Low-carb diets can aid weight loss and are linked to a growing number of health benefits.
A reduced carb intake can positively impact those with various health issues, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, acne, PCOS and Alzheimer’s disease (1).
For these reasons, low-carb diets have become popular among those looking to improve their health and lose weight.
The low-carb, high-fat eating plan, or LCHF diet, is promoted as a healthy and safe way to lose weight.
This article reviews everything you need to know about the LCHF diet, including its potential health benefits and drawbacks, foods to eat and avoid and a sample meal plan.
The LCHF diet is an umbrella term for eating plans that reduce carbs and increase fats.
LCHF diets are low in carbohydrates, high in fats and moderate in protein.
This method of eating is sometimes referred to as the “Banting Diet” or simply “Banting” after William Banting, a British man who popularized it after losing a large amount of weight.
The eating plan emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods like fish, eggs, low-carb vegetables and nuts and discourages highly processed, packaged items.
Added sugar and starchy foods like bread, pasta, potatoes and rice are restricted.
The LCHF diet doesn't have clear standards for macronutrient percentages since it’s more of a lifestyle change.
Daily carb recommendations on this diet can range from under 20 grams up to 100 grams.
However, even those consuming more than 100 grams of carbs per day can follow the diet and be inspired by its principles, as it can be personalized to meet individual needs.
Summary LCHF diets are low in carbs, high in fats and moderate in protein. The diet can be personalized to meet individual needs.
Some types of LCHF diets have set restrictions on the number of carbs you can consume.
For example, a standard ketogenic diet typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs in order to reach ketosis, a state in which the body switches to burning fats for energy instead of carbohydrates (2).
To kick-start weight loss, the two-week induction phase for the Atkins diet only allows for 20 grams of carbs per day. After this phase, dieters can slowly add in more carbohydrates.
While these types of low-carb, high-fat diets are more restrictive, anyone can use the LCHF principles without necessarily following specific guidelines.
Living an LCHF lifestyle without following predetermined guidelines may benefit those who want flexibility with the number of carbs they can consume.
For example, some people may only find success when they reduce their carb intake to under 50 grams per day, while others may do well consuming 100 grams per day.
Since the LCHF diet is adaptable, it may be much easier to follow than more regimented plans like the ketogenic or Atkins diets.
Summary The LCHF lifestyle promotes reducing the number of carbs that you consume and replacing them with fats. The ketogenic diet and Atkins diet are types of LCHF diets.
LCHF diets have been found to promote fat loss, especially in the belly area.
One study found that obese adults who consumed a lower-carb, higher-fat diet for 16 weeks lost more body fat, particularly in the belly area, compared to those following a low-fat diet (10).
The LCHF diet not only boosts short-term fat loss, it also helps keep weight off for good.
A review showed that people who followed very low-carb diets of less than 50 grams of carbs per day achieved significantly greater long-term reductions in weight than people who followed low-fat diets (11).
Another study demonstrated that 88% of participants following a ketogenic diet lost more than 10% of their initial weight and kept it off for one year (12).
The LCHF diet may be a particularly helpful tool for those whose weight-loss goals are sabotaged by strong cravings for carbohydrates.
One study found that participants who followed a very low-carb, high-fat diet had significantly fewer cravings for carbs and starches, compared to participants who followed a low-fat diet.
What’s more, participants who followed the very low-carb, high-fat diet had greater reductions in overall reported hunger (13).
Summary Following an LCHF diet is an effective way to lose body fat, reduce carb cravings and decrease overall hunger.
Cutting carbs and increasing dietary fats can improve health in a number of ways, including promoting weight loss and decreasing body fat.
Studies demonstrate that LCHF diets also benefit many health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
A study of obese adults with type 2 diabetes found that a very low-carb, high-fat diet led to greater improvement in blood sugar control and a more substantial reduction in diabetes medication than a high-carb diet (14).
Another study in obese participants with type 2 diabetes showed that following a ketogenic diet for 24 weeks resulted in significant reductions in blood sugar levels and a decreased need for blood sugar medications.
What's more, some of the participants assigned to the ketogenic diet were able to discontinue their diabetes medications completely (15).
The ketogenic diet has long been used as a natural treatment for epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures (16).
Studies show that LCHF diets may play a therapeutic role in other neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
For example, one study demonstrated that a ketogenic diet led to improved cognitive functioning in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (17).
LCHF diets can help reduce body fat, lower inflammation and improve blood markers related to heart disease.
A study in 55 obese adults found that following an LCHF diet for 12 weeks reduced triglycerides, improved HDL cholesterol and decreased levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation linked to heart disease (20).
LCHF diets have also been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar, decrease LDL cholesterol and promote weight loss, all of which can help reduce the risk of heart disease (21).
Summary LCHF diets may benefit those with heart disease, diabetes and neurological conditions like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
When following an LCHF diet, it’s important to reduce your intake of foods high in carbs.
Here is a list of items that should be limited:
- Grains and starches: Breads, baked goods, rice, pasta, cereals, etc.
- Sugary drinks: Soda, juice, sweet tea, smoothies, sports drinks, chocolate milk, etc.
- Sweeteners: Sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, peas, etc.
- Fruits: Fruits should be limited, but consuming small portions of berries is encouraged.
- Alcoholic beverages: Beer, sugary mixed cocktails and wine are high in carbohydrates.
- Low-fat and diet items: Items labeled “diet,” “low-fat” or “light” are often high in sugar.
- Highly processed foods: Limiting packaged foods and increasing whole, unprocessed foods is encouraged.
Although the above foods should be reduced in any LCHF diet, the number of carbs consumed per day varies depending on the type of diet you are following.
For example, a person following a ketogenic diet must be stricter in eliminating carb sources in order to reach ketosis, while someone following a more moderate LCHF diet will have more freedom with their carbohydrate choices.
Summary Foods high in carbohydrates, such as breads, pastas, starchy vegetables and sweetened beverages, should be restricted when following an LCHF diet plan.
Any type of LCHF diet emphasizes foods that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
LCHF-friendly foods include:
- Eggs: Eggs are high in healthy fats and essentially a carb-free food.
- Oils: Olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are healthy choices.
- Fish: All fish, but especially those high in fats like salmon, sardines and trout.
- Meats and poultry: Red meat, chicken, venison, turkey, etc.
- Full-fat dairy: Cream, full-fat plain yogurt, butter, cheeses, etc.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, mushrooms, etc.
- Avocados: These high-fat fruits are versatile and delicious.
- Berries: Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries can be enjoyed in moderation.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Condiments: Fresh herbs, pepper, spices, etc.
Adding non-starchy vegetables to most meals and snacks can boost antioxidant and fiber intake, all while adding color and crunch to your plate.
Focusing on whole, fresh ingredients, trying new recipes and planning meals ahead of time can help you stay on track and prevent boredom.
Summary LCHF-friendly foods include eggs, meats, fatty fish, avocados, nuts, non-starchy vegetables and healthy oils.
The following menu can help set you up for success when beginning an LCHF diet.
The carbohydrate content of the meals varies to accommodate more liberal LCHF dieters.
- Breakfast: Two whole eggs with spinach and broccoli sautéed in coconut oil.
- Lunch: Tuna salad made with smashed avocado atop a bed of non-starchy vegetables.
- Dinner: Salmon cooked in butter served with roasted Brussels sprouts.
- Breakfast: Full-fat plain yogurt topped with sliced strawberries, unsweetened coconut and pumpkin seeds.
- Lunch: Turkey burger topped with cheddar cheese served with sliced non-starchy vegetables.
- Dinner: Steak with sautéed red peppers.
- Breakfast: A shake made with unsweetened coconut milk, berries, peanut butter and unsweetened protein powder.
- Lunch: Grilled shrimp served with tomato and mozzarella skewers.
- Dinner: Zucchini noodles tossed in pesto with chicken meatballs.
- Breakfast: Sliced avocado and two eggs fried in coconut oil.
- Lunch: Chicken curry made with cream and non-starchy vegetables.
- Dinner: Cauliflower crust pizza topped with non-starchy vegetables and cheese.
- Breakfast: Spinach, onion and cheddar frittata.
- Lunch: Chicken and vegetable soup.
- Dinner: Eggplant lasagna.
- Breakfast: Blackberry, cashew butter and coconut protein smoothie.
- Lunch: Turkey, avocado and cheese roll-ups served with flax crackers.
- Dinner: Trout served with roasted cauliflower.
- Breakfast: Mushroom, feta and kale omelet.
- Lunch: Chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and caramelized onions.
- Dinner: Large green salad topped with sliced avocado, shrimp and pumpkin seeds.
Carbs can be reduced or added depending on your health and weight loss goals.
There are countless low-carb, high-fat recipes to experiment with, so you can always enjoy a new, tasty meal or snack.
Summary You can enjoy many healthy recipes while following an LCHF diet.
While evidence links many health benefits to the LCHF diet, there are some drawbacks.
More extreme versions like the ketogenic diet are not suitable for children, teens and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, unless it’s being used therapeutically to treat a medical condition.
People who have diabetes or health conditions like diseases of the kidneys, liver or pancreas should speak with their doctor before beginning an LCHF diet.
Although some studies show that LCHF diets can boost athletic performance in some cases, it may not be suitable for elite athletes, as it can impair athletic performance at competitive levels (22, 23).
Additionally, an LCHF diet may not be appropriate for individuals who are hypersensitive to dietary cholesterol, often referred to as “hyper-responders” (24).
The LCHF diet is generally well tolerated by most but can cause unpleasant side effects in some people, especially in the case of very low-carb diets like the ketogenic diet.
Side effects may include (25):
- Muscle cramps
Constipation is a common issue when first beginning an LCHF diet and typically caused by lack of fiber.
To avoid constipation, make sure to add plenty of non-starchy vegetables to your meals, including greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, peppers, asparagus and celery.
Summary LCHF diets may not be suitable for pregnant women, children and people with certain medical conditions. If you are unsure if the LCHF diet is the right choice for you, seek advice from your doctor.
The LCHF diet is a method of eating that focuses on reducing carbs and replacing them with healthy fats.
The ketogenic diet and Atkins diet are examples of LCHF diets.
Following an LCHF diet may aid weight loss, stabilize blood sugar, improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Plus, the LCHF diet is versatile and can be adapted to meet your individual preferences.
Whether you are looking to lose body fat, fight sugar cravings or improve your blood sugar control, adapting an LCHF lifestyle is an excellent way to reach your goals.