A Low-Carb Diet for Beginners
On low carb you can eat all you need to feel satisfied – there’s no calorie counting required. No products. No obsolete fear of natural fats. No pills. No surgery. Just real food.
A low-carb diet restricts sugary foods and starches like pasta or bread. Instead, you’ll eat delicious real foods, including protein, natural fats and vegetables.
Low-carb diets just work. They’ve been used for over 150 years and just about everyone knows someone who has successfully tried it. Scientific studies now prove that compared to other diets, low carb is more effective.2
Here you can learn how to use low carb to achieve your personal goals. Choose a section or keep reading below.
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.
Most importantly, you minimize your intake of sugar and starches. You can eat other delicious foods until you are satisfied – and still lose weight.
There are solid scientific reasons why low-carb diets works. When you avoid sugar and starches, your blood sugar stabilizes and 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.3
- 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.
Here are examples of what you could eat:
Who should NOT do a strict low-carb diet?
Most people can safely start any kind of low-carb diet right away. But in the following three situations you may need additional preparation or adaptation:
- Are you on medication for diabetes, e.g. insulin? Learn more
- Are you on medication for high blood pressure? Learn more
- Are you 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 right away? Make low carb 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 want 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:
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.
Try to avoid
Here’s what you should not eat on low carb – foods full of sugar and starch:
The numbers are grams of digestible carbs per 100 grams (3.5 ounces), unless otherwise noted.
What to drink
So what do you drink on low carb? Water is perfect, and so is coffee or tea. Ideally, use no sweeteners, and a modest amount of milk or cream if you like (beware of caffe latte!).
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:
We have more than 300 low-carb recipes.
You can also find our recipes by using the “Recipes” link in the top grey menu. Here are a few popular recipes:
Get lots of weekly low-carb meal plans, complete with shopping lists and everything, with our amazing premium meal planner tool (free trial).
How low is low carb?
The fewer carbohydrates you eat, the bigger the effects on weight and blood sugar will be. We recommend following the dietary advice as strictly as you can. When you’re happy with your weight and health, you may carefully try eating more liberally (if you want to).
Here are three examples of what a low-carb meal can look like, depending on how many carbs you eat per day:
A strict low-carb diet is often called a ketogenic (or “keto”) diet.
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Advice on low carb in 39 languages
We have written advice on a low-carb, high-fat diet in 39 languages. Just press this small grey note symbol to choose: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:
Most people start eating fewer carbs to lose weight, a well-known and often highly effective method. Learn more about how to do it
However, the reason many people keep eating low carb is more often the powerful health effects, like the following ones.
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 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
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.
Follow the links below for more knowledge, stories and science:
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:
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.
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
Check out this guide to learn to cook amazing low-carb meals
In short, there are lots of great low-carb alternatives to carb-rich foods that are both tastier and healthier
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
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
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 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.
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
(Picture credit: KetoDiet)
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
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
Do you want more low-carb guides? We have more low-carb guides!
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.
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:
- Light nausea
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.
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:
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.
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!
What are you designed to eat, and why can sugar and starch be a problem? Essentially, how does low carb work?
Are you having problems on low carb? Are you not losing weight like you want to? How many carbs should you eat?
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.”
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:
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Here are two of the top studies showing more weight loss and improvements in risk factors on low carb:
- New England Journal of Medicine 2008: Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, mediterranean, or low-fat diet
- Annals of Internal Medicine 2014: Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial
Similar results have been found in meta-analyses of all studies, for example this recent analysis:
For many more studies on the topic, have a look at our low-carb science page:
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.
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E.g. one or two cups of bouillon per day. ↩