A low-carb diet for beginners

A low-carb diet is low in carbohydrates, primarily found in sugary foods, pasta and bread. Instead, you eat real foods including protein, natural fats and vegetables.

Studies show that low-carb diets result in weight loss and improved health markers, and just about everyone knows someone who has successfully tried it.1 There’s not even any need to count calories or use special products. So why is it still controversial?

Learn more about low carb and how to use it for your personal goals here. Choose a section or keep reading below.
 

  1. For doctors

 
 

1. Introduction to low carb

A low-carb diet means that you eat fewer carbohydrates and a higher proportion of fat. This can also be called a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) or a keto diet.

For decades we’ve been told that fat is detrimental to our health. Meanwhile low-fat “diet” products, often full of sugar, have flooded supermarket shelves. This has been a major mistake, that coincided with the start of the obesity epidemic.

Studies now show that there’s no reason to fear natural fats. Fat is your friend (here’s why). On a low-carb diet, you instead minimize your intake of sugar and starches. You can eat other delicious foods until you are satisfied – and still lose weight.

How does it work? When you avoid sugar and starches, your blood sugar stabilizes and the levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin drop. This increases fat burning and makes you feel more satiated, reducing food intake and causing weight loss.2

Studies prove that a low-carb diet makes it easier both to lose weight and to control your blood sugar, among .

 

The basics

  • Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables growing above ground and natural fats (like butter).
  • Avoid: Sugar and starchy foods (like bread, pasta, rice, beans and potatoes).

Eat when you’re hungry, until you’re satisfied. It’s that simple. You do not need to count calories or weigh your food. And just forget about industrially produced low-fat products.

Below are examples of what you could eat, alternatively check out our 500+ low-carb recipes.

 

ChecklistWho should NOT do a strict low-carb diet?

Most people can safely start any kind of low-carb diet. But in these three situations you may need some preparation or adaptation:

  • Are you taking medication for diabetes, e.g. insulin? Learn more
  • Are you taking medication for high blood pressure? Learn more
  • Are you currently breastfeeding? Learn more

If you’re not in any of these groups, you’re good to go. Great!

Getting started fast

Do you want to get going with low carb right away? Make it truly simple by signing up for our free two-week low-carb challenge. Or get unlimited meal plans, shopping lists and much else with a free membership trial.

In 60 seconds

Does low carb still seem complicated? Check out our visual low-carb in 60 seconds guide

 


 

2. What to eat on a low-carb diet

In this section you can learn exactly what to eat on low carb, whether you prefer visual guides, detailed food lists, delicious recipes or a simple get started guide.

Let’s start with a quick visual guide to low carb. Here are the basic food groups you can eat all you like of, until you’re satisfied:

Low-carb diet foods: Natural fats (butter, olive oil); Meat; Fish and seafood; Eggs; Cheese; Vegetables that grow above ground

 
The numbers above are grams of digestible carbs per 100 grams (3.5 ounces). Fiber is not counted, you can eat all the fiber you want.

All foods above are below 5% carbs. Sticking to these foods will make it relatively easy to stay on a strict low-carb diet, with less than 20 grams of carbs per day.

Detailed low-carb foods list

 

Try to avoid

Here’s what you should not eat on low carb – foods full of sugar and starch. These foods are much higher in carbs.
Foods to avoid on low carb: bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit, beer, soda, juice, candy

 
The numbers are grams of digestible carbs per 100 grams (3.5 ounces), unless otherwise noted.

Detailed list of foods to avoid

 

What to drink

Low-carb drinks

So what do you drink on low carb? Water is perfect, and so is coffee or tea. Ideally, use no sweeteners. A modest amount of milk or cream is OK in your coffee or tea (but beware of caffe latte!).

The occasional glass of wine is fine too.

For more, check out our full guides to low-carb drinks and low-carb alcohol.


 

Visual low-carb guides

Here are more detailed visual guides to the amount of carbs in common foods. Is a specific food item low or high in carbs? Click to find out:

 

Recipes and meal plans

Browse our over 500 delicious low-carb recipes or head over to our 14-day low-carb meal plan for inspiration. You can always find our recipes under “Recipes” in the top menu. Here are a few popular ones:

 
Use our premium meal planner tool (free trial) to access tons of weekly meals plans, complete with shopping lists. You can adapt the plans to your liking, skipping any meal, choosing how many people you’re cooking for, and the shopping lists adapt. You can even start a new plan from scratch (of from pre-existing ones), tailor them completely and save them.

Here’s an example meal plan:

  • Keto pierogis filled with bacon and mushroomMon
  • Keto pork skewers with mash and salsa verdeTue
  • Keto chicken fajita bowlWed
  • Keto cheesesteak casseroleThu
  • Fathead pizzaFri
  • Keto fish casserole with mushrooms and French mustardSat
  • Italian keto meatballs with mozzarella cheeseSun

 
Check out the meal planner tool

 

How low is low carb?

The fewer carbohydrates you eat, the more powerful the effects on weight and blood sugar will be. We recommend initially following the dietary advice fairly strictly. When you’re happy with your weight and health, you may carefully try eating more carbs (if you want to).

Here are three examples of what a low-carb meal can look like, depending on how many carbs you plan to eat per day:

 
 
A strict low-carb diet is often called a ketogenic (or “keto”) diet.
 

 

Video course

How to Eat Low-Carb, High-Fat Video Course

Here’s an 11-minute video course on how to eat low carb, high fat. Sign up for our free newsletter3 for instant access to it:
 

 

Get started

Keen to get started? Then sign up for our free 2-week low-carb challenge, where you’ll be guided step-by-step through your low-carb journey.

challenge_pic2

 

Folder

Here’s a folder with basic low-carb advice, that you may want to print and have around, or give to friends who are curious:

Low-carb-for-beginners_folder_1803-2

 

countries3

Low-carb advice in 40 languages

We have written advice on a low-carb diet in 40 languages, including our full Diet Doctor site in Spanish or Swedish. Press this small grey note symbol to choose between other languages:4

 
 


 

3. Potential benefits of low carb

Why would you consider eating fewer carbs? There are many potential benefits, proven by science and experience, like these four:

 

Low carb and weight lossLose weight

Most people start eating fewer carbs to lose weight, a well-known and often highly effective method. Learn more

However, the reason many people keep eating low carb is more often the powerful health effects, like the following ones.

 

Low carb and diabetes reversalReverse type 2 diabetes

Low-carb diets can normalize blood sugar and thus potentially reverse type 2 diabetes

Low carb can also be very helpful in managing type 1 diabetes

 

Low carb and a calmer stomachCalm your stomach

Low carb can result in a calmer stomach, less (or no) gas, less cramps and pains, etc.

For quite a few people this is the top benefit, and it usually only takes a day or two to experience it. Learn more

 

Reduce sugar cravings with low carbReduce sugar cravings

Are you struggling to stay away from sweet foods, even though you try to eat them in “moderation”? Tons of people do.

Low carb usually reduces and sometimes even eliminates cravings for sweets

 

More common benefits

The four benefits above are the extremely common ones. But there are others that are potentially even more surprising and – at least for some people – lifechanging.

Did you know that low carb often can normalize blood pressure result in less acne, control migraine and epilepsy, potentially improve certain mental health issues, and much else?

Follow the links below for more knowledge, stories and science:

 

All low-carb benefits

 

Success stories

We’ve been sent hundreds, if not thousands, of low-carb success stories, and get more every day. Here are a few, and links to all of them sorted by categories:

  • Eight years of zero-carb eating and "have never looked or felt better!"
  • A low-carb diet: Maintaining a 70-pound weight loss for five years
  • Low carb and me – my journey as a GP
 
 

Top success story videos

 

 

4. Low-carb tips and guides

To make low carb truly simple and enjoyable requires a few new skills. For example, how do you cook low-carb breakfasts that you love? How do you eat more fat? And what’s important to think about when dining out?

Here are all the guides you need.

 

breakfast-800-roundedBreakfast

Breakfast is a great time to eat low carb. Who doesn’t love bacon and eggs? In the unlikely event that you answered “I”, there are even great options with no eggs at all.

Another strong option is to just have a cup of coffee, as many people get less hungry on a low-carb, high-fat diet and don’t really need breakfast at all. This potentially saves you tons of time.

There are many other options – both delicious and fast

 

meals-800-roundedMeals

So, what’s for lunch and dinner? You could for example have meat, fish or chicken dishes with vegetables and a rich full-fat sauce. There are a million alternatives.

Check out this guide to learn to cook amazing low­-carb meals

 

instead-800-roundedInstead of potatoes, pasta and rice

Who needs starchy sides when you can have cauliflower mash or cauliflower rice instead? Not to mention butter-fried green cabbage, yum!

In short, there are lots of great low­-carb alternatives to carb­-rich foods that are both tastier and healthier

 

dining-out-800-rounded-ffDining out

How do you eat low carb at buffets, at a friend’s house or at fast­-food restaurants? The basic idea is to avoid the starchy foods (like bread or pasta) and instead ask for additional natural fat, like butter or olive oil (so you’ll still be satisfied).

There are many more helpful things to know. This guide explains it all

 

snacks-800-roundedSnacks

You probably don’t need to snack as much on low carb, as you’ll feel satisfied longer.

However, if you want something right away you could have cheese, nuts, cold cuts or even an egg. There are lots of amazing options

 

bread-800-roundedBread

Do you have a hard time living without bread?

There are good and bad low-carb options. Spoiler: you’ll probably want to stay away from “low­-carb” bread from the grocery store! Here’s why, and what to do instead

 

fat-rounded800How to eat more fat

Fat is filling and an amazing flavor enhancer. But how do you get in enough of it in your diet? And how much fat should you really eat? Hint: enough to feel satisfied and not hungry.

Learn all about it in this guide

 

cheap-800-rounded-1Avoiding special products

Another common mistake on a low-carb diet is being fooled by the creative marketing of special “low-carb” products. Remember: An effective low-carb diet for weight loss should be based on real food.

Low-carb products like chocolate, candy, pasta and bread often use all kinds of deceptive marketing, while really being junk food – including carbs – in disguise. Learn more

 

cheap-800-rounded-1How to make low carb cheap

Low carb doesn’t have to be expensive. In this guide, you’ll learn how to make it super cheap.

With a little planning and preparation you could save a ton of money

 

low-carb cheatingLow-carb cheating

To cheat or not to cheat? This guide will help you decide, and if you do decide to cheat, it will help you do it smarter

 

More guides

Do you want more low-carb guides? We have more low-carb guides!

 

 

Top videos about low-carb basics

Here are a few of our hundreds of low-carb TV videos, these ones are focussed on low-carb basics:



 

5. Potential side effects on low carb

If you stop eating sugar and starch cold turkey (recommended) you may experience some side effects as your body adjusts. For most people these side effects tend to be mild and last a just few days. There are also ways to minimize them.

Another option is to decrease the intake of carbohydrates slowly, over a few weeks, to minimize side effects. But the “Nike way” (Just Do It) is probably the best choice for most people. Removing most sugar and starch often results in several pounds lost on the scale within a few days. This may be mostly fluids, but it’s great for motivation.

Here are side effects that may occur when you suddenly start a strict low-carb diet.

 

cheap-800-rounded-1Induction flu

By far the most common side effect is called the induction flu. It’s what makes some people feel really poorly 2-3 days after starting low carb.

Here are the common symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Light nausea
  • Irritability

These side effects rapidly subside as your body adapts and your fat burning increases. Within a week, they are usually gone.

The reason for this is that carbohydrate-rich foods may increase water retention in your body. When you stop eating high-carb foods you’ll lose excess water through your kidneys. This can result in dehydration and a lack of salt during the first week, before the body has adapted, resulting in the symptoms above.

You can minimize the induction flu by drinking more fluids and by temporarily increasing your salt intake. A good option is to drink a cup of bouillon/broth one or two times a day. This usually keeps the induction flu minor or even non-existant.

Alternatively, drink a few extra glasses of water and put more salt on your food.

Learn more about induction flu and how to treat it

 

Other common issues on low carb

Beyond the induction flu, there are five more relatively common side effects. Many of them can also be mostly avoided by getting enough fluid and salt.5

There are also more things you can do to minimize any problems, click to read more if you’ve experienced one of these issues:

 

Less common issues

These are less commonly noticed issues, that generally only affect a minority of people:

All low-carb side effects and how to cure them

 

Low-carb myths

Beyond the usually minor and transient side effects that may occur (see above) there are tons of myths and fears that simply don’t hold up to closer scrutiny. For example, your brain is supposed to stop working unless you eat carbs. We’ll, that’s simply wrong.

There are many more unfounded fears about low carb, that are mostly based on myths and misunderstandings. Read all about them on our low-carb myths page, or choose a specific topic below:

 

6. Learn more

Here’s the sixth and final section of this low-carb page. Do you want to truly understand low carb, and get answers to your remaining questions? Or do you want extra inspiration for yourself or for people you’re trying to help?

Find it here, and start becoming a low-carb expert.
 

Low-carb TVLow-carb TV

Get insight, enjoyment and inspiration to help you succeed, from the top low-carb channel on the planet.

Select from hundreds of awesome videos – and we’re adding several more every week. Enjoy!

Join free for a month

 

Low-carb TVHow low carb works

What are you designed to eat, and why can sugar and starch be a problem? Essentially, how does low carb work?

Learn how low carb works

Scientific studies on low carb

 

Low-carb questions and answersQuestions and answers

Are you having problems on low carb? Are you not losing weight like you want to? How many carbs should you eat?

Get answers to your low-carb questions

 

Why fat is your friendWhy fat is your friend

A lot of people still fear natural fat. But really, the whole idea that we should fear fat is based on a scientific mistake, and most open-minded experts now admit it.

Just witness the recent TIME cover to the right, with the text “Eat Butter. Scientists labelled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.”

Learn more about cholesterol and why fat is your friend

 

Low-carb eventsUpcoming low-carb and keto events

Do you want to meet other low-carb and keto fans and experts? Here’s an updated list of upcoming low-carb and keto events around the world.

 

The Food Revolution

Do you want a summary of the ongoing food revolution? From failed low-fat diets and an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, through a growing realization of our mistakes, and towards a potential health revolution.

Watch this talk by Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, the founder of Diet Doctor:

 

Next

You’ve reached the end of this page (congratulations!). Keep reading about what to eat on a low-carb diet

 

Improve this page

Do you have any suggestion – big or small – to improve this page? Anything that you’d like added or changed? Comment below or e-mail us at andreas@dietdoctor.com.

 

  1. Scientific studies now prove that compared to other diets, low carb is more effective.

    Here are two of the top studies showing more weight loss and improvements in health markers on low carb:

    Similar results have been found in meta-analyses of all studies, for example this recent analysis:

    PLOS ONE 2015: Dietary Intervention for Overweight and Obese Adults: Comparison of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. A Meta-Analysis

    For many more studies on the topic, have a look at our low-carb science page:

    The science of low carb

    Hundreds of success stories: Low-carb success stories

  2. Does this sound too good to be true? Many people think so initially, and then they experience it for themselves.

    Our weight is hormonally regulated. Eating fewer carbohydrates lowers blood glucose, lowering the fat-storing hormone insulin. This often makes it way easier to access and burn excess body fat, without hunger or calorie counting.

    Learn how low carb works

    Scientific studies on low carb

  3. Our weekly newsletter gives you the top low-carb news, recipes and tips without ads or industry influence. Your email is kept 100% private. To cancel press “unsubscribe” at the bottom of any newsletter.

  4. Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, (different version), Chinese, Chinese (Taiwan), Croatian, Czech Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Uzbek.

    Do you have another translation or a significant improvement of one of the earlier ones? E-mail us (more info).

  5. E.g. one or two cups of bouillon per day.

4,446 Comments

  1. Cherry
    Tasha your like me years vlcd = messes up metabolism. Go watch Dr Eric Beeg on YouTube
  2. Anthony
    I have followed your site and you have good stuff on here but my question is what is your take on animal protine causing cancer
  3. wry5eoyvb
    sure avoid fruit. hope you don't get scurvy

    not only that but fruits have the antioxidants and other health benifits you need to stay healthy

    man made "pills" like multivitmains may help but they are not natural

    and certain fruits can prevent cancer which is why we have an epidemic of cancer. people rather take pills than to actually eat fruit

  4. wry5eoyvb
    you need more protein than that to lose the weight

    I knew a young woman who lost over 70 pounds on this diet and she ate about 1/2 lb of bacon a day

  5. 1 comment removed
  6. Alexandra
    I'm on day one of keto and am having trouble getting used to the taste of so much butter. Breakfast was two eggs with 2 tablespoons of butter and coffee with cream. The eggs were quite hard to eat, so I plan to do 1 tablespoon of butter and add cheese tomorrow. Lunch is the keto "crack slaw" and the amount of butter in the dish is not very palatable to me. I'm not sure how I can cook with less butter, but still get the fat that I need to stay full? Or will I become used to the taste of so much butter? The recipes I'm using are from the 14 day guide for beginners on this website.
  7. 19 comments removed
  8. Alison
    I am now on week 5 of this diet. I have not eaten pasta, bread, rice etc for 5 weeks and, to date, I appear to have lost all of about 4lbs. I have been in various states of Ketosis for almost all of this time so very disappointing to only have lost a few lbs. Not only that I have been doing IMF 16:8 as well for most of this time and still this doesn't really help. I am a 53-year-old female probably pre-menopausal, I would think, so this may be a reason for such a slow difficult weight loss. I am 5 ft 4 weighed 139 lbs to start and now currently on 135lbs. My weight has fluctuated so much over the last 5 weeks. On many days it has gone up. I am quite disappointed. I haven't completely cut out alcohol as I love a glass (1) of red wine with dinner. This does need to be sustainable.
    Reply: #4529
  9. MARIANNE
    Alison.. I am 5 ft 5 in and 56 years old, postmenopausal. I have been on this diet for 6 weeks, and also have not seen real weight loss. I do feel better as far as energy goes and I have yet to see my lab results after 6 weeks of eating like this. I am very disappointed but I have a lot more to lose than you do, about 30 lb. You are probably losing slow because you are already down so low and it takes a lot longer when you're not heavier. Good luck to you.
  10. Alison
    Thank you Marianne I appreciate the response. I was almost contemplating giving up. I don't feel very energized though so not sure how it will go. Will keep trying.
  11. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Alison!

    Keep on doing what you are doing!

    If you see LCHF as a lifestyle choice then even a slow weight-loss will add up during the years to come. :)

    And continue to drink red wine! I do.

    I am now on week 5 of this diet. I have not eaten pasta, bread, rice etc for 5 weeks and, to date, I appear to have lost all of about 4lbs. I have been in various states of Ketosis for almost all of this time so very disappointing to only have lost a few lbs. Not only that I have been doing IMF 16:8 as well for most of this time and still this doesn't really help. I am a 53-year-old female probably pre-menopausal, I would think, so this may be a reason for such a slow difficult weight loss. I am 5 ft 4 weighed 139 lbs to start and now currently on 135lbs. My weight has fluctuated so much over the last 5 weeks. On many days it has gone up. I am quite disappointed. I haven't completely cut out alcohol as I love a glass (1) of red wine with dinner. This does need to be sustainable.

  12. Leonie
    Well I am in a proper quandry....I started on the low carb diet late last year and lost weight....over the last couple of months, the weight has crept back on.....because of my success earlier on, I started to get adventurous and added more fats to my diet...cooking in butter, adding homemade mayonnaise to meals, making the occasional keto dessert.....and I mean like twice only.....I was snacking on cheese and nuts only.....and I was fearful of adding more fat to my diet. I strayed a little yes, but never ate potatoes, grains, pasta or bread...so thought that overall I was ok.....I had a blood test last week and my bad cholestrol was up - 4.7!!! I was really so disappointed in that....it can only be the added fats that caused this surely....I have lost my way, it looks like....I only eat the low carb veges, no below ground veges at all! I love the way I feel on the Keto way of eating. I only eat breakfast max 3 times per week and do intermittent fasting the other days.....I don't eat any fruit
  13. MARIANNE
    Frustrated and need answers. I have been doing the low-carb high-fat for an entire six weeks and have not lost anything. That was okay because I was mainly doing it to lower my blood sugar which seemed to be rising, not diabetes yet but it was 112. I have been very devout on this diet and after 6 weeks got my test results and my blood sugar was 109! I'm so discouraged. Not losing weight is one thing but no test results changes make me even more discouraged. I'm a post-menopausal woman and I know it's harder but this is ridiculous and I just thought this was my last shot. Help me please with anyone who's had similar results.
  14. Leonie
    I'd like to know how anyone get's a response from comments left....I don't see too many getting answers to questions here.....:(
    Reply: #4533
  15. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Leonie!

    We are really sorry, but we simply don’t yet have the resources to respond to all questions in the comments or via email.

    We do respond to questions about the membership, but for other questions, it would be great if you could help each other in the comment section.

    But...you can read more about Low Carb and cholesterol here:
    https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/side-effects#cholesterol

    I'd like to know how anyone get's a response from comments left....I don't see too many getting answers to questions here.....:(

  16. Hani Kassem
    Hello, im on keto diet almost 20 days and is going very well i lost like 6 kg, obviousley i mad a blood test and showing my cholestor high risk stage, even my hdl showing low please can anyone advise what i do? I like this type of diet. Awiting your quick anserws
  17. 1 comment removed
  18. Karen Barnes
    I have been following keto for 6 months. I have lost 52cms and 14 kilos. I have bloods taken six monthly my total colestrol has gone from 4 to 8.1. My doctor is happt with my weight but not with mt colestrol he informs me I am at risk and has subscribed me medication. What can I do?
  19. Nancy
    I love the website and recipes. But I don't seem to be able to add recipes to my favourites anymore and was able to in the past. Would you be able to let me know about this.

    Thanks Nancy Ashley

  20. 1 comment removed
  21. Helia
    Has anyone else experienced severe bloating? I'm not experiencing much in my stomach area, but my ankles and hands are super swollen and I can't understand why. I don't use too much salt, but I've had to take my rings off because it's so bad. What do I do? Help!
    Reply: #4541
  22. Kama
    Please, how soon will my fasting blood sugar come back down? It’s currently at 172.
  23. Sandra Bentley
    Sounds like your not taking enough salt & magnesium. You must have your electrolytes. Try & watch Dr. Berg on You Tube, he has answered this question for you. But do increase your salt, potassium & magnesium.

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