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).

 

Ketogenic

Under 20 grams per dayStrict low carb(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:

  • Ketogenic low carb <20 gram carbs per day. This is a ketogenic diet (if protein intake is moderate). This level is defined as below 4 energy percent carbs in our recipes, where we also keep the protein level low or moderate (excess protein is converted to carbohydrates in the body).1 Previously we often called this “strict low carb”, but as the word “keto” or “ketogenic” became commonly used we switched to only use this term, for simplicity.
  • 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 fiber. You can deduct them from your carb counts, i.e. eat all the natural fiber 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

 

Keto recipes

 

Moderate recipes

 

Liberal recipes

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 keto diet for beginners (strict low carb)

Low-carb basics videos

Visual guide

Note

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

  1. The limit of four energy percent means that you’ll stay below a maximum 20 grams of carbs on a 2,000-calorie diet, even if you only choose our very most carb-rich keto recipes.

    In most cases you’ll end up with far fewer carbs than that, as some of the keto recipes you use are likely to have significantly less than the maximum amount of carbs.

    Our keto recipes are also limited in protein. Our rule is that for keto recipes with 4 energy percent carbs we accept a maximum of 25 energy percent protein. For lower carb levels we accept slightly more protein:

    • 3 % carbs = max 27 % protein
    • 2 % carbs = max 29 % protein
    • 1 % carbs = max 31 % protein
    • 0 % carbs = max 33 % protein

     
    If there’s too much protein in a recipe to classify it as keto low carb, we instead classify it as moderate low carb.

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108 Comments

  1. annemarie
    Hey im on low carb at the moment 30 to 50 thinking of moving to 50 to 100 can anyone give me advice on how to do this without any side effects? Or what are the most common side effects thanks😊
    Reply: #101
  2. Darlene
    I have had success in the past with LCHF eating. I lost 22 pounds. I felt great had lots of energy, my skin was clear and the brain fog was gone along with the headaches. I have not eaten gluten or processed food for 10 years so it wasn't a difficult adjustment for me.
    I have increased my carb intake from low to moderate and have had an increase of 15 pounds in the past 5 months so I reduced the carbs back to the low carb meal plan. I have not had success with it this time, i go down a couple of pounds then right back up. It is so frustrating. I have hypothyroidism, could that have something to do with my struggle? Are there special considerations for people with this condition when eating LHF?
    Reply: #57
  3. Floyd
    Ok guys I'm thinking about doing this low carb diet,but I have some questions so I weight 365 lbs what would that weigh in kg and I want to get back down to about230 to 240 lbs what would that weigh in kg that way I know how muck protein to eat I think I need to stick with 30 to 40 carbs a day because I need to gain muscle back as I spent a yr laying on my back fighting for another chance at life and I lost all of my muscle mass and gained a lot of weight from eating hospital food ( carb city lol ) and I have had no exercise I've just recently started back to the gym and I'm have a hard time with cardio because I had to learn how to walk again and deal with the Neuropathy but it's much better I seriously need a lifestyle change lol
    Replies: #78, #85, #105
  4. Alan
    The foods are disgusting. Eating fat in majority is NOT natural and normal at all. No weight loss whatsoever in 1 week worse my blood pressure went up. Will give this 1 more week if the same i will switch to Rina diet which helped me lose 5kg in 1 months (fat loss not water). Theory for keto sounds right practice sucks. Not to mention you must be rich to afford this in Australia
    Reply: #106
  5. Marina
    That pic looks more about portion size than food nutrient carb counting??..
  6. Amana
    Hello. . I'm 30yrs old .. I'm a mother of 2 kids. . My weight is 94kgs. . Please recommend me diet plans. .
    Please reply asap..
    Thank you in advance..
    Reply: #58
  7. Andy
    Hi Darlene have you gotten response?
    My case is similar to you and I'm a bit stuck, not sure how to break the process.
  8. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Amana!

    Try this:
    https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto/diet-plan

    Hello. . I'm 30yrs old .. I'm a mother of 2 kids. . My weight is 94kgs. . Please recommend me diet plans. .
    Please reply asap..
    Thank you in advance..

  9. Mia
    Hi,
    I am very new to keto diet but I'd love to give it a go. Now I want the under 20 carbs food plan how much protein and fat can I consume. Please note I am so new you have to break things down for me to understand and not ask even more questions. I don't drink coffee so could I replace that with a none flavored protein shake which says no carbs on the lebel? Do I add similar to the coffee butter and coconut oil?.

    Please help and thank you for every effort made in advance.
    Xoxo

    Reply: #73
  10. Michele
    If i want to do the moderate lowe carb then what are my protein and fat intake?
  11. T
    Get in line and look up keto diet...it helps figure the ratio of carb, fat & protien.. not so hard..losinv a pound a day
  12. Alfonso Roman
    Fat is 75% Protien is 25% and carbs are 5%
    Reply: #79
  13. Carmen
    I have been diagnosed with chronic joint inflammation (RA) and chronic pain ( specifically: secondary Fibromyalgia- 2dary to the RA). Is this diet good for me?

    I also need to stay away from red meats...! Would chicken and fish alone suffice?

    Replies: #66, #75
  14. Sachel
    Hi I am trying to lose weight and try to do my best with this diet I am only 3 days in but I don't eat eggs and a good amount of the allowance foods. I am scared to eat feel like I don't know what I am doing and have been left just eating meat as a meal. Need help 😭
    Reply: #82
  15. Courtney
    Hi! I'm currently breastfeeding, but am almost to 12 months so I will be done soon. I see the suggestion is to add 3 large fruit a day if breastfeeding. Which fruits do you suggest?
  16. Rebecca
    This diet has helped with my joint pain from hypermobility syndrome and I've heard really good things about its effect on other joint problems.
    You can easily do this without red meat, just use the recipe search.
    I recommend you try it for a month and see how you feel :)
  17. Julia
    Why dont you guys add more activities . Just diet does not work:)
    Go for a long walk daily , keep your carbs ynder 50 gm per day, use Loose it app to calculate your carbs, fats and protein and keep your meals to the size of your fist .
    Reply: #68
  18. Sandy
    Adding exercise is definitely important for weight loss/overall health. I assume that you're stating this as a "kind" suggestion. I hope that it wasn't meant as a judgement towards posts that are seeking advice.
    Just need to be careful to not assume that people aren't exercising.
    Also, some people have limited or no ability to exercise. They may need to work with a professional to determine their alternatives.
  19. San
    Most of weight loss will come from what you eat. Only 20% comes from exercise. I have been reading over this diet and I'm going to try it primary because I need to detox from eating a little bit of everything since December. I previously lost 100 lbs. eating low carb but it was a lifestyle. I got off course this past year and it has been difficult getting back to it without support. The support is really key to getting and staying healthy.
  20. AnniC
    San, same here. I lost about 100 pounds myself a few years back doing the LCHF. I got pregnant and let myself go. It's been difficult but I'm back on the Lo carb wagon.
  21. Alex
    I have cut out most of the junk food and reduced sugar intake and had bacon and eggs every day for the last 12 months, cheese or ham or tuna salad for lunch all with parmesan, olives and mayonnaise. Dinner consists of a normal meal but with the potatoes/pasta replaced with either cauliflower/zoodles etc. I've lost 2 stone in the last 12 months and have never eaten more in my life!
  22. Jacob
    Hey, quick question! It's described here talking about fiber vs carbs. Now, to my understanding, carbs is fiber. But it also states that fibers won't count since they aren't digestible in the same manner as basic carbs (sugars?). I just want to know, when looking at a nutrition label, what common terms am I going to see under Carbohydrates, and how should I treat them?
    Reply: #88
  23. Christel
    I did keto for 7 month and lost 65 pounds with the minimum of 20g carbs per day. I figured out first what is my BMR = Basic Metabolic Rate and from this Basic calorie amount I ate 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs. The carbs you have to adjust not to go over 20g.
    I downloaded my fitnesspal from playstore which is free and put everything in what I eat and this show you the amount of fat, protein and carbs. You put in first your basic calories you want eat daily
    Just follow the myfitnesspal.com
    I still using it and I will lose another 10 pounds
    I am so used to calculate my carbs etc. I can't leave without it.
    Reply: #86
  24. Donna D.
    A low carb diet worked for me initially and I lost 20 lbs of the 40 lbs that I needed to lose. I felt really good physically and mentally but perhaps a bit overconfident because I became lax. Now, I thought, I had the secret to permanent weight loss. i.e. If I gained a few pounds I reasoned, all I had to do was go back to eating low-carb. Furthermore, after a few months, I began missing starches like: potatoes and pasta. I also thought an occasional sweet treat wouldn't hurt... but I was wrong. Ultimately I ended up gaining all 20 lbs back because I couldn't seem to sustain eating a low-carb diet forever.

    As stated, I thought my answer lied in returning back to low-carb eating, assuming I would have the same result as I did the first time. Wrong again! It didn't happen that way for me at all. For whatever reason, low-carb stopped working and my body did not respond as it once did I searched all over the internet for low-carb methods of resuming weight loss, but to no avail.

    I tried lowering my carbohydrates even further to ketogenic standards. I drank more water, I ate as clean and fresh as possible, I lowered my calories, I upped the fat, I added specifically recommended supplements, but my body would not cooperate and I felt miserable. Occasionally I would drop 2-3 lbs, but then it would come right back. Furthermore I felt extremely exhausted, lethargic and depressed. My energy levels were depleted and I also experienced severe leg cramping and hair loss. My energy levels and depression were so bad, I remained on my sofa for the most part of any day. "This is no way to live" I thought... Where were all those low-carb and ketogenic benefits I read about?

    Then I discovered keto flu and how for some it was part of the fat adaptation process. While I suspected that was what I was experiencing, I also learned that keto-flu could last for months. For some, fat adaption is a quick process for others it can be brutally slow. I gave the keto diet a 6 week shot, but I was so unhappy and depleted I finally relented and had a sweet potato loaded w butter.

    Then... holy cow! I finally found an answer... Enter intermittent fasting (IF) and I have since dropped 15 lbs. It has taken me about 6 weeks of experimentation on how to do an IF method that would work for me, (since there are many ways to do IF) I have finally settled on 2 meals a day (5 hrs apart) for 5 days, and one meal a day (OMAD) for 2 days a week -- and, I mix it up. This method is what finally broke my frustrating and long plateau. I am also learning about the phenomenal healthful benefits from following an IF lifestyle, but what was clearly obvious for me was: it apparently balanced my hunger hormones and kick-started my weight loss. Now my goal, other than a specific number on the scale (120-125 lbs) and to become more fit, is MOSTLY --> a desire to maintain an IF lifestyle forever. Fortunately, this time I know I can sustain this way of eating forever because my body finally feels THAT good when I'm in an IF state. Here's the deal... If we enjoy something enough, and the rewards are there, we can easily adopt it as a lifestyle, just like any habit that we have started in the past.

    PS. I typically eat a reasonably low-carb diet but not necessarily ketogenic. My lab markers are great, my energy is back, and I'm finally on my way down to a normal healthy weight, but most f all, I actually enjoy it.

    Replies: #84, #87
  25. Gale
    Chicken and fish is fine
  26. Robbie
    OMG. I have lost 1stone in 3 weeks. Not pushing it, eating properly with exercise. It is amazing, I am going strong as well as additional benefits such as lower blood pressure, reduction in acid reflux and general increase in energy. Stick to it, its worth it.
  27. Jo
    Hi I would like to do the "Keto" version however what would you recommend (moderate or liberal) for a 13 year old boy and 16 year old girl that are fit and healthy With no signs of obesity? Just cooking the same meals would be easier? anyone have any feedback whether the kids like the recipes?
  28. Jeff
    I kg is 2.2 lb. divide weight in pounds by 2.2
  29. Peter
    105% in total, WOW
  30. Lydia
    If i follow the Liberal Low Carb diet how much grams of fat do i need in a day?
    Replies: #81, #89
  31. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Lydia!

    Eat fat until satiety. :)

    If i follow the Liberal Low Carb diet how much grams of fat do i need in a day?

  32. Carol
    Hey Sachel,
    It's been 2 months since you posted and I don't see anyone responding to your cry for help. You're going to have to experiment with veggies, fruits, meat, chicken and fish and dairy products until you find what you enjoy eating..the key in all this is to stay away from all processed foods, sugars, wheat and rice. When you want fries, have cauliflower rice instead, or even some steamed veggies with melted butter. I hope you haven't given up because when I started this, there wasn't any change for me for a month. I've been on lchf for 6 months, and I'm off my high blood pressure and high cholesterol meds. Give it 3 months. You can do it..just hang in there, and don't eat chips, chocolate bars, candy, cookies, cake, crackers, pop, and the like. Eat as much fruit as you want when you're hungry to start with. They have fibre that you also need in this diet - juice doesn't....make sure you eat those until you're full to keep you away from unhealthy foods. It's better to eat your fill of apples, oranges or strawberries than to eat chips or crackers. Good luck!
  33. Alison
    I would recommend if you are in a rut or at a stand still, that you do a detox for 2-4 weeks. I noticed that doing a tea detox before every meal, so 3 times a day helped flush water weight from my body. I used a non-harsh detox natural & organic tea from our local health food store. I lost 20 lbs in just 1 week from just water weight! I lost an additional 15 lbs in the next 5 weeks. I was on the keto food plan, strict. I drank only green tea, unsweetened black tea and water. No diet soda or drinks, no sugar-free foods. I ate only meat, low carb cheese, low carb vegetables and blueberries. I wanted to do LCHF because I was insulin resistant, celiac, PCOS and infertility issues. Lost a total of 35 lbs in 6 weeks and found out I was pregnant! During my pregnancy, I craved all high carb foods. I ended up getting gestational diabetes my whole pregnancy and had to be put on 2 types of insulins. After my son was born, my diabetes never went away and I was still on both insulins. I am at my highest weight now, even though I eat gluten & wheat free and have once again started back at LCHF keto, because I have to lose all this weight! I have been on LCHF keto for 2 weeks now and I have energy! Hoping I can lose the weight I need to and feel healthy again! And maybe get pregnant again!
  34. Tammie
    Thank you for sharing. It answered some questions and concerns I'm having right now. And, the PS part at the end was an important piece of the puzzle for me. Hope your still doing well. I've been on very strict keto with intermittent fasting for 10 months and have lost 40 pounds with 10 to 20 to go, but want to transition to a low carb way of eating with intermittent fasting. They call it cycling( there are a lot of different ways to do it). That's what your doing. I'm suddenly scared I'll gain the weight back. Really scared. But hearing you do it makes me feel I can.
  35. Karen
    Floyd
    I am just studying this plan with hopes of starting in a few days. I would really love to hear your progress through this.. !! Good luck! I hope you are back on your feet and feeling great soon!
  36. Rasha
    Hi christel, carbs on fitnesspal for certain food is more than what is indicated in the Visual guide. Walnuts and zucchini for example. which one you use: visual guide or fitness pal.
    Thanks!
  37. Eryk
    Donna, that's awesome to hear. I'm about to try LCHF in order to get my various health markers better and to try and beat back type 2 diabetes. As a test a few months ago, I did a very low calorie diet (800 calories a day) for a week. That's similar to the fasting sort of thing you were speaking of. For that week, after the 2nd day, I felt amazing. Awake, energized, loads of mental focus and good energy. As it was just an experiment, I hadn't planned properly to continue it, so when the week was over, I was back to eating "normally", which means bad.
    I believe that I will end up doing something similar to what you did with this lifestyle mixed with a fasting lifestyle.
  38. Tom
    It's pretty straightforward, Jacob. I can't speak for other countries, but a US nutrition label will have one line for Total Carbohydrate (expressed in grams) and a line for Dietary Fiber (or just Fiber), also expressed in grams. The Dietary Fiber number is part of the carbohydrate total, but you can subtract them from Total Carbohydrate to get net carbs. It's only the net carbs that we count toward our daily carbohydrate total.

    For example, if the Total Carbohydrate on the nutrition label is 15 grams, but the Dietary Fiber line tells us it contains 10 grams of fiber, then our net grams of carbohydrate are 5.

    For some foods, you may also see a line for Sugar Alcohols. Some say these don't count, either, and can be subtracted from the Total Carbohydrate, but we do better to avoid them.

  39. Tom
    I do it this way, Lydia, in steps, starting with carbs:

    First, I try to stay under 20g of net carbs every day, which amounts to about 5-6% of my total daily kcal. This is, for me, the most important thing because it guarantees I'll stay in ketosis and burning fat.

    Step two is getting enough (but not too much) protein. I'm eating about 1400 calories a day (I'm not a large guy) and I try to get about 25% of my calories from protein, which, for my caloric intake, amounts to about 87-90g of protein a day. I try to plan my meals so that I get there, plus or minus a few grams.

    The last thing I think about is fat, because I know that if I don't eat enough fat to fuel my metabolism, I have plenty of extra around my waist -- my cells are not going to starve. My first rule is "Eat to satiety, but no further." So if I'm not hungry, I don't eat. Nominally, my fat macro target is about 110g of fat, but if I don't get there and I'm still feeling satisfied, I don't worry about it as long as I've met my protein target.

  40. 1 comment removed
  41. Kazi Arzu
    Hello,
    I am 38years old man, weight 60kg, height 5'5", but diabetics, THS 0.1,
    Plz advice about food

    Thank you.

  42. Amanda
    I have had a blast doing low carb.I did this all by myself because I was looking for something to help me with this weight I was carrying around.I weighed 254 lbs. but now I'm down to 209 lbs. in 4 months. This works! I tell people all the time. I did the research,have been eating the meals but also another factor was exercise.You got to get up and move.I'm 57 and I'm feeling like I did when I was in my 30's. I have so much energy!!
    Replies: #93, #96
  43. Blossom
    Amanda what app do you use to calculate your carbs? Congrats on your weightloss
  44. Oscar
    Hi guys. Just finished the two weeks challenge and only lost 3.5 pounds. I was expecting to loss many more. I followed the challenge very carefully and combined with intermittent fasting. What am I doing wrong ?
  45. Krystal
    Hey everyone,

    I want to start, but I’m currently nursing my newborn. Has anyone nursed and done Keto? I was reading other blogs that a lot of other moms had to choose between one or the other and not both. Has anyone had success with Keto liberal diet and nursing?

    Thanks!

  46. TJ
    Hi Amanda,
    Those are fantastic results! I just started eating LCHF over the last couple of weeks and I'm down 10 pounds :)
    Which version of low carb did you use to lose weight? I'm currently eating a liberal low carb diet and I'm pretty satisfied with it so far. I'd like to lose 60 more pounds this year.
  47. Suzanne
    I've just started and am confused how much meat verses vegies I can eat on low carb?
  48. Gentiann
    Check the recipes on this site. They give you a good idea of how much meat, vegetables and fat you can have in one meal.
    You have the option of choosing just one serving if you need to recalculate the recipe information.
  49. Denise berry
    I have not tasted it yet but it looks DELISH
  50. Patricia
    Hi I started this plan February 3 this year and as of today March 28 I’m down from 255 to 233.5. I’ve learned to create dishes that fit my Jamaican ancestry style of food. I’ve made jerk chicken with cinnamon butternut squash, cucumber and avocado. Curry beef with cauliflower rice. Coconut drops with monk fruit sugar substitute. Pumpkin pudding. Curry goat and Brussels sprouts with almond roti skins. Trust me! I’ve tried a lot of new recipes and I feel more energetic in my style of cooking and I’m losing weight . What more can I ask for. Don’t stop this!! It’s the best method I’ve learned to cook and I’m loving it!!
  51. Yuliya
    If you go for more carbs it can’t bring you any side effects
  52. Andreea
    Hello,

    I'm one month into a LCHF diet, but I am not counting very strictly, just trying to eat real foods until satisfied (+some slips, higher carb meals 1/week). I think I am usually having 50-60g net carbs a day. I started having side effects - low energy if I don't drink coffee, constipation and I think a gained weight + fat belly - started at 63kg and now am 65kg.

    So I wanted to start the keto diet plan (strict low carb) to have better control + for healing and mental clarity - I am currently recovering after a knee surgery and I am having 2h workouts with weights 6/7 days a week.

    The question is: is it ok to go keto and is it safe for recovering? My goal is to put on muscle, I don't want to lose weight, just get lean and get rid of my sugar addiction and low energy/mentally foggy periods.

  53. juanita
    Thanks for all you do! 18 months lchf and couldn't be better. Am working to spread the word... Have you considered making downloadable cards, pamphlets, or even bumper stickers that could be printed out and distributed?
    Thanks again:
    Juanita
  54. Cindy
    Hi, I will be starting my Ketogenic diet this Sunday! Is there a way I can get a custom plan?
  55. Terri
    Hey Lloyd. I did this diet in 06. I was 36, 240 and lost 70 lbs in one year. Just learn how to eat in moderation. Anyways, Im 48 now, insulin dept , heart disease with a CABG×4, 2 years ago and a stent in my RCA. I did this no carb diet for 4 years and cardio. I was in good shape as well but eventually it all came to an end. I do have to get back on the bandwagon.
  56. Michael
    Internet trolls advertising other diets. Wow you are amazing.
  57. Christy
    Thank you so much for this fantastic resource! Am curious if, on a moderate low carb diet (20-50 net carbs), are you supposed to keep the same nutrition stats that you have on keto? Specifically, 400mg magnesium, 3–7g sodium, and 3,000–4,700mg potassium?
  58. Alicia
    Is low carb 20 carbs or 20 net carbs in a day?
    Reply: #109
  59. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Alicia!

    20 Net Carbs.

    Is low carb 20 carbs or 20 net carbs in a day?

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