For the last few decades, official health guidelines have consistently stated that the best way to lose weight is through a low-fat diet. Such an approach typically avoids fat (particularly saturated fat) as much as possible. Instead, there is an emphasis on low-fat products, many of which are heavily processed and/or are high in carbohydrates.
Low-carb diets are becoming increasingly popular - and represent the reverse of this idea.
Basically, a low-carb diet means that most of your energy is coming from fat and from protein, rather than carbohydrates. To achieve this, you have to dramatically change some of your food choices, especially as common foods like bread and pasta tend to be high in carbs.
How Low-Carb Diets Work
We've long been taught that fat is bad and dangerous, so low-carb diets can seem strange.
Yet, they do work and can be powerful.
In fact, research has consistently shown that a low-carb diet can be just as effective (if not more effective) than a low-fat diet. You can find a summary of that research at Authority Nutrition, if you want to look at the data for yourself.
For that matter, low-carb diets may actually decrease the risk of heart disease and other health issues, which is the reverse of what is commonly assumed (1). The research on this point isn't conclusive - but there are many studies showing that low-carb diets don't increase heart disease risk (2,3,4).
A key reason for these outcomes is that both fat and carbs are energy sources. So, you can lose weight by restricting either one.
There are also key advantages to decreasing carb intake. For example, high-fat food is often a better source of nutrients overall and can be much more filling. As a result, low-carb diets are often easier to follow and are more sustainable in the long-term.
Types of Low-Carb Diet
The general concept of a low-carb diet is simple - you decrease your carbohydrate intake. In most cases, you would also increase the amount of fat (and often protein as well) you consume to ensure you're getting enough energy and nutrients.
Because this is just a general approach, people vary in what they consider a low-carb diet and what decisions they make about food. For example, the Diet Doctor defines three rough levels, which are:
Theoretically, the further you decrease your carbs, the more benefits you will see. So, fewer carbs typically means you'll be hungry less often and will lose weight faster.
The best choice tends to vary depending on the person and it's important to find the right fit for you.
This partly happens because people respond differently to carbs. As a result, some individuals really struggle when they dramatically cut down carbs and may see many more side effects. Others find the process to be much easier.
The best answer will also depend on your lifestyle and what is practical. After all, the further you cut down carbs, the more creative you need to be with food. There are many recipes and resources that can help - but lower carb diets will always be more restrictive.
As you may have seen, there are also some specific low-carb diets that are promoted. For example, Atkins is a low-carb diet and has a long history. Likewise, some approaches like Paleo end up being low in carbs, simply because of the foods that are restricted.
Right now, the most well-known example of low carb is a ketogenic diet. I'm not going to go into this variation in depth, as there is a full keto guide elsewhere on the site.
Basically, the ketogenic approach is an extreme form of the low-carb diet, where you're typically eating less than 20 grams of carbs each day. By doing so, you're bringing your body into a fat burning state called ketosis.
This state is powerful for weight loss and offers various health benefits as well.
Regardless of whether you go with ketosis, general low-carb or something else, the overall food choices are similar.
This includes a much stronger focus on healthy fats and on protein.
But, despite some myths, a low-carb diet doesn't have to be heavy in meat. Instead, there are many variations and food choices.
For that matter, most low-carb followers tend to have a strong focus on ingredients like vegetables, eggs and avocados - rather than meat. You can also make variations depending on your own preferences.
In particular, common options on a low-carb diet include the following:
Low-Carb Resources and Sites
There is no shortage of resources and support for the ketosis version of low-carb - but there are also many products and sites that work for a general low-carb diet as well. For that matter, you can also use ketosis recipes and simply add in carbs, if you want to.
For example, some powerful food blogs for low-carb are:
There are also various articles that provide background and insight into low-carb dieting.
Finally, some sites are especially powerful as overall resources for low-carb approaches.
Food blogs and resource pages may be useful but they are never as powerful as having an actual cookbook at your fingertips. The examples below are all powerful cookbooks that you can choose. My personal favorite is the Keto in Five series, which offers three books of low-carb recipes.
With cookbooks, the overlap between low-carb and ketosis becomes particularly significant.
There are many books out there that just focus on low-carb recipes, rather than ketosis. However, most of the best low-carb cookbooks are also ketosis ones. This isn't a major issue, especially as it is very easy to add carbs into your diet. So, you can still use ketosis cookbooks, even if you're not doing a keto diet.
This cookbook is associated with The Food Network, so it's a little different than most. However, it does receive good reviews and offers 130 recipes, along with low-carb tips and images of the meals.
Some people may also prefer the style of this cookbook - as the focus is simply on low-carb, rather than ketosis.
This cookbook is a bestseller in keto fields and it provides 125 different recipes, along with 5 meal plans. Because the emphasis is keto, not general low-carb, you may not be able to use the meal plans.
But, the recipes themselves could still be useful and are perfect for making healthy and filling low-carb meals.
This cookbook offers 150+ recipes and is associated with the site KetoDiet Blog.
Once again, it is a keto cookbook, which can be a disadvantage. But, the writer does acknowledge that some readers may be paleo or low-carb instead.
The author of this cookbook is an expert in the keto field and tends to make some amazing recipes.
This particular cookbook focuses on comfort foods, which is perfect for anyone who doesn't want to give up their favorites.
If you want more information about low-carb diets in general, you can check out the posts below. Alternatively, you can take a look at our Understanding the Ketosis Diet guide for details about that specific version of low-carb eating.