Choosing to follow a low-carb diet can be a great step on your journey to building healthy habits and achieving your health goals. Research suggests that a low-carb diet has many health benefits and is the best diet 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 new diets to your preferences and lifestyle.
What is a low-carb diet?
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 diet 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, it seems that a moderately low-carb diet (less than 150g of carbohydrates per day) 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.
Low carb and weight loss
A study comparing the weight loss over 2 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.
One hypothesis as to why low-carb leads to weight loss is that protein and fat are more filling compared to 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 the blood glucose fluctuations reduces overall hunger and therefore lowers our overall food intake throughout the day.
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A low carb diet and diabetes
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 important to eat a healthy, balanced diet and be aware of different foods’ effects on your blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition where your immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, resulting in 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 the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Example low-carb meal plan
As we have discussed, a low-carb diet is helpful for achieving a range of health goals, from weight loss to the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
Devised by qualified dietitians and nutritionists, here is an example 7-day low-carb meal plan. It’s packed full of healthy low-carb recipes, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer and reduce cravings without having to track your carbohydrate intake manually. 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 in the 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 you don’t 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 lots of vegetarian and vegan healthy low carb recipes on our websites, so feel free to swap them in.
Remember to create a shopping list before doing your weekly shop so that 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.
|MONDAY||200g plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
(Optional toppings: berries and sliced almonds)
|Courgette Frittata slice +
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.
|TUESDAY||Eggs your way +
Avocado (Slice or mash ¼ of an avocado on 1 slice of wholegrain toast)
|Goulash soup (leftover)||Mediterranean quinoa
(Optional topping: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt)
Quick prep: put leftover servings into containers for lunch on Thursday.
|WEDNESDAY||Very berry smoothie
Quick prep: make a salad similar to Monday and put in a container with a serving of Frittata vegetable slice (leftover) for lunch.
|Courgette frittata slice (leftover) + Salad||Coconut Dahl
(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.
|THURSDAY||Mushroom omelette (2-3 eggs) with 30g grated cheese
(Optional: serve with a slice of wholegrain bread)
|Mediterranean quinoa (leftover)
(Optional topping: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt)
|Warm lamb salad
Quick prep: Put leftover lamb salad into containers for lunch and prep overnight oats (40g) for tomorrow breakfast.
|FRIDAY||Pre-prepped overnight oats
(Optional toppings: 200g Greek yogurt, a handful of berries, or a handful of nuts)
|Warm lamb salad (leftover)||Coconut dahl (leftover)
(Optional toppings: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt)
|SATURDAY||Blueberry oat pancakes
Quick prep: defrost a serving of goulash soup if you’re eating lunch at home today.
|Eating out (opt for a meal with lots of non-starchy vegetables and a good source of protein)
Goulash soup (leftover)
|Meatballs in chilli tomato sauce +
Quick prep: store leftover meatballs in a container in the fridge.
|SUNDAY||Scrambled eggs (2-3 eggs)
(Optional: 1 grilled tomato, 1 handful baby spinach, 2 rashers of back bacon)
|Peri Peri chicken + vegetables
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.
|Meatballs in chilli tomato sauce (leftover)
(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
Looking for more support?
If you would like support from a registered dietitian to help you make lower-carb meal plans for yourself, 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:
- 1:1 support and advice from a registered dietitian or nutritionist
- Simple, satisfying low-carb recipes with instruction videos
- Support from a digital peer group of other Second Nature members
- Motivational and educational articles
- All your progress tracked in one app
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 3 months.