Can a diet that’s been around since the time of cavemen really be considered trendy? It so, because the low-carb diet has never been more popular. While cavemen ate this way because they had no other options, many people now opt for a low-carb diets in an attempt to lose weight and live a healthier life.
Despite this eating method’s controversial nature (some experts say it’s a great option while others argue it can lead to a different set of health issues), it’s definitely a good way to lose weight, even if that weight loss is only temporary. “Eating too many carbohydrates can raise blood sugar that efficiently gets stored in their fat cells,” says Taft Draper, a registered dietitian and Integrative and Functional Nutritionist located in Asheville, North Carolina. Reducing or eliminating carbs forces the body to burn stored fat.
There are lots of different ways to follow a low-carb lifestyle, and several different low-carb diets you can follow. How to choose? It all comes down to what your goals are, and how quickly you want to see results. “Most low carb diets will have 15-30% of daily calories coming from carbs and the extreme ones at 5% or even less such as keto or carnivore,” says Joey Thurman, kuudose founding fitness & nutrition Guru.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular low-carb diets, and what to know about them:
Best low-carb diets
If you’re not interested in following a specific diet, you can simply focus on reducing your carb intake and adding more fresh, healthy foods to your diet. The upside of this type of diet (or un-diet, if you will) is the ability to set your own rules.
“The basic low-card diet gives you the freedom to eat carbs that include fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds rather than a plan that tells you what you need to eat and when,” says Draper. “So, you don’t have to count carbs. All you do is eat fewer than you have in the past.”
Must-try recipe: Steak with a side salad is a naturally low-carb meal. And with this mouthwatering marinade, you won’t miss the carbs for a moment.
Related: Low-Carb Diet Kitchen and Freezer Staples
The keto diet is based on the goal of having your body go into a state of ketosis, where the body doesn’t have enough carbs to burn for energy. Keto specifically follows ratios of 5-10% carbs, 70-80% fat, and 10-20% protein, says Turman. This causes rapid fat loss, especially in the beginning.
“The keto diet is popular, but it’s one of the strictest low-carb diets as it recommends less than 50 grams of carbs per day,” says Draper. The downside? “The keto diet is very restrictive and is recommended for short-term use only.”
Must-try recipe: This keto-friendly chili will keep you warm all winter long.
Related: 98 Low-Carb Foods That Still Taste Great
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet is credited with bringing the low-carb diet into popularity. Despite many naysayers when the diet was first introduced, it’s recognized as a healthy diet today. It’s similar to the keto diet, at least in the beginning. The first phase of the Atkins Diet severely limits carbs. Then, the diet allows for gradual reintroduction. “Certain people have to be careful since adding back carbs can cause them to gain back the weight,” says Draper.
Must-try recipe: Restrictive doesn’t have to mean your food can’t be delicious. Try this zucchini frittata for proof.
The low-carb version of the paleo diet recognizes the benefits of fiber-rich foods like vegetables and beans. Technically classified as carbs, these foods can help lower bad cholesterol and enhance heart health. “The benefit of Paleo is that it includes whole foods and less processed foods,” says Draper. “Though the diet is naturally meat heavy, you can modify it to eat more plants.”
Must-try recipe: Salmon and avocado salsa are a match made in heaven. This grilled salmon pairs with avocado salsa for a low-carb paleo meal you’ll definitely want to make again.
Related: 20 Easy and Low-Carb Lunch Ideas
The Whole30 diet promotes weight loss through lowering carb intake. It’s a 30-day program that focuses on meats, seafood, fruit, vegetables, and fats, similar to most diets focused on healthy eating. However, “after the 30 days is up, you’ll need a plan to continue so you don’t lose the results you’ll likely see,” says Draper.
Must-try recipe: Spice up your Whole30 experience with this butter chicken recipe.
“This is a great diet for reducing cardiovascular disease,” says Draper. “To follow this diet, you simply replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat.” Swap out unhealthy choices like butter, cheese, and cream, and instead opt for heart-healthy fats like olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado.” Note that most adherents of the Mediterranean diet won’t enter ketosis, since the carb count is still a bit high. However, this is an exceptionally good diet to follow for all-around good health.
Must-try recipe: There’s no guilt in your game when you nosh on this piled-high pita.
Next up, here are 15 low-carb “french fries” to try.