27 November 2020

Low-Carb Foods: A Complete Guide to the Best and Worst – Diet Doctor

  1. Foods to eat
  2. Foods to avoid
  3. Printable leaflet
  4. Breakfasts
  5. Meals
  6. Snacks & desserts
  7. Bread
  8. Q&A
  9. Meal plans
  10. Q&A
  11. Start free trial

Low-carb foods include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and natural fats, like butter.1 It’s possible to eat delicious real food until you are satisfied… and still lose weight.2

On this page you can learn how to make low carb simple. You get a guide to what to eat and what to avoid. You can also use our 700+ awesome low-carb recipes and our free 2-week get started challenge.

 

Visual low-carb guides

Disclaimer:While a low-carb diet has many proven benefits, it’s stillcontroversial. Most importantly, you may need toadapt pre-existing medications. Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor.Full disclaimer

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.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 organic 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 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.8Learn 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.11Learn 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.

 

 

Drink

  • 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

Recipes

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.

Shopping lists and meal plans

Do you want to make shopping for low-carb foods simple? Sign up for thefree 2-week low-carb challengeor ourlow-carb meal plan service(free one month). Personalized shopping lists are included. 
Alternatively, simply use our free14-day low-carb meal plan.
 
 

Special events

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.17Full 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

  • 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 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”

    Beans and lentils are also relatively high in carbs, so they’re not good low-carb options. Moderate amounts of certain root vegetables may be OK (unless you’re eating extremely low carb).

  • 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.23Learn more 

View list of things you may want to clean out from your pantry
 

Watch out

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Read more about fake low-carb products

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

Learn more about vegetable oils

 
 
 

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.
 

Handy brochure

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

Learn more about the ketogenic diet.

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.

 

Video course

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.

In short eat as much fat and low-carb food as you need to feel satisfied, healthy and full. You don’t need to count calories.41 Eat when you are hungry.42 Stop when you are full. Easy peasy!

Learn more

 
 

4. Low-carb breakfasts

Breakfast is a great time to eat low-carb foods. Who doesn’t lovebacon & 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

 

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?

Learn more about intermittent fasting

 

5. Low-carb lunches and dinners

 

Suggestions for 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.

Recipes

 
 

Meal plans

Get 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

 

Instead of potatoes, rice and pasta

There are many ways to replace potatoes, pasta and rice with vegetables, resulting in far fewer carbs. Here are a few of the most popular options.

All low-carb side dishes

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.
  • Avocado
  • Vegetable spaghetti can be used instead of pasta. Try it

All low-carb side dishes
 
 

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

On a low-carbohydrate diet with more fat and a bit more protein you will probably not need to eat as often. Don’t be surprised if you no longer need to snack. Many people do well eating two or three meals per day and nothing in between.46If you always get hungry between meals you’re probably not eating enough fat. Don’t fear fat.47 Eat more fatuntil you feel satisfied.48Here are quick options if you want to eat something right away:

  • 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

Snacks

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.
  • Olives
  • 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.

Visual low-carb guides

 

Snack recipes

Dessert recipes

 

Note

Please note that eating when you are not hungry – e.g. when snacking in front of the TV – will slow down weight loss.50 The options above are simply less bad for your weight than regular high-carb snacks.51

Learn more about the benefits of only eating when hungry

7. Low-carb bread

Do you miss bread? There are good low-carb options, but unfortunately it’s hard to find them in stores. “Low carb” bread from stores are often either (A) far from low carb, or (B) full of gluten, which may have other negative health consequences:

 

Recipes

Low-carb bread is fairly easy to do at home, though. Here are our top options.

8. Q&A

Here are common questions about low-carb foods. For other low-carb questions, feel free to use our full low-carb FAQ.

 

I don’t eat meat, or I don’t eat dairy. Can I still eat low carb?

Yes. Just eat other low-carb foods. You can even eat a vegetarian low-carb diet, or a dairy-free low-carb diet, so it’s absolutely possible.

 

Can I eat fruit on a low-carb diet?

Perhaps, at least a bit, but your best bet is berries. Fruit contains quite some sugar (it’s nature’s candy).

How much fruit you can eat mainly depends on how many carbs you’re aiming for. If you’re targeting below 20 grams daily, for a strict low-carb diet (probably the most effective version for weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal), fruit will have to be enjoyed in smaller amounts and only occasionally.

On a more moderate or liberal low-carb diet, let’s say 75 grams of carbs per day, you could eat a fruit or two most days. Learn more in our full low-carb fruits guide

 

Can I drink alcohol on a low-carb diet?

Yes. But make sure to drink low-carb things, like dry wine or whiskey. Full low-carb alcohol guide

 
Full low-carb diet FAQ

 

More

A low-carb diet for beginners 

 

More recipes

Advice on low-carb foods in 40 languages

We have written advice on a low-carb, high-fat diet in 40 languages. Note especially that we have two more Diet Doctor sites in other languages, with this guide in Spanish or Swedish.

 
 

More

 

Next

Keep reading about how low carb works

 

  1. Do you worry about eating saturated fats or cholesterol? There’s no good reason to do so:

    A user guide to saturated fats

    While still a bit controversial, several modern systematic reviews find no benefit from avoiding saturated fats, or replacing them with unsaturated fats:

    • Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]
    • Nutrition Journal 2017: The effect of replacing saturated fat with mostly n-6 polyunsaturated fat on coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials [strong evidence]

    Note that when including certain trials, some possibly inadequately controlled or not strictly randomised (the Finnish mental hospital study), there may be a small reduction in cardiovascular events from eating more unsaturated fats. Thus there is still some controversy surrounding this:

    • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015: Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease [strong evidence]
    • PLoS Medicine 2010: Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [strong evidence]

    Here’s a study investigating if eating eggs for breakfast every day has any negative effects on cholesterol levels. They found none, but the egg-eating group reported greater satiety:

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015: The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study-a 3-mo randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence] ↩

  2. Scientific studies now prove that compared to other diets, low-carb diets are often more effective for weight loss, and for improving certain health markers.

    This has been demonstrated in several meta-analyses of all top studies, for example these two:

    PLOS ONE 2015: Dietary intervention for overweight and obese adults: comparison of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. A meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Obesity Reviews 2016: Impact of low-carbohydrate diet on body composition: meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies [strong evidence]

  3. Health effects of unprocessed red meat are controversial. But it’s clear that it’s nutritious and satiating, and that humans have been eating it for millennia. We see no good health reasons to avoid it: Guide to red meat – is it healthy? ↩

  4. A user guide to saturated fats

    Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence] ↩

  5. Whether this has any significant health benefit is controversial, and scientific findings are still preliminary.

    Grass-fed meat tends to be higher in omega-3 fat and vitamins, per gram, which should be a good thing. These animals may also be raised in a more ethical way.

    It’s largely unknown if improved nutritional contents of meat results in better health, but it would make sense if it could. From an evolutionary perspective eating grass-fed rather than grain-fed meats should more closely match the environment of our ancestors, which could potentially have some positive health effects.

    The available evidence shows that grass-fed meats can have a slightly different nutritional profile, which can also change the biochemical profile of the cell structures of humans eating it:

    British Journal of Nutrition 2011: Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet n-3 PUFA in healthy consumers [moderate evidence for a different nutritional effect]

    Nutrition Journal 2010: A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef [moderate evidence for slightly different nutritional profile of grass-fed meat]

    People who consume meat, eggs, and dairy from animals raised on their natural diets may experience lower levels of inflammation compared to those who eat conventionally raised animals:

    Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 2018: Meat, eggs, full-fat dairy, and nutritional boogeymen: Does the way in which animals are raised affect health differently in humans? [weak evidence]

  6. This is somewhat controversial, but some studies suggest that omega-3 fats may have health benefits, or at least improve certain health markers:

    Metabolism 2014: A fish-based diet intervention improves endothelial function in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover trial [moderate evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 2012: Dietary inclusion of salmon, herring and pompano as oily fish reduces CVD risk markers in dyslipidemic middle-aged and elderly Chinese women [moderate evidence]

    Nutrition Research 2010: Inclusion of Atlantic salmon in the Chinese diet reduces cardiovascular disease risk markers in dyslipidemic adult men [moderate evidence] ↩

  7. The scientific support for the idea that organic eggs are healthier is not strong [very weak evidence].

    From an evolutionary perspective eating pastured eggs might more closely match the environment of our ancestors, which could potentially have some positive health effects.

    According to some studies (like the one below), organic or pastured eggs have higher nutritional contents. But studies do not consistently show a large difference.

    Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 2010: Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens [moderate evidence for different and possibly improved nutritional profiles]

  8. Do you worry about eating coconut fat due to saturated fat content? There’s no good reason to do so. While still a bit controversial, several modern systematic reviews find no benefit from avoiding saturated fats, or replacing them with unsaturated fats:

    A user guide to saturated fats

    • Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

  9. Studies suggest that consuming dairy products may help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight by promoting satiety and reducing overall food intake:

    Clinical Nutrition 2017: Dairy products, satiety and food intake: a meta-analysis of clinical trials [strong evidence]

    Nutrients 2016: Regular-fat dairy and human health: a synopsis of symposia presented in Europe and North America (2014-2015) [overview article] ↩

  10. A cup of milk (240 ml) contains about 12 grams of sugar. ↩

  11. Nuts contain several micronutrients and may have generally positive health effects:

    Nutrients 2017: Nuts and human health outcomes: a systematic review [strong evidence]

    Be careful when using nuts as snacks, as it’s very easy to eat far more than you need to feel satisfied. ↩

  12. Studies show that when consumed in low-to-moderate doses (around 3–4 mg per kg of body weight) caffeine may help increase your metabolism and reduce your appetite.

    Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology 2017: The effect of caffeine on energy balance [overview article]

  13. 100 ml of milk (less than half a cup) contains about 5 grams of sugar or about one teaspoon. ↩

  14. If weight loss stalls, cut back on the cream or fat in your coffee. More on this here:

    Is drinking coffee with butter and oil the key to weight loss? ↩

  15. Alcohol contains calories. Despite that, studies show that at least in the short term, drinking alcohol tends to increase the amount of food subsequently eaten:

    Appetite 2015: Moderate alcohol consumption stimulates food intake and food reward of savoury foods [moderate evidence]

    Appetite 2010: Short term effects of alcohol on appetite in humans. Effects of context and restrained eating [moderate evidence]

    Health Psychology 2016: Alcohol’s acute effect on food intake is mediated by inhibitory control impairments [moderate evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 2019: The effect of alcohol consumption on food energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Physiology & Behavior 2004: Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake [weak evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 2004: Effects of alcohol on food and energy intake in human subjects: evidence for passive and active over-consumption of energy [Overview article]

  16. “In moderation” could mean up to two standard drinks per day for men and one for women. ↩

  17. The majority of digestible carbs in chocolate come from sugar, and they can quickly add up.

    Low-carb snacks: Chocolate

    Of note, some studies suggest that chocolate might have benefits for heart and gut health:

    Journal of Nutrition 2016: Cocoa flavanol intake and biomarkers for cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [strong evidence]

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011: Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study [moderate evidence]

  18. All types of sugar contain glucose, which raises blood sugar, as well as fructose, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes and other diseases when consumed in excess:

    European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012: Consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages for 10 weeks reduces net fat oxidation and energy expenditure in overweight/obese men and women [moderate evidence]

    Journal of Nutrition 2015: Consumption of honey, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup produces similar metabolic effects in glucose-tolerant and -intolerant individuals [weak evidence]

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007: Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease [overview article]

    British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018: Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review [overview article]

    Learn more about sugar and its effects on your health

  19. We recommend minimizing the use of non-caloric sweeteners due to the potential for addiction, maintaining a preference for sweet tastes or stimulating over-consumption.

    At this time, research remains inconclusive regarding the effects of sweeteners on appetite, cravings, and overeating:

    Nutrition Journal 2017: Health outcomes of non-nutritive sweeteners: analysis of the research landscape [strong evidence]

    However, many people have reported experiencing these effects when consuming artificial sweeteners.

    Nutrients 2018: The impact of caloric and non-caloric sweeteners on food intake and brain responses to food: a randomized crossover controlled trial in healthy humans [moderate evidence]

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015: Effects on weight loss in adults of replacing diet beverages with water during a hypoenergetic diet: a randomized, 24-wk clinical trial [moderate evidence] ↩

  20. Starch is just joined up sugar molecules that are liberated as sugar once again by enzymes by the process of digestion:

    Carbohydrates on a keto or low-carb diet

    When it comes to the effect on blood sugar here’s no big difference between gluten-free and other sources of starch:

    Food & Function 2017: Commercially available gluten-free pastas elevate postprandial glycemia in comparison to conventional wheat pasta in healthy adults: a double-blind randomized crossover trial [moderate evidence] ↩

  21. Wholegrain products are also full of carbohydrates, and thus not suitable for a low-carb diet.

    Do you need whole grains for health? Probably not.

    “Healthy” whole grains: What the evidence really shows

    The most recent Cochrane review of high-quality nutrition science found no evidence for that theory:

    Cochrane reviews 2016: Whole grain cereals for cardiovascular disease [strong evidence for lack of any proven effect on heart health] ↩

  22. All types of sugar contain glucose, which raises blood sugar, as well as fructose, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes and other diseases when consumed in excess:

    European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012: Consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages for 10 weeks reduces net fat oxidation and energy expenditure in overweight/obese men and women [moderate evidence]

    Journal of Nutrition 2015: Consumption of honey, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup produces similar metabolic effects in glucose-tolerant and -intolerant individuals [weak evidence]

    Nutrients 2017: Fructose consumption, lipogenesis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [overview article]

    Note that the issues with fruit might primarily apply for people with obesity and type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance), where studies have demonstrated that a low-carb diet can be helpful:

    PLOS ONE 2015: Dietary intervention for overweight and obese adults: comparison of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. A meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2018: Effect of dietary carbohydrate restriction on glycemic control in adults with diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

  23. What fruits and vegetables looked like before ↩

  24. For instance, maltitol – a very common sweetener in low-carb products – has the highest glycemic (35) and insulinemic (27) indexes of all sugar alcohols.

    Nutrition Research Reviews 2003: Health potential of polyols as sugar replacers, with emphasis on low glycaemic properties [overview article]

    About 60% of maltitol is digested and absorbed in the small intestine, like other carbs.

    Gastroenterology 1990: Digestion and absorption in the human intestine of three sugar alcohols [moderate evidence]

    Gastroentérologie Clinique et Biologique 1991: Clinical tolerance, intestinal absorption, and energy value of four sugar alcohols taken on an empty stomach [moderate evidence]

  25. Margarine doesn’t seem to have health benefits:

    Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Many people feel that margarine tastes worse than butter, here’s an example:

    Consumer Reports 2017: Spreads are dead: no one likes eating margarine anymore ↩

  26. Overview article:

    Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2012: Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids

    Fairly robust (HR>2) correlation between margarine intake and eczema or allergies:

    Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2006: Margarine and butter consumption, eczema and allergic sensitization in children. The LISA birth cohort study. [weak evidence]

    Strong (HR 2.3 – 4.8) correlation between margarine intake and asthma:

    Annals of Epidemiology 2005: Margarine consumption, asthma, and allergy in young adults: results of the German National Health Survey 1998. [weak evidence] ↩

  27. Unprocessed real food is what our ancestors have been eating for millions of years, and what the human animal is evolutionarily adapted to. By introducing processing, e.g. refining carbohydrates in a way that increases the speed of absorption and reduces the amount of nutrients and fiber, we change the food into something our bodies may not be adapted to, i.e. we introduce an unknown risk of side effects.

    Learn more: What are you designed to eat? ↩

  28. Adults in the US consume about 50% of their calories from carbohydrates, or about 250 grams of carbs per day if eating 2000 calories:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  29. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2018: Effect of dietary carbohydrate restriction on glycemic control in adults with diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

  30. This is mainly based on the consistent experience of experienced practitioners, and stories from people trying different levels of carb restriction [weak evidence]

    The only small intervention study – to our knowledge – that compare different levels of carb restriction found trends towards a larger effects with fewer carbs, for weight loss and cardiometabolic risk factors. However, these trends did not reach statistical significance:

    PeerJ 2019: Low-carbohydrate diets differing in carbohydrate restriction improve cardiometabolic and anthropometric markers in healthy adults: a randomised clinical trial [moderate evidence] ↩

  31. Current Nutrition Reports 2018: Nutritional ketosis for weight management and reversal of metabolic syndrome [overview article] ↩

  32. Obesity Reviews 2015: Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence] ↩

  33. How low you want to keep your carb intake may also depend upon other health effects, e.g. if you need to stay low carb to control your blood sugar. If in doubt check with your doctor. ↩

  34. This is mainly based on the consistent experience of experienced practitioners, and stories from people trying different levels of carb restriction [weak evidence]

    Clinical Chemistry 2018: Food addiction, high-glycemic-index carbohydrates, and obesity [overview article] ↩

  35. The newsletter arrives once a week with unbiased information free from ads or industry influence. Your email is kept 100% private. To unsubscribe just press “unsubscribe” at the bottom of any newsletter. ↩

  36. Some tissues, like the brain, can not burn fat directly. However, to a large degree it can do so indirectly, through conversion of fat to ketones in the liver. Ketones are then burned by the brain and other organs.

    The complete guide to ketosis ↩

  37. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007: Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism [overview article] ↩

  38. The exception could be when you’re trying to lose a lot of weight. Then instead of eating a lot of fat, you might not have to eat high fat as your body will be using its stored fat for energy, instead of a lot of dietary fat.

    How do you know how much fat you should eat? Primarily follow your hunger. If you’re not hungry, you probably don’t need to eat more fat.

    Learn more ↩

  39. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007: Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism [overview article] ↩

  40. This is based on clinical experience. [weak evidence] ↩

  41. While calories count, you probably don’t have to count them for good results. Low-carb diets tend to result in more weight loss, even though most studies of it do not advocate counting calories:

    British Journal of Nutrition 2016: Effects of low-carbohydrate diets v. low-fat diets on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. [strong evidence for more weight loss]

    New England Journal of Medicine 2008: Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, mediterranean, or low-fat diet [moderate evidence]

    Learn more here: Should you count calories on a low-carb or keto diet? ↩

  42. How to lose weight #2: Eat when hungry

    How to lose weight #4: Eat only when hungry ↩

  43. The old idea that breakfast is important for health or weight control is mainly based on observational studies, a notoriously weak form of evidence.

    When tested this idea does not appear to hold up, at least not for weight loss. A recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials found that people assigned to skip breakfast ate less overall and lost more weight than those assigned to eat breakfast daily:

    British Medical Journal 2019: Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials [strong evidence]

    Even the observational data is inconsistent, for example with findings like in the study below: “compared to breakfast eating, skipping breakfast was significantly associated with better health-related quality of life and lower perceived stress.”

    International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2018: Eat or skip breakfast? The important role of breakfast quality for health-related quality of life, stress and depression in Spanish adolescents [weak evidence] ↩

  44. Low-carb diets tend to reduce feelings of hunger:

    Obesity Reviews 2014: Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases 2015: The effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite: a randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]

    Many people only feel the need to eat twice a day on a low-carb diet (often skipping breakfast), and some just once a day. This is mainly based on consistent experience from experienced practitioners and a very common report from people trying this diet. [weak evidence] ↩

  45. British Medical Journal 2019: Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials [strong evidence]

    To our knowledge, there are still no randomized trials exploring the effect of true (zero calorie) intermittent fasting on type 2 diabetes. Here are the best existing studies:

    BMJ Case Reports 2018: Therapeutic use of intermittent fasting for people with type 2 diabetes as an alternative to insulin [very weak evidence]

    JAMA Network Open 2018: Effect of intermittent compared with continuous energy restricted diet on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized noninferiority trial [moderate evidence]

    Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2016: The effects of intermittent compared to continuous energy restriction on glycaemic control in type 2 diabetes; a pragmatic pilot trial [moderate evidence]

  46. This is mainly based on consistent experience from experienced practitioners and a very common report from people trying a low-carb diet. [weak evidence] ↩

  47. The fear of saturated fats, like butter, appears to have been completely misguided:

    Nutrition Journal 2017: The effect of replacing saturated fat with mostly n-6 polyunsaturated fat on coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials [strong evidence] (analysis)

    Learn more ↩

  48. Eating enough fat is not the only thing that contributes to increased satiety on a low-carb diet. You may also want to make sure that you’re diet is based on nutritious whole low-carb foods and contains enough protein.

    Eating enough protein might sometimes be even more satisfying:

    Advances in Nutrition 2015: Controversies surrounding high-protein diet intake: Satiating effect and kidney and bone health [overview article] ↩

  49. The evidence against eating red meat seems to be very weak. Learn more

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017: Total red meat intake of ≥0.5 servings/d does not negatively influence cardiovascular disease risk factors: a systemically searched meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [strong evidence]

  50. Studies demonstrate that eating when distracted may increase food intake somewhat:

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013: Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating [strong evidence] ↩

  51. There’s no good evidence that eating more often than three times a day (or snacking) has any benefits, and it may be bad for weight loss or metabolic issues:

    Diabetologia 2014: Eating two larger meals a day (breakfast and lunch) is more effective than six smaller meals in a reduced-energy regimen for patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomised crossover study [moderate evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 2010: Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet [moderate evidence]

    Hepatology 2014: Hypercaloric diets with increased meal frequency, but not meal size, increase intrahepatic triglycerides: a randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]

    PLOS One 2012: Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males [moderate evidence]

    Obesity (Silver Spring) 2012: Effects of manipulating eating frequency during a behavioral weight loss intervention: a pilot randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 1997: Meal frequency and energy balance [overview article]

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