseases and spent time with some pretty big specialists and never been told different. This lchf reduces neuropathy pain, big time. I think we can find anyone in the medical field that might agree with a life style we don't want to change. Maybe it's just me? But how much money would the drug companies loose if we all chose to be healthy? Type 2 and 1, you should be walking, eating nutritious lchf foods. This disease is not the captain of your ship, you are!

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