Diabetes low carb diet

Many people with diabetes are following a low-carb diet because of its benefits in terms of improving diabetes control, weight loss and being a diet that is satisfying and easy to stick to.

Low-carb diets are flexible and can be followed by people with different types of diabetes.

The diet has allowed many people with type 2 diabetes to resolve their diabetes, that is to get their blood sugar levels into a non-diabetic range without the help of medication.

People with type 1 diabetes have also reported much more stable blood sugar levels, making the condition easier to predict and manage.

The diet is a healthy way of eating as vegetables and natural, real foods are integral to the diet.


Low-carb guidance and support

The low-carb diet forum has been cited as a leading resource in providing support and encouragement for people that are looking to achieve lower HbA1c levels and sustain effective weight loss.

In 2015, Diabetes.co.uk launched the Low Carb Program which has helped thousands of people with type 2 diabetes to improve their diabetes control and reduce their dependency on diabetes medication.

Why follow a low-carb diet?

Carbohydrate is the nutrient which has the greatest effect in terms of raising blood sugar levels and requires the most insulin to be taken or be produced by the body.

Lowering sugar levels is clearly a benefit for people with diabetes. Lower need for insulin is also particularly useful as lowering insulin in the body can reduce insulin resistance which can help towards reversing type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is also the fat storage hormone in the body, so reducing insulin in the body with a low-carb diet can help with losing weight.

Benefits of low-carb diets

The benefits of a low-carb diet typically include:

  • Lower HbA1c
  • Improved weight loss
  • Less chance of high sugar levels occurring
  • Lower risk of severe hypos
  • More energy through the day
  • Less cravings for sugary and snack foods
  • Clearer thinking
  • Lower risk of developing long-term health complications

What counts as low-carb?

Low-carb is a flexible way of eating that allows you as an individual to choose a level of carbohydrate that works well for your diabetes and lifestyle.

A research study in 2008 used the following brackets to categorise daily carbohydrate intake:

  • Moderate carbohydrate: 130 to 225g of carbs
  • Low carbohydrate: under 130g of carbs
  • Very-low carbohydrate: under 30g of carbs

Generally speaking, the lower your carbohydrate intake, the more likely you are to lose weight and the lower sugar levels you are likely to have.

It’s important you choose a level of carbohydrate that works well for you.

For example, people with type 1 diabetes that do not need to low weight may wish to aim for a low or moderate carbohydrate intake.

Someone with type 2 diabetes, or needs to lose weight, may wish to aim for a very-low carbohydrate ( ketogenic ) intake.

Take precautions

It is important that you speak to your doctor before significantly lowering your carbohydrate intake. This is especially important if you are on medication that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), such as insulin, sulphonylureas or glinides.

How carbohydrates affect the body?

Carbohydrates, as do proteins and fats, provide energy so they help to fuel the body.

Carbohydrate is broken down into glucose so when carbohydrates are consumed, an increase in blood sugar levels occurs to a greater or lesser extent according to the amount of carbohydrate.

By reducing carbohydrate intake, you can help to reduce the rise in blood glucose levels after meals.

How will low-carbing affect my weight?

Low carbohydrate diets have been found to be successful in aiding weight loss.

The reduction in carbohydrates means that people need not produce, or inject, so much insulin. As insulin helps to store fat, less circulating insulin could help to prevent, reduce or reverse weight gain.

Also, by restricting the amount of carbohydrates, people often lower their calorie intake at the same time as the focus on eating real foods and the satiating effect of fat means people are less likely to snack and overeat in general.


Low carb diets have been amongst people with diabetes because they are blood sugar friendly. A low carb diet has less carbohydrate than the average diet.

There is no formal definition, but a diet of less than 130g of carbohydrate a day is regarded as low carb. It not uncommon for people with diabetes to have less than 100g of carbohydrate a day.

Low carb diets have become particularly popular with people who have type 2 diabetes. The diet’s also had appeal for people with type 1 diabetes who have either struggled with control on a ‘normal diet’ or who want to tighten their control.

People on insulin, or other blood glucose lowering medication, should take care if reducing their carbohydrate intake as hypoglycemia can occur. We would advise speaking with your doctor first, before making significant changes to your diet.

Some of the benefits of a low carb diet can include:

  • Lower average blood glucose levels – particularly in the period after meals
  • Reduction in ‘brain fog’ that tends to result from higher sugar levels
  • Helping with weight loss

People have also found that low carb diets can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

To reduce your carb intake you will likely cut down on or cut out food such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and of course sweeter foods.

Vegetables should be the foundation of a low carb diet –as they should for any diet. You may need to up your intake of protein or fat to compensate for the reduction in carbohydrate. If increasing the amount of fat, ensure you’re getting a good supply of unsaturated fats which are found in nuts, avocados and oily fish.

With any significant change in diet, you may experience a few effects in the first 2 weeks as the body gets use to the change.

This can include:

  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Constipation or loose stools

If these effects don’t subside after a couple of weeks, you may need to make some changes. You may wish to consult a dietitian for advice.

A low carb diet is sometimes viewed as a restrictive diet.

However, many people on the diet find inventive ways to replace starchy foods – such as using swede or celeriac instead of potato, and using cauliflower instead of rice and making dough out of almond meal. You may well find that a low carb diet is more nutritious than your previous diet.

How to follow a low carb diet

A healthy low carb diet should have the following features:

  • Strong vegetable intake
  • Modest increase in fat intake from natural sources
  • Moderate protein intake
  • Low reliance upon processed food, sugar and grains

Read more on following a healthy low-carb diet

Fats and protein

If you are significantly reducing the amount of carbohydrate in your diet, you may need to make up some of the reduced calories with either protein or fat.

It is advisable to ensure the fat content of your diet comes from natural sources, such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Olive oil

Natural sources of fat, such as the above, will provide a balance of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat.

Try to avoid processed foods and takeaways as the fat in these are generally either man made or highly processed.

When choosing protein, aim to have unprocessed cuts of meat as processed meats have been consistently linked with higher rates of heart disease and even insulin resistance

What is the counter-argument against low-carb diets for people with diabetes?

If low-carb diets can help to reduce blood glucose levels and aid weight loss, then why are low-carbohydrate diets not advocated by the NHS ?

The reason that is commonly cited is that there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness and safety of low-carbohydrate diets. The question is a hotly debated one which has seen disagreement from both sides as to which diet is more safe and effective.

However, more research in favour of low-carb diets is appearing on a monthly basis and the research is consistently showing low-carb diets to be superior to the low-fat diet advised by the NHS.

What side effects exist on a low carb diet?

Side effects that can be commonly experienced on a low carb diet include:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Possible nutrient deficiencies

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may occur if you take insulin or tablets that can cause low blood sugar. If you take medications that can cause hypos, it’s particularly important to discuss precautions to prevent hypos before starting a low carb diet.

  • Read more on Low Carb Diet Side Effects

Is a low-carb diet suitable for everyone?

Low-carb diets are suitable for most people. As noted above, if you’re thinking of reducing your carbohydrate intake by a large amount, it’s best to check with your doctor if any precautions need to be made.

If you are pregnant, or planning pregnancy, a very-low carb diet may not be appropriate as the safety of very-low carbohydrate diets in pregnancy is not currently known.

Going Low-Carb for Type 2 Diabetes Management: Is Keto, Paleo, or Atkins Best?

Keto Diet for Type 2 Diabetes: Pros and Cons

Ketogenic diet (“keto” diet for short) is a catch-all term for any diet that pushes your body into the natural metabolic state of ketosis, which means burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. Though there’s no set formula for keto, generally, the diet works by cutting back on carbohydrates, to about 20 g of net carbs to start, and replacing those with mostly fat and a moderate amount of protein, according to the popular website Keto Connect. Net carbs are the total number of carbs minus the fiber and sugar alcohols, according to the Atkins website. (More on this diet later.)

RELATED: 10 Popular Low-Carb Diets, and Their Pros and Cons

When Stephanie Lofton was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2015, she knew she needed to make some big changes to her diet. But after cutting her carbohydrates down to just 60 g per meal didn’t help her lose weight or manage her blood sugar, she turned to a more intense diet.

Lofton, a medical biller in Marysville, Washington, says she decided to try keto in spring 2017 after seeing how some of her Facebook friends had lost weight on the diet. She was desperate to try something different because she couldn’t get her blood sugar under control even with insulin and after trying several types of diets, she says.

“It came to another frustration point that medication really isn’t helping,” Lofton says. “I had tried many other things, like a weight loss program. I tried looking into bariatric surgery, and was very frustrated that all these things — like watching my food intake and my servings, 60 grams (of carbs) per meal — all of that wasn’t really making a difference.”

RELATED: Does the Ketogenic Diet Work for Type 2 Diabetes?

Trying keto may seem like an extreme solution for some people — the diet requires participants to get 60 to 80 percent of their calories from fat, Keto Connect notes — but Lofton says the high-fat eating style keeps her full and curbs carb cravings.

“I’m feeling fuller for longer periods of time,” she says, “and I don’t feel like I’m deprived at all. I don’t miss rice, I don’t miss potatoes — I don’t miss those things.”

And most important, she notes: Her blood sugar is at an all-time low. About a year ago, she went to the ER because her blood sugar levels rose to between 600 and 800 mg/dL — indicating she was at risk of a diabetic coma. But now, her postprandial glucose is between 150 and 200 mg/dL. “My sugars have been on a steady decline since March,” she says. Her A1C — a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels — also went from 10.4 to 8.7, an improvement, though still in the range for type 2 diabetes, according to according to the ADA.

While keto has worked for her, Lofton says, it’s not right for everyone.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Help Lower Your A1C

Diets that severely squeeze out carbs can be effective for weight-loss, but they’re typically not recommended for people with diabetes, says Katherine Zeratsky, RD, with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“I think the caution with a low-carbohydrate diet is the idea that it’s very restrictive,” Zeratsky says. “When you start getting into the very low carbohydrates, when you’re talking about 20 grams, which for some people would be a cup of vegetables. … If there is someone who is interested in it, it’s very important they understand what a low carbohydrate diet means in a practical sense.”

One study, published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, found a group of 28 people with type 2 diabetes overall lost about 6 percent of their body weight and lowered their blood glucose levels when they followed a keto diet for 16 weeks. The authors recommended individuals on this diet who have diabetes be under close medical supervision, and noted more research is needed on the diet’s long-term effects because the study was small and short term.

RELATED: Risks and Benefits of the Keto Diet Everyone Should Know

A review published in December 2015 in the journal Diabetes Therapy suggested ultra-low-carb diets were effective at managing blood sugar, decreasing weight, and managing cardiovascular risk in individuals with type 2 diabetes in the short term, but the benefits were not sustainable over the long term. When compared with higher-carb diets over a period of longer than about 12 weeks, the health results were similar.

Learn More About How Lofton Used Keto to Get Her Weight Under Control

Low-Carb Paleo Diet for Diabetes: Pros and Cons

The paleo, or paleolithic, diet has become popular as a way to eat nonprocessed food in a way that’s similar to how early humans might have eaten in a hunter-gatherer society. Paleo diets in general cut out dairy, refined sugar, and grains.

Eating low-carb paleo means removing items like rice, pasta, and legumes from your diet completely, but the carbs you eat will be from vegetables like fruit, beets, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens, such as spinach and kale. The diet also cuts out processed food plus foods allowed on other low-carb diets, including milk and cheese, and some people have an easier time sticking with the diet when more carbs are included.

A small, randomized crossover study published in the Journal of Diabetes Sciences and Technology found that after three months, people who followed a modified, low-carb paleo diet saw greater reductions in their A1C, their triglycerides, their diastolic blood pressure, and their weight than those who followed a traditional diabetes diet. (The approach also increased their levels of LDL, or “good” cholesterol.) The diabetes diet in the study involved consuming no more than 6 g of salt per day, reducing saturated fat and total fat intake, and upping intake of veggies, fiber, whole grains, fruits, and veggies. Compared with the diabetes diet, the paleo diet involved eating less dairy, beans, potatoes, and cereals, and more veggies, fruit, meat, and eggs.

Yet the study authors cautioned that the small sample size of 13 people per group, a lack of a blind trial, and the short study period means more study is needed on the subject.

RELATED: Can the Paleo Diet Help People With Type 2 Diabetes?

Atkins Diet for Diabetes: Pros and Cons

The Atkins diet works in several stages, and the first stage is very low carb, with followers eating only 20 g of carbs per day for two weeks. The cardiologist Robert Atkins, MD, created the diet in 1972, when he published his first book, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, according to the Atkins website.

This low-carb diet in general focuses on reducing carbohydrates by eating certain vegetables, proteins, and fruits. Eating fat sources like avocado and coconut oil, as well as full-fat yogurt, butter, and cheese is encouraged.

Tina Marcus decided to try the Atkins diet when her doctor became increasingly worried about her blood sugar levels. After following the Atkins diet for two years, she lost 120 pounds (lbs), decreased her A1C from 11, which indicates diabetes, to 5.7 — the lowest threshold for prediabetes — and got her fasting blood sugar levels into the 70s.

“I was very dedicated. Really for a year and a half, I did not deviate. I really stuck to the plan,” Marcus says. “You have to have a lot of willpower.”

RELATED: How to Count Carbs for Better Blood Sugar Control

Marcus notes avoiding sweets and foods like pasta, rice, and processed food wasn’t easy. She had to make a lot of lifestyle changes, as well, like exercising often and avoiding tempting situations.

A study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism discouraged the Atkins diet for anyone with diabetes because the plan doesn’t limit fat, but noted the approach may be a safe way for people without the disease to lose weight effectively. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Atkins helped women lose weight better than other low-carb diets, such as the Zone diet, the Ornish diet, and the LEARN diet after 12 months.

Learn More About How Tina Marcus Lost Weight on the Atkins Diet

Why Low-Carb Diets Can Be a Good ‘Stepping Stone’ for People With Diabetes

Anna Taylor, RD, CDE, a licensed dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says very-low-carb diets can hurt people with type 2 diabetes if done incorrectly. She and Keratsky say it’s important that anyone with diabetes who wants to try a low-carb or ultra-low-carb diet meet with a dietitian or physician to create a plan and make sure their eating style won’t react negatively with their current medicines.

“There are many, many interpretations of low-carb, ketogenic diets; many times patients simply do an internet search of the word ‘keto’ and find lists of foods to follow,” she says in an email. “This can lead to some pretty poor diet attempts.”

Some of the concerns are around micronutrients — supplementation of electrolytes, vitamins, and fiber is often required on low-carb diets, Zeratsky says. And sometimes, these diets can actually lower the blood sugar of a person with diabetes to the point where it’s too low, which is also dangerous. (Low-carb diets are not recommended for those people with type 1 diabetes or anyone on insulin due to that risk, experts note.)

RELATED: How Do You Tell the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs?

“A healthy diet should be a sustainable eating plan that provides adequate nutrition to support optimal health,” Taylor says. “For many people with diabetes, a low-carb diet is a temporary tool that can be used to support short-term weight loss and improved blood sugar control. However, I typically don’t recommend sticking with a low-carb diet permanently, as many micronutrient deficiencies can result from an unbalanced eating plan. I like to think of low-carb diets as a possible ‘stepping stone,’ not a ‘forever diet.’”

The main concern, they say, is sustainability: Getting all the nutrients your body needs to manage blood sugar and overall health, and then sticking with it for decades can be hard on such a restrictive diet.

Lofton says her goal is to use keto to get her fasting blood sugar levels under 100, and then her focus will shift to weight loss, which she feels keto is going to help her accomplish.

Now, the high fat content curbs her cravings and helps her stay on track.

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Following a Low-Carb Diet

One of the biggest changes she’s seen, she says, is her attitude. When she used to have a setback — a high blood sugar reading or a 5-lb weight gain — she used to feel defeated. Now, she can put yesterday’s setbacks in the rear view mirror.

“I have found a change in my attitude from, ‘Oh gosh, that’s it. I’m done,’” she says, “to ‘Okay, today was not a good day, but I really like my keto food, and I’m encouraged and I’m able.”

For more low-carb eating inspiration, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “Go-To Snacks With 15 Carbs or Less”!

Eating to control your weight and your blood sugar

The Mediterranean-style low carb diet approach, which we recommend in The Blood Sugar Diet, is a low sugar diet, low in starchy, easily digestible carbs, but packed full of disease-fighting vitamins and flavonoids. It is rich in olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, but also contains lots of lovely things that down the years we have been told not to eat, such as full fat yoghurt and eggs.

Although it is derived from the eating habits of people living in Mediterranean countries, you can apply the principles of Med-style low carb diet eating to a wide range of different cuisines, from Chinese or Indian through to Mexican or Scandanavian.

There is extensive evidence for the benefit of the Mediterranean style low carb diet, including cutting your risk of heart disease and diabetes. It has even been found to reduce risk the risk of breast cancer, compared with those on a low-fat diet. Consuming extra virgin olive oil (the fresh squeezed juice of olives) seems to be particularly beneficial when it comes to cancer, perhaps because it contains compounds such as polyphenols which are known to be anti-inflammatory.

“This is potentially a life changing book for people with raised blood sugar levels as well as those with type 2 diabetes”

Dr Tim Spector, Professor of Genetics, Kings College, London

Kick the Carbs: Mediterranean Style Low Carb Diet Eating – The ‘M Plan’

Cut right down on sugar, sugary treats, drinks and desserts: No more than once or twice a week and preferably less. You can use sugar substitutes like stevia and xylitol, but try to wean yourself off your sweet tooth.

Avoid sweet fruits: Berries, apples & pears are fine, but sweet tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, melon and bananas are full of sugar.

Minimise or avoid the starchy “white stuff” bread, pasta, potatoes, rice: Be wary of “brown” alternatives: the extra fibre can be negligible. Brown rice is OK, but some wholemeal breads have added sugar. Switch instead to quinoa, bulgur (cracked wheat), whole rye, whole-grain barley, wild rice and buckwheat.

Avoid most breakfast cereals: They are usually full of sugar, even the ones that contain bran. Oats are good as long as they are not the instant sort.

Avoid snacking if possible find healthy snacks if you must: Nuts are a great source of protein and fibre. Try to avoid salted or sweetened nuts, which can be moreish. Or a few bits of chopped veg, a small amount of dark chocolate after meals (70% or more)

Start the day with eggs: Boiled, poached, scrambled or as an omelette – they’ll keep you fuller for longer than cereal or toast. Delicious with smoked salmon and a sprinkle of chilli.

Full-fat yoghurt is also good: Add berries, like blackberries, strawberries or blueberries, for flavour. Or a sprinkling of nuts.

Eat more healthy fats and oils: Along with oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), consume more olive oil. A splash makes vegetables taste better and improves the absorption of vitamins. Use olive, rapeseed or coconut oil for cooking.

Legumes, such as lentils and kidney beans: Healthy and filling.

Use butter instead of margarine: Cheese in moderation is fine.

Eat plenty of different coloured veg: From dark leafy greens to bright-red and yellow peppers.

Add sauces and flavouring to your veg: Lemon, butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, chilli, gravy.

Have a drink, but not too many: Once you are on the ‘maintenance’ BSD Way of Life, try to average no more than one to two units a day (a small glass of wine or shot of spirits is 1.5 units) and cut back on beer – it’s rich in carbs, which is why it’s known as “liquid toast”.

Fibre is good: the Mediterranean low carb diet does not mean no carbs at all. Not only is this very hard to achieve, but can be detrimental. This is why complex carbs and fibre are still important and can easily be gained from food such as nuts, legumes and lentils

(We recommend no alcohol for the first month of the diet: this helps the liver kick back into function and to reduce insulin resistance. Drinking is also likely to undermine your will to succeed)

Bring back healthy fats

They keep you full for longer as they are digested slowly, have minimal impact on blood sugar and can make food taste better. The low carb diet allows you to eat a higher fat diet.

Dairy products are back in: Recent research has found that these do not cause diabetes. They are a good source of calcium and protein. They also help you feel fuller for longer. Eat in moderation as they are fairly high in calories. A scattering of grated cheese can be used on baked vegetables to add flavour. A bit of parmesan on broccoli…

Eggs: Forget the idea that cholesterol turns into damaging cholesterol in your arteries and blood…Eggs have been reinstated as a healthy & filling source of protein. Especially good for a quick breakfast – go to work on an egg or two.

Healthy fats & oils are back in too: Eating fat does not automatically clog the blood vessels in the way that poring oil down the drain will eventually block the drain. You make your own cholesterol and lipids and are more likely to increase your levels of the more damaging Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLD), which is made in the liver when you eat a high carbohydrate diet.

Although oil or butter is high in calories, it is very slowly digested and surprisingly does not significantly increase your blood sugar. It makes vegetables taste better and can improve the absorption of certain vitamins and the essential vitamins A, D, E & K are only found in certain fats & oils. Avoid foods containing trans-fats (usually processed foods). Use oils such as olive oil, rapeseed oil or coconut oil. It also helps you feel full for longer so be more generous

Nuts are also included: They provide a good source of protein, minerals & vitamins, contain healthy fats and have a high fibre content. You nibble them, chuck them in salad or stews. They make a good low carb diet alternative to flour for baking by using almond or coconut flour.

8 Tips to help the med style low carb diet work on your blood sugar

  1. Aim for variety and to eat plenty of green and non starchy vegetables. Keep trying new things to maintain interest and nutritional balance.
  2. Soups are surprisingly satiating, cheap & practical. You can take them to work for lunch, keep portions in the freezer and they are more slowly digested. Use lots non-starchy veg or clear soups, like Miso soup.
  3. Use grated cauliflower instead of rice or mash it instead of potato. Much lower calorie & fewer carbs. Cook/steam the ‘rice’ for a few minutes only.
  4. You may need to increase your water intake when you reduce carbohydrates.
  5. Beware hidden calories in drinks. Alcohol is surprisingly high calorie and avoid if possible. Other liquid calories include fruit juice, smoothies & cordials
  6. Avoid ‘Diet’ products. They often contain sugar and/or sweeteners (which may not switch off hunger signals).
  7. Exercise reduces appetite. It is good for general cardiovascular fitness and strength, but is a hard way to lose weight. If you find it hard to exercise, simply moving more has significant health benefits and can increase your metabolic rate. Get up and move around every half hour, walk don’t take the bus, stairs instead of lift…Get a pedometer and try to increase your steps by 10% each week.
  8. Use flavour enhancers so each meal is as tasty as possible. Lemon, pepper, lime, chilli, garlic, gherkins, mustard, herbs add loads of flavour but very few calories.

You may crave carbs at first, but most people find this settles within a matter of days. As your insulin resistance drops so does your appetite. In fact most people feel better & find they have more energy.

If you are also cutting calories by doing the BSD fast 800 or the BSD 5:2, these principles work for fast days and non-fast days, but we ask you only to count the calories on the fasting days.

You can adapt your usual diet and make healthy swaps, but it may also be helpful to try some new recipes to make sure you get a good nutritional balance. See some suggestions and share your tips in the recipe section.

There are some delicious and easy to prepare suggestions and a full 1 month plan for the intensive BSD Fast 800 in the Blood Sugar Diet book. For the latest science around low carb diet eating and to find out the best approach for you – go to thefast800.com.

What’s The Difference Between Atkins® and Paleo?

Millions of people around the world have lost weight on the Atkins Diet. With a controlled carb intake, dieters burn fat and achieve successful weight loss. While initially holding off on higher-carb foods, Atkins dieters eat more protein, olive oil, avocadoes and other delicious fats that give food flavor—while also enjoying leafy greens and other vegetables. The Paleo Diet is a diet based on what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. Within the Paleo Diet, the dieter should avoid dairy, refiner sugars, processed foods, legumes or cereal grains. Similar to the Paleo Diet, Atkins requires dieters to omit food high in sugary carbohydrates and other foods low in nutrients.

Diet Approved Foods for Atkins® vs. Paleo

The Paleo and Atkins® diet are similar in the fact that the both promote whole foods, healthy fats, veggies, fruits and protein. Both diets have numerous benefits and ultimately, the choice is up to the dieter. Below is a brief comparison of foods that are and are not allowed on each diet

Paleo Diet

Recommended foods:

  • Fresh meats (preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry and game meat)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Fresh fruits (preferably locally sourced)
  • Fresh vegetables (preferably locally sourced) • Healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed)

Foods that are not allowed:

  • Dairy products
  • Cereal grains • Legumes (beans, peas, soybeans, lentils and peanuts, to name a few)
  • Refined sugars
  • Processed foods
  • Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Refined oils (soy, cottonseed, corn, sunflower, safflower and sesame)

Paleo Diet:

  • Grass-fed or free-ranging meats and locally sourced fish, seafood, vegetables and fruits are healthier.
  • Grass-fed or free-ranging meats and locally sourced fish, seafood, vegetables and fruits are also more expensive and harder to find.
  • One-size-fits all approach and does not allow an individual to discover their personal carbohydrate tolerance and uncover potential food sensitivities.

Atkins Diet

Recommended foods:

  • Fresh meats (beef, pork, lamb, poultry and game meat)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Healthy fats (butter, canola oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil, mayonnaise, olive oil, high-oleic safflower oil, sesame oil)
  • Most cheeses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, ricotta or cottage cheese
  • Approved Atkins low-carb bars, shakes and frozen meals
  • Berries in early Phases and other types of fresh fruits (in later Phases)
  • Starchy vegetables (in later Phases)
  • Whole grains (in later Phases)

Foods that are not allowed:

  • Sugars
  • Processed foods with refined sugar and/or partially hydrogenated oils (cookies, crackers, chips, etc.)
  • Breaded fried foods

Atkins Diet:

  • Easier entry point into a low-carb lifestyle, while still emphasizing whole foods; healthy fats, optimal protein intake, vegetables, and fruit
  • More convenient – Atkins protein and meal replacement bars, protein shakes, and frozen meals.
  • Less expensive than Paleo
  • As you learn your personal carb tolerance, you can incorporate certain carbs back into your eating plan while still maintaining your weight loss.
  • By introducing foods one at a time (in 5 net carbohydrate increments) you are given the opportunity to discover food intolerances as well as your own personal carbohydrate balance.
  • Unlike Paleo, you aren’t asked to totally eliminate cereal grains, legumes, potatoes and dairy.

Why You Should Choose Atkins® Over The Paleo Diet

When comparing the two diets, the Atkins diet is easier and convenient because you eliminate less food. The Atkins Diet could also be a better “starter-diet” for first-time dieters. The Atkins Diet provides an easy entry into a low-carb lifestyle, while still promoting healthy fats, vegetables and fruit. It is also less expensive than Paleo and you can have approved Atkins bars, shakes and frozen meals. Atkins dieters also are given the freedom to learn their personal carb tolerance and slowly can incorporate certain carbs back into their diets.

Learn more about Atkins 20® and Atkins 40® diet plans for additional information on why Atkins is the plan for you. Register with Atkins today for low carb recipes, diet tips, and resources to start achieving your weight loss goals.

Diet Comparison: What’s the difference among Keto, Paleo, Atkins, and Whole30?

When it comes to fast weight loss, there are plenty of fads that claim to be the solution. The ketogenic diet has gained popularity as a quick solution for weight loss but is anything but a passing fad. It’s frequently confused with three similar low-carb diets: Paleo, Atkins, and Whole30. So let’s take a look at the differences among these four diets and how effective they are for sustainable weight loss.

Grab the Master Keto Food List with 100+ keto foods to make keto easier.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is appealing because it doesn’t ask followers to worry about eating too much fat or to count calories. Furthermore, it’s based on biology. As the premise goes, our bodies have become dysregulated with the environment. That’s why we have skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes. Humans have existed for 200,000 years, but our current food supply — processed junk food — has only been around for about 50 years. Soft drinks, donuts, candy, potato chips, sugary cereals, and foot-long sandwiches are new. Paleo calls for returning to how our ancestors ate – meats and vegetables. Absolutely nothing processed and no refined sugars.

“Many Paleo dieters find themselves losing weight initially when they ‘clean up’ their diet and shed a lot of water weight, but typically hit a plateau with the steady level of carb consumption in their diet,” says Registered Dietitian Molly Devine. “They must restrict calories to continue seeing weight loss, which is hard when you continue to have carb cravings and associated hunger. Keto dieters, on the other hand, continue to see weight loss, even after the initial water weight loss, because their bodies can now burn body fat stores for fuel. Plus, their fat consumption reduces hunger and increases the feeling of fullness, so they eat less while still feeling satiated.”

Ketogenic Diet

Also based on biology, specifically the biology of human metabolism, the Ketogenic diet (“Keto” for short) takes things a step further. Some people think of it as Paleo 2.0. Keto followers believe that most Paleo followers eat too many carbohydrates and not enough fat. A popular source of fat is full-fat dairy products such as butter, heavy whipping cream and cheese, which are not permitted on Paleo. Another main difference: Paleo avoids sugar substitutes and allows sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, while Keto shuns all carb-filled sweeteners in favor of sugar-free substitutes, such as Stevia and erythritol.

Keto is all about getting into ketosis so your body is burning fat for fuel instead of sugar. Ketosis works on a spectrum. When you’re Paleo, you probably achieve ketosis from time to time – maybe for a few hours or a few days. But those living a Ketogenic lifestyle try to stay in ketosis for as long as possible — sometimes weeks or even months at a time. For many Keto followers, being in a state of ketosis improves both their physical and mental performance.

Atkins Diet

Compared to the Atkins diet, Keto is lower in protein and carbs and higher in fat. If you compare the macro breakdown, Keto is 75% fat / 20% protein / 5% carbs while Atkins is about 60% fat / 30% protein / 10% carbs (in its maintenance phases). Most Atkins dieters consume too much protein to achieve or maintain ketosis. The other big difference is that Keto macros don’t change over time, while Atkins has four phases, with each phase allowing for more carbs. The Atkins diet is more of a short-term weight loss effort while the Ketogenic diet is a lifestyle change. Many Atkins dieters discover that when they add carbs back, they tend to regain the weight they lost.

“Our bodies can convert excess protein (above 30%-40% for most people) into glucose, resulting in continued carbohydrate/glucose cravings. So Atkins dieters find themselves avoiding carbs, but thinking about them all day long, thus inevitably ‘falling off the wagon’ and regaining lost weight when they reintroduce carbs into their lives,” says Devine. “Keto dieters, on the other hand, replace the carbs with increased fat consumption, thus allowing their bodies to utilize an alternative source of fuel (fat and ketones) and avoiding carb cravings in the long-term.”


The Whole30 diet is basically a more restrictive version of Paleo. It’s a 30-day elimination diet that is better described as a nutrition reset than a weight loss strategy.

Created in 2009, Whole30 cuts out sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy. It also bans natural and artificial sweeteners (including honey and maple syrup allowed on Paleo), alcohol, all baked goods, and junk food. Like Paleo, it focuses on whole, fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, including starchy ones, which are banned on Keto. But unlike Paleo, Whole30 stays away from all packaged foods and recipes that mimic foods e.g. Paleo Pancakes. After the 30 days, you’re directed to slowly reintroduce food groups in an effort to pinpoint any foods or ingredients that may be causing certain issues, such as bloating, stomach discomfort, and acne.

Unlike Keto, Whole30 does not provide guidelines on macros. It doesn’t specify what your fat, protein, and carb ratios should be, but instead specifies which types of foods you can eat. Due to the elimination of grain and legumes, Whole30 is low-carb, but it’s not as low-carb as Keto is.

Weight loss isn’t a primary goal of Whole30, but due to the severe restriction on what you can eat during the 30 days, it’s common to lose weight. It’s also common to gain the weight back when you reintroduce your body to your regular diet.

Regardless of which diet you choose, it’s safe to say cutting back on sugar and refined carbohydrates is beneficial for your health and will result in weight loss. Find what works best for you, taking into consideration your health issues, health goals, and lifestyle. And always consult your doctor before beginning a new diet.

“Any diet that cuts out refined sugars and carbohydrates will result in weight loss and health benefits,” says Devine. “The trick is finding a diet that can be sustained in the long-term and that’s where the keto diet is superior to Paleo, Atkins, and Whole30.”

It’s officially holiday party season, and no matter how much we all know we’re not supposed to talk about our diets at the table, the reality is that almost everyone does. This can sometimes be exciting (a chance to introduce Paleo to someone who could benefit from it), but it can also be very frustrating if you try to explain your diet to people who insist on confusing Paleo with something else: the “isn’t that like Atkins?” conversation.

You don’t have to know a whole lot about Atkins to realize that it isn’t like Paleo. But it does help to at least have a rough idea of what you’re talking about – and reading about other diets can even give you a chance to learn something new. Obviously, not all diets are equally healthy, but most of them have something valuable to teach us (if only as an example of what not to do).

In this article, you’ll find a road map to four diets commonly confused with Paleo: the Atkins Diet, the Slow-Carb Diet, the Blood Type Diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. Learn what they are, who came up with them, and how they stack up from a Paleo perspective. None of these approaches is optimal from a Paleo standpoint, but all of them have at least something interesting to consider.

The Atkins Diet

The Book: Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution (1972) and Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (2002)

The Short Story: a very low-carbohydrate diet will put you into ketosis, allowing for rapid and relatively painless weight loss.

The Long Story: If you say anything about limiting wheat or refined carbs, the first diet that comes to everyone’s mind is Atkins. Developed by Dr. Atkins in the 1970s, the Atkins diet is about achieving dramatic and rapid weight loss by restricting carbohydrates. The goal of Atkins is to first get into ketosis, and then gradually work up to a level of carbohydrates that still allows you to lose fat or maintain your weight.

Compared to Paleo, there is some overlap between the foods to include (meat, vegetables, and fats) and the foods to avoid (grains), but in the end Atkins is a diet for weight loss, while Paleo is a diet for health. Accordingly, Atkins is focused primarily on macronutrient ratios, while Paleo is focused primarily on food quality (eating plenty of nutrients while avoiding toxins). Paleo can be low-carb, but it doesn’t have to be.

This is obvious when you look at what the Atkins diet does include. Atkins dieters are allowed to eat soy, industrial seed oils, and even small amounts of grains in the later phases of the diet, if it doesn’t affect their weight loss. The current version of Atkins also allows all kinds of processed junk foods, as long as they’re low-carb. There’s even an entire company, Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., dedicated to selling Atkins-friendly packaged foods. (Take a look at the Atkins Endulge Chocolate Caramel Mousse Bar – low-carb it might be, but health food it isn’t). There’s no focus on reducing your psychological desire for candy and junk food or retraining your taste buds to appreciate real food; high-carb junk is just replaced with low-carb junk, and as long as it doesn’t stall weight loss, it’s fine.

So even though it’s theoretically possible to eat a Paleo diet that complies with the Atkins macronutrient profile, the two diets represent radically different ways of thinking about food. Atkins is focused on low-carb food whether or not it’s junk; Paleo is focused on healthy food whether or not it’s low-carb.

The Lessons: The meteoric success of Atkins in 2003-4 and its subsequent crash in popularity in 2005 demonstrate the problems of a diet that requires you to obsessively count and track anything, whether it’s calories or carbs. That level of effort simply wasn’t sustainable for most people, and dieters abandoned Atkins in droves when they realized they would have to tally up grams of carbohydrates for the rest of their life, or risk regaining all the weight they’d originally lost.

In other words, what we can learn from Atkins is that you shouldn’t make eating such a chore! Paleo doesn’t rely on that kind of carb-counting (or calorie-counting, or anything-counting), but it’s easy to get caught up in worries about Omega-6 fats or glucose:fructose ratios and end up abandoning the whole effort because all the numbers you “need” to keep track of are so overwhelming. Don’t fall into this trap. Paleo is healthy without requiring any of that; take advantage of it, and enjoy your food instead of stressing about numbers.

The Slow-Carb Diet

The Book: The 4-Hour Body, by Tim Ferriss

The Short Story: Eat boring food, and you’ll eat less. Add a cheat day once a week for sanity.

The Long Story: After extensive self-experimentation, Tim Ferriss came up with the slow-carb diet as a way to lose weight with a minimum of cooking/prep time. He specifies five rules that should sound pretty familiar to Paleo dieters:

  • Avoid white carbs: In this category, Ferriss puts everything that is (or can be) white, including grains and dairy. Most of this is very Paleo-friendly, but two favorite safe starches (white potatoes and white rice) are slow-carb verboten. Dairy is also prohibited under the “white carb” rule, but in the Paleo world, it’s a gray-area food that isn’t automatically off the menu. Here, the difference is that slow-carb is focusing on maximizing weight loss, while Paleo is focusing on optimum health.
  • Keep repeating meals: This is supposed to make the diet very boring, so you don’t even want to overeat. It’s true that variety isn’t necessary for a good diet, but from a Paleo perspective, it definitely isn’t bad, either. If you like eating the same foods again and again, that’s fine, but if you find that boring, Paleo actually encourages you to try for variety and excitement in your meals, so you don’t run back to processed foods in despair. In particular, it seems like the slow-carb list of vegetables unnecessarily restrictive.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Not much argument here. In general, water, tea, and black coffee are the Paleo fluids of choice, and most of the alternatives are out.
  • Don’t eat fruit: Paleo isn’t nearly as prescriptive as “don’t eat fruit,” but fruit is more of a “healthy treat” food than a diet staple. It’s true that a lot of people going for weight loss find it very useful to cut out fruit, so this rule is reasonably compatible with Paleo.
  • One cheat day per week: this is supposed to be your reward for sticking to the boring, repetitive meals the rest of the week. It gives you something to look forward to and a reason to stay on track. On your cheat day, the idea is to eat as much as you can of whatever you want – pizza, pasta, ice cream, chocolate bars…save up all your cravings for that one day and go wild. This is where the slow-carb diet really diverges from a Paleo approach – on Paleo, occasional treats are encouraged, but scheduling an all-out binge once a week is definitely not: this is a surefire way to make sure your food cravings never disappear.

Ultimately, just like Atkins, the Slow Carb diet is all about weight loss, not health. Paleo is a general, customizable approach that optimizes health for a broad spectrum of people. The Slow Carb Diet is a very specific, rigid approach designed for maximum weight loss with a minimum of effort. Paleo is about learning to enjoy your new diet, adding plenty of tasty and healthy fats and a variety of fruits and vegetables so you don’t feel the urge to “cheat.” Slow Carb isn’t about this kind of long-term shift in eating habits; it’s just white-knuckling the pain for 6 days to get your reward on the 7th.

From a Paleo perspective, that’s the real issue with the Slow Carb Diet, not the inclusion of legumes or the exclusion of white rice. The idea of “hacking” your body to achieve certain specific goals is incredibly tempting, but ultimately health is about more than weight loss, and the seesaw between binging and restricting isn’t healthy no matter how carefully you schedule it. The Slow Carb Diet doesn’t give you space to change your emotional relationship with food from one based on punishment/reward to one based on nourishment and respect.

The Lessons: That said, there are a lot of interesting aspects to this diet. The repetition of meals is a very interesting and potentially useful to reduce food reward, and also to save cooking/food prep time. A low food reward version of Paleo might be exactly what some people need to really break free from the idea of food as entertainment, and it’s definitely valuable to have a few “go-to” recipes that you don’t need to turn on your brain for.

The most valuable thing to learn from the slow-carb approach is the need for self-experimentation. When Tim Ferriss wrote the book, he did all the research on himself. This willingness to be his own lab rat gave him a lot of important information about his own personal biochemistry, and allowed him to come up with a diet that met his own individual needs. Obviously not many of us are going to do as many tests as he did, but his example is a great “how-to” for performing relatively controlled N = 1 experiments that actually help you improve your diet.

The Blood Type Diet

The Book: Eat Right 4 Your Type, by Dr. Peter D’Adamo

The Short Story: Your blood type can guide you towards the healthiest diet for you, based on your evolutionary history.

The Long Story: The Blood Type Diet is based on the idea of genetic individuality – since we’re all biologically different, no one diet or lifestyle will work for everyone. Dr. Adamo classifies people by blood type, claiming that blood type determines how you respond to lectins in your food. According to this theory, a Paleo diet is appropriate for people with Type O (the “most ancient” type), a vegetarian diet for people with Type A (descended from agriculturalists), a meat/dairy based diet for Type B (descended from nomads), and a mixed diet for type AB (the “most modern”) type.

Before really evaluating this diet, it’s important to know a little bit about blood type and the immune system. There are four major blood types: A, B, AB, and O. Each blood cell carries antigens as a kind of ID card to identify it as one of the four types. As part of your immune defenses, your blood plasma is full of antibodies, which attack cells of any blood type except for yours. For example, people with Type A blood have anti-B antibodies that will attack any Type B blood cells that get into their system. If they get a blood transplant from someone with Type B, they’ll die, because their body will attack the blood.

Type O blood cells have no antigens (no “ID card” identifying them as any particular type), so Type O is the universal blood donor because no set of antibodies will attack it. On the other hand, Type O blood itself contains antibodies to both A and B, so people with Type O blood can only get blood transplants from other people with Type O blood. Type AB blood cells have antigens identifying them as both A and B, but no antibodies. This makes Type AB the universal recipient of blood, since Type AB blood plasma won’t attack anything.

This is useful information because it lets us critically evaluate Dr. Adamo’s evolutionary theory about blood types. The evolutionary approach seems to complement Paleo theory fairly well at first, but unfortunately, Dr. Adamo is probably wrong about his chronology. Actually Type A is the oldest, and both Types A and B must have evolved before type O, since people with type O blood have antibodies to both type A and type B. If type O evolved first, how could it have developed defenses (anti-A and anti-B antibodies) against threats (A and B antigens) that didn’t even exist yet?

In other words, the evolutionary approach behind the diet is completely flawed and the recommendations based on it are unlikely to improve your health.

Another problem with the blood type diet is the insistence on avoiding certain kinds of lectins. Lectins are proteins found in all foods, but especially in vegetable foods. Some lectins are perfectly harmless, and others can be gut irritants; the lectins found in grains and legumes are one of the main reasons why a Paleo diet excludes all of these foods for everyone. But the blood type diet takes this even further. Dr. Adamo claims that eating a type of lectin incompatible with your blood type will cause a kind of immune response against it based on the antigens in your blood. Like a transplant of the wrong blood type, a dietary lectin of the “wrong type” will cause an immune reaction. To destroy the “foreign invader,” your blood cells will clump together around the lectin (agglutinate), and cause all kinds of chronic diseases.

There’s a tiny grain of truth here – lectins do have some blood agglutinating properties. But Dr. Adamo’s theory fails where he tries to connect this to blood type. In fact, the vast majority of lectins are not blood type specific. Some are agglutinating and others aren’t, but almost all of them cause the same reaction across all blood types. Supporters of the Blood Type Diet like to point to studies showing examples of agglutination in different blood types, but most of these were done by injecting pure lectins into blood in test tubes, which is just not relevant to the real world.

The nail in the coffin of Dr. Adamo’s lectin theory is the simple fact that lectins shouldn’t be in our bloodstream at all. They only get there if you have a leaky gut, an abnormal permeability of the intestinal wall that allows undigested proteins like lectins to sneak through the gut lining to begin with. Real health isn’t about determining which lectins you do or don’t react to (based on blood type or anything else); it’s about keeping the lectins out of your blood in the first place by healing your gut.

So if the Blood Type Diet is so unscientific, why do so many people report such amazing results? In part, because Dr. Adamo recommends a basically Paleo diet to Type O, and eliminating wheat to almost everyone. He also suggests cutting out processed foods and refined grains. Obviously, these changes will bring some significant benefit to everyone who tries them, but it has nothing to do with blood type!

The Lessons: The Blood Type Diet isn’t even a plausible complement to Paleo. But we can learn one thing from Dr. Adamo’s approach: it does maintain a valuable focus on the individual person (finding what works for you) that’s easy to incorporate into a Paleo framework. Knowing your own evolutionary background can be practically useful. In an obvious example, people with darker skin need to spend more time in the sun to get enough Vitamin D, because they evolved to thrive in sunnier climates. People with Scandinavian ancestry are more likely to tolerate dairy well. Knowing where your genes came from is valuable for your health even though the blood type diet specifically is flawed.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Book: There is no one “book;” the Mediterranean Diet was inspired by research into the traditional diets of countries that border on the Mediterranean Sea (mostly Greece, southern Italy, and Spain).

The Short Story: People in these countries enjoy generally good health, so imitating their big-picture dietary patterns is likely to be healthy.

The Long Story: The Mediterranean Diet was first discovered as a particular “diet” (as opposed to simply a way people eat in one part of the world) when researchers in the 1990s started wondering why people in these areas were so much healthier than the rest of us. After looking at their diet, the researchers concluded that several factors were responsible for their good health:

  • Olive oil as a staple fat source: mainstream researchers love it because it isn’t saturated fat; Paleo dieters love it because it isn’t PUFA. In other words, we think it’s healthy for different reasons, but we both agree that it’s good for you.
  • Whole grains and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and others): this isn’t Paleo, but on the other hand, whole grains and legumes are a lot preferable to refined and processed grains and junk food. So from a Paleo perspective, this would be a “less-bad” aspect of the diet that makes it superior to the standard American diet even though it’s not ideal.
  • Fruits and vegetables: no argument here from anyone; fruits and vegetables are just plain good for you.
  • Fish: again, the Mediterranean Diet gets no disagreement from Paleo here. Seafood is incredibly nutritious, and getting it locally (as the Mediterranean folks probably are) is the best way to go.
  • Moderate dairy consumption, especially fermented dairy (cheese and yogurt): dairy is a Paleo gray area, but if you’re going to eat it, fermented dairy is the best.
  • Red wine in moderation: another point of agreement. Red wine is a Paleo gray area – not necessary, but not dangerous so long as you keep it to reasonable levels
  • Low consumption of red meat and eggs: here’s where Paleo really diverges from the Mediterranean Diet. From a Paleo perspective, the relatively low red meat consumption isn’t a cause of Mediterranean dieters’ good health. On the other hand, avoiding these foods probably isn’t doing them any serious harm given their high consumption of fish and seafood, which provide an alternate source of high-quality animal protein. So it’s somewhat of a wash.

Overall, the Mediterranean Diet has a lot going for it. It’s certainly better than the standard American diet; not even Paleo dieters would argue with that. And it has a lot of commonalities with Paleo, particularly the emphasis on whole, fresh foods. Ultimately, though, the Mediterranean diet just looks at a group of people who are healthier than Americans (not hard to find!) and describes a diet that’s comparatively better, not necessarily a diet that’s optimal.

The Lessons: The biggest thing to take away from the Mediterranean Diet is the focus on the big picture. Instead of focusing on just one part of Mediterranean food, the diet tries to re-create the entire food environment. This is useful, because foods often interact with other foods, so just aping one particular aspect of a healthy person’s menu isn’t usually the way to improve your own health.

Instead of getting stuck in the search for the “perfect food,” the Mediterranean diet is a useful lesson in looking at the entire food environment, and finding foods that all fit together for a healthy menu overall. In fact, a lot of the literature on the diet also stresses non-food factors, like the role of regular physical activity and time spent outdoors – certainly nothing to sneeze at when you’re considering overall health.


Taking a look at various other diets can be interesting and very revealing about your own health, even if you don’t think there’s much behind them. It really shows the problems with diets based exclusively on weight loss (Atkins and Slow-Carb); at least the Blood Type and the Mediterranean Diets are a little more health-focused. It can also point out some traps to be wary of (like obsessive counting of anything) and some useful ways to get to know yourself a little better (self-experimenting and genetic testing). The Mediterranean diet in particular also really highlights the role of the big picture, and the importance of not getting caught up in any one particular “wonder food.”

Thinking of all these diets as opportunities to learn something can help you have more pleasant and friendly conversations about them, since you can acknowledge that they do have good points instead of simply focusing on the bad. When you’re stuck in a diet argument, complementing some aspect of the other person’s diet is often the quickest way to find common ground, so you don’t just end up yelling at each other. This works even if you ultimately disagree.

Learning from other diets can also help you improve your own diet by comparison: take what works, leave what doesn’t, and be open to learning from anyone who has something interesting to say, whether or not they’re “Paleo.”

Pills vs. Diet

Feinman acknowledges that many patients cannot stick to very low carbohydrate diets. But he adds that for those who can, restricting carbs could mean a life free from insulin and diabetesdiabetes drugs.

Feinman directs the Nutrition and Metabolism Society, a group founded in 2004 in part to further research on carbohydrate restriction. He is editor of the Society’s journal Nutrition and Metabolism, in which the study appeared.

“Many patients would prefer taking a drug over changing their lifestyle, but that should be the patient’s choice,” he says. “Patients aren’t being told that they can do with diet what they do with pills.”

But Clark says diets that severely restrict carbohydrates are often high in fats and protein.

High-fat diets have been linked to cardiovascular disease and high-protein diets increase the risk of developing kidney diseasekidney disease. People with diabetes are at high risk for both diseases.

“If you restrict your carbohydrates to 20%, the other 80% of your calories have to come from somewhere,” he says. “We know high-fat and high-protein diets pose a definite risk for diabetics.”

Clark says people with diabetes, like everyone, should strive to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and limits fats and foods with little nutritional value.

The most important thing that most people with type 2 diabetes can do to improve their health is lose weight, he says. That means following a calorie-restricted diet they can live with.

“Diabetics definitely need to watch what they eat, but that is sound advice for everyone,” Clark says.

Low-carb diet may reduce diabetes risk independent of weight loss

Researchers at The Ohio State University wanted to know what happens to obese people with metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes, when they eat a diet low in carbohydrates but don’t shed any pounds. They found that more than half of study participants no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome immediately following a four-week low-carb diet.

The new study included 16 men and women with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of factors that also put people at higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The conditions that contribute to metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormally low ‘good’ HDL cholesterol or high triglyceride levels. About a third of American adults have the syndrome, according to the American Heart Association.

After eating a low-carb diet, more than half the participants — five men and four women — saw their metabolic syndrome reversed even though they were fed diets that intentionally contained enough calories to keep their weight stable.

Previous work in the Ohio State lab and elsewhere has shown that low-carb diets can be beneficial for people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes, but nutrition scientists and others have debated whether that’s a product of the diet or a product of the weight loss typically seen when people reduce carbs, said the study’s senior author, Jeff Volek, a professor of human sciences at Ohio State.

“There’s no doubt that people with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes do better on low-carb diets, but they typically lose weight and one of the prevailing thoughts is that the weight loss is driving the improvements. That was clearly not the case here,” Volek said.


“Our view is that restricting carbs even without weight loss improves a host of metabolic problems. Obviously, quality of diet matters because quantity is locked down in this experiment.”

The study appears today (June 20) in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight.

Over about four months, each study participant ate three month-long controlled diets — high-carb, moderate-carb and low-carb — with a two-week break between diets. The order in which the participants ate the diets was randomly assigned.

The research team, led by research scientist Parker Hyde, ensured that the participants would not lose weight by providing them with pre-prepared meals that contained an amount of calories equal to their energy expenditure.

After eating the low-carb diet, the participants had a variety of significantly improved health measures, particularly lower triglycerides and improved cholesterol readings. Despite the fact that the low-carb diet contained 2.5 times more saturated fat than the high-carb diet, it decreased saturated fat in the bloodstream and was associated with an increase in the size of cholesterol particles in the blood, which decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, Hyde said.


The researchers also report evidence of increased fat-burning efficiency after a low-carb diet and an improvement in blood sugar. They did not see statistically significant improvements in blood pressure or insulin resistance.

Three participants no longer had metabolic syndrome after the moderate-carbohydrate diet and one no longer had the syndrome after the high-carb diet. Volek said that those results are likely explained by the fact that even these study diets — particularly the moderate-carb diet — represented a shift toward fewer carbs for study participants.

“Even a modest restriction is carbs is enough to reverse metabolic syndrome in some people, but others need to restrict even more,” he said.

Because of the study design, waist circumference was not factored in as a contributor to metabolic syndrome. Had the participants been permitted to lose weight, it is likely that several more would have been considered free of the condition after the low-carb diet, Volek said.

This research doesn’t address the potential long-term benefits and challenges of adopting a low-carbohydrate diet, and the researchers suggest that future long-term diet studies on people with metabolic syndrome need to include low-carb diets.

The research was supported by the National Dairy Council and the Dutch Dairy Association.

Many diet-related conditions rely on medication.

But the primary treatment for type 2 diabetes is diet and lifestyle change.

There is growing evidence a low-carb diet may be a useful alternative to conventional diet advice. In fact, it may even be better.

This article provides a transparent look at the best evidence available, and whether you should consider it.

What Is A Low-Carb Diet?

A low carb diet is an eating pattern that limits carbohydrate foods, such as sugary foods, flour and bread.

There are several different versions, but they are generally high in protein, fat and healthy vegetables.

The standard American diet is at least 50% carbs, which is about 300 grams per day. Low-carb diets range from about 30% down to 5%.

Given the amount of carbs in your diet is the main determinant of blood sugar levels, it makes sense that reducing carb intake could be beneficial for diabetes care (1).

Summary: Low-carb diets restrict carbohydrates, such as sugar and bread, and replace them with protein and fat sources.

Low- Carb and Diabetes: What Do Controlled Trials Show?

Randomised controlled trials are considered the “gold standard” of scientific evidence.

In this case researchers would feed one group of diabetics a standard American diet (typically 50-60% carbs), and another a strict low-carb diet for several months or more. They can then compare which group does better.

A 2015 study looked at 93 type 2 diabetic men and women for one year. Half were randomly put on a high-carb diet (53% carbs) and the others on a low-carb diet (14% carbs, less than 50 grams per day).

Each subject’s diet plan was individualised to provide a 30% calorie reduction for weight loss, and all participated in a supervised physical activity program for the year.

Both diets showed significant improvements in daily blood sugar stability, diabetes medication usage, weight loss, fat loss, insulin resistance, HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides. However, improvements were greater in the low-carb group at both 24 weeks and 52 weeks follow-up (2).

Source: Examine.com Research Digest

Overall HbA1c (3-month marker for blood sugar levels) was similar, but the 24-week data indicates low-carb is more beneficial in subjects who began the study with a HbA1c of 7.2% or higher.

Additionally, 52% of the low-carb group was able to reduce diabetic medication by more than 20%. Whereas only 21% of the high-carb group reduced use by the same amount.

Low-carb diets may also help lower levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is a hormone with structural and functional similarities to insulin. The role of IGF-1 in diabetes isn’t fully understood yet, however high levels are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

There have been numerous other clinical trials that found low-carb diets are beneficial for diabetes management, at least for 2-4 years. That includes for type 1 diabetics (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

Summary: Numerous well-designed studies indicate low-carb diets can be more beneficial than regular diets for diabetes management and markers of heart health.

High-Carb Can Be Beneficial For Diabetes Too

It’s clear that low-carb diets are a useful strategy for diabetes management.

And while this article focuses on low carb, it would not be transparent to leave out studies that found improvements with high-carb diets.

Researchers in the mid 1970’s showed that a very high-carb diet (75% carbs), mainly from starch, can reduce blood sugar levels and triglycerides despite no weight loss within 2 weeks. In fact, 9 of the 13 subjects were able to discontinue their diabetes medication (10).

Another study documented successful discontinuation of insulin medication for 15 months on a 60% carbohydrate diet (11).

This suggests that high-carb can work too (albeit less effectively), but it seems carb intake needs to be very high- upwards of 70%. The mechanism by which it works is not understood as carbohydrates seemingly drive blood sugar levels up.

Read more about the different type of diet plans which can be effective for diabetics here.

Summary: Diets very high in carbs have also been shown beneficial for diabetes management. This suggests that both very low and very high carb diets are useful options.

Does Low-Carb Increase Cholesterol?

Most studies have found that low-carb diets increase both “bad” LDL cholesterol and “good” HDL cholesterol, and subsequently total cholesterol as well (12).

However the 2015 trial (above) found similar reductions in LDL for both groups. This is likely due to the restriction of saturated fat in the both groups of that study, which has rarely been done in previous research (2).

With few exceptions, it’s dietary saturated fat (mostly from animal foods) that tends to elevate LDL, while monounsaturated fat (macadamias, pecans, almonds, olive oil, avocado) improves heart health markers in diabetics (13, 14).

Therefore those on a low-carb diet who increase their fat intake from monounsaturated sources rather than saturated may experience better outcomes for cholesterol.

It’s worth noting the science linking cholesterol levels with heart health has come under scrutiny in recent years, and may not be as important as we’ve been told (15).

Summary: Low-carb diets will likely increase total cholesterol when foods rich in saturated fats are used to replace carbs. However, replacing carbs with foods high in monounsaturated fats appears to improve heart health markers.

Does Low-Carb Affect Kidney Function?

Reduced kidney function is a common complication of unmanaged diabetes.

Low carbohydrate diets tend to be slightly higher in protein, and high protein intakes have long been linked with declining kidney function (16).

But observational studies that find links between diet and a specific outcome do not prove cause and effect.

Recent clinical trials and case-studies continually show that low-carb diets do not have negative effects on kidney function compared with high-carb diets. This has been shown repeatedly for elderly subjects and those with existing kidney problems (17, 18, 19, 20, 21).

Summary: High protein intake has always been linked with kidney problems, however more well-designed studies continue to show this is not the case.

Sample Low-Carb Meal Plan for Diabetes

This is a sample low-carb meal plan for diabetes adapted from Authority Nutrition.

It should be used to give you an idea of what to expect, but don’t try anything new without speaking with your doctor or dietitian.

Breakfast: Spinach and Eggs

  • 1 cup sautéed spinach (3 grams carbs).
  • 3 eggs cooked in olive oil (1.5 grams carbs).
  • 1 coffee made on full-cream milk and (optional) sugar-free sweetener (5 grams carbs)

Total digestible carbs: 9.5 grams.

Lunch: Cobb Salad

Total digestible carbs: 12.5 grams.

Dinner: Salmon and Vegetables + Dessert + Wine

Total digestible carbs: 14 grams.

Total digestible carbs for the day: 36 grams.

As you can see it’s basically meat and veg at each meal.

As long as your vegetable intake is high, fiber intake will be no problem. Even if you were to snack on an additional piece of fruit, your intake would still be low (around 50 grams). In saying that, it’s best to go for low-sugar fruits.

For more low-carb recipe ideas, see these.

You Must Consult With Your Doctor

Changing to a low-carb diet tends to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels dramatically.

That means your existing medications – whether tablets or insulin injections – would need to be altered and monitored closely, at least initially.

If your diabetes medications are not adjusted, there is a risk of falling into dangerously low blood sugar levels, known as hypoglycemia.

Even those who are pre-diabetic (strong insulin resistance) and not taking medication should speak with their doctor first, as a precaution.

Summary: Diabetes medications are influenced by diet, so you must speak with your doctor before trialling low-carb.

Low-Carb Can Work For Diabetes

The weight of evidence shows a low-carb diet for diabetes is safe and effective.

It seems only a matter of time before government authorities and organisations recognise it as a valid alternative.

That’s not to say a high-carb (low-fat) approach doesn’t work too- it depends on the individual. But for those who’ve tried it without much success, low-carb will almost certainly be beneficial.

If you want to give it a try, you should speak with your dietitian for an individualised low-carb meal plan. It may also help to include these diabetes-friendly foods too.

Regardless of the carbs, the best diet for diabetes for you ultimately comes down to what eating pattern you enjoy and can follow long-term.

Because remember, you have to stick with it forever.

How to Start a Low-Carb Diabetes Diet

Medically Reviewed by Tamara Randall, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, FAND

There is strong evidence that eating fewer carbohydrates helps improve blood sugars. This makes sense intuitively: carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugar, directly leading to high blood sugars. Eat fewer carbohydrates and you will typically end up with less sugar in your blood.

For those with type 2 diabetes or are newly diagnosed with type 1, fewer carbohydrates mean that your body’s natural insulin production will have an easier time processing your blood sugars. If you take insulin, you will have a much easier time taking the appropriate amount of insulin.

Before you start a low-carbohydrate diet, talk with your healthcare provider. If you are taking blood sugar-lowering medications, then eating fewer carbohydrates without lowering your medication dosage may cause dangerously low blood sugars.

There are studies that show that people with diabetes can achieve success on both low-carbohydrate and high-carbohydrate diets. Those pursuing high-carb diets are often primarily eating more vegetarian or vegan diets that are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber. They are also frequently athletes who burn large amounts of sugar during exercise. We will look at other dietary approaches in a future article.

If you would like to dive into the research on low-carb diets for diabetes, please skip to the last section in this article.

Also, be sure to read Key Facts About Carbohydrates Everyone with Diabetes Should Know.

What Is a Low-Carb Diet?

There are many different ways to define and follow a low-carb diet. In this article, we are generally looking at people who wish to eat fewer carbohydrates than they are currently eating.

There is no one way to follow a low-carb diet. Generally, people try different amounts of carbohydrates until they reach an amount per day that works for their energy, taste preferences and blood sugar levels. Some people with diabetes on a low-carb diet eat as few as 15 grams of carbohydrates per day while others may eat many times that.

A low-carb diet limits foods that are high in carbohydrates such as grains (bread, pasta, rice, tortillas) and sweets (cookies, cakes, sugary drinks, fruits) and starchy vegetables (potato, carrots, beets). Remember sugar, which is added to many foods found in the grocery store, is converted to glucose in the body.

Many people on a low-carb diet eat a wide variety of foods and simply replace or limit grains or starchy vegetables and fruits to small portions once or twice a day. They fill up on non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and protein sources instead.

Why Should You Follow a Low-Carb Diet?

Dr. Bernstein, an endocrinologist living with type 1 diabetes for many decades, advises anyone with diabetes to follow a low-carb diet because of what he calls the “law of small numbers”.

In his book, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, he explains that when a person with type 1 diabetes limits carbohydrate amount, insulin intake is also reduced. He writes that each injection involves a varying degree of insulin absorption. The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher the variance of insulin absorption will be. He also notes that food manufacturers are able to list carb content on food labels within a 20% margin of error. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the easier our blood sugars are to manage in most cases.

It is worth checking out the many various studies that show a positive effect on blood sugar management from a low-carb diet in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Why You Should Not Follow a Low-Carb Diet?

  • If you have a problem with your kidneys, first talk to your healthcare provider before changing your diet.
  • If you are unable to get support from a healthcare provider regarding the adjustment of your medication or insulin doses, be cautious about starting a low-carb diet. A low-carb diet should change your medication needs and could result in low blood sugar levels if the necessary adjustments aren’t properly made.
  • If you have type 1 diabetes and don’t check your blood sugar enough or manage your blood sugar levels well, a very low-carb diet could give you nutritional ketones, which are harmless unless your blood sugar is elevated for too long in which case can cause you to be at risk for developing diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • If you have a history of eating disorders, do not start a restrictive diet without support from your healthcare team.

Common Mistakes in a Low-Carb Diet

  • Eating too few carbohydrates. The right amount of carbs for one person isn’t enough for another. This means you need to listen to your body when going low-carb. How are your blood sugar levels? How are your energy levels? Are you satisfied for the next few hours after eating? Try adding carbohydrates until you feel you have reached the right personal amount for you which also best support your blood sugar levels.
  • Too few quality carbohydrates. If the only carbohydrates you consume come from nutritionally empty sources like sugary drinks or desserts then you may want to try swapping some of those sources out for quality carbohydrates like berries, beans, or brown rice.
  • Not enough fiber. A healthy diet results in healthy digestion. Fiber is immensely good for you. In fact, a study linked fiber intake as one of the greatest influences for healthy aging and longevity. Eating mostly real, whole foods (listed below) will likely get you adequate fiber.
  • Not adjusting insulin doses. If you take medication or insulin for diabetes, switching to a low-carb diet will probably require some adjustments. Work closely with a healthcare provider and check your blood sugar levels more often as you make small changes until you get to the right dose for your new carb intake.
  • Eating too little fat. It is challenging to do both low-carb and low-fat because this means your total calorie intake will be very low. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats like avocado, extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil.
  • Too many artificial sweeteners. Adding too many artificial sweeteners does several things; it doesn’t allow your palate to adjust to non-sweet flavors, it can negatively impact your gut flora balance, and you may experience unwelcome side effects. The best thing is to limit artificial sweeteners and try to focus on stevia, erythritol and xylitol.

How Do I Know If a Low-Carb Diet Is Working?

To see how your diet is impacting your blood sugars, we recommend checking them strategically around your meals.

  1. Check your blood sugar. You need to know where you are starting. Write it down.
  2. Eat a food. Write down what you ate and how many carbohydrates it contains.
  3. Check your blood sugar after one hour. This shows how high your blood sugars will peak after eating the food. Be aware that if you eat a large meal or one very high in fat, it may take more than an hour for your blood sugars to peak. Fat slows down digestion.
  4. Check your blood sugar after two hours. If your body can process the amount of carbohydrates you ate, you should be back to where you started or little bit higher.

Using this approach, you can quickly figure out how many carbohydrates your body can handle in a meal.

How to Start a Low-Carb Diet

If you have diabetes, it is a good idea to get support from a healthcare provider. Lowering your carb intake may mean you need less of any diabetes medications, including insulin.

Check your blood sugar more frequently as you adjust to your new way of eating. Keeping a log book is a great idea and will help you manage your blood sugar levels and keep track of how you are reacting to your low-carb diet.

Before proceeding, download a copy of our Free Foods Grocery Guide. This is a cheat sheet of foods that have a little to no carbs in a single serving.

Types of Low Carb Diets

Not all low-carb diets are created equal. Low-carb diet plans can be categorized into two groups:

  • High-Protein. To achieve high-protein consumption people eat large amounts of animal protein and/or tofu. The Dr. Bernstein Diet advocates for this way of eating which is described as low-carb, high-protein and medium fat. You can read an Overview of Dr. Bernstein’s Low-Carb Diet.
  • High-Fat. This entails eating fatty cuts of meat, chicken, fish and eating plenty of other high-fat foods like dairy, olive oil, coconut, and avocado to make up the bulk of one’s calories. If carb intake is low enough, this diet could also be called a ketogenic diet, which is more of a low-carb, high-fat and medium protein diet.

A word of caution: If you have kidney problems, then discuss with your doctor how to safely follow a low-carb diet. Diets high in protein can worsen kidney damage. However, if you have healthy kidneys, high-protein diets are not known to cause kidney problems.

How to Build Your Low-Carb Plate

A simple way to start getting the hang of low-carb eating is to learn how to build your plate.

First, make sure you have some kind of source of protein like grilled chicken or fish or ground beef. Then add a serving of low-carb vegetables like broccoli or add a leafy green salad. Then depending on how few carbs you plan on eating, add one more serving of something else:

  • Very low-carb eaters may add something like a serving of nuts or olives–something that contains fat and very little carbs.
  • Other low-carb eaters may avoid grains but add in a portion of a root vegetable like carrots or sweet potato, or they may add tomatoes, some lower-carb fruit, or some legumes.
  • Still other low-carb eaters may choose to add a serving of whole grains. The best types are unprocessed like brown rice, quinoa, bulgar, barley, millet and sorghum. It helps to omit or limit processed or refined grains like white pasta, wheat bread, wheat or corn tortillas, and oatmeal.

The key is to try different quantities of different foods and check your blood sugar to see how it responds to the way you are eating. You also want to have enough energy and be satiated after a meal. Filling your plate with plenty of protein, healthy fat and fiber tend to make a very satisfying meal.

Low-Carb Beverages

The first step many people use to reduce carbohydrates in their diets is to remove or limit sugary beverages. Before are drinks that can be enjoyed without added carbohydrates.

  • Water
  • Unsweetened iced tea
  • Unsweetened herbal tea
  • Coffee with no added sugar (a little cream is ok)
  • Diet sodadiet fruit drinks sweetened with Splenda, stevia or other artificial sweeteners
  • Sparkling water (including the no sugar, artificially flavored kind)
  • Wine (the drier the better)
A Tip for Switching to Low-Sugar Beverages

If you are struggling to lower added sugar in your beverages, it can be very helpful to gradually lower the amount of sugar you add. For example, if you add two teaspoons of sugar to your coffee each morning, try reducing that amount every few days by a tiny bit. It may be slow going but after a few months, your taste buds will have adapted to either a very small amount of sugar in your coffee or possible none at all. This can also be done with iced tea. You can mix regular iced tea with unsweetened iced tea and gradually add more unsweetened than sweetened iced tea.

Beverages to Avoid
  • regular soda
  • juice (unless it consists of purely green vegetables, all juices are full of carbs)
  • sweet tea
  • coffee with added sugar and milk
  • milk (a glass of milk contains about 11 grams of carbohydrates)
  • energy drinks with added sugar
  • cocktail drinks with added sugar from sweet liquors and juices
  • beer

There are many drinks available now that use Stevia or other artificial sweeteners. These are advised to be used in moderation because some are known to raise blood sugar levels if a large quantity is consumed. For example, diet sodas may contain a small amount of sugar. The FDA allows manufacturers to round down to zero when they list the amount of sugar or carbohydrates on the can or bottle. If you drink these drinks in large amounts each day however, the amount of total carbs might impact your blood sugar levels without your awareness.


A large portion of a healthy diet involves eating vegetables for their fiber, water, and nutritional content. Non-starchy vegetables offer a great deal of variety while minimally impacting blood sugar levels.

The following are excellent choices to add to your daily diet and do not contain much of a carbohydrate load (meaning they don’t raise your blood sugar at all or very much).

When comparing options, please note the serving sizes. In most cases, it is per one cup. However, because nuts are denser, those are listed as per 1/2 cup. If you are comparing foods, make sure you take time to think about how much you are going to eat. For example, a one cup serving of fruit is going to be far more filling than a one cup serving of lettuce. It probably makes more sense to compare two cups of lettuce to a 1/2 cup of berries.

Low-Carb Vegetables

Watch your intake of the following root vegetables which contain higher amounts of carbohydrates shown in net carbs:

  • Potatoes (23g of carbs per cup)
  • Sweet potatoes (23g of carbs per cup)
  • Carrots (9g of carbs per cup)
  • Rutabaga (8g of carbs per cup)
  • Yams (36g of carbs per cup)
  • Turnips (6g of carbs per cup)
  • Onions (14g of carbs per cup)
  • Beets (9g of carbs per cup)
  • Parsnips (17.5g of carbs per cup)
  • Celeriac (celery root) (8g of carbs per cup)

Low-Carb Fruits

Fruits contain carbohydrates due to their natural sugar. Some fruits have a higher amount of carbohydrate than others. Also, note the fiber content, which may affect how blood glucose levels respond. Pay attantion to the serving siize! Here are some options you may consider:

  • Watermelon (10g of carbs per cup)
  • Strawberries (13g of carbs per cup)
  • Avocado (13g of carbs per cup)
  • Blackberries (14g of carbs per cup)
  • Raspberries (15g of carbs per cup)
  • Blueberries (20g of carbs per cup)
  • Coconut (12g of carbs per cup)


Legumes are a great source of fiber and protein. Grams of fiber are generally subtracted from the total carbohydrates of a food when calculating carbohydrate intake. For example, if a serving of black beans contains 30 grams of carbohydrates but 5 grams of fiber, the total amount of carbs that generally impact blood sugar, called “net carbs” is lowered to 25 grams.

Legumes contain plenty of carbohydrates but also plenty of fiber and water. Watch your servings of legumes to maintain your low-carb diet.

  • Green peas (21g of carbs per cup)
  • Lentils (40g of carbs per cup)
  • Black beans (45g of carbs per cup)
  • Pinto beans (43g of carbs per cup)
  • Navy beans (47g of carbs per cup)
  • Garbanzo beans (20g of carbs per cup)
  • Edamame soybean (12g of carbs per cup)

A great way to add healthy carbohydrates is to add ones with fiber and water like vegetables and legumes. Play around with serving sizes and take note how your blood sugar levels react.

Try incorporating legumes with healthy meat dishes or vegetables to reduce the amount you use.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds like those below tend to be low in carbohydrate and can be used as snacks or to enhance any number of dishes. We are showing the amount of carbs per half cup.

  • Almonds and almond butter (10g of carbs per half cup)
  • Brazil nuts (8g of carbs per half cup)
  • Cashews and cashew butter (19g of carbs per half cup of nuts)
  • Chestnuts (37g of carbs per half cup)
  • Coconut (6g of carbs per half cup)
  • Flax seeds (25g of carbs per half cup)
  • Hazelnuts (11.5g of carbs per half cup)
  • Macadamia nuts (9.5g of carbs per half cup)
  • Peanuts and peanut butter (12g of carbs per half cup)
  • Pecans (7g of carbs per half cup)
  • Pine nuts (9g of carbs per half cup)
  • Pistachios (17g of carbs per half cup)
  • Pumpkin Seeds (17g of carbs per half cup)
  • Sesame seeds and sesame butter (17g of carbs per half cup of seeds)
  • Sunflower Seeds and sunflower butter (14g of carbs per half cup)
  • Walnuts (5.5g of carbs per half cup)

Try using nuts and seeds in salads, yogurt and in other dishes to add healthy fats and fiber and protein. Try a low-carb snack consisting of mixed nuts.

Animal Protein

An integral part of a low-carb diet is the consumption of animal protein (or tofu can be used in vegan low-carb diets). These foods help with healthy fats, satiety and adequate protein intake. Low-carb eaters often create their meals around one of these sources of protein. These foods tend to be very low in carbohydrate.

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Bison
  • Bacon
  • Beef Jerky
  • Cold cuts like ham, turkey, salami
  • Organ meats
  • Tofu


These are all very low in carbs and work well in a low carb diet to help add flavor and calories to foods.

  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Yogurt (non-sweetened)
  • Whipping or heavy cream
  • Butter
  • Sour cream
  • Kefir (unsweetened)


Most grains are very high in carbohydrates. Be mindful of this when choosing what works for you.

  • Brown rice
  • Bulgar
  • Millet
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Barley
  • Steel cut oats
  • Whole cornmeal or corn kernels
  • Popcorn
  • Quinoa (technically a seed)

Be aware that processed grains will often have a higher impact on blood sugars do to a lack of fiber (removed by the highly refined process) These include:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Pasta
  • Tortillas
  • Cereal
  • Degermed cornmeal
  • Grits
  • Crackers
  • Couscous
  • Instant rolled oats

Be careful about portion sizes when eating grains. Try having an open faced sandwich instead of the typical two slice of bread sandwich. Mix pasta or rice with vegetables and grilled chicken or salmon. Have corn mixed with low-carb vegetables. Look for low-carb tortillas and limit to one or two at a time.

There are no truly low-carb grains so you need to be careful with any grains and check your blood sugar levels to see how they respond to different serving sizes of these foods. Test out recipes that use coconut and almond flour as they contain fewer carbohydrates.

Low-Carb Breakfast Recipes

  • Gluten-Free, Low-Carb, Multi-Grain Breakfast Muffins
  • Strawberry Almond Milk Chia Seed Pudding
  • Low-Carb Cottage Cheese Pancakes
  • Bacon Breakfast Enchiladas
  • Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Omelet
  • Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Muffins
  • Avocado Breakfast Pizza
  • Cookie PB Dough Protein Shake
  • Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding
  • Chia Seed Pudding Recipe
  • Spinach and Bacon Quiche
  • Lower Carb Strawberry Smoothie
  • 4 Ingredient Flourless Vanilla Ricotta Pancakes

Low-Carb Lunch or Dinner Recipes

  • Spinach Alfredo Pizza
  • Salsa Chicken
  • Lemon Dill Turkey Burgers
  • 5 Ingredient Spinach-Stuffed Salmon
  • Low-Carb Cheesy Spinach-Stuffed Meatloaf
  • Low-Carb Buffalo Ranch Chicken Salad Wraps
  • Chicken Bella
  • Pollo Borracho
  • Spaghetti Squash with Primavera Sauce
  • Roasted Garlic Chicken Soup
  • Quinoa Salad Stuffed Avocados
  • Open Faced Rotisserie Chicken Sandwiches
  • Coconut Flour Chicken Tenders
  • Deconstructed Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
  • Jamaica Pork Tenderloin
  • Portabello and Spinach Quesadilla
  • Best Homemade Buffalo Chicken Wings

Low-Carb Dessert Recipes

  • Low-Carb Chocolate Mint Grasshopper Brownies
  • Chewy Chocolate Keto Fudge Brownie Bites
  • Low-Carb Grain-Free Single Serve Brownies
  • Keto Coconut Macaroons
  • Low-Carb Blender Sherbet
  • Homemade Thin Mints (Low-Carb and Gluten Free)
  • Cinnamon Twists
  • Red Velvet Donuts and Cupcakes
  • Healthy Low-Carb Frozen Coffee Drink
  • Coconut Banana Cream Pie
  • Brown Butter Coconut Cookies
  • Low-Carb Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse

Low-Carb Snack Ideas

  • Raw vegetables with hummus (or other dip)
  • Handful of nuts
  • Boiled egg or deviled egg
  • Beef jerky
  • Can of tuna, mackerel, sardines, or anchovies
  • Olives
  • String cheese
  • Celery with almond or peanut butter
  • Handful of berries
  • Coconut chips

Condiments, Herbs and Spices

Beware of added sauces and flavorings to your food. Ketchup, barbecue and soy sauce often have a high amount of added sugar and can throw off what is otherwise a low-carb meal.

So take care what you top your food with and focus your flavor adding efforts on herbs and spices. Herbs and spices add not only great taste but wonderful nutritional and health benefits to your diet. Plus, they can help you adjust to less sugar.

Help Starting a Low-Carb Diet

Check out the Food & Diet section of the Diabetes Daily Forums.

Research on Low-Carb Diabetes Diets

The American Diabetes Association’s Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults With Diabetes are developed by a team of medical professionals that review all of the major diabetes-related research and turn them into guidelines.

Here’s what the guidelines have to say on low-carb diets. Please note that the letters in parenthesis describe how strong the evidence is. “A” means the studies were randomized and well controlled. “C” means that the evidence comes from poorly controlled studies or conflicts with others tudies. For more explanation, see Table 1 in the Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.

  • Evidence is inconclusive for an ideal amount of carbohydrate intake for people with diabetes. Therefore, collaborative goals should be developed with the individual with diabetes. (C)
  • The amount of carbohydrates and available insulin may be the most important factor influencing glycemic response after eating and should be considered when developing the eating plan. (A)
  • Monitoring carbohydrate intake, whether by carbohydrate counting or experience-based estimation, remains a key strategy in achieving glycemic control. (B)

The Guidelines continue:

Evidence is insufficient to support one specific amount of carbohydrate intake for all people with diabetes. Collaborative goals should be developed with each person with diabetes. Some published studies comparing lower levels of carbohydrate intake (ranging from 21 g daily up to 40% of daily energy intake) to higher carbohydrate intake levels indicated improved markers of glycemic control and insulin sensitivity with lower carbohydrate intakes. Four indicated no significant difference in glycemic markers with a lower-carbohydrate diet compared with higher carbohydrate intake levels. Many of these studies were small, were of short duration, and/or had low retention rates.

Some studies comparing lower levels of carbohydrate intake to higher carbohydrate intake levels revealed improvements in serum lipid/lipoprotein measures, including improved triglycerides, VLDL triglyceride, and VLDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol levels. A few studies found no significant difference in lipids and lipoproteins with a lower-carbohydrate diet compared with higher carbohydrate intake levels. It should be noted that these studies had low retention rates, which may lead to loss of statistical power and biased results. In many of the reviewed studies, weight loss occurred, confounding the interpretation of results from manipulation of macronutrient content.

Despite the inconclusive results of the studies evaluating the effect of differing percentages of carbohydrates in people with diabetes, monitoring carbohydrate amounts is a useful strategy for improving postprandial glucose control. Evidence exists that both the quantity and type of carbohydrate in a food influence blood glucose level, and total amount of carbohydrate eaten is the primary predictor of glycemic response. In addition, lower A1C occurred in the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) intensive-treatment group and the Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating (DAFNE) trial participants who received nutrition therapy that focused on the adjustment of insulin doses based on variations in carbohydrate intake and physical activity.

As for the general U.S. population, carbohydrate intake from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and milk should be encouraged over other sources of carbohydrates, or sources with added fats, sugars, or sodium, in order to improve overall nutrient intake.

The guidelines go into much greater details. You can read them here. They include extensive footnotes so that you can see the studies that support each claim made.

Also, read more about recent research on low-carbohydrate diets in people with diabetes here.

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto,

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