Can a low-carb diet help you lose weight? (2024)

Low-carb diet: Can it help you lose weight?

Could a low-carb diet give you an edge in losing weight?

By Mayo Clinic Staff


A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates, often called carbs — such as those found in grains, starchy vegetables and fruit. A low-carb diet focuses on foods high in protein and fat. Many types of low-carb diets exist. Each diet has varying limits on the type and amount of carbs you can eat.


A low-carb diet is generally used for weight loss. Some low-carb diets may have health benefits beyond weight loss, such as lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Why you might follow a low-carb diet

You might choose to follow a low-carb diet because you:

  • Want a diet that limits some carbs to help you lose weight.
  • Want to change your overall eating habits.
  • Enjoy the type and amount of food used in low-carb diets.

Check with your health care provider before starting any weight-loss diet, especially if you have any health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Diet details

A low-carb diet limits the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Carbs are grouped as:

  • Simple natural, such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit.
  • Simple refined, such as table sugar.
  • Complex natural, such as whole grains or beans.
  • Complex refined, such as white flour.

Common sources of natural carbohydrates include:

  • Grains.
  • Fruits.
  • Vegetables.
  • Milk.
  • Nuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils and peas.

In general, you digest complex carbs more slowly. Complex carbs also have less effect on blood sugar than refined carbs do. They also offer fiber.

Refined carbs such as sugar or white flour are often added to processed foods. Examples of foods with refined carbs are white breads and pasta, cookies, cake, candy, and sugar-sweetened sodas and drinks.

The body uses carbs as its main energy source. During digestion, complex carbs are broken down into simple sugars, also called glucose, and released into your blood. This is called blood glucose.

Insulin is released to help glucose enter the body's cells, where it can be used for energy. Extra glucose is stored in the liver and in muscles. Some is changed to body fat.

A low-carb diet is meant to cause the body to burn stored fat for energy, which leads to weight loss.

Typical foods for a low-carb diet

In broad terms, a low-carb diet focuses on proteins and some nonstarchy vegetables. A low-carb diet generally limits grains, legumes, fruits, breads, sweets, pastas and starchy vegetables, and sometimes nuts and seeds. But some low-carb diet plans allow small amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

A daily limit of 0.7 to 2 ounces (20 to 57 grams) of carbohydrates is typical with a low-carb diet. These amounts of carbohydrates provide 80 to 240 calories. Some low-carb diets greatly limit carbs during the early phase of the diet. Then those diets allow more carbs over time.

In contrast, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45% to 65% of your total daily calorie intake. So if you eat or drink 2,000 calories a day, carbs would account for between 900 and 1,300 calories a day.


Weight loss

Most people can lose weight if they limit calories and boost their physical activity. To lose 1 to 1.5 pounds (0.5 to 0.7 kilograms) a week, you need to eat 500 to 750 fewer calories each day.

Low-carb diets, especially very low-carb diets, may lead to greater short-term weight loss than do low-fat diets. But most studies have found that at 12 or 24 months, the benefits of a low-carb diet aren't very large.

Cutting calories and carbs may not be the only reason for the weight loss with low-carb diets. Some studies show that you may shed some weight because the extra protein and fat helps you feel full longer. Feeling full longer helps you eat less.

Other benefits

Low-carb diets that focus on healthy sources of carbs, fat and protein may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, almost any diet that helps you shed excess weight may improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels, at least in the short term.


A sudden and large drop in carbs can cause short term side effects, such as:

  • Constipation.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.

Severe carb limits can cause your body to break down fat into ketones for energy. This is called ketosis. Ketosis can cause side effects such as bad breath, headache, fatigue and weakness.

It's not clear what kind of possible long-term health risks a low-carb diet may pose. If you limit carbs in the long term, it may cause you to have too little of some vitamins or minerals and to have digestive issues.

Some health experts think that if you eat large amounts of fat and protein from animal sources, your risk of heart disease or certain cancers may go up.

If you opt to follow a low-carb diet, think about the fats and proteins you choose. Limit foods with saturated and trans fats, such as meat and high-fat dairy products. These foods may make your risk for heart disease go up.

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Nov. 15, 2022

  1. Ebbeling CB, et al. Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: Randomized trial. BMJ. 2018; doi:10.1136/bmj.k4583.
  2. Raynor HA, et al. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116:129.
  3. Duyff RL. Carbs: Sugars, starches, and fiber. In: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.
  4. Westman EC, et al. Using a low-carbohydrate diet to treat obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Current Opinions in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity. 2020; doi:10.1097/MED.0000000000000565.
  5. Gepner Y, et al. The beneficial effects of Mediterranean diet over low-fat diet may be mediated by decreasing hepatic fat content. Journal of Hepatology. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.hep.2019.04.013.
  6. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.
  7. Kirkpatrick C, et al. Review of current evidence and clinical recommendations on the effects of low-carbohydrate and very-low-carbohydrate (including ketogenic) diets for the management of body weight and other cardiometabolic risk factors: A scientific statement from the National Lipid Association Nutrition and Lifestyle Task Force. Journal of Clinical Lipidology. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.jacl.2019.08.003.
  8. Perreault L. Obesity in adults: Dietary therapy. Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.
  9. Freire R. Scientific evidence of diets for weight loss: Different macronutrient composition, intermittent fasting, and popular diets. Nutrition. 2020; doi:10.1016/j.nut.2019.07.001.
  10. Shan Z, et al. Association of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets with mortality among US adults. JAMA Internal Medicine.2020; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6980.
  11. Evert AB, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2019; doi:10.2337/dci19-0014.
  12. Gordon B. What is the ketogenic diet? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

See more In-depth

Products and Services

  1. The Mayo Clinic Diet Online
  2. A Book: The Mayo Clinic Diet Bundle

See also

  1. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
  2. Atkins Diet
  3. Coffee calories
  4. HCG diet
  5. High-protein diets
  6. South Beach Diet
  7. Weight-loss options
  8. Energy density


Can a low-carb diet help you lose weight? (2024)


Can a low-carb diet help you lose weight? ›

Weight loss

How much weight can you lose in a week on low-carb? ›

If a person follows the 75% fat /20% carb/5% fat keto diet, average results may look like this: Weeks 1–2: rapid weight reduction phase due to water loss – up to ten pounds. Weeks 2–4: standard weight reduction – between one and two pounds per week. After the first month – slow weight loss – around one pound per week.

How many carbs should I eat a day to lose weight? ›

As far as how many carbohydrates to eat, Pratt says 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates is safe for most people who are trying to lose weight. It may be better for some people to eat carbs consistently throughout the day. “You can also break it up evenly with 40 to 50 grams of carbs per meal,” she says.

What is the fastest way to lose weight on a low-carb diet? ›

To achieve effective weight loss on a low-carb diet, you'll need to:
  1. Keep carbohydrate intake low.
  2. Protein intake moderate.
  3. Fat intake high.
  4. Avoid snacking.
  5. Exercise regularly.

Will a low-carb diet reduce belly fat? ›

Reducing your carb intake can be very beneficial for losing fat, including abdominal fat. In fact, low carb diets may cause belly fat loss in people with overweight, those at risk for type 2 diabetes, and people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) ( 31 , 32 , 33 ).

How long does it take to lose 20 pounds on a low-carb diet? ›

“If the patient can maintain a steady calorie deficit, I expect them to lose one to two pounds per week,” says Dr. Seeman. So after 12 weeks, her clients are usually down around 20-25 pounds.

What happens if I eat no carbs for 2 weeks? ›

Low energy: Carbs are your body's primary source of energy. Therefore, a no-carb diet may lead to low energy and fatigue. Insufficient nutrients: A no-carb diet may not provide enough vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin C, which are abundant in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods.

Which carbs should I avoid to lose weight? ›

A low-carb diet generally limits grains, legumes, fruits, breads, sweets, pastas and starchy vegetables, and sometimes nuts and seeds.

How long does a low carb diet take to start working? ›

Generally, you'll need to adhere to a caloric deficit of around 500 calories per day. At this rate, you should start to see noticeable weight loss after anywhere from 10 to 21 days. Some may meet their weight loss goals sooner, while others may take a bit longer.

Is 50 carbs a day too much to lose weight? ›

Can you lose weight on 50 g of carbs a day? You may lose weight faster on 50 g of carbs a day or less, but it depends on what else you're eating, how many calories you're consuming, how active you are, and many other factors. In addition, eating slightly more carbs may lead to lower but more sustainable weight loss.

What are the 5 foods that burn belly fat? ›

7 Foods that Burn Belly Fat
  • Beans. “Becoming a bean lover can help you lose weight and whittle your middle,” registered dietitian Cynthia Sass told Today. ...
  • Swap your beef for salmon. ...
  • Yogurt. ...
  • Red bell peppers. ...
  • Broccoli. ...
  • Edamame. ...
  • Diluted vinegar.

What snack foods have no carbs? ›

Zero Carb Snacks:
  • Cheese: A savory and satisfying snack, cheese is low in carbs and high in flavor. ...
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs: Packed with protein and virtually carb-free, hard-boiled eggs make for a portable and nutritious snack. ...
  • Pork Rinds: Crispy and carb-free, pork rinds are a savory alternative to traditional snacks.

What foods flush out fat? ›

Here are 11 healthy foods that may help you burn fat.
  • Fatty fish. Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help you lose body fat. ...
  • MCT oil. ...
  • Coffee. ...
  • Eggs. ...
  • Green tea. ...
  • Whey protein. ...
  • Apple cider vinegar. ...
  • Chili peppers.
Jan 18, 2024

How to shred belly fat fast? ›

8 Ways to Lose Belly Fat and Live a Healthier Life
  1. Try curbing carbs instead of fats. ...
  2. Think eating plan, not diet. ...
  3. Keep moving. ...
  4. Lift weights. ...
  5. Become a label reader. ...
  6. Move away from processed foods. ...
  7. Focus on the way your clothes fit more than reading a scale. ...
  8. Hang out with health-focused friends.

Will cutting carbs flatten the stomach? ›

Limit your intake of refined carbs

More specifically, studies show that low carb diets may help reduce visceral fat and belly fat in some people. However, you don't have to cut out all carbs to reap the benefits, especially if a low carb diet is not ideal for your personal health history.

How can I drop 10 pounds in a week? ›

To lose 10 pounds in one week, you'll need to burn between 3,500 and 5,000 calories more than you consume each day by restricting your diet to small portions of nutritious yet low-calorie foods, and significantly increasing your aerobic exercise with interval training, sports, and other vigorous activities.

How long does it take to lose 15 pounds on a low-carb diet? ›

It's been found that most weight loss occurs in the early stages of a ketogenic diet and that those who are on the ketogenic diet for a more extended period of time (12 weeks to 12 months), don't experience major weight loss changes. On average, people: Lost 15 lbs in body weight after 4 weeks, and.

Can you lose weight by not eating carbs for a week? ›

A sudden lack of carbs will make you lose weight. It's mostly water weight at first, though. This is mostly because cutting carbs also wipes out the glycogen stores in your muscles. Glycogen helps your body retain water.

Will I lose weight if I only eat 20 carbs a day? ›

Reducing carbs tends to make you less hungry and can lead to weight loss without the need to count calories. For some people, a low carb diet allows them to eat until fullness, feel satisfied, and still lose weight.

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