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Following a lower-carb diet can be a significant step to building healthy habits and achieving your health goals. Research suggests that a low-carb diet has many health benefits and is the best for long-term, sustainable weight loss.
There’s no magic diet for weight loss, as everyone responds differently to certain foods, so it’s helpful to adapt your diet to your preferences and lifestyle.
A common misconception is that all carbohydrates need to be eliminated from the diet to see the benefits of a low-carb diet. A very low-carb diet is commonly referred to as a ketogenic or keto diet.
A keto diet is high in fat and eliminates carbs almost entirely. By doing this, the body is deprived of its primary energy source, glucose. The body is then forced to find new ways of making energy.
It breaks down fatty acids from fat stores and dietary fat intake, creating ketones. The brain can then use ketones for energy instead of glucose. This process is called ketosis.
While this may sound ideal, the keto diet can be challenging to follow effectively in the long term.
As it’s much more restrictive, it often makes eating in social situations challenging. Research shows that too much restriction means we’re more likely to ‘slip up’, which will temporarily take us out of ketosis.
Overall, a moderately low-carb diet (around 30% of calories) is easier to sustain long-term for most people.
As well as reducing your overall carb intake, replace refined carbs (e.g. white bread and white rice) with high-fibre, complex carbs (e.g. oats and sweet potato) where possible.
Reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods (e.g. biscuits and cakes) will also help you avoid refined carbs and reduce sweet cravings.
When adapting to a new way of eating, it can be tricky to know how your plate should look. Here are two examples of how your plate might look, depending on whether you’re including complex carbohydrates.
A study comparing the weight loss over two years between low-fat, low-carb, and Mediterranean diets demonstrated that all diets produce short-term weight loss, with low-carb producing the most.
At the 2-year mark, the low-carb group had maintained weight loss significantly more than the low-fat group.
Likewise, many studies have shown that low-carb diets result in rapid weight loss in the first 6 – 12 months. Low-carb leads to weight loss because protein and fat are more filling than carbs.
A higher intake of protein and fat also helps to keep our blood glucose (sugar) levels stable throughout the day.
This increase in satiety and reduction in blood glucose fluctuations reduces overall hunger and therefore lowers our overall food intake throughout the day.
Second Nature uses science to help you make healthy choices, ensuring they stick in the long run. Join the 150,000 people on a Second Nature journey today by taking our quiz. We use your quiz answers to tailor our advice and support on the programme, to ensure you lose weight and keep it off.
A low-carb diet has also been shown to be beneficial for blood sugar (glucose) control, which is especially important for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Whether you’re living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s essential to eat a healthy, balanced diet and be aware of different foods’ effects on your blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Type 1 diabetes is when your immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, producing very high blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, however, is a lifestyle disease and can be prevented.
A healthy low-carb diet, alongside physical activity, can play a large part in achieving remission and reducing the risk of developing diabetes complications.
Maintaining stable blood glucose levels is vital to prevent complications associated with diabetes.
As carbs have the most significant impact on our blood glucose levels, reducing our intake of carbohydrate-containing foods will reduce the amount of glucose entering the bloodstream in the first place.
This explains why a low-carb diet, rather than a low-fat diet, has always been involved in preventing and treating type 2 diabetes.
As we have discussed, a low-carb diet helps achieve various health goals, from weight loss to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes.
Devised by qualified dietitians and nutritionists, here is a 7-day low-carb meal plan.
It’s packed with healthy low-carb recipes, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer and reduce cravings without manually tracking your carbohydrate intake. These meals are naturally lower in carbs and free from refined substitutes.
To access the low-carb recipes and for information on portion sizes and instruction videos, click on the recipe’s name.
This diet plan includes some simple ‘quick prep’ sections that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes throughout the week.
Meal prep at the start of the week can help save time if you’re busy during the week. For example, you can pre-prep the courgette frittata slices and lemon salad dressing (olive oil and lemon juice) to save time.
Eating lower-carb is effective for weight loss because it’s much easier to maintain long-term, compared with low-calorie or low fat.
This is because you can enjoy satisfying foods like cheese, full-fat yogurt, and nuts and not feel hungry.
Therefore, to make this meal plan work for you, feel free to make any swaps to suit your preferences or dietary requirements.
If you make any swaps, aim to include plenty of leafy green or non-starchy vegetables (e.g. spaghetti squash and bell peppers).
Aim to include complex carbohydrates such as legumes and enjoy sugary foods occasionally rather than regularly.
Not all of the recipes in this low-carb meal plan are suitable for vegetarians, but we have many vegetarian and vegan healthy low-carb recipes on our website, so feel free to swap them in.
Remember to create a shopping list before your weekly shop so you don’t forget any ingredients.
Plus, having a shopping list makes it easier to refrain from buying less healthy foods and highly-processed snacks that are purposefully marketed to be appealing.
(Optional toppings: berries and sliced almonds)
Salad (2x handfuls of baby spinach, 1 tomato, ¼ cucumber, ½ chopped red pepper, pre-prepped lemon salad dressing)
Quick prep: put one serving of leftover soup in the fridge for lunch tomorrow and the rest in the freezer.
Avocado (Slice or mash ¼ of an avocado on 1 slice of wholegrain toast)
(Optional topping: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt)
Quick prep: put leftover servings into containers for lunch on Thursday.
Quick prep: make a salad similar to Monday and put in a container with a serving of Frittata vegetable slice (leftover) for lunch.
(Optional toppings: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt and 2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley)
Quick prep: Put leftover dahl into a container in the fridge for dinner Friday.
(Optional: serve with a slice of wholegrain bread)
Quick prep: Put leftover lamb salad into containers for lunch and prep overnight oats (40g) for tomorrow breakfast.
(Optional toppings: 200g Greek yogurt, a handful of berries, or a handful of nuts)
(Optional toppings: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt)
Quick prep: defrost a serving of goulash soup if you’re eating lunch at home today.
Goulash soup (leftover)
Quick prep: store leftover meatballs in a container in the fridge.
(Optional: 1 grilled tomato, 1 handful baby spinach, 2 rashers of back bacon)
Quick prep: put any leftovers into containers for quick and easy meals next week. For example, you could add leftover chicken to a salad, or use the leftover vegetables as a basis for another meal.
(Optional: serve in a wholemeal wrap with baby spinach, red onion, and feta cheese)
100g Greek yogurt with a handful of berries (v)
½ – 1 blueberry oat pancake (v)
½ – 1 courgette frittata slice (v)
Veggie sticks with 60g hummus (v)
1-2 hard-boiled eggs (v)
1-2 meatballs in chilli tomato sauce
If you want to join 150,000 others who’ve received support from a registered dietitian or nutritionist to help you make lower-carb meal plans, consider joining the Second Nature programme.
Second Nature is a digital low-carb lifestyle change and weight loss programme that the NHS uses to support weight loss and manage type 2 diabetes. When you join, you get:
The Second Nature programme has been scientifically proven to help people lose weight, with 94% of members losing weight and keeping it off.
Additionally, thousands of individuals with type 2 diabetes have successfully completed the Second Nature programme.
Our work in the NHS has demonstrated that 40% of people on the Second Nature programme lowered their HbA1c to below the diagnostic threshold after three months.
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