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A comprehensive low-carb diet strategy by our leading nutritionist

Many popular diets (including Atkins and keto) claim to cause weight loss by cutting out carbohydrates.

While carbohydrates aren’t inherently bad for you, they impact your blood sugar levels and are responsible for causing glucose spikes. When your blood sugar isn't stable, it can become harder to lose weight.

Keep reading to discover the different types of low-carb diets, the benefits and drawbacks of reducing your carb intake, and a weekly low-carb meal plan targeted at weight loss.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 30-04-2024

What is a low-carb diet?

A low-carb diet involves eating fewer carbohydrates and more protein and fat. Many different diets fall under the ‘low carb’ category, including popular diets like the ketogenic (keto) and paleo diets.

A pie chart containing meats, fish, dairy, plants, legumes, fruit and nuts.

There is no specific amount of carbs you should be consuming when following a low-carb diet. However, one source suggests that your daily intake of carbs should range from 50-130 g - or 26% of your daily calorie intake.

The rest of your diet should consist of protein (meat, fish, eggs, tofu) and fat (avocado, butter, cream, animal fat, olive oil).

What are the different types of low-carb diets?

There are many different types of low-carb diets. Some allow you to eat moderate amounts of carb sources daily while others are much more restrictive.

Basic low-carb diet

The basic low-carb diet focuses on reducing sugary and starchy foods and encourages a higher proportion of healthy fats and protein.

An array of healthy low-carb, whole foods.

This diet focuses on a moderate reduction in carbs and an increase in whole foods including lean meats, vegetables and nuts. It’s not particularly restrictive yet can still successfully promote weight loss and blood sugar stability.

Low-carb high-fat diet

The low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet, as the name suggests, increases your fat intake while decreasing how many carbs you can have. It is similar to the keto diet - however, it does not entirely cut out carbohydrates and doesn’t cause your body to enter ketosis.

In this diet, carbs make up about 25% of your calorie intake, while fat makes up about 60%. By including more healthy fats (like avocadoes, nuts and oily fish), this diet aims to provide a steady source of energy while improving weight management.

Keto diet

The ketogenic (keto) diet is an extremely low-carb and high-fat eating plan, designed to put your body in a state of ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body’s primary energy source shifts from carbohydrates to fat.

The word ‘keto’ made out of high-fat, low-carb food sources.

The keto diet drastically limits carbohydrate intake, to as little as 20-50 g per day. It prioritises meat, dairy, non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats. In recent years this diet has gained popularity because of its potential to:

  • promote rapid weight loss
  • manage epilepsy
  • control blood sugar levels
  • improve mental clarity

Low-carb paleo diet

The low-carb paleo diet combines eating fewer carbohydrates with principles from the Paleolithic era, also known as the Stone Age.

It encourages the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods similar to what our ancestors would’ve eaten millions of years ago. Due to this, it’s important to also select high-quality food choices, such as meat from a butcher rather than a supermarket.

This diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods and includes meat, fish, nuts, seeds and non-starchy vegetables. These foods promote a diet that’s rich in nutrients and minimises potential allergens.

Atkins diet

The Atkins diet is another popular way of eating low-carb. It focuses on a high protein intake and encourages nutrient-dense foods.

Atkins diet on a chalkboard

This particular diet contains four different stages. Initially, carbohydrates are severely restricted - but as time goes on they are gradually reintroduced.

Dukan diet

The Dukan diet is a structured high-protein, low-carb diet that aims to cause weight loss without causing hunger.

It consists of four phases:

  • attack
  • cruise
  • consolidation
  • stabilisation

While it encourages whole, nutrient-dense food choices, it also requires strict adherence to a limited list of allowed foods.

Zero-carb diet

As the name suggests, the zero-carb diet eliminates all types of carbohydrates. It can also be referred to as the carnivore diet.

This extreme approach typically only includes animal-based foods such as meat, fish, eggs, butter and cheese. It tends to exclude any kind of vegetable or plant-based food.

Some believe that this diet possesses certain health benefits. However, due to its highly restrictive nature, it is likely to cause nutrient deficiencies and digestive issues due to a lack of fibre.

Low-carb Mediterranean diet

This diet combines a reduction in carbohydrates with beneficial aspects of the traditional Mediterranean diet.

It promotes the consumption of low-carb, high-fibre foods like vegetables, legumes and whole grains, along with healthy fats found in nuts and olive oil.

Its focus is to improve overall health, reduce inflammation in the body and promote weight management.

What are the benefits of a low-carb diet?

There are many reasons to start incorporating fewer carbs into your diet. According to research, low-carb diets can:

  • achieve substantial weight loss
  • trigger favourable changes in body composition (promoting fat loss but maintaining lean muscle mass)
  • stabilise blood sugar levels by preventing sudden spikes and crashes in blood glucose, which ultimately promotes better metabolic health
  • relieve women of discomfort during heavy or painful periods (by regulating hormone levels)
  • improve the performance of athletes and fitness enthusiasts

For people with type 2 diabetes

For people with diabetes, research Trusted source The BMJ Peer-reviewed Journals Medical Research Go to source has shown that following a low-carb diet is one of the best ways of managing their condition and keeping their blood sugar levels stable.

Your body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar (or glucose). Therefore, avoiding carbs limits the amount of sugar that enters your blood - which is key for people with type 2 diabetes.

Does a low-carb diet come with risks?

In general, there are very few risks associated with a reduction of carbs in your diet. However, drastically reducing your carb intake for long periods of time has been associated with:

  • impacting the cardiovascular system
  • causing vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B1, folate, magnesium, calcium, iron and iodine
  • reducing some of the good bacteria found in the gut

To combat these risks, ensure that you eat mostly high-quality, whole foods that are high in nutrients and allow yourself to eat small amounts of carbs every day.

What can I eat on a low-carb diet?

The following table outlines foods that are suitable for a low-carb diet and which should be reduced or eaten in moderation:

Foods you can eat Foods that should be reduced
  • any type of meat or fish (avoid breaded)
  • eggs
  • non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, spinach, olives
  • natural fats: butter, cream, plain, full-fat yoghurt, cheese
  • nuts and seeds
  • low-carb fruits: berries and oranges
  • starchy vegetables: potatoes, squashes, sweet potatoes, yams, peas, corn
  • higher carbs fruits: bananas, pineapple, apple, mango and more
  • whole grains: wholegrain rice, oats, quinoa
  • legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas
  • dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa

10 low-carb snack ideas

When starting a new diet, it can be useful to have some ideas for snacks. That way, you are less likely to reach for a bag of crisps or biscuits when you’re feeling hungry.

Apple slices with peanut butter on a wooden chopping board.

Here are 10 low-carb snack ideas to help you get started:

  1. pepper strips dipped in mashed avocado
  2. low-carb crackers topped with olive tapenade
  3. roasted nuts
  4. strawberries smoothie with added vegan low-carb protein powder
  5. dark chocolate squares with cashew or macadamia nut butter
  6. hard-boiled eggs with some mayo
  7. fresh vegetables with tzatziki dip
  8. apple slices with peanut butter
  9. full-fat yoghurt with some berries
  10. slice of keto bread topped with a nut butter

Can I follow a low-carb diet plan?

If you’re thinking of ditching carbs but aren’t sure where to start, this weekly meal plan may be helpful. It contains a week of breakfasts, lunches and dinners - with the inclusion of a daily snack.

Low-Carb Diet Meal Plan

For weight loss



Chia seed pudding with hemp seeds and blueberries


Prawn and egg salad with lettuce, carrots and tomatoes


Low-carb crackers with olive tapenade


Peppers stuffed with minced beef, with cheese and sour cream



2 slices of low-carb (keto) bread with peanut butter


Tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and tuna salad


Hard-boiled egg with mayo


Tofu, courgette and cauliflower rice stir fry



2 eggs (cooked any way) with fried garlic mushrooms


Cauliflower rice and tofu leftovers


1 slice of keto bread with nut butter


Grilled chicken with asparagus, broccoli and quinoa



2 boiled eggs, 2 bacon medallions and tomatoes


Leftover grilled chicken with homemade coleslaw


Sliced bell pepper and mashed avocado


Wild salmon with Greek salad and wholegrain rice



2 slices of keto bread with avocado and smoked salmon


Leftover Greek salad with a tin of sardines


Full-fat, plain yoghurt with berries


Turkey meatballs in tomato sauce with red lentil pasta and broccoli

Main takeaways

To conclude, reducing your intake of carbs may be the key to helping you lose weight.

Low-carb diets can also help you preserve lean muscle mass while losing body fat, which is essential for maintaining your metabolism.

As well as reducing how many carbs you eat, it’s also important to eat plenty of whole, nutrient-dense foods. This includes vegetables that are packed full of fibre.

These types of foods will provide you with essential micronutrients and keep you fuller for longer - reducing your chance of late-night cravings or boredom eating.

Want to know how to stop cravings?

Click here

Further reading

Meal replacement shakes: do they work for weight loss?

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Does the DASH diet work for weight loss?

What should I eat to lose weight? Does the DASH diet work for weight loss?

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The flexitarian diet: A beginner’s guide

What should I eat to lose weight? The flexitarian diet: A beginner’s guide

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The Mediterranean diet: Does it work for weight loss?

What should I eat to lose weight? The Mediterranean diet: Does it work for weight loss?

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12 nutritionist tips to lose weight

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How many calories should I eat a day?

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Keto: does it really work for weight loss?

What should I eat to lose weight? Keto: does it really work for weight loss?

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What is intermittent fasting and does it work for weight loss?

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