A Complete Low-Carb Diet Guide for Beginners

Medically Reviewed
Shrimp bowl with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and avocado
Lean protein, low-carb fruit, and nonstarchy veggies are staples in a low-carb diet plan.Nadine Greeff/Stocksy
From Atkins to the ketogenic diet, low-carb eating has some serious staying power in the diet world. Check out this guide if you’re curious about how this eating approach may aid diabetes management, weight loss, and other purported health benefits.
Garlic & Rosemary Scallops

Garlic & Rosemary Scallops

It's better to undercook zinc-rich scallops; this allows the smoothness and natural creamy texture to shine through.

As for butter, this ingredient is high in calories, mostly from fat, but some of them are short-chain fatty acids like butyric acid, which may reduce inflammation in the digestive system. Butter, especially from grass-fed cows, is also high in various vitamins. That means it can be nutritious in moderation, not to mention beneficial for your endocannabinoid system.

4.4 out of 12 reviews






15 min


15 min


½ lb. scallops, fresh or frozen* (227 g / 8 oz)
1 T olive oil (14.75 mL / 0.5 fl oz)
1 T butter (11 g / 0.4 oz)
2 large cloves garlic (1 T / 7.5 g / 0.25 oz), minced
½ cup white wine (125 mL / 2.25 fl oz)
1 T fresh rosemary (or ½ tsp. dried), chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
*If using frozen scallops, allow to completely thaw before starting the recipe. (Sauvignon blanc is a good choice of wine for this recipe.)



Place the scallops on paper towels and thoroughly pat dry. Season one side with salt and pepper.


Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.


Place scallops in the hot pan, seasoned side down. Sear until golden brown on the bottom for about 1–2 minutes.


Turn over and season with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown on the underside. Remove from the pan to a plate.


Add butter to skillet. When melted, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.


Add the white wine and rosemary. Simmer for 2–4 minutes until the sauce thickens.


Add scallops back to the pan, stirring to coat. Garnish with more rosemary if desired.

Nutrition Facts

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added sugar





Mediterranean, Gluten-free, Low-Carbohydrate, Low-Calorie, Quick & Easy, Dinner, Appetizer, Dairy, Shellfish

What Is a Low-Carb Diet?

For starters, know that what’s low carbohydrate for one person isn’t for another. “There’s no medical definition of what low-carb is,” says Columbus, Ohio–based Kelly Schmidt, RD.

Basically, it’s reducing the number of carbs you eat from your norm. In general, however, a low-carb diet may include 50 to 100 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day, she says. Below that is considered very-low-carb, such as the ketogenic diet, while 100 to 200 g of carbohydrates per day is a moderate-carb diet.

Common Questions & Answers

What foods are good on a low-carb diet?
You can eat a variety of foods on a low-carb diet. Some of the best foods include nonstarchy vegetables; some fruits in moderation; lean protein, such as skinless poultry; and healthy fats such as olive oil.
How many carbs should I eat in a day to lose weight?
Nutrient recommendations, including for carbohydrates, will be different for everyone. But about 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day are generally recommended on a low-carb diet, which can support weight loss, as long as you’re still maintaining a calorie deficit.
Which foods should I avoid on a low-carb diet?
Foods that are rich in carbohydrates include bread, rice, pasta, beans, lentils, milk, starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, certain higher-carb fruits, such as bananas, processed snack foods, desserts, and soda.
How much weight can I lose on a low-carb diet in two weeks?
This is impossible to say, as it depends on your starting weight and how many calories you are cutting from going on a low-carb diet. For lasting weight loss, you should aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Is potato a carb? What about bananas?
Yes, both potatoes and bananas contain carbohydrates. One medium sweet or white potato contains 27 grams of carbs and one banana has 26 grams of carbs.

Potential Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet

You probably hear the most about low-carb eating for weight loss, but for some people, the approach could also help optimize their health, says Schmidt. “Research shows that women who are obese or have metabolic problems [may] do better hormonally on lower carbs,” says Schmidt, pointing out that other outcomes of the diet can include better sleep, mental clarity, and increased satiety.

As low-carb dietitian Franziska Spritzler, RD, who’s based in Orange County, California, points out, when you cut back on carbs, blood sugar and insulin levels generally go down, which can be a good thing for A1C, or the two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels. This may also help with weight loss, another common goal for people with type 2 diabetes.

These types of benefits may be reaped almost immediately. Past research shows that people who ate three lower-carb meals (of less than 30 percent carbs each) reduced their insulin resistance by more than 30 percent compared with people who consumed higher-carb meals (60 percent carbs).

Further research indicates that insulin resistance can be improved with a low-carb diet in just one month.

You can see the results, too. One small randomized clinical trial on older adults with obesity found that, compared with a low-fat diet, a very low carb diet shaved off 3 times more visceral fat, a type of belly fat that hugs organs and is linked to disease. The low-carb group also lost 9.7 percent of total fat compared with just 2 percent in the low-fat followers.

A meta-analysis also concluded that in obese people, a low-carb diet reduced fat over the course of a year (but not body weight), with the greatest benefits seen in a very-low-carb diet.

Different Types Of Low-Carb Diets You Might Try

Different Types Of Low-Carb Diets You Might Try

Limitations of Low-Carb Dieting

That said, there isn’t an agreement that a low-carb diet is superior to any other kind of diet or that it’s healthier long term. A review that looked at the diet among those with diabetes noted that when it comes to weight loss, a low-carb diet performs no better than other higher-carb diets; and that it doesn’t produce better glycemic control, either.

Another report also found that over one year, those on a low-carb diet lost weight faster than those on a low-fat one, but after a year, weight loss and A1C levels (an average of blood glucose over about three months) were remarkably similar.

Health Risks of Low-Carb Diets

What’s more, low-carb diets may be risky for certain groups.

If you’re pregnant or nursing, following a low-carb diet isn’t recommended (barring gestational diabetes, in which case, consult your healthcare team).

“Many women who are pregnant find that the thought of eating protein and fat makes them sick,” says Spritzler. This can be especially common in the first trimester. “They naturally want more carbs. You should always listen to your body,” she says.

Separate from pregnancy, consider your lifestyle. If you’re someone who does intense CrossFit-style workouts, a low-carb diet may not fuel you properly, says Schmidt.

And the things weighing on you matter, too. “Anyone in a stressful state, like a divorce or dealing with a death in the family, needs carbs to support their adrenal system,” she notes.

As for if you’re dealing with health issues, defer to your doctor. For instance, if you have kidney disease, you also want to talk to your doctor about appropriate protein intake. If you have heart disease, you can still go low carb, but you’re best off opting for monounsaturated fats (avocados, nuts, and olive oil) over saturated fats (butter and red meat). Indeed, this holds true for everyone, regardless of heart disease status.

Although there is some data that suggests a low-carb diet that contains more saturated fat than current recommendations did not increase “bad” LDL cholesterol (a risk factor for heart disease), you should still pay attention to the quality of foods in your low-carb diet.

Everyone’s cholesterol levels respond differently on a low-carb diet, so if yours are going up, switch to unsaturated sources of fats, Spritzler recommends. “In general, this is a diet most people can do. If you have a chronic condition, work with a doctor who understands low-carbohydrate diets to monitor you,” she adds.

Last, if you have a history of eating disorders, a low-carb diet (or any eating plan that is restrictive) can be risky, nutrition and mental health experts agree.

Types of Low-Carb Diets

Going low-carb looks different depending on which approach you’re going with. Here are a handful you may consider.

Keto Diet 

This is the strictest plan, requiring you to eat less than 50 g of carbs per day and up your fat intake significantly. You’ll eat a moderate amount of protein. This is a popular weight loss diet.

Traditional Low Carb 

This approach includes 50 to 100 g of carbs per day; this is where many people start because it’s less restrictive than a keto diet meal plan but can still deliver results.

Atkins Diet 

The Atkins diet takes you through four phases, starting with very-low-carb consumption and then gradually introducing more carbohydrate-rich foods throughout. It’s good for people who like a more structured plan.

Dukan Diet 

This option also includes four phases: two weight loss and two maintenance. For instance, the first phase of the Dukan diet focuses on high-protein foods, the second adds vegetables back in, the third allows two “celebration” meals per week, and the fourth is about keeping your weight stable. Because you can follow the diet from the book, it also appeals to people who need a planned approach.

Paleo Diet

Just because the paleo diet eliminates grains doesn’t mean it’s low in carbs, especially if you eat root veggies (like sweet potatoes) and fruit, but it can be followed this way.

Keto Cinnamon-Orange Cheesecake Bars

Recipe by @thelowcarbcontessa Video by @lisathompson

contains  Dairy, Wheat, Tree Nuts, Eggs
3.2 out of 27 reviews






The Feedfeed


1/2 cup (60g) King Arthur Baking Keto Wheat Flour
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
4 tbsp butter, chilled
2 tbsp King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 large egg
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice, add 1 additional tbsp as needed
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup walnut halves
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp heavy cream
1/3 cup King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp blackstrap molasses
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative, add 1 additional tbsp as needed
1 tsp vanilla extract



For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang on two sides.


Add King Arthur Baking Keto Wheat Flour, walnuts, butter, King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative, salt, and egg to the bowl of your food processor and pulse until the dough comes together to form a ball.


Press dough evenly into your prepared pan. Bake until a light golden brown, and just set, approximately 14 to 16 minutes. Cool completely.


For the cheesecake batter: Add cream cheese and sour cream to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until smooth. Add King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative, vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice stir on low until thoroughly combined. Next, add eggs one at a time until completely incorporated. Be careful not to overly mix the batter.


Transfer half of the batter to a separate bowl and stir in the cinnamon.


Alternate scoops of plain batter and cinnamon batter over the cooled crust, creating a checkerboard pattern, until all the batter is used. Gently tap the pan on the counter to release air bubbles and to even out the batter. Next, using a toothpick or cake tester, swirl the two batters.


Bake the cake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, until the edges are just set, and the center still has a bit of jiggle when gently shaken. Place the cake on a cooling rack, and allow it to cool completely. Once cooled, cover it lightly with foil and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight, before slicing into 16 bars.


For the praline walnut: Add butter to a saucepan and melt over medium heat.


Add the King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative and stir to combine. Add the heavy cream, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and molasses, and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the walnuts to the pan, stir until well coated.


Turn heat to medium-low and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes stirring often, being careful not to burn.


Pour mixture onto a parchment-lined pan or plate and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, break into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.


For the whipped cream: Add all ingredients to a medium-sized bowl, and using a hand or stand mixer, beat until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overbeat or the mixture will become lumpy.


Spoon or pipe the whipped cream onto the cheesecake bars, top with some of the praline walnuts, and garnish with fresh orange zest (optional) .

Nutrition Facts

Amount per serving



total fat


saturated fat










added sugar





Dairy, Wheat, Tree Nuts, Eggs, Vegetarian, Low-Carbohydrate, Family-Friendly, Dessert, Ketogenic Diet

A Detailed Low-Carb Diet Food List

While the food lists for low-carb diets vary based on the plan, here’s a look at the foods you’d generally eat and avoid when following a traditional low-carb diet.

Foods to Eat

  • Nonstarchy vegetables: zucchini (4 g carbs per cup),

    cabbage (5 g carbs per cup),

    broccoli (6 g carbs per cup),

    Brussels sprouts (8 g carbs per cup),

    leafy greens (like spinach, for example, at 1 g carbs per cup),

    and tomatoes (7 g carbs per cup)

  • Meat, such as chicken, beef, pork, and lamb (0 g carbs per 3 ounces [oz])
  • Fish and seafood, like shrimp (0 g carbs per 3 oz)

  • Eggs (0 g carbs per egg)

  • Cheese, like cheddar (less than 1 g carbs per 1/2 oz)

  • Olives (2 g carbs for 10 small olives)

  • Oil, such as canola oil, olive oil, and coconut oil (0 g carbs per tablespoon [tbsp])
  • Butter (0 g carbs per tbsp)

  • Cream (0.4 g carbs per tbsp)

  • Greek yogurt (7 g carbs per 6 oz, low fat)

  • Cottage cheese (10 g carbs per 1 cup, low fat)

  • Nuts, like almonds (6 g carbs per 1 oz)

  • Berries, like raspberries (15 g carbs per 1 cup)

  • Melon, like cantaloupe (13 g carbs per 1 cup)

  • Avocado (9 g carbs per half)

  • Dark chocolate (13 g carbs per 1 oz)

Foods to Limit or Avoid

  • Processed snack products, like crackers, chips, and cookies
  • Rice
  • Bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Grains, such as farro, bulgur, and quinoa
  • Milk
  • Higher-carb fruits, like grapes and bananas
  • Beans and lentils
  • Starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes and potatoes, though these may be okay in moderation depending on your carb goal — but watch the portions.
  • High-sugar foods, such as cake, ice cream, candy, and soda

A 3-Day Sample Menu of a Low-Carb Diet

Your choices and portion sizes will depend on your individual carbohydrate goal and calorie needs, but here’s a mock meal plan for a low-carb diet to give you an idea of how it looks to eat this way:

Day 1

  • Breakfast Veggie omelet topped with avocado
  • Lunch Burrito bowl (no rice or beans) with extra fajita veggies, extra meat (of choice), cheese, guacamole, and salsa
  • Dinner Grilled chicken breast with mixed roasted vegetables (broccoli or cauliflower) and a half of a sweet potato with butter
  • Snack Option Mixed berries with a dollop of almond butter

Day 2

  • Breakfast Chia seed pudding topped with nuts and melon
  • Lunch Arugula salad with grilled salmon
  • Dinner Chicken or steak tacos in lettuce wraps; side salad with tomatoes and vinaigrette
  • Snack Option Snack pack of olives, plus raw veggies

Day 3

  • Breakfast Eggs with sautéed greens (spinach or kale); strawberries or blueberries topped with Greek yogurt and chopped nuts
  • Lunch Chicken and vegetable soup (without rice or noodles)
  • Dinner Shrimp and vegetable stir-fry over cauliflower rice
  • Snack Option Epic bar (grass-fed meat-based protein bar) with strips of cucumber and red pepper

Resources We Love

Best Book

Low-Carb Diet for Dummies

Because of the trendy keto diet, it’s tough to find new books specifically geared toward eating simply low-carb (not very low-carb and high-fat, like keto). This book, by Katherine B. Chauncey, PhD, RD, goes back to basics with tips on how to choose foods, how to cook with those foods, and how to stick to the diet in the long-term so that you can maintain weight loss and health gains.

Best Website


Atkins is a type of low-carb diet (and a brand itself with ready-to-eat foods). It is not the only way to follow a low-carb diet, but it can be a good starting point when you need guidance before diving into low-carb eating. Plus, some people find that they are more successful on structured diets, and if that’s you, you’ll want to check out their resources and plans.

Best Blogs

Peace, Love, and Low Carb

If you’re new to the low-carb lifestyle, you’ll want to visit low-carb blogs regularly. Peace, Love, and Low Carb is organized in a way that you can target recipes specific to your diet goals and food preferences, and you’ll walk away with some pretty inventive spins on favorite dishes to help you really enjoy eating low-carb.

Little Pine Kitchen

Find delicious inspo for any meal and snack from her large library of IG-worthy recipes, like Pistachio-Crusted Salmon, garlic-parmesan sauce, and pork tenderloin with chimichurri.

Best App



No one should be counting carbs in their head. To make it all easier — and relieve some stress — sign up for an app where you can easily count your macros (protein, fat, carbs). MyFitnessPal is one of the most user-friendly apps for food tracking.

Free, with in-app purchases

Summary: Should You Go on a Low-Carb Diet?

While the jury is still out as to if a low-carb diet is superior to other plans for long-term weight loss and overall health, low-carb eating may be a springboard into greater health, especially if you’re used to eating the standard American diet, which is high in processed fare and low in vegetables.

That said, you don’t have to jump in with both feet. Schmidt recommends trying to eat under 200 g of carbs a day initially (a moderate-carb diet) and then adjust lower based on how you feel. “If you start paying attention to the carbs in your diet, you’ll eat fewer processed foods,” she says. And it’s those whole foods that are the basis of good health.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • McGrice M, Porter J. The Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diets on Fertility Hormones and Outcomes in Overweight and Obese Women: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. March 2017.
  • Hashimoto Y, Fukuda T, Oyabu C, et al. Impact of Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Body Composition: Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Studies. Obesity Reviews. June 2016.
  • Foley PJ. Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diets on Insulin Resistance and the Metabolic Syndrome. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity. October 2021.
  • Gross AM, Gower B, Soleymani T, et al. Effects of Weight Loss During a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet on Specific Adipose Tissue Depots and Insulin Sensitivity in Older Adults With Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrition & Metabolism. August 2020.
  • Dyson P. Low Carbohydrate Diets and Type 2 Diabetes: What Is the Latest Evidence? Diabetes Therapy. December 2015.
  • Davis NJ, Tomuta N, Schechter C, et al. Comparative Study of the Effects of a One-Year Dietary Intervention of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet Versus a Low-Fact Diet on Weight and Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. July 2009.
  • Basic Report: 11477, Squash, Summer, Zucchini, Includes Skin, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 11109, Cabbage, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 11090, Broccoli, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 11098, Brussels Sprouts, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 11457, Spinach, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 11529, Tomatoes, Red, Ripe, Raw, Year Round Average. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 15271, Crustaceans, Shrimp, Cooked. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 01123, Eggs. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 01270, Cheese, Cheddar. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 09193, Olives, Ripe, Canned (Small–Extra Large). USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 01145, Butter, Salted. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 01053, Cream, Fluid, Heavy Whipping. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 01287, Yogurt, Greek, Plain, Lowfat. USDA Food Data Central. October 2020.
  • Basic Report: 01016, Cheese, Cottage, Lowfat. USDA Food Data Central. October 2020.
  • Basic Report: 12061, Nuts, Almonds. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 09302, Raspberries, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 09181, Melons, Cantaloupe, Raw. USDA Food Data Central. December 2019.
  • Basic Report: 09037, Avocados, Raw, All Commercial Varieties. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Basic Report: 19904, Chocolate, Dark, 70–85% Cacao Solids. USDA Food Data Central. April 2019.
  • Ebbeling CB, Knapp A, Johnson A, et al. Effects of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Insulin-Resistant Dyslipoproteinemia — a Randomized Controlled Feeding Trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 2021.
  • Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 [PDF]. U.S. Department of Agriculture. December 2020.
  • Lin PJ, Borer KT. Third Exposure to a Reduced Carbohydrate Meal Lowers Evening Postprandial Insulin and GIP Responses and HOMA-IR Estimate of Insulin Resistance. PLoS One. October 31, 2016.
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