The Low-Carb Diet On Trial

Here’s what you need to know about the low-carb diet, plus tips and a meal plan if you decide it’s for you.

If you look on Instagram in particular you’d be forgiven for assuming there’s a worldwide shortage of pasta, bread and rice. Low-carb diets are incredibly popular and they have a great deal of vocal support online – but then so do cats playing pianos, so we were keen to check if the idea of cutting carbs is backed up by vigorous scientific standards. For the low-down on low-carb diets, we spoke to dietitian Duane Mellor of the British Dietetic Association. And if you like what you hear, we’ve got a seven-day low-carb meal plan to get you started.

What is the evidence regarding the effectiveness of low-carb diets for weight loss?

There is good evidence for low-carbohydrate diets in the short term – up to three months. In longer studies there are no clear benefits over other types of reduced-calorie diets. There are some concerns about low-carbohydrate diets that are not well planned, because they can limit the intake of some nutrients. This can be avoided by carefully planning a low-carbohydrate diet.

One key challenge is defining what a low-carbohydrate diet is. Some say less than 45% of calories, others 130g per day, and others less than 50g per day. The lower the carbohydrate intake, the greater the typical reduction in energy intake and the more rapid the weight loss.

What are the positives of a low-carb diet?

It can be very effective for some people with respect to weight loss, and it can also help some people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood glucose levels. These benefits are often reported by individuals and are less obvious in clinical trials. This is perhaps because when people consciously choose to go on a low-carbohydrate diet, they also make healthier food choices all round.

What are the negatives?

The low-carb diet can, like many types of diet, result in low intakes of key nutrients like B vitamins and fibre if not carefully put together. Some people also report flu-like symptoms when they initially go on a very low-carbohydrate diet like the ketogenic or “keto” diet, which normally pass. With the keto diet in particular, lots of people report bad breath or body odour. If fibre is reduced, this can increase the risk of constipation.

Are there any situations where you would recommend a low-carb diet?

It would be part of a discussion for people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in line with the Diabetes UK nutrition guidelines. It is about carefully discussing a person’s health, personal preferences and goals. Lower-carbohydrate diets can be one of many approaches that can help people achieve their health goals.

Would you recommend it to an average person looking to lose weight or just eat healthily?

It is an option, but I would encourage them to think about it carefully and seek advice. It can, like any diet, have side effects. It can help focus a person’s mind on making better food choices. However, this can be done more simply by reducing intake of foods with added sugar, refined starches and fats.

Low-Carb Meal Plan

To aid your fat loss efforts, follow this seven-day low-carb meal plan and easy-to-follow tips from trainer Rich Phillipps.

Day One

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with wilted spinach; apple

Lunch: Chicken and red pepper wrap with spicy mayonnaise, carrot sticks and hummus

Dinner: Salmon fillet, baked sweet potato and roasted broccoli

Snack: Whey protein shake; pear

RECOMMENDED: Protein Shake Recipes

Day Two

Breakfast: Full-fat yogurt with cashew nuts and banana

Lunch: Chicken, avocado, cucumber, tomato and radish salad with balsamic vinegar dressing

Dinner: Beef and onion bolognese with courgette linguini

Snack: Protein bar/shake

RECOMMENDED: High-Protein Snacks

Day Three

Breakfast: Omelette made with onions and mushrooms

Lunch: Chicken, mango, cucumber and tomato salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing

Dinner: Free-range sausages with mashed sweet potato and green beans

Snack: Yogurt with fresh berries

Day Four

Breakfast: Egg fried in coconut oil served with almonds and strawberries on the side

Lunch: Free-range sausages, vegetable sticks and hummus; banana

Dinner: Turkey burgers with salad and sweet potato chips

Snack: Apple; protein shake

Day Five

Breakfast: Poached eggs with wilted spinach and granary toast

Lunch: Spicy chicken and salad wrap; fruit salad with full-fat yogurt and desiccated coconut

Dinner: Beef chilli made with onions and peppers (make a double portion), rice

Snack: Protein shake; handful of brazil nuts

RECOMMENDED: Healthy Chilli Con Carne Recipe

Day Six

Breakfast: Poached eggs, ham, granary toast and fried tomatoes

Lunch: Leftover beef chilli

Dinner: Baked haddock, mixed roasted vegetables and new potatoes

Snack: Protein shake

Day Seven

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with paprika and lime, wilted spinach and mushrooms

Lunch: Chicken breast slices with beetroot and mixed nuts; apple

Dinner: Roast chicken and sweet potatoes and roasted broccoli

Snack: Frozen mixed berry smoothie with strawberry whey protein

Low-Carb Diet Tips

Stick with it

“Initially you may experience slight brain fog, sweet cravings and mild headaches as your body starts to shift to a more effective state of fat-burning,” Phillipps says. “This experience is different for everyone, but stick with it as it will soon pass – and it’ll be well worth it in the long run.”

Eat more protein

“You want to burn fat, not lose existing muscle mass. But with relatively few carbs to support your workout recovery, eating protein with every meal becomes essential. Red meat, poultry, fish and eggs are all ideal options.”

RECOMMENDED: High-Protein Foods

Go green

“A common complaint with low-carb diets is constipation, which is normally a side effect of not eating enough fibrous vegetables. Be sure to include at least one or two handfuls of the green stuff in each meal to avoid this - think broccoli, asparagus and kale. This will also keep your digestive system healthy and help keep you full.”

RECOMMENDED: Easy Kale Recipes

Feast on fat

“A mistake often made with low-carb diets is not eating sufficient fats and ending up on a low-carb/low-calorie diet. This is a disaster and at the very least will make the diet almost impossible to stick to. To avoid this, cook with butter or olive oil and snack on nuts, which provide essential fatty acids to to replace the calories you’re missing out on due to the lack of carbs.”

Add a refuel day

“Try to maintain a very low carb intake (or ideally cut them out altogether) for a fortnight, then you can begin to reintroduce one high-carb ‘refuel’ day per week. This will allow you to replenish your glycogen stores and ensure that your thyroid does’t become sluggish – which would affect your metabolism, resulting in a negative impact on fat loss – thanks to constant low-carb eating. For optimum results, stick to clean carb sources such as oats, sweet potatoes and brown or wholemeal rice."

RECOMMENDED: How To Speed Up Your Metabolism

The No Sugar, No Starch Diet

Still not sure how to get started with low-carb eating? For a slightly simpler (and more beginner-friendly) approach, try the No Sugar, No Starch diet – as recommended by the Duke University Medical Centre’s Lifestyle Medicine Clinic – which offers simple guidelines on different food groups and how much of each you should eat. Here are the types of food you can have, and which ones to avoid.

Every day

At least 170g salad greens (spinach, rocket, lettuce etc)

At least 100g non-starchy vegetables (avoid potatoes, basically)


Meat and poultry



Vegetables (apart from potatoes)

Limited quantities





Hard-boiled eggs 


Carrot and celery sticks with humus

Cottage cheese

Beef jerky (with no added sugar)



What to avoid

Bread and other foods containing flour (eg cakes)



Fruit juices


Canned soups

Ketchup, sweet condiments and relishes

Alcohol “Fat-free” or “light” products and foods, which often contain hidden sugars and starches

Artificial sweeteners

Fizzy drinks

Pretty much all processed foods

Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach.

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