Low-carb diets that limit refined carbohydrates such as sugary foods, sugary beverages, white breads, and enriched pasta can literally add years to your life.
In the past, fats where blamed for chronic illnesses, but now studies are showing that eating too many high sugar or “empty calorie” carbohydrates are more likely to increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Thus, protein and fats are in, and certain carbs are out. Eating this way will help you lose weight and improve your overall health.
Starting a low-carb diet begins with knowing what foods to avoid and what foods to eat. Listed here is a low-carb meal plan and 7 daylow-carb menu that will show you how to set up your own low-carb diet.
Lifesaving Low-carb Diet Meal Plan
Some low-carb diets are stricter than others. This meal plan gives you an overview of what foods are allowed in a standard low-carb diet. Depending on your fitness level, how much weight you want to lose, and what your doctors recommends, there may be exceptions to the rules. The most important rule however is to stop eating highly processed foods that contain added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, and refined flours that spike your blood sugar and lead to obesity.
Here is a detailed meal plan that lists the best foods to eat and avoid on a low-carb diet…
The Best Low Carb Foods to Eat
Not all carbs are bad, and you do need some. The Institute of Medicine recommends 130 grams of carbohydrates a day.
A very low-carb diet, also known as a ketogenic diet, is where you consume fewer than 20 grams a day. Ketogenic diets are designed for quick weight loss and may not be suitable for everyone.
On a low-carb diet such as this one, the aim is to not exceed the recommendation of 130 grams. However, more important than sticking to numbers is that you base your diet on whole foods that are naturally low in carbohydrates, unprocessed, and full of essential vitamins and nutrients.
These foods include:
- Eggs: Free range, Omega-3 enriched
- Fish: Wild-caught, low-mercury Salmon, Trout, Cod, Haddock and more. Avoid Swordfish, Marlin, and King Mackerel
- Meat: Lean, grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey and others.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, flax-seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and more.
- Beans: Black beans, Kidney beans, Lentils, Chickpeas, and others.
- Complete Plant Proteins: Quinoa, spirulina, buckwheat and others.
- Fats and Oils: Avocados, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, fish oil, cod oil, butter (not margarine), salmon, chia and flax seeds, walnuts, and more.
- Dairy: Full-fat cheese, butter, cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt.
- Vegetables: Kale, romaine lettuce, spring mix lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and many others.
- Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, Goji berries, blueberries, strawberries, acai berries, and more.
- Fruits: High-fiber mango, apples, pears, oranges, and others.
Foods to Eat in Moderation on Low-Carb Diet
Again, not all carbohydrates are bad; it’s just that some are more weight loss friendly than others. Some carbohydrates fall somewhere in the middle and should be eaten in moderation while following a low-carb diet.
A few of these include:
- Root vegetables: Potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabaga, squash and others. (These can be a good alternative to grains, especially for athletes or others who need to replace some carbs.)
- Whole grains: Gluten-free, rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and others.
- Wine: Dry wines like white or red with no added sugar or carbs.
- 70% Dark Chocolate: Organic
Other foods to eat in moderation include nuts and cheeses. Although they are included in the low-carb diet, you can easily rack up calories from high fat nuts and cheeses such as macadamia nuts, pecans, cheddar, and brie.
Foods to Absolutely Avoid on Low-Carb Diets
So it’s best to stay away from these foods:
- Foods containing processed sugars such as: sugar-sweetened beverages (soda and others), candy, cakes, ice cream, fruit juices with added sugars, do-nuts, frosted cereals, and many others.
- Foods containing artificial sweeteners: diet sodas, diet teas, yogurt, light fruit juices, ice cream, and many other foods that contain aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, sorbitol, acesulfame potassium (ace-k), and cyclamate. Besides questionable long-term safety, these sweeteners may cause you to overindulge. Stevia, a natural sugar-substitute, may be used, but again don’t overindulge.
- Foods claiming to be low-fat or diet, but contain added sugar: Yogurt, granola bars, protein bars, flavored coffee drinks, salad dressing, peanut butter, muffins, frozen yogurt, cookies, sandwich spreads and more.
- Foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup: Soda, candy, sweetened yogurt, salad dressing, frozen junk food, bread, canned fruit, some juices, boxed dinners, granola bars, breakfast cereals, store-bought baked goods, condiments, coffee creamers, jams, and many more.
- Foods containing Trans Fats: Cakes, pies, cookies, frosting, biscuits, microwavable breakfast sandwiches, margarine, crackers, microwavable popcorn, cream-filled candies, packaged do-nuts, fried fast food, frozen pizza and more. Look for “partially hydrogenated oil” on the food label
- Foods containing refined flour and gluten: White bread, wheat bread, rye bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, crackers, and others.
- Foods high in Omega 6: Vegetable oils (soybean oil, sunflower oil, shortening, corn oil), salad dressings, mayonnaise, fast foods, processed pork products, fatty chicken cuts, some nuts, seeds, and more. Although nuts and seeds are considered heart healthy due to their high fiber content and omega 3 to 6 ratio.
Low-carb diets consist mostly of whole, unprocessed foods. Foods that you find packaged on the shelf have many of the ingredients mentioned above plus preservatives and artificial flavorings.
Even many so-called health foods have these unhealthy ingredients. That’s why it’s much better to prepare your food at home using fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Choose fresh lean cuts of grass-fed meats, raw nuts, plant proteins, and soak your beans. Make your own dressings using healthy oils. The more whole foods you use, the more weight you will lose.
The Best Low-Carb Diet Drinks
This is why it’s so important to drink low-carb beverages such as these:
- Coffee: black coffee would be best, but full-fat organic heavy cream and Stevia are on the low-carb menu. Just don’t overindulge, and remember to account for the extra calories.
- Tea: Again plain is best. Beware that store-bought teas may contain artificial sweeteners or other added sugars. It’s best to steep or brew your own tea.
- Water: Water is proven to help you maintain a healthy weight. (10)
- Coconut water: Organic minimally processed coconut water contains medium chain fatty acids and many vitamins that are good for you.
- Sparkling water: Sometimes a little carbonation hits the spot. Just make sure it’s sugar free.
The Best Low-Carb Snacks
Low-carb snacking follows the same playbook as low-carb meals. Essentially you are picking from the same foods but choosing those that are quick, easy, and portable.
These might include:
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds and unshelled sunflower seeds are a good choice. You can have 23 almonds per day which is more compared to other nuts, and taking your time to crack open sunflower seeds will help slow down the snacking process.
- Hard Boiled Eggs: These are easy and portable.
- Celery Sticks: High in fiber, easy, and portable.
- Carrot Sticks: High in fiber, easy, and portable.
- Avocado Salad: Just cut up an avocado and mix it with black beans, tomatoes, parsley, corn, and cucumber. Add apple cider vinegar and lemon juice and put it in a container to go.
- Cottage Cheese and fresh cherries: A sweet snack with healthy fat and fiber.
- Full-fat Plain Yogurt and fresh fruit: Another sweet snack with healthy fat and fiber. Add a pinch of Stevia for a snack dessert.
Avoid These Snacks
Don’t be fooled by snacks that claim to be healthy. Many of these snacks say they are low-calorie (100 calories), but these are typically empty calories and can still spike your blood sugar.
Stay away from these:
- 100 calorie cookie snacks
- 100 calorie reduce fat potato crisps
- 100 calorie microwavable popcorn
- 100 calorie shortbread snacks
- 100 calorie muffin snacks
- 100 calorie cracker snacks
- 100 calorie brownie snacks
- And more
Many of these snacks contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavorings, trans fats, and high fructose sugars, and other ingredients that contribute to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It’s best to eat fresh whole food snacks based off of a low-carb meal plan.
Sample 7 Day Low-Carb Menu
This sample plan does not include pasta, rice, or bread and provides roughly 50 -70 grams of carbs per day from fruit, vegetable, and protein sources. It’s also gluten free.
- Breakfast: Turkey Bacon and Eggs
- Lunch: Guacamole Salad
- Dinner: Salmon with homemade Hollandaise sauce and Asparagus
- Breakfast: Full-fat plain yogurt with nuts and berries
- Lunch: Spinach and walnut salad
- Dinner: Grilled Chicken and homemade cheesy broccoli gluten-free
- Breakfast: Smoked Salmon Omelet with broccoli
- Lunch: Popcorn Garlic Shrimp
- Dinner: Left over shrimp and red bean chilli
- Breakfast: Egg and avocado with homemade salsa
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad
- Dinner: Low-Carb Eggplant Pizza
- Breakfast: Smoothie made with coconut milk and protein powder
- Lunch: Cobb Salad
- Dinner: Curry Chicken over Quinoa
- Breakfast: Bacon and Sweet Onion Omelet
- Lunch: Spicy Chicken wings and celery
- Dinner: Low-Carb Meatballs with Veggies
- Breakfast: Coconut Milk Smoothie
- Lunch: Low Carb Salmon Patties
- Dinner: Hamburger with veggies and cheese, no bun
How to shop for Low-Carb Diets
Before you head to the grocery store it’s a good idea to have some low-carb recipes in mind, especially dinner recipes.
Now that you are staying away from highly processed packaged foods, you’ll be putting together your own meals using fresh whole food ingredients.
Many low-carb recipes call for fresh herbs and spices, healthy oils, lemon juice, butter, cheeses and more. You don’t have to get too fancy, but you also don’t want to abandon your new low-carb diet because the meals are too plain.
When you start your shopping, don’t set out to buy too much at once. Remember these foods are mostly fresh so they need to be eaten within a week, give or take. If you want to buy frozen foods that’s fine, but you may find meals more satisfying when they are fresh. That’s the beauty of eating low-carb.
Pick up plenty of easy low-carb snack foods for when you have carb attacks. These include nuts, berries, fruits, yogurt, and veggies.
Lasty, buying organic and grass fed is great, but if it’s out of your budget locally grown and commercially grown are still viable options. You are still eating healthier than you would be if you were buying sugar filled foods and refined carbs.
Here is a quick list of basic low-carb foods:
- Beef: Certified grass-fed
- Chicken: Certified pasture raised
- Salmon: Wild Caught
- Turkey Bacon: Uncured
- Bacon: Uncured
- Eggs: Certified pasture raised
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Full-Fat Plain Yogurt
- Heavy Cream: Organic grass fed
- Sour Cream
- Coconut Oil
- Coconut milk
- Fresh and Frozen Vegetables
- Fresh Herbs and Spices
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Lemon Juice
Tips for Eating Out on a Low-Carb Diet
There are several tips for eating out on a low-carb diet.
One of the main ones is to skip the bread, but here are a few others to consider:
- Always skip the complimentary bread.
- Save the oil that comes with the bread and dip veggies in it.
- Order protein based dishes such as beef, salmon, or chicken.
- If a dish comes with bread, like a sandwich or burger, ask the chef to leave the bread off.
- Choose vegetables sides with your dish.
- Avoid pasta, potato, and rice dishes.
- Don’t order fried food unless the chef uses healthy oils or butter.
- Order unsweet tea, sparkling water, or filtered water.
- Order the house dressing and use it sparingly
- Skip dessert
As you can see Low-carb diets allow many yummy and filling foods. Staying away from refined carbohydrates and sugars may be hard at first, so I recommend that you take a screen shot of the menu plan and grocery list provided here.
Keep the list handy to remind yourself of your options. Also start phasing out the carbs you normally buy such as chips, breads, pastas, baked goods and so forth.
Start stocking up on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, plus nuts, seeds, beans, meats, and healthy oils.
Keep those fast low-carb snacks around at all times, so when the urge to grab carbs arises, you have an alternative. Eating low-carb is fun, satisfying, and the easiest way to lose weight and stay healthy.