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Last Updated on December 3, 2020

Making the switch to a low-carb diet offers a way to lose weight or maintain your weight, and even get control of existing health conditions. But with so many popular low-carb diets out there, how do you know which one is right for you?

To help you make an informed choice, we took a closer look at the main low carbs diets getting plenty of press. Whether you want to dodge carbs completely, or just get control over your bread addiction, there’s an option to suit.

Check out our list of meal services if you want low carb meals delivered right to your door.

Let’s get started with an enduring favorite…

1 - Basic Low-Carb Diet

Of all the popular low-carb diets, this is probably the easiest to follow because it is not as restrictive as other options. On a basic low-carb diet, you limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat to under 100 grams per day. To put that in perspective, American dietary guidelines recommend that  45 to 65 percent of your daily calories come from carbs. If you're eating 2,000 calories per day, that's roughly 220 to 320 grams of carbohydrate (1).

When you limit your carbohydrate intake, your body turns to other sources for energy, such as fat. For many people, this diet may result in weight loss, particularly in the short term. That said, it is easy to stay on a basic low-carb diet thanks to its flexibility, so some dieters find it beneficial in the long term too.

Recent research shows that eating between 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day offers health benefits, including helping obese dieters get control of metabolic syndrome (2). There's plenty to like about this option and it's a great place to start if you're new to low-carb living.

The Good:

  • A flexible diet that can be tweaked to suit your lifestyle
  • Not as restrictive as other low-carb options
  • May help control type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Delicious whole grains are still on the menu in moderation

The Bad:

  • Short-term weight loss may be difficult to sustain over longer periods

2 - Zero-Carb Diet

At the other end of the spectrum to a basic low-carb diet, is the zero-carb option. As the name suggests, your goal on this diet is to minimize your carbohydrate intake to practically zero. And as you can imagine, this is a very restrictive way of eating.

Considering that all vegetables and fruits contain carbohydrates, you can kiss greenery goodbye. You’re left with practically nothing besides protein and fat, meaning your body is going to lack fiber, and we all know what happens when we don’t get enough fiber!

If you’re considering this option, it is essential that you get advice from your GP first.

The Good:

  • Rapid weight loss (but note that this is probably not sustainable long-term)

The Bad:

  • Constipation thanks to a lack of fiber
  • This diet not been studied in depth
  • Lack of micronutrients means you’ll need supplements
  • Weight gain is likely when you begin eating carbs again
  • Restrictive and hard to follow over a longer period

2 - Zero-Carb Diet

Of all the popular low-carb diets, this is probably the easiest to follow because it is not as restrictive as other options. On a basic low-carb diet, you limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat to under 100 grams per day. To put that in perspective, American dietary guidelines recommend that  45 to 65 percent of your daily calories come from carbs. If you're eating 2,000 calories per day, that's roughly 220 to 320 grams of carbohydrate (1).

When you limit your carbohydrate intake, your body turns to other sources for energy, such as fat. For many people, this diet may result in weight loss, particularly in the short term. That said, it is easy to stay on a basic low-carb diet thanks to its flexibility, so some dieters find it beneficial in the long term too.

Recent research shows that eating between 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day offers health benefits, including helping obese dieters get control of metabolic syndrome (2). There's plenty to like about this option and it's a great place to start if you're new to low-carb living.

The Good:

  • A flexible diet that can be tweaked to suit your lifestyle
  • Not as restrictive as other low-carb options
  • May help control type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Delicious whole grains are still on the menu in moderation

The Bad:

  • Short-term weight loss may be difficult to sustain over longer periods

3 - Ketogenic (Keto) Diet

Of all the low-carb diets, keto is the one that gets the most air time. Proponents say they lose weight, have more energy, have reversed type 2 diabetes, and stabilized their blood sugar levels. But it is not for everyone.

On a ketogenic diet, you cut your carb intake back to around 20 grams per day. The remainder of your calories should come from protein and fat. When you make the switch to a high-fat, low-carb diet, your body changes how it sources its energy requirements, switching from glucose (supplied by carbs) to stored fat. As a result, you enter what's known as ketosis. The upshot is generally weight loss.

Take a look at the top meal delivery services for keto to help you get started!

The Good:

  • Plenty of popular and scientific resources on ketogenic eating are available
  • This diet may help with heart disease and other health issues
  • Ready-made keto meal delivery options exist, making keto convenient
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests keto dieters feel more energetic
  • Ketogenic diets have been used since the 20s to control epilepsy (3)
  • Enjoy the foods low-fat diets forbid. Mmm... cheese!

The Bad:

  • May be difficult to sustain long-term
  • Weight can pile back on when you start increasing your carb intake
  • Carb count per day is restrictive

4 - Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet

On a low-carb high-fat diet, you restrict your carbohydrate intake to between 100 and 150 grams per day. In many ways, it's like a basic low-carb diet but there's an emphasis on getting enough healthy fat. You might think it sounds like keto too, but because you're eating at least five times the number of carbs, your body does not enter a state of ketosis.

Low-carb, high-fat may be a good low-carb choice for athletes, according to some research. But more study is needed before there are conclusive results (4).

The Good:

  • A liberal approach to low-carb diets that will suit most people
  • You can enjoy enough complex whole grains to keep your fiber levels up
  • May be helpful for heart disease risk factors
  • Weight loss is sustainable over the long term
  • A popular choice with plenty of resources available

The Bad:

  • Balancing macros can become a pesky task, but this holds true for most low-carb diets

5 - Atkins Diet

Founded by cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins in the 60s, this popular fad diet seems to go in and out of fashion more frequently than any other diet with low carbs.

On the Atkins diet, you follow phases to boost your weight loss journey. Phase one is essentially keto, with carbs restricted to less than 20 grams per day. So weight loss is definitely likely in the short term, but it may not be sustainable over longer periods.

The Good:

  • No calorie counting, only carb counting
  • Diet becomes less restrictive as you move through the phases
  • Atkins followers note better energy levels
  • Less restrictive than other low-carb diets in later stages

The Bad:

  • You might get bored of the so-called "foundation" vegetables
  • Popular pre-made Atkins snacks exist, including sweet treats. It is easy to overindulge
  • Not suitable for people with kidney issues

6 - Modified Atkins

A bit of a misnomer, the modified Atkins diet is actually closer to a modified keto diet and it's used by health practitioners to help epilepsy patients, particularly children, get their seizures under control (5).

The modified in the title is because the diet differs from keto's 70, 25, and 5 percent fat, protein, and carb macro counts. Instead, modified Atkins uses ratios (one gram of fat per one gram of combined carbohydrate + protein). Carb counts generally sit at around 50 grams per day. If you take this approach, you may or may not enter a state of ketosis. It really depends on the individual dieter.

The Good:

  • Less restrictive than traditional keto diets
  • Can help with heart disease, epilepsy, and metabolic syndrome
  • No calorie counting
  • You can munch on "good" fat sources as much as you like

The Bad:

  • Wrapping your head around the ratio guestimations can take some getting used to
  • Little information available on the diet's effect on healthy adults, most literature pertains to children with epilepsy

7 - Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet always garners praise from health professionals as research suggests it confers health benefits that both lower the risk of heart disease and boost longevity (6). Named for the sunny coastal regions in Europe, this diet prioritizes fish, seafood, legumes, vegetables, whole grain carbs, and liberal doses of olive oil. Nothing is off the menu per se, but red meat and dairy products are eaten in moderation.

On the low carb version, all you need to do is make like a Sicilian and prep yourself plenty of vegetables and low-fat seafood. Plus keep an eye on how many carbohydrates you're eating per day. And don't forget the olives and olive oil. The latter is a great source of healthy fat that keeps you feeling full.

The Good:

  • Of all the low-carb diets, this is the one that research suggests improves longevity
  • Delicious Mediterranean foods every day
  • Vegetable lovers rejoice because this diet emphasizes plenty of delicious and nutritious veggies
  • Heart-friendly fat sources are better for your health

The Bad:

  • Certain foods may be quite expensive, so this isn't the cheapest of the popular low-carb diets

8 - Whole30 Diet

Whole30, a spin on the popular paleo diet, came on the scene in 2009 to resounding success. The diet aims to reduce your exposure to inflammatory foods by focusing on whole foods and cutting processed stuff way back.

While Whole30 isn't always touted as a low-carb diet, it is much lower in carbs than the standard way most Americans eat. An elimination diet that lasts 30 days, proponents claim it resets their eating habits and aids any digestive issues. Most people on Whole30 consume between 100 and 160 grams of carbohydrate per day.

Findind a meal service with a Whole30 meal plan is the easiest way to stay on track.

The Good:

  • Ready-made Whole30 meals are available, making the diet convenient
  • Focus is on real, whole foods, not processed junk
  • A one month reset plan that many people stay on for years
  • Among the least restrictive low-carb diets
  • May help with digestive problems

The Bad:

  • A lot of conflicting advice on what is and what isn't Whole30 abounds. Some companies are jumping on the bandwagon with Whole30 foods and recipes that aren’t great choices

9 - South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet is unique among the popular low-carb diets because instead of billing itself as a health tool, its focus has always been on weight loss. Although not marketed as a low-carb choice, the diet is centered on loan proteins and healthy fats.

South Beach has been around since 2003 when another cardiologist turned diet doctor started the trend. The book and website are supported by a full range of ready-made meals and snacks, making this diet easy to follow. The downside of outsourcing all your food decisions is added cost, but for some people, the convenience is more than worth it.

Check out our full review of South Beach diet to learn more!

The Good:

  • Tried and tested weight loss method
  • Convenient ready-meals available
  • May lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels
  • Low in saturated fats

The Bad:

  • Very low calorie at just 1,200 per day
  • Labeling foods as "good" and "bad" may encourage disordered eating habits
  • Some research indicates that a South Beach Diet lacks essential minerals and nutrients (7)

10 - Dukan Diet

The Dukan diet gets a bit of a bad rap, probably because there are a lot of rules to follow and phases to go through. You begin by cutting back most things you eat to just protein, and then gradually adding vegetables back to your diet. Later, carbohydrates are reintroduced.

A list of 72 foods dictates what you can and can’t eat, which may be too restrictive for some dieters. That said, plenty of people have lost weight on the Dukan, including Kate Middleton in the run-up to the royal wedding. Whether they keep it off in the long-term is the key question though.

The Good:

  • If you follow it to the letter, you will lose weight
  • Proponents report greater energy levels
  • May help with metabolic syndrome

The Bad:

  • Restrictive with multiple rules and phases
  • Has been linked to kidney issues (8)
  • Not suitable for people who hate oat bran as this diet really promotes oat bran!

11 - Low-Carb Paleo Diet

There’s a lot to like about a paleo diet: it prioritizes whole foods and cuts out all the junky processed stuff. The basic tenet is that you eat what paleolithic people would have eaten. Since we don’t fully know what they ate, there is an element of guesswork here. The focus is on protein, vegetables, and fruit. Things like dairy, grains, and legumes are all out.

It is a meat-heavy way of eating that will suit some dieters more than others. To keep your paleo on the low-carb end of the spectrum, choose vegetables that aren’t carb bombs and make sure you get plenty of leafy greens.

The Good:

  • Strong emphasis on healthy whole foods
  • No processed junk in this diet
  • Eat like a carnivore with impunity
  • Paleo dieters insist this is the diet to end all diets

The Bad:

  • No dairy allowed, so calcium may be an issue
  • Eating out with friends could become troublesome

12 - Carb Cycling Diet

For some people, carb cycling is the low-carb-diet equivalent of agnosticism; you’re not committed to low-carb or high-carb diets. Instead, you kind of sit on the fence and dip your toes into both worlds on alternate days.

On low-carb days, dieters have around 100 to 150 grams, but on high-carb days, dieters consume between 350 to 400 grams. For athletes, there are some real positives here, you’ll have enough fuel to burn when working out and your high-carb days will make the low-carb days much easier to tolerate.

The Good:

  • Can be an excellent option for athletes under nutritionist instruction
  • May regulate insulin
  • Can help with muscle recovery

The Bad:

  • Largely untested outside a sports context
  • Jumping between low and high carb days might become tedious

Popular Low-Carb Diets: FAQs

With so many popular low-carb diets making the rounds on the interwebs, it's no wonder our readers have some questions. Here are some of your most pressing inquiries and our thoughts.

What are the best low-carb diets?

There are plenty of good low-carb diets to choose from, and any of the 12 diets we looked at above are the best for someone. But there's no universal rule here, what works for you might not work for your neighbor, and vice versa. If you're new to low-carb dieting, try starting with a basic low-carb diet and then switching when you feel confident in your newly acquired low-carb lifestyle.

What are the best carbs to eat on a low-carb diet?

Hands down the best carbs to eat on a low-carb diet are vegetables. Things like cauliflower, kale, spinach, lettuce, and zucchini are all packed full of goodness but carry a very low carbohydrate count. Just remember that other vegetables aren't so helpful. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and beetroot all are carb-heavy. 

A good rule of thumb when it comes to your vegetables is to indulge in those that grow above ground and take it easy on the root vegetables.

What is the number 1 worst carb?

There are multiple contenders for the dubious title of number-1 worst carb: think refined sugar, processed baked goods, beer, and white flour. Two of these stand out as particularly troublesome, namely white flour and refined sugar, not least because these two ingredients feature heavily in so many of the foods we eat today.

Luckily, it's pretty easy to avoid both of these, simply ditch the processed foods, switch to stevia, and stay away from the bagels and the loaves, no matter how delicious they look!

What foods do you cut on a low carb diet?

It really depends on which low-carb diet you're following. If you're on strict keto, for example, you won't be eating potatoes, bread, pasta, sugars, and root vegetables. But if you're on a basic low-carb diet, you can enjoy these things in moderation, so long as you keep your carbohydrate count low.

The Low-down

That completes our round-up of the 12 most popular low-carb diets. We hope the information here was useful. Remember to check in with your health professional if you have any concerns. Good luck and all the best on your journey!

References

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

2. Hyde, P., Sapper, T., Crabtree, C., LaFountain, R., Bowling, M., & Buga, A. et al. (2019). Dietary carbohydrate restriction improves metabolic syndrome independent of weight loss. JCI Insight, 4(12). https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.128308

3. Ketogenic diet | Epilepsy Society. Epilepsysociety.org.uk. (2020). Retrieved 26 August 2020, from https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/ketogenic-diet

4. Burke, L. (2015). Re-Examining High-Fat Diets for Sports Performance: Did We Call the ‘Nail in the Coffin’ Too Soon?. Sports Medicine, 45(S1), 33-49. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0393-9

5. Modified Atkins Diet. Epilepsy Foundation. (2020). Retrieved 26 August 2020, from https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/modified-atkins-diet.

6. Publishing, H. (2020). Mediterranean diet linked to longevity, say Harvard researchers - Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Retrieved 26 August 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mediterranean-diet-linked-to-longevity-say-harvard-researchers.

7. Calton J. B. (2010). Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7, 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-24

8. What is the Dukan diet?. BBC Good Food. (2020). Retrieved 26 August 2020, from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-dukan-diet

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Hi, I'm Paul. Welcome to my website! I, along with my cronies, are leveraging our years of working in the food industry to review meal and drink delivery services. We review. You eat happily ever after.

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