Fact checkedExpert's opinion

We believe information about products and services that could benefit people should be made available to consumers to help them make informed decisions about their health care. Therefore, we try to provide accurate and reliable information by working with different fact-checkers to review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. A team of qualified and experienced fact-checkers rigorously reviewed our content before publishing it on our website. At EHproject, we rely on the most current and reputable sources cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact-checked after it has been edited and before publication.

Low Carb Diet 101: A 2024 Must-Have Guideline For Beginners

Stephanie Nichols

Reviewed by Brittany Ferri, PhD
low carb diet
A low-carb diet is an eating plan that significantly reduces carbohydrate consumption. Photo: Thanh Pham

Each article is created without any external influence. When you use our provided links to buy products, we receive a commission as an affiliate. To understand how we generate revenue, please read our advertising disclaimer.

Adopting a low-carb diet may be the best decision you ever make! One benefit of eating a low-carbohydrate diet is that you’re likely to drop those unwanted pesky extra pounds! 

This may sound easy, but some nuances can factor into how you go about your new diet. So let’s start with the basics! 

The theory behind this type of diet is that when the body does not have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy, it will turn to burn fat for energy instead. This can enhance someone’s overall health and assist with weight loss. Some people follow a strict low-carb diet, while others may limit the amount of carbohydrates they consume but still include some in their diet. 

Low-Carb Diet: What You Should Know

It is a diet that reduces carbohydrate consumption by consuming less starchy high-carb foods and more protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables. It offers health benefits like weight loss, better cholesterol, and lower risk of type 2 diabetes. It reduces inflammation, enhances intestinal health, and may lower cancer risk. It can be vegan or vegetarian-friendly.

What Is A Low-Carb Diet?

A low-carb diet is an eating plan that significantly reduces carbohydrate consumption. Rather than avoiding carbohydrates entirely, a low-carb diet typically consists of eating fewer starchy high carbohydrates such as rice, bread, and potatoes, and eating more protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables such as greens and cruciferous vegetables. This type of diet that emphasizes eating fewer carbs has been linked to significant health benefits[1] such as weight loss, improved cholesterol, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Additionally, low-carb diets have been seen to help reduce inflammation,[2] improve gut health,[3] and possibly even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Low-carb diets can be tailored to be vegan or vegetarian-friendly with the addition of plant-based proteins, and fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. The amount of carbohydrates consumed on a low-carb diet will vary from person to person; however, general recommendations limit intake to 25-50g of net carbs per day.

How Low Carb Is A Low Carb Diet?

The goal of a low-carb diet is to reduce the amount of glucose, a sugar molecule, entering the bloodstream, which can help lower LDL cholesterol and improve biomarkers of health like insulin sensitivity. Low-carb diets can range from extremely low-carb diets, like the ketogenic diet, which averages around 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day, to moderate-carb diets, depending on individual goals and preferences. 

Low-carb diets can also be high in fiber and antioxidants with the addition of fruits and vegetables, which can help improve overall health. While there is some evidence that following a low-carb diet can result in weight loss maintenance, there is still much to learn about maintaining long-term health while following such a diet. Additionally, certain individuals may have difficulty adhering to such a restrictive diet and may need to tailor the diet to their individual needs or preferences

Types Of Low-Carb Diet

The Ketogenic (Keto) Diet

The ketogenic diet is a very strict low-carb diet. Photo: George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

The ketogenic diet is a very strict low-carb diet that is mainly focused on ketosis, a process in which your body burns fat for energy. This diet typically consists of high amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein, and very low amounts of carbohydrates. Typically, somewhere between 25-50 grams of carbohydrates are consumed per day and the purpose is to quickly enter and stay in a state of ketosis. Benefits of a ketogenic diet include appetite suppression,[4] increased mental clarity,[5] and improved fat burning.

Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is a low-carb diet that focuses on limiting the amount of carbohydrates consumed and instead replacing them with proteins and fats. This diet began in the 1970s and consists of four phases: induction, ongoing body weight loss, pre-maintenance, and lifetime maintenance. 

The Induction phase consists of eating a high-fat, high-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet for at least two weeks. The ongoing weight loss phase allows for more carbohydrates to be eaten but still focuses on limiting simple carbohydrates. The pre-maintenance and lifetime maintenance phases allow for even more carbohydrates to be eaten but still focus on keeping a balanced nutrition throughout the phases.
The benefits of the Atkins diet[6] include increased energy, weight loss, and improvement in cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some potential risks include an increase in cholesterol concentration and decreased calcium levels.

South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet is a diet program designed to help people lose weight and improve their overall health. It guides people to eat a variety of healthy foods, including lean proteins, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and monounsaturated fats. This diet also promotes eating smaller portions and limiting sugary, processed, and refined carbohydrates. The South Beach Diet also advocates physical activity and discourages unhealthy snacks including high-carb foods. 

This diet encourages people to make healthier lifestyle choices, including increasing their level of physical activity. The South Beach Diet focuses on teaching individuals to choose the right low-carb foods to eat and helps to break unhealthy eating habits.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is a popular diet plan based on the way our ancestors used to eat. It consists of consuming organic, unprocessed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. The core components of this diet include lean proteins such as fish, game, poultry, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, as well as healthy fats. It excludes all processed foods, whole grains, dairy, and legumes. Many people believe that following the Paleo diet can help them lose weight, improve the health of their gut, reduce inflammation, and increase energy levels. 

The diet is not a one-size-fits-all approach; instead, it encourages flexibility, experimentation, and adaptation to your unique dietary needs. Its primary goal is to help people focus on eating real and unprocessed foods, but also be mindful of their body and how it reacts to certain foods.

Dukan Diet

The Dukan diet is a high protein, low carbohydrate diet created by Pierre Dukan. It consists of four phases – Attack, Cruise, Consolidation, and Stabilization. During the first two phases, high protein is emphasized while carbs and fat are limited. The last two phases gradually reintroduce carbs and fat while still focusing on lean proteins. 

The diet also advocates daily, moderate exercise, and drinking plenty of water. It is important to follow the diet’s rules carefully in order to achieve desired results. Dukan followers must also avoid carb intake and calorically dense foods such as pastries and sweets. Supporters of the Dukan diet state that it is an effective way to lose weight and improve overall health.

Pros & Cons Of Low-Carb Diet

Despite its health benefits, a low-carb diet has some bad effects. Photo: George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

A low-carb diet can be a viable way to lose weight and a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, it may also come with a few drawbacks.


  • Low-carb diets can help individuals reduce their carbohydrate intake of unhealthy processed food.
  • This diet can help with weight loss[1] and fat loss in a short amount of time.
  • It can help lower cholesterol,[7] and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.[8]
  • High protein, low carb diets may help to reduce hunger and cravings.


  • People may feel restricted and deprived while on the diet.
  • Some vitamins and minerals may be deficient in the diet if not properly supplemented.
  • It can be difficult to maintain long-term results with a low-carb diet, as it may be hard to sustain.
  • A lack of carbohydrates can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and constipation in some people.

What To Eat & Limit In Low-Carb Diet Plan

If you are looking to switch to a low-carb diet, there are many nutritious and tasty foods you can enjoy. Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats are all ideal foods to base your diet on.

Fruits, grains, and most processed sugary foods should be limited. Try to fill up on vegetables like broccoli, spinach, zucchini, cabbage, asparagus, and bell peppers. For proteins, choose lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes. Healthy fats can be found in extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Snacks can easily be low-carb. Unsweetened yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, and homemade hummus are all great options. At meals, focus on adding more vegetables to the plate. Cook your proteins in healthier fats such as olive oil and add herbs and spices for flavor.

Who Should Not Do A Strict Low-Carb Diet?

A strict low-carb diet is not suitable for everyone, and care should be taken when entering into any restrictive eating program. Those who should consult with their healthcare provider before starting a low-carb diet include pregnant and lactating women, those under the age of 18, those with known chronic health conditions, those with eating disorders, and those who are on certain types of medication, such as those for type 2 diabetes or heart disease. 

People who have had or currently have an unhealthy relationship with food, or who have difficulty following a plan for longer than a few days, should also not do a strict low-carb diet. It is important for anyone considering a low-carb diet to consult with their primary care provider to ensure that the diet is a good fit for their health and lifestyle.


As you can tell from reading this article, there are many potential benefits to adopting a low-carb diet ranging from blood sugar control to appetite suppression and weight loss. Low-carb eating can look different depending on which diet you ultimately decide to adopt, with some low-carb diets being also low-fat diets and others being high-fat diets. Protein amounts can vary between the different diets as well. Picking the proper low-carb diet is the first step in reaching your weight and health goals!

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Should Not Do A Strict Low-Carb Diet?

Those who should consult with their healthcare provider before starting a low-carb diet include pregnant and lactating women, those under the age of 18, those with known chronic health conditions, those with eating disorders, and those who are on certain types of medication, such as those for type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

What are Examples of Low Carbohydrate Diets?

The ketogenic diet, Atkins diet, South Beach diet, Paleo diet, and Dukan diet.

How Low Is A Low-Carb Diet?

Low-carb diets vary in the amount of carbohydrates consumed, but a very low-carb diet such as the Ketogenic diet allows 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

+ 8 Sources

EHproject has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We work mostly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accurate information. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  1. Oh (2023). Low-Carbohydrate Diet. [online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30725769/.
  2. Sharman, M.J. and Volek, J.S. (2004). Weight loss leads to reductions in inflammatory biomarkers after a very-low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet in overweight men. Clinical Science, [online] 107(4), pp.365–369. doi:https://doi.org/10.1042/cs20040111.
  3. Grembi, J.A., Nguyen, L.P., Haggerty, T.D., Gardner, C.D., Holmes, S. and Parsonnet, J. (2020). Gut microbiota plasticity is correlated with sustained weight loss on a low-carb or low-fat dietary intervention. Scientific Reports, [online] 10(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-58000-y.
  4. Roekenes, J. and Martins, C. (2021). Ketogenic diets and appetite regulation. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, [online] 24(4), pp.359–363. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/mco.0000000000000760.
  5. Harvey, C., Schofield, G. and Micalla Williden (2018). The lived experience of healthy adults following a ketogenic diet: A qualitative study. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325859230_The_lived_experience_of_healthy_adults_following_a_ketogenic_diet_A_qualitative_study.
  6. Miller, B.V., Bertino, J.S., Reed, R.G., Burrington, C.M., Davidson, L.K., Green, A., Gartung, A.M. and Nafziger, A.N. (2003). An Evaluation of the Atkins’ Diet. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, [online] 1(4), pp.299–309. doi:https://doi.org/10.1089/1540419031361426.
  7. Yancy, W.S., Olsen, M.K., Guyton, J.R., Bakst, R.P. and Westman, E. (2004). A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia. Annals of Internal Medicine, [online] 140(10), pp.769–769. doi:https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-140-10-200405180-00006.
  8. Meckling, K.A., Caitriona O’Sullivan and Saari, D. (2004). Comparison of a Low-Fat Diet to a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Weight Loss, Body Composition, and Risk Factors for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in Free-Living, Overweight Men and Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, [online] 89(6), pp.2717–2723. doi:https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2003-031606.


Dr. Stephanie Nichols is a licensed naturopathic doctor in Arizona. She’s passionate about helping women resolve their anxiety, depression, and chronic stress by restoring balance to their hormones, and digestive functioning. She also approaches autoimmune conditions… See More