– what to eat
Visual low-carb guides
This guide is for adults with health issues, including obesity, that could benefit from a low-carb diet.
1. Low-carb foods list
Foods to eat
- Meat: Any type: Beef, pork, lamb, game, poultry, etc.3 Feel free to eat the fat on the meat as well as the skin on the chicken.4 You may want to choose organic or grass-fed meats.5 Top meat recipes
- Fish and seafood: All kinds: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or herring are great, and might even have health benefits due to high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.6 Avoid breading. Top fish recipes
- Eggs: All kinds: Boiled, fried, scrambled, omelets, etc. You may want to choose organic eggs, if possible.7 Top egg recipes
- Natural fats and high-fat sauces: Using butter and cream for cooking can make your low-carb foods taste better and can make you feel more satisfied. Try a Béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce. If purchased pre-made, check the ingredients for starches and vegetable oils. Better yet, make it yourself. Coconut fat or olive oil are also good options. These are all healthy fats.8 Learn more
- Vegetables that grow above ground: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, bok choy, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, olives, spinach, mushrooms, cucumber, avocado, onions, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, other kinds of leafy greens etc. These are lowest in net carbs and can be enjoyed at all levels of carb restriction. However, if you are following a keto diet (< 20 grams of carbs per day), you may need to limit your portions for certain types, like bell peppers and Brussels sprouts. Low-carb vegetables guide
- Dairy products: Feel free to choose full-fat options like real butter, cream (40% fat), sour cream, Greek/Turkish yogurt and high-fat cheeses, which can help you stay full and satisfied.9 Be careful with regular milk, reduced fat and skim milk as they contain a lot of milk sugar.10 Avoid flavored, sugary and low-fat products.
- Nuts: Great for a treat (in moderation) instead of popcorn, candy or chips.11 Learn more
- Berries: Okay in moderation, if you do not need to be super strict with carbs. Great with whipped cream. Learn more
Read the nutrition label in the grocery store.
No more than 5% of carbohydrates in any food item is a good rule of thumb.
- Water – Try to make this your drink of choice, flavored or sparkling water is fine too, but be sure to read the ingredients list to check for added sugars. Alternatively look at the carbs section on the nutrition label.
- Coffee – Black or with small amounts of milk or cream is ideal for weight loss.12 Beware of adding lots of milk or cream, especially if you drink coffee regularly throughout the day, even when you’re not hungry.13 But if you are hungry feel free to use full-fat cream. Or try it with coconut oil and butter – “Bulletproof coffee”.14
- Tea – The information for coffee above applies to tea too.
- More options in our full low-carb drinks guide
For ideas and inspiration for appetizing meals that we think you and your family will love, take a look at our more than 700 low-carb recipes. Every week, we add more. Some of the most popular recipes you will find below, but we have recipes to suit almost every taste.
Invited out? Celebrating? You don’t have to derail your diet. While too much celebrating can slow down weight loss, after a special event, just get right back to the diet and progress will resume.15
- Alcohol: You can drink in moderation dry wine, champagne or sparkling wine (extra dry or brut), whisky, brandy, vodka and gin.16 Vodka and soda water with a wedge of lime makes a great crisp drink. See our guide to alcoholic beverages.
- Dark chocolate: Above 70% cocoa, preferably only in small amounts.17 Full low-carb snacks guide
2. Do not eat high-carb foods
- Sugar: The worst choice, period.18 Soft drinks, candy, juice, sports drinks, chocolate, cakes, buns, pastries, ice cream, breakfast cereals – avoid them all. Sugar can also be addictive. Read our complete guide to sugar
Preferably avoid artificial sweeteners as well19 (here’s why). Check out our full low-carb sweeteners guide
Flour, wheat products or other refined cereal grains, even if labelled “gluten free.”20 This means bread, buns, pasta, crackers, porridge, muesli. Whole grains are included here too – on a low-carb diet they are just less bad.21 Also potatoes (sweet potatoes too), potato chips, French fries, corn products and popped corn, rice. Do check out, however, some of the low-carb versions of these foods:
– Low-carb bread
– Low-carb “mashed potatoes”
– Low-carb “rice”
– Low-carb porridge
– Low-carb “pasta”
- Beer: Made from fermented grain and hops, beer is basically bread in liquid form. Avoid. Lower-carb beers (typically called “lite beer” in the US) are available, but keep in mind that they still contain more carbs than dry wine or pure liquor.
- Fruit: While berries like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are fine in small to moderate amounts, be careful with other fruit. They are fairly high in carbs and sugar, which can raise blood sugar, may slow down weight loss and can possibly worsen metabolic issues.22 Consider it nature’s candy: fine for a special treat, but probably not something to consume daily on a low-carb diet.23 Learn more
Be very skeptical of special “low-carb” products, such as pasta or chocolate. Unfortunately these products often work poorly and may have prevented weight loss for many people. They’re often full of carbs once you see through the creative marketing.
There are many companies that use deceptive advertising to entice you into buying their “low carb” products that are full of starch, flour, sugar alcohols and other sweeteners, and strange additives.24
One of the largest of such companies was fined 8 million dollars for lying about the carb content of their products.
Two simple rules to avoid this junk:
- Don’t eat “low carb” versions of high-carb stuff – like cookies, bars, chocolate, bread, pasta or ice cream – unless you are SURE of the ingredients (ideally by making it yourself).
- Avoid products with the words “net carbs” on them. That’s usually just a way to fool you, and they are rarely good low-carb foods.
Also, preferably avoid margarine. It’s a solid form of industrial seed and vegetable oils. Why eat imitation butter when real butter is probably tastier and better for you?25 Like industrial vegetable oils, margarine contains high amounts of omega-6 fat, which have been linked to inflammation in some studies.26
3. Make it real
Eat high-quality, minimally-processed real low-carb foods.27 Shop the rim of the store and avoid packaged goods. Buy at local farmers’ markets. No list of ingredients? Great. That means it’s not processed.
A good strategy is to eat only low-carb foods that were available hundreds or even thousands of years ago. If it has a long list of ingredients and words on its label you’ve never heard of, don’t eat it.
Take this simple print-out-guide of which low-carb foods to eat and which to avoid to the store, or give it to interested family and friends.
How low to go?
How many grams of carbs can you eat in a day and still be low carb? Many people on the Standard American Diet (SAD) consume more than 250 to 350 grams of carbs a day.28 So when you adopt a low-carb diet, anything below about 100 grams a day — especially if you cut out added sugars — may reap weight loss and metabolic benefits.29
However, the more weight you want to lose, or the more your health has suffered on the SAD way of eating, the fewer carbs you may want to consume at the start of the low-carb, high-fat diet.30 If you stay under 20 grams of carbs a day, you will be eating a very low-carb diet or ketogenic diet, in which your body converts from burning carbs (glucose) to burning fat (ketones) for fuel.31 Ketogenic diets can also suppress appetite, so you end up eating less without getting hungry.32
Some people can do very well consuming slightly more carbs — about 30 to 50 grams a day — as long as those come from healthy real low-carb foods, devoid of added sugars or refined carbohydrates. As well, once people reach their weight loss or health goals, some find they can add a few more carbs back into their diet from time to time.
You may need to experiment to see where you feel your best and are able to easily maintain your weight and control cravings.33 Many people find that if they add back in carbs, their cravings for higher carbohydrate foods return.34
Here are three visual examples of various levels of carbs on a dinner plate. Learn more about how to determine the right amount of carbs for you.
Do you want to watch a high-quality 11-minute video course on how to eat low carb, high fat (LCHF)? Sign up for our free newsletter35 and you’ll get instant access to it:
Important: It’s low-carb, HIGH-FAT
After years of being told to avoid fat and eat low-fat foods, many people find the hardest part of adopting the diet is adding back in more fat. A low-carb diet needs the fat. Get it from using butter, coconut oil, high fat cheese, olive oil, avocado oil, even beef and bacon fat. Here are some easy tips.
Like a hybrid car engine, the body can burn two fuels for its energy needs. 1) glucose, from the breakdown of carbohydrates and 2) fats.36 When you are no longer consuming a lot of carbs, the body’s engine will convert to burning fats.37 It will either burn the fat you have eaten or the fat stored on your body in your adipose tissue (e.g. belly fat).
The body will only switch to fat as the primary fuel when its carb supply is low. The diet is sometimes called the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet – because that is exactly how you eat.38
At the start, do not deny yourself fat. Eat enough so that you are satisfied and you do not feel hungry. That way you will soon become what is called “fat adapted” — burning fat for fuel efficiently.39 You will know that you are fat adapted when you do not need to eat every few hours and you no longer feel the highs and lows (“hangry” episodes) of the blood sugar roller coaster.
Once your body is fat adapted, you can then consume a little less fat at every meal and let your body burn what it needs for energy from your fat stores.40 This can help you lose weight. If at any time you feel deprived, unsatisfied or have cravings, add fat back into your diet. Listen to your body. If you consume more fat than your body needs, it will slow down your fat loss. If you eat too little fat, however, you may feel tired, grumpy and hungry. Your body will tell you what it needs. Learn to listen to its cues again.
4. Low-carb breakfasts
Breakfast is a great time to eat low-carb foods. Who doesn’t love bacon & eggs? And there are so many more options – delicious, fast or both.
Here are some of our low-carb breakfast favorites, followed by other fantastic options:
Other basic low-carb breakfasts
- Leftovers from last night’s dinner
- Coffee with cream
- A can of mackerel and boiled eggs
- Avocado, salmon and sour cream
- Cheese with butter
- Boiled eggs mashed with butter, chopped chives, salt and pepper
- A piece of brie cheese and some ham or salami (or a full breakfast tapas plate)
- High-fat yoghurt with nuts and seeds (and perhaps berries)
The no-breakfast option
Do you NEED breakfast on a low-carb diet? No.43
On a low-carb, high-fat diet you’re likely not as hungry and you don’t need to eat as often.44 Skipping breakfast is perfectly fine if you’re not hungry. Perhaps you’ll only have a cup of coffee.
In fact, skipping breakfast is a popular version of intermittent fasting. This can speed up weight loss… and likely type 2 diabetes reversal.45 As a bonus you can save time and money.
Are you feeling brave enough to skip breakfast?
5. Low-carb lunches and dinners
- Meat, fish or chicken dishes with vegetables and a rich full-fat sauce. There are many alternatives to potatoes, such as mashed cauliflower.
- Stews, soups or casseroles with low-carb ingredients.
- You can use most recipes in cookbooks if you avoid the carbohydrate-rich ingredients. It’s often a good idea to add fat (e.g. butter, cream) to the recipe. Or check out our full low-carb recipe site.
- Drink water with your meal or (occasionally) a glass of wine.
Meal plansGet lots of weekly low-carb meal plans, complete with shopping lists and more, with our new premium meal planner tool. Make low carb truly simple – and delicious! Try it for free one month
Other simple sides
- Salads made from above-ground vegetables, perhaps with some kind of cheese. Try out different kinds.
- Boiled broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.
- Vegetables au gratin: Fry squash, aubergine and fennel (or other vegetables you like) in butter. Add salt and pepper. Put in baking dish and add grated cheese. Bake at 225° C (450° F) until the cheese melts and turns golden.
- Vegetables stewed in cream, e.g. cabbage or spinach.
- Vegetable spaghetti can be used instead of pasta. Try it
Dining out or meals with friends
- Restaurants: Usually not a big problem. You can ask to replace potatoes or fries with a salad or low-carb vegetables. Ask for extra butter.
- Fast food: Doner kebab or other meat or chicken kebab can be a decent option (avoid the bread). At hamburger chains the hamburgers (without the bun) are usually the least bad option. Avoid soft drinks and fries, obviously. Drink water or unsweetened iced tea. Pizza toppings are usually OK. Simply remove from the crust and enjoy.
- Nuts or cheese are good “emergency food” when there are no other low-carb options to be found. Remember to ask they leave the crackers out, possibly substituting walnuts or almonds, you may even get more cheese!
- If you eat strictly everyday it’s less of a problem to make a few exceptions when you are invited out. If you’re not sure what will be served you can eat something at home before you leave.
6. Low-carb snacks and desserts
- Rolled-up cheese or ham with a vegetable (some people even spread butter on cheese)
- A piece of cheese
- A boiled egg from the refrigerator
- Canned mackerel in tomato sauce
- Cheese cubes
Olives and nuts may replace potato chips as snacks. Here are more low-carb food options:
- Mixed nuts Learn more
- Sausage: Cut it in pieces, add a piece of cheese and stick a toothpick through them.49 You may want to check the nutrition label for the carb content of the sausages. Some are made cheaper by adding in starchy carbs instead of meat.
- Vegetables with dip, Try cucumber sticks, red, yellow or green peppers, cauliflower, etc. More
- Cream cheese rolls: Spread some cream cheese on a piece of salami, prosciutto/cold cuts or a long slice of cucumber; then roll it up.
- Parmesan cheese crisps: On a baking tray, form small piles of grated Parmesan cheese. Heat in oven at 225°C (450°F). Let them melt until they turn a nice color (be careful – they burn easily). Serve as chips, perhaps with some dip.