Meat: Any type: Beef, pork, lamb, game, poultry, etc.3 Feel free to eat the fat in the meat as well as the skin on the chicken.4 If you can afford it, you may want to consider organic or grass-fed meats, although whether this has any significant health benefit is controversial, and scientific findings are still preliminary.5Top 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 pasture raised eggs, if possible.7Top egg recipes
Natural fats and high-fat sauces: Using butter and cream for cooking can make your low-carb foods taste better. 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. Learn more
Vegetables that grow above ground: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, bok choy, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, olives, mushrooms, cucumber, avocado (technically a fruit but usually included with vegetables), 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 enjoy delicious food while losing weight.8 Be careful with all milk, as it contains a lot of milk sugar.9 Avoid flavored and sugary products.
Nuts: Great for a treat (in moderation) instead of popcorn, candy or chips.10Learn more
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, or simply look at the nutrition label.
Coffee – Black or with small amounts of milk or cream is ideal for weight loss.11 Beware of adding lots of milk or cream, especially if you drink coffee regularly throughout the day, even when you’re not hungry.12 But if you are hungry and need extra calories, feel free to use full-fat cream. Or try it with coconut oil and butter – “Bulletproof coffee”.13
Tea – The information for coffee above applies to tea too.
For ideas and inspiration for appetizing meals that we think you and your family will love, take a look at our more than 1,000 low-carb recipes. Every week, we add more. You will find some of the most popular recipes below, but we have recipes to suit almost any 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.14
Alcohol: You can drink the following in moderation: dry wine, champagne or sparkling wine (extra dry or brut), whisky, brandy, vodka and gin.15 Vodka and soda water with a wedge of lime makes a great, crisp drink. See our guide to alcoholic beverages.
Sugar: The worst choice, period.17 Soft drinks, candy, juice, sports drinks, chocolate, cakes, buns, pastries, ice cream, breakfast cereals – avoid them all. Although controversial based on scientific definitions, many find sugar to have addictive properties.18
Starch: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
Beer: Made from fermented grain and hops, beer is basically bread in liquid form. We recommend avoiding it altogether. 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 fruits. They are fairly high in carbs and sugar, which can raise blood sugar, slow down weight loss, and possibly worsen metabolic issues.22 Consider it nature’s candy: fine for a special treat, but probably not something to consume daily on a very low-carb diet.23Learn more
Be very skeptical of special “low-carb” products, such as pasta or chocolate.24 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.25
Eat high-quality, minimally-processed, 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 from the SAD way of eating, the fewer carbs you may want to consume when beginning a low-carb diet.30 If you stay under 20 grams of carbs a day, you will be eating a very low-carb or ketogenic diet, in which your body converts from burning carbs (glucose) to burning fat and 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. Once people reach their weight loss or health goals, some find they can add a few more carbs back into their diets from time to time.33
You may need to experiment to see where you feel your best and are able to easily maintain your weight and control cravings.34 Many people find that if they add carbs back in, their cravings for higher carbohydrate foods return.35
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 more fat. A low-carb diet needs fat, especially in the beginning. Fat adds taste and calories. Get it from using butter, coconut oil, high fat cheese, olive oil, avocado oil — even beef and bacon fat. Just don’t overdo it, since eating too much fat can prevent you from burning your stored body fat.37
How do you know how much fat you should eat?
At the start, do not deny yourself fat. Eat enough so that you are satisfied and you do not feel hungry. Reducing your carb intake is what helps you become “fat adapted” — burning fat for fuel efficiently. Eating fat helps you make the transition without being hungry or having intense cravings.38 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) that can accompany a high-carb diet.39
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. This can help you lose weight.40 If at any time you feel deprived, unsatisfied, or have cravings, you can add fat back into your diet. Listen to your body. If you consume more fat than your body needs, it may slow down your fat loss. If you eat too little fat, however, you may feel tired, grumpy, or have cravings.
In short, start by reducing your carbs, eating enough protein, and adding fat for taste. You don’t need to count calories.41 Eat when you are hungry.42 Stop when you are satisfied. Easy peasy!
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 often a component of time-restricted eating, a popular version of intermittent fasting. This may speed up weight loss and improve the control of type 2 diabetes.45
As a bonus you can save time and money.