Low Carb Diets: Everything you need to know to get you started

Originally Published: by: Views: 15,406

Lots of information on how to start a low carb diet with low carb food lists, tips and low carb menus!


This is how I like to approach low carb diets. I've been low carbing for over 12 years and I find this just comes second nature to me and I no longer crave a lot of low carb substitutes of my once favourite sweet foods. The first few months were the hardest, it gets easier over time as you let go of your old habits and mind set.

For the first few years I used to make a lot of low carb alternatives, such as a piece of low carb cheesecake every day, now I don't think of them. Some need to do this for a while, whilst others are clean straight away, there's no such thing as perfection, its all about the journey - just do what helps but beware of anything that triggers cravings. Once you get your head around your new lifestyle and learn to think outside of the box so that you don't get overwhelmed when things go wrong, it will get easier. Try not to think of this as a temporary diet that you just go on and off but rather a healthy lifestyle based around fresh foods rather then fake foods.

Like Atkins induction I prefer to suggest to always start with fresh low carb foods, high fats, no nuts or fruit and limited cheese and cream, shop the outer aisles of your supermarket. These limits are there so you can achieve a good baseline where you can successfully lose weight and reach ketosis. After that, you slowly add things in so that you can spot any potential trouble foods. The cheese and cream are limited for 2 reasons, some people find it very easy to over eat them especially at first and also, not everyone tolerates dairy. Butter on the other hand, can usually be eaten liberally but if you are sensitive to it, you can clarify it to make ghee which is a great fat to cook with! If you wish to go paleo as well, then avoid dairy altogether.

Do this for a couple of weeks, think of this as setting a clean slate to base your new lifestyle from. No intense exercise straight away, let your body adjust to the change in fuel, it takes time. Don't worry about counting calories at first whilst you switch over but after that, if you wish to, you can count calories as well. Often the appetite suppressing effects will keep you in a calorie deficit for a while, on the other hand counting can also serve to ensure that you're eating enough calories. Low carb diets generally sit between 60-80% fat, 15-30% protein and usually 5-10% carbs, of course these change with your activity level or the type of activity and can fluctuate around your more active days. Ultimately, its about what you feel best on so let your body be your guide. You might find our BMR, Calorie and Macronutrient Calculators handy. Keep in mind, if you like ketosis, you will like to keep your fats high, the high fat helps.

See our low carb research pages for some of the benefits that science has shown with low carbohydrate and high fat diets.

 

Now to the Nitty Gritty...

 

Very Low Carb Food Lists for the first 2 weeks (20g per day or less)

 

Allowed

If you stick to these allowed foods and eat mostly very low carb veggies your carbohydrates should be really low, don't skimp on fat. If/When you can afford to choose grass fed and organic over conventional choices, then please do!

  • Eggs
  • Red Meat (don't go overboard with processed meats and check ingredients and/or ask the butcher how it's made)
  • Chicken/Poultry
  • Fish/Seafood (some shell fish do contain carbs so don't go overboard on them), limit larger fish such as tuna as they're high in mercury and other pollutants, small oily fish are great if you like them.
  • Butter/Animal Fat/Selected Oils *see below*
  • Vegetables (under 5g per 100g) *see below*
  • Cheese and Cream in small amounts, no low fat versions.
  • Stevia, probably best to avoid the safer sugar alcohols (erythritol/tagatose/xylitol) at first because they can cause gas and runny toilet issues but if you do use them, then just small amounts to get you through the sweet cravings. Stay away from the sugar free lollies! I think I lasted about 10 days before I gave in and used a sweetener but it helped. You will find your sweet tooth will change over time and you will need less sweet. If you get desperate for chocolate, try a hot chocolate with boiling hot water a flat teaspoon of pure cocoa (nothing added), a teaspoon of sweetener and a small amount of cream.

Avoid

  • Sugar/honey/maple-syrup/fructose/agave etc
  • Cereal grains/white flour/rice/bread etc
  • Beans/legumes (green beans are ok)
  • Refined oils and margarine
  • Dairy other then butter, cheese and cream
  • Processed junk foods even the low carb versions and especially low fat versions
  • Highly processed meat like hotdogs, frankfurts, spam, sausages with lots of fillers etc
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Nuts and Seeds (introduce after a couple of weeks)
  • Fruits and fruit juices
  • Soft drink and cordials
  • High Carb Vegetables such as potatoes, corn and any other vegetable over 5g per 100g

 

Detailed Low Carb Vegetable list (under 5g per 100g)

See my vegetable carb count list for individual counts where there's more then one type e.g. cabbage. I have removed carrots, pumpkin and snowpeas from this list because they're too close and easy to overeat.

Artichoke, globe 1.3g
Asparagus 1.4g
Avocado 0.2 to 0.6g
Bamboo shoots 1.3g
Bean, broad (avoid if paleo) 2.2g
Bean, butter 2.3g
Bean, green 2.7g
Broccoli 0.4g
Brussel Sprouts 2.1g
Cabbage 0.6 to 3.4g
Capsicum 2.4 to 3.5g
Cauliflower 1.9g
Celariac/Celery Root 2.8g
Celery 1.2g
Chicory/Curly Endive 0.8g
Chilli 1 to 4.2g
Chives 2.6g
Cucumber 0.9 to 1.9g
Eggplant/Aubergine 2.4g
Endive 0.4g
Fennel 3.3g
Kohlrabi 4.2g
Leek 3.3g
Lettuce 0.4 to 1.8g
Mushroom 0.3g
Olive 2.6g
Onion 4.6 to 4.8g
Radish 1.9 to 2.9g
Shallot 3.2g
Silverbeet/Chard 1.1g
Spinach 0.7g
Sprout, alfalfa and bean (not paleo) 0.5 to 0.7g
Squash, (button, scallopine, spaghetti) 2.1 to 3.2g
Swede 3.7g
Sweetcorn, Baby 2.5g
Tomato 2.2 to 2.3g
Turnip, white 3.4g
Watercress/Collard Greens 0.8g
Zucchini/Courgette 1.1 to 1.6g

Allowed Fats and Oils

For high heat cooking use Ghee or Coconut Oil

  • Butter
  • Ghee (clarified butter)
  • Animal Fat
  • Avocado Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Macadamia Oil
  • Olive Oil

I'm well and truly in Ketosis, now what?

Once you're into the swing of things and feeling great, start experimenting. Try not to make too many changes at once so you can spot any problems as they arise. Keep in mind as you introduce things your weight loss may slow.

Foods to introduce...

Nuts and Seeds (under 10g per 100g)

Start with the lowest and don't over do, some nuts and seeds are high in carbohydrate, see here: Carb Counts for Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, with skin 4.8g
Almonds, blanched 3.9g
Brazil 2.4g
Coconut, milk 2.0g
Coconut, flesh 3.4g
Coconut, shredded/dessicated 7.3g
Coconut, cream 3.7g
Hazelnuts 5.1g
Macadamia 4.5g
Peanut 8.9g
Pecan 4.9g
Pine 4.5g
Pistachio 6.3g
Sesame 0.9g
Sunflower 2.2g
Walnut 3.0g

 

Moderate Carbohydrate Vegetables

Beetroot 7.7g
Broccolini 7.3g
Carrot 5 to 5.5g
Pea, green 8.3g
Pumpkin 4 to 8.4g
Snowpea/Mangetout 4.5g

 

Low (less then 5g) and Moderate (5 to 10g) Carbohydrate Fruits

See list for more information: Carb Counts in Fruit

Apricot 6.6g
Babaco/Champagne fruit 3.1g
Blackberry 7.5g
Cranberries, fresh 4g? (cannot find Australian info)
Fig 8.1g
Grapefruit 5.4g
Guava 3.5g
Honey Dew Melon 4.4 to 7.1g
Kiwifruit 9.1g
Lemon 1.8g
Lime 1.2g
Loquat 4.9g
Mandarin 7.8 to 9g
Mulberry 4.3g
Nectarine 8.1g
Orange 6.9 to 9g
Passionfruit 5.7g
Pawpaw/Papaya 6.9g
Peach 8.7g
Pear 8.9 to 9.1g
Pepino 4.8g
Pineapple 8.2g
Plum 6.5g
Prickly Pear 8.8g
Raspberry 7.3g
Rhubarb 1.7g
Rockmelon/Cantaloupe 5.7g
Strawberry 3.9g
Tamarillo 3.4g
Watermelon 6.4g
Wax Jumbo 4.5g

 

Low to Moderate Dairy

Most dairy without anything added, is low carb and what remains such as milk and yoghurt is moderate. Flavoured varieties, will most likely be high in carbohydrates. The problem however is milk and even yoghurt add up very quickly and if fat is reduced such as low fat varieties then carbohydrates are even higher. For example, A2 milk is 5g per 100ml which would seem like its not too bad when you consider that cream is around the 3g per 100ml mark but are you more likely to drink a whole cup (250ml) of milk or cream?

If you tolerate dairy and want to include it, keep this in mind if you decide to experiment with them - less is more and no low fat or flavoured varieties! Don't be sucked into the sugar free flavoured varieties either as they will most likely be low fat or contain high carb fruits...

See here for a full list for comparison: Carb Counts in Dairy

Sometimes Foods

  • Alcohol: Most dry wines and spirits are low carb but keep in mind whilst you will remain in ketosis your body will switch over from fat burning to alcohol until its out of your system. I personally don't drink it and only very rarely use wine in cooking. From my time on our forums this would be one of the biggest things that trips people up, so keep that in mind.
  • Dark Chocolate: Try to go for the 85% and higher but you may need to start at 70% and work your way up. Buy pure cocoa powder and compare various brands and see how much the carb counts differ (Home brand pure cocoa is low). There's also sugar free chocolate varieties which you may like also, Well Naturally is popular and use erythritol and stevia as their sweetener. Check ingredients and keep in mind the sugar alcohols may cause tummy problems. Be wary of them causing cravings.
  • Protein Bars: Some people find these can be handy to have around for emergency foods, always check ingredients, some can have rubbish in them. We do have recipes on the forums so you can make your own. Be aware of cravings!
  • Other junk: You may find other junk labelled as low carb, just always keep in mind we don't want too many low carb convenience foods, we want this to be a lifestyle change and be rid of old habits, be cautious as this stuff may just keep those bad habits alive and put you back where you started. Always try to make things yourself, you appreciate it more when you do that.

Low Carb Drinks

  • Water: filtered, spring, mineral and sparkling/soda water. Some people like to add a slice of lemon, lime or mint leaves.
  • Coffee: instant and beans, some people are sensitive to coffee and it may effect ketosis. Best with water and a little cream instead of milk.
  • Tea:
  • Hot chocolate: a flat teaspoon of pure cocoa with water and a bit of cream.

Low Carb Meal Suggestions and Menus

photo of side dish of brussel sprouts pan-fried with bacon and roast chicken in the background

Low carb ideas and menu plans to get you started

My first tip would be to check out our Atkins Induction recipe thread as we heaps of our very low carb recipes listed there: Atkins Induction Recipes

Think of these suggestions below as just ideas and change them to suit you.


Day One

  • Breakfast: Bacon and Mushroom Omelette
  • Lunch: Warm Chicken Salad
  • Dinner: Zuchetti Bolognaise (zucchini strips with bolognaise sauce)

Day Two

  • Breakfast: Leftovers from last nights dinner
  • Lunch: Oopsie Rolls
  • Dinner: Pan fried salmon with veg

Day Three

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with vegetables
  • Lunch: Prawn salad
  • Dinner: Roast lamb and vegetables

Day Four

  • Breakfast: Egg Custard
  • Lunch: Leftover lamb salad
  • Dinner: Beef Rissoles with veg or salad (freeze extra cooked rissoles in individual serves for other meals)

Day Five

  • Breakfast: Fish with salad
  • Lunch: Leftover rissoles
  • Dinner: Cauliflower soup (freeze leftovers in individual serves for other meals)

Day Six

  • Breakfast: Poached eggs with smoked salmon and wilted baby spinach.
  • Lunch: Chicken, avocado and bacon salad
  • Dinner: Stir fried beef with vegetables

Day Seven

  • Breakfast: Psyllium pancakes
  • Lunch: Frittata muffins
  • Dinner: Butter Chicken

Low Carb Snacks

We have a pretty extensive page full of snack ideas here as well as a recipe section in our forums just for snacks: 30 Delicious Low Carb Snack Ideas

 

Eating Out

Generally in restaurants you will usually find a salad or grilled fish or steak option, don't be afraid to ask them to change your vegetables to suit or to not bread/crumb/batter your protein.

Take out can be a bit trickier but you do have options, check out our low carb take away thread and feel free to post any new finds: Low Carb Take Away

Eating Off Plan - Cheating

If you find you eat something off plan don't think of it as a cheat but rather just a learning experience. No diet/lifestyle will ever be 100% perfect nor should it be. Life can be unpredictable and we need to learn to take these things in our stride rather then view it as a failure. If you have a typical high carb pizza, don't worry about it, just go back to your usual low carb plan straight after - it's no big deal! If it makes you feel bloated and horrible later, gives you IBS, headache, rash etc then tuck that experience away and use that as a reminder for next time. If these indiscretions happen too often, then start little challenges for yourself. For example, if this is a weekly occurrence which you feel is too often - then challenge yourself to last 10 days, then once achieved go for 14 days and so on. At the same time, look for any habits or triggers that bring these about and work on changing them.

Low Carb Shopping List Pantry Items

We also have a shopping list where members have contributed their commonly used low carb staples which you will find here, feel free to add your staples! Low Carb Shopping List/Staples

 

Making Low Carb a Lifestyle for Life

As you go along in your journey I strongly suggest looking at even the low carb foods you eat such as preservatives and other additives in packaged foods all the way to how your fresh fruit/veg and meat is handled from start to finish. If you have space, start working on your own vegetable patch and if you don't have the room or renting, try potted herbs, salad leaves, tomatoes etc. I try to grow as many vegetables as my back allows and I just recently bought some chicks which I am raising organically in the hopes of having my own fresh organic eggs.

I find after a while when you start looking at these things you think twice about what you eat and thus this lifestyle becomes easier as you think less about those foods that aren't so great for your health and waistline.