Low carb diets are often used to promote weight loss and stabilize blood sugar levels. Though guidelines can vary depending on your daily carb allowance, most low carb diets typically limit foods high in carbs or added sugar.
A low carb diet restricts carbohydrates, such as those found in pasta, bread, and sugary foods. It’s high in protein, fat, and vegetables.
There are many different types of low carb diets. Studies show that they can cause weight loss and improve your health.
This is a detailed meal plan for a low carb diet. It explains what to eat and what to limit. It also includes a sample low carb menu for 1 week.
Low carb diets have been associated with several health benefits and are often used to support weight loss and manage blood sugar levels.
There are several types of low carb diets, and they differ based on the amount of carbs permitted each day. A typical low carb diet usually contains less than 26% of total daily calories from carbs. For those following a 2000-calorie diet, this equals fewer than 130 grams (g) of carbs per day (1).
Generally, low carb diets limit foods high in carbs or added sugar, including sweets, starches, and refined grains.
However, the foods you’re permitted on a low carb diet can vary depending on your daily carb allotment. Even higher carb foods like fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains can fit into some low carb diets in moderation.
Here are a few of the most popular low carb eating patterns:
- Ketogenic (keto) diet: This low carb, high fat eating pattern limits daily carb intake to less than 10% of total calories, or around 20–50 g of carbs. In addition to decreasing your carb intake, the keto diet also encourages using high fat ingredients like avocados, olive oil, full-fat dairy products, and coconut oil (1).
- Atkins diet: This low carb, high protein diet is typically divided into multiple phases, which vary in terms of your daily carb allowance. During the first phase of the Atkins diet, carb intake is limited to 20–40 g per day, depending on which plan you choose. Over the duration of the diet, your intake gradually increases but typically doesn’t exceed 100 g per day (2).
- South Beach diet: In addition to reducing carb intake, the South Beach diet encourages lean meats and heart-healthy fats. During the initial phase, grains and fruits are also off-limits. However, these foods are gradually added back into the diet during the second and third phases of the plan.
- Paleo diet: Designed to mimic the eating patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the Paleo diet encourages foods like meats, fruits, and vegetables. The paleo diet isn’t intended to be a low carb diet, but it’s naturally low in carbs as it eliminates many carb-rich foods, including grains, legumes, and dairy products.
- Dukan diet: The Dukan diet is a restrictive, low carb diet that’s high in protein and low in fat. It encourages “pure protein” like lean meats. It’s divided into four phases designed to help you reach your weight loss goals.
There are several types of low carb diets, which vary in terms of the amount of carbs that are permitted each day. Generally, most low carb diets limit foods high in added sugar and carbs, like sweets, starches, and refined grains.
A low carb diet should include a variety of minimally processed, low carb foods, including protein sources, non-starchy vegetables, and high fat dairy products.
Here are some of the foods to eat on a low carb diet:
- Meat: beef, lamb, pork, chicken
- Fish: salmon, trout, haddock, tuna
- Eggs: whole eggs, egg whites, egg yolks
- Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, tomatoes
- Lower carb fruits: oranges, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pistachios
- High fat dairy: cheese, butter, heavy cream, Greek yogurt
- Fats and oils: lard, avocados, avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil
If you are trying to reach or maintain a moderate weight, limit your intake of higher-calorie foods like cheese and nuts, It’s easy to overeat them.
Foods to include in moderation
Unless you’re following a very low carb or keto diet, you may also want to include small amounts of the foods listed below:
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, peas, corn
- Higher-carb fruits: bananas, pineapples, mango, and many others
- Whole grains: brown rice, oats, quinoa
- Legumes: lentils, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas
- Higher-carb dairy: milk and full-fat yogurt
What’s more, you can have the following in moderation, if you want:
- dark chocolate with at least 70% of cocoa
- dry wines with no added sugar or carbs
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and may provide health benefits if you eat it in moderation. However, be aware that both dark chocolate and alcohol may hinder weight management if you eat or drink too much (3).
In addition to considering what you’re putting on your plate, it’s also important to consider what you’re drinking while following a low carb diet.
Because many beverages can be high in carbs and calories, it’s best to choose drinks that are free of added sugar whenever possible.
A few examples of low carb beverages include:
- sugar-free carbonated beverages, like sparkling water
A balanced low carb diet should include a variety of foods, including meat, fish, poultry, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. Some other higher carb foods can also be enjoyed in moderation, including starchy vegetables, legumes, dark chocolate, and wine.
Foods high in added sugar and carbs should be enjoyed only occasionally on a low carb diet.
Depending on your daily carb allowance, you might need to limit or avoid the following foods:
- Sweet snacks: candy, ice cream, baked goods, other products that contain added sugar
- Refined grains: white rice, white pasta, tortillas, crackers
- Diet and low fat products: including dairy products, cereals, or crackers that are low in fat but contain added sugar
- Highly processed foods: convenience meals, fast food, cookies, chips, pretzels
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, sweet tea, sports drinks, energy drinks
Be sure to check the ingredients label of foods to find options that fit into your diet.
Depending on your daily carb allowance, you may need to limit or avoid high carb foods like sweet snacks, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed food products.
This is a sample menu for 1 week on a low carb diet plan.
Before starting a low carb diet, you should work with a doctor or dietitian to determine a carbohydrate allowance that works for you, depending on your health goals and personal preferences.
You can alter the amount of carbs in any of the sample meals listed below by adjusting the portion sizes or including additional snacks as needed.
- Breakfast: 2 slices sprouted Ezekiel bread with 1/2 avocado, salt, and pepper. Total carbs: 36.5 g (4, 5).
- Lunch: 3 ounces (oz) (85 g) grilled chicken with 2 cups (340 g) zucchini noodles made with 1 clove of garlic, butter, and 1 oz (28 g) Parmesan. Total carbs: 17 g (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
- Dinner: bunless burger with a slice of Cheddar cheese, served with 1/2 cup (78 g) cooked broccoli, and 2 tablespoons (35.7 g) of salsa. Total carbs: 8.5 g (11, 12, 13, 14).
- Total carbs for the day: 62 g
- Breakfast: 7 oz (200 g), plain Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup (37 g) blueberries and 1 oz (28.35 g) almonds. Total carbs: 19.4 g (15, 16, 17).
- Lunch: 3 oz (85 g) rib eye roast with 1/2 cup (120 g) mashed rutabaga and 1 cup (129 g) sautéed green beans. Total carbs: 13.5 g (18, 19, 20).
- Dinner: 3 oz (85 g) baked salmon with 1/2 cup (90 g) cooked asparagus and 3/4 cup (85 g) cauliflower rice. Total carbs: 7.7 g (21, 22, 23).
- Total carbs for the day: 40.6 g
- Breakfast: breakfast bowl with 2 large hard-boiled eggs, 1 tomato, and 1 cup cubed avocado. Total carbs: 19 g (5, 24, 25).
- Lunch: 2.5 cups (244 g) shrimp garden salad with shrimp, lettuce, eggs, tomato, and carrots, with 2 tablespoons (tbsp), or 30 milliliters (mL), olive oil vinaigrette. Total carbs: 10.5 g (26, 27).
- Dinner: 3 oz (85 g) grilled chicken with 1/2 cup (78 g) roasted Brussels sprouts and 1/2 cup (93 g) cooked quinoa. Total carbs: 25.2 g (6, 28, 29).
- Total carbs for the day: 54.7 g
- Breakfast: chia pudding with 7 oz (200 g) plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup (61.5 g) raspberries, and 1 oz (28 g) chia seeds. Total carbs: 27.1 g (15, 30, 31).
- Lunch: 1 cup (113 g) stir-fried cauliflower rice with mixed veggies and 3.5 oz (100 g) fried tofu. Total carbs: 14.9 g (32, 33).
- Dinner:100 g stuffed bell peppers with 3 oz (100 g) ground beef, 1/4 cup (45 g) tomatoes, 1/4 cup (26 g) shredded Cheddar cheese, and 2 tbsp (24 g) sour cream. Total carbs: 8 g (12, 25, 34, 35, 36).
- Total carbs for the day: 50 g
- Breakfast: green smoothie with 1 cup (30 g) spinach, 1/2 cup (75 g) strawberries, 1/2 medium banana, 1 cup (244 mL) unsweetened almond milk, and 1 scoop whey protein. Total carbs: 26.9 g (37, 38, 39, 40, 41).
- Lunch: 3 oz (85 g) roasted lamb chops with 1 cup (105 g) Greek salad and 2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil vinaigrette. Total carbs: 8 g (27, 42, 43).
- Dinner: 1 cup (205 g) tuna salad with 3 lettuce cups. Total carbs: 22 g (44, 45).
- Total carbs for the day: 56.9 g
- Breakfast: omelet with 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup (45 g) tomatoes, and 1/2 cup (15 g) spinach. Total carbs: 3 g (25, 37, 46).
- Lunch: stir-fry with 3 oz. (85 g) steak, 1/2 cup (78 g) broccoli, 1/2 cup (78 g) carrots, 1/2 cup (85 g) snow peas, and 2 tbsp (36 mL) soy sauce. Total carbs: 20 g (13, 47, 48, 49, 50).
- Dinner: 3 oz. (88 g) turkey meatballs, 1 cup (180 g) sautéed zucchini, and 1/2 cup (79 g) cooked couscous. Total carbs: 25.4 g (51, 52, 53).
- Total carbs for the day: 48.4 g
- Breakfast: 2 large scrambled eggs with 2 slices bacon and 1 cup (110 g) sliced apples. Total carbs: 16.3 g (54, 55, 56).
- Lunch:3 oz. (85 g) baked chicken with 1/2 cup (79 g) herbed barley and 1 cup (118 g) cooked kale. Total carbs: 28.4 g (6, 57, 58).
- Dinner: burrito bowl with 3/4 cup (85 g) cauliflower rice, 1/2 cup (120 g) black beans, 1/2 cup (90 g) tomatoes, 2 tbsp (24 g) light sour cream, and 2 tbsp (32 g) pico de gallo. Total carbs: 30.3 g (23, 25, 36, 59, 60).
- Total carbs for the day: 75 g
Include plenty of low carb vegetables in your diet. If your goal is to remain under 50 g of carbs per day, there is room for plenty of veggies and one fruit per day.
If you want to see more examples of go-to meals, check out this article on 7 healthy low carb meals in under 10 minutes.
Healthy low carb snacks
If you get hungry between meals, here are some healthy, easy-to-prepare, low carb snacks that can fill you up:
- a piece of fruit
- Greek yogurt
- one or two hard-boiled eggs
- baby carrots
- leftovers from the previous night
- a handful of nuts
- some cheese and meat
The sample meal plan above provides an example of some nutritious meals and snacks that you can include on a low carb diet.
Following a low carb diet while dining out can be challenging. Not only are the portion sizes often very large, but some restaurant foods are served with condiments, sauces, or side dishes that are high in added sugar or carbs.
However, at most restaurants, it’s fairly easy to make your meals low carb.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Opt for a meat- or fish-based main dish.
- Choose plain water instead of sugary soda or fruit juice.
- Get extra vegetables or a side salad instead of bread, potatoes, or rice.
- Check the menu ahead of time to find options that can fit your daily carb allowance.
- Ask for sauces, condiments, or dressings on the side so you can control your portion sizes.
- Consider taking half of your meal to go to reduce the amount of carbs in your meal.
Though following a low carb diet while dining out can be tricky, some of the tips above can make it much easier to limit your carb intake when eating at restaurants.
There are several types of low carb diets, which vary in terms of the amount of carbs that are permitted per day.
Generally, low carb diets limit your intake of carbs, such as those found in sugary and processed foods, pastas, and bread. Instead, they encourage a variety of non-starchy vegetables and foods high in protein and fat.
For some people, low carb diets may help support weight loss and improve blood sugar control (61).
The above meal plan gives you the basics of healthy, low carb eating and can be adjusted based on your dietary needs and preferences.
You can also try some of the tips outlined above to stick to a low carb diet, even while dining out at restaurants.
If you need a comprehensive list of low carb recipes that are both simple and delicious, check out this article on 101 healthy low carb recipes that taste incredible.