A low carb diet for beginners
A low carb diet is low in carbohydrates, primarily found in sugary foods, pasta, and bread. Instead, you eat real foods including protein, natural fats, and vegetables.
Studies show that low carb diets result in weight loss and improved health markers, and just about everyone knows someone who has successfully tried it. There’s not even any need to count calories or use special products. So why is it still controversial?
Learn more about low carb and how to use it for your personal goals here.
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.
For decades we’ve been told that fat is detrimental to our health. Meanwhile, low-fat “diet” products, often full of sugar, have flooded supermarket shelves. This has been a major mistake, that coincided with the start of the obesity epidemic.
Studies now show that there’s no reason to fear natural fats. Fat is your friend (here’s why). On a low-carb diet, you instead minimise your intake of sugar and starches. You can eat other delicious foods until you are satisfied – and still lose weight.
How does it work? When you avoid sugar and starches, your blood sugar stabilizes and the 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. Studies prove that a low-carb diet makes it easier both to lose weight and to control your blood sugar, among other benefits.
- 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.
Who should NOT do a strict low-carb diet?
Most people can safely start any kind of low-carb diet. But in these three situations you may need some preparation or adaptation:
- Are you taking medication for diabetes, e.g. insulin?
- Are you taking medication for high blood pressure?
- Are you currently breastfeeding?
If you’re not in any of these groups, you’re good to go. Great!
2. What to eat on a low-carb diet
In this section, you can learn exactly what to eat on a low carb diet, whether you prefer 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 about 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 the 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. These foods are much higher in carbs.
The numbers are grams of digestible carbs per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) unless otherwise noted.
What to drink
What drinks are good on a low-carb diet? Water is perfect, and so is coffee or tea. Preferably use no sweeteners. A modest amount of milk or cream is OK in coffee or tea (but beware of coffee latte and other specialty coffees!).
The occasional glass of wine is fine too.
How low carb is a low carb diet?
The fewer carbohydrates you eat, the more powerful the effects on weight and blood sugar will be. We recommend initially following the dietary advice fairly strictly. When you’re happy with your weight and health, you may carefully try eating more carbs (if you want to).
Here are three examples of what a low-carb meal can look like, depending on how many carbs you plan to eat per day:
Liberal LCHF 50-100g
Here’s a picture with basic low-carb advice, that you may want to print and have around, or give to friends who are curious:
3. Potential benefits of a low carb diet
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.
However, the reason many people keep eating low carb is more often the powerful health effects, like the following ones.
Reverse type 2 diabetes
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
A grateful gut
Low carb can help settle a grumpy gut, reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such a bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps and pain. Indigestion, reflux and other digestive issues can improve, too.
For many, this is the best part of going low carb and happens usually within the first few days, or first week, of starting the diet.
Reduce sugar cravings
Are you struggling to stay away from sweet foods, even though you try to eat them in “moderation”? Tons of people do. A low-carb diet usually reduces and sometimes even eliminates cravings for sweets
Weight loss, shrinking fat stores, lower blood sugar, improved mental clarity, and a calmer digestive system are the most frequently cited benefits of low-carb eating.
But some people experience even more life-changing improvements: lower blood pressure, less acne and better skin, fewer migraines, improved mental health symptoms, better fertility, and even more.
4. Potential side effects on a low carb diet
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 minimise them.
Another option is to decrease the intake of carbohydrates slowly, over a few weeks, to minimise 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 minimise 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-existent.
Alternatively, drink a few extra glasses of water and put more salt on your food.
Check out our 7 Days Example Low Carb Meal Plan with recipes.