The slow-carb diet was created in 2010 by Timothy Ferriss, author of the book The 4-Hour Body.
Ferriss claims that it’s effective for rapid weight loss and suggests that it is possible to lose body fat by optimizing any of these three factors: diet, exercise or your supplement regimen.
Like the ketogenic diet, the slow-carb diet is based on a very low intake of carbohydrates.
The plan is based on five fundamental rules that dictate the basics of the diet. In general, it involves consuming a limited list of foods for six consecutive days, with one free day once a week.
This article outlines everything you need to know about the slow-carb diet.
The slow-carb diet is based on five rules, which the author claims are easy to follow.
The ease of this diet is built on the minimum effective dose (MED) principle. This concept is defined as "the smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome."
In other words, it's about getting maximum results by doing the minimum amount of work. Therefore, this diet focuses on following a handful of guidelines that promise to help the body maximize its ability to burn fat and lose weight.
While following the diet, you can only eat from a list of allowed foods for six consecutive days. Then, you have one day per week when you can eat anything you want.
During the diet days, you should limit yourself to four meals per day and avoid consuming refined carbs, fruits or high-calorie drinks.
The slow-carb diet only incorporates five main food groups: animal protein, vegetables, legumes, fats and spices. Each meal consists of as much as you want of the first three food groups, plus small amounts of the last two.
Additionally, the plan suggests taking dietary supplements to help enhance the weight loss process. However, this is not mandatory.
Like the ketogenic diet, the slow-carb diet seems to be based on the premise that eating a lot of protein and very few carbs could aid weight loss by increasing the breakdown of fat for energy, increasing feelings of fullness and reducing fat stores (1, 2).
Summary The slow-carb diet lets you eat as much as you want of the allowed foods for six days of the week, four meals per day. For one day of the week, you’re free to eat whatever you want. This diet claims to help weight loss by increasing the breakdown of fats and boosting feelings of fullness.
The slow-carb diet is based on five straightforward rules.
Rule #1: Avoid "White" Carbohydrates
This diet requires avoiding any "white" carbohydrates.
These include all kinds of processed carbohydrates that are made from refined flour, including pasta, bread and cereals.
If you are looking to increase strength, you’re allowed to consume these foods within 30 minutes of finishing a resistance-training workout. However, if you want to lose weight, you should avoid these foods altogether during diet days.
Rule #2: Eat the Same Few Meals Over and Over Again
The creator of this diet states that even though there are thousands of foods available, there is only a handful of foods that will not cause you to gain weight.
The idea is to mix and match the allowed foods from each food group to build meals and repeat these meals every day.
Rule #3: Don't Drink Calories
This diet recommends drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Other suggested drinks include unsweetened tea, coffee or any other calorie-free beverage.
The basis of this rule is that beverages provide little to no nutritional value. Therefore, the diet suggests that you only obtain your calories from nutritious foods, not drinks.
Rule #4: Don't Eat Fruit
Even though fruits are technically part of a balanced diet, the slow-carb diet suggests that fruits are not helpful when you’re trying to lose weight.
This idea is based on the fact that fructose, the sugar in fruits, could delay the weight loss process by increasing blood fat levels and decreasing fat-burning capacity.
Rule #5: Take One Day off per Week
The slow-carb diet allows you to choose one day per week when you can eat anything you want.
On this day, you do not have to follow any of the other rules. As such, this eat-anything day is meant for you to indulge in any food and beverages you might be craving without fear of gaining all the weight back.
Summary The slow-carb diet is based on five basic rules: avoid "white" carbs, repeat the same meals, don't drink calories, don't eat fruits and take one day off per week.
Within those groups, the diet only mentions a few foods that are allowed. According to the diet's creator, the more options you have to choose from, the more likely you are to deviate from the diet or quit.
Below is a list of foods that are allowed on the slow-carb diet:
- Egg whites with 1–2 whole eggs
- Chicken breast or thigh
- Beef, preferably grass-fed
- Lactose-free, unflavored whey protein powder
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Red beans
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale
- Sauerkraut and kimchi
- Green beans
- Olive oil for low-heat cooking
- Grapeseed or macadamia oil for high-heat cooking
- Nuts such as almonds
- Creamer — dairy-free and only 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) per day
- Garlic salt
- White truffle sea salt
Summary The slow-carb diet concentrates on five food groups: protein, legumes, vegetables, fats and spices. It recommends that you have as much as you want of the first three groups and small quantities of the last two.
The slow-carb diet suggests only a few foods that you may eat as much and as often as you want. However, it also outlines some foods to avoid during the weight loss process and forever after.
Below are some of the foods this diet recommends you stop eating:
As rule number four states, fruits are not allowed in the slow-carb diet.
Fruits contain fructose, a simple sugar that can increase blood fat levels, according to the slow-carb diet.
Additionally, the diet suggests that fructose can enhance the absorption of iron in humans and decrease the levels of other minerals like copper.
Therefore, the diet recommends you refrain from eating any fruit or drinking fruit juice on diet days. However, you can still consume them on the cheat day.
Dairy is not recommended on the slow-carb diet.
This diet explains that even though dairy products have a low glycemic index, they cause your insulin levels to rise, which seems to be detrimental to weight loss.
The diet says the spike in insulin caused by dairy is comparable to that of white bread. For this reason, the plan states that it is best to avoid dairy during the diet days.
Nonetheless, cottage cheese is allowed on the slow-carb diet. The diet’s author claims that it contains high levels of the protein casein and lower lactose levels than other dairy products.
3. Fried Foods
The slow-carb diet does not allow any fried foods to be consumed on the diet days.
Fried foods are occasionally cooked with bread crumbs, which are not allowed in the diet. Also, fried foods are high in calories and often low in nutritional value.
Summary The slow-carb diet does not allow fruits, dairy or any fried foods on the diet days. However, you can have these foods during the free or “cheat” days.
On the slow-carb diet, the "cheat day" is meant to ease the mental stress that often comes with dieting.
Additionally, the idea is that shifting away from a strict plan for a day, during which you can eat as much as you want of any food, may help prevent your metabolic rate from slowing. This is a side effect that can result from prolonged caloric restriction.
On this day, you are not supposed to count calories or worry about what you eat, including alcoholic beverages.
Interestingly, there is evidence that cheat days or “refeeds” may benefit weight loss.
A “refeed” refers to a short period during which caloric intake is higher than usual (3).
In fact, a study showed that a three-day carbohydrate overfeeding could increase leptin concentrations by 28% and energy expenditure by 7% (5).
The slow-carb cheat day is used for its psychological benefits, as well as its influence on hormonal changes that can continue to promote weight loss.
Summary The slow-carb diet allows one day per week during which you can eat as much as you want of any foods. This is based on the fact that refeeds can help increase leptin concentrations and metabolic rate.
The slow-carb diet suggests its followers take certain dietary supplements.
Given that this diet could cause a loss of excess water, it’s recommended that you replenish lost electrolytes with the following supplements:
- Potassium: 99-mg tablets with each meal
- Magnesium: 400 mg per day, plus 500 mg before bed to improve sleep
- Calcium: 1,000 mg per day
The slow-carb diet suggests four additional supplements that can aid the weight loss process:
- Policosanol: 20–25 mg
- Alpha-lipoic acid: 100–300 mg
- Green tea flavanols (decaffeinated): Should contain at least 325 mg of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
- Garlic extract: At least 200 mg
This intake regimen is recommended six days a week, with a week off every two months.
The daily dosing schedule looks like this:
- Before breakfast: Alpha-lipoic acid, green tea flavanols and garlic extract
- Before lunch: Alpha-lipoic acid, green tea flavanols and garlic extract
- Before dinner: Alpha-lipoic acid, green tea flavanols and garlic extract
- Before bed: Policosanol, alpha-lipoic acid and garlic extract
Below is a brief explanation of why these supplements may be helpful while following this diet:
Policosanol is an alcohol extract of plant waxes derived from sugarcane, beeswax, grains and other foods (7).
This supplement has been shown to significantly increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. Additionally, a study showed that policosanol can help decrease levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol by about 23% (8).
Policosanol has also been shown to be safe and well-tolerated by study participants (8).
The slow-carb diet suggests that ALA assists in weight loss by enhancing the absorption of carbohydrates into the muscles and liver, as they may otherwise be converted into fat.
In fact, a study showed that 360 obese people lost a significant amount of body weight after taking 1,200–1,800 mg of ALA per day for 20 weeks (11).
Green Tea Flavanols
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most abundant and important antioxidant found in green tea.
Skeletal muscles use glucose for energy, and EGCG appears to boost this process. EGCG has been shown to increase the number of glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT-4) molecules in cells, which bring glucose into them (14).
Moreover, EGCG has been shown to induce the death of fat cells, helping with weight loss (15).
The slow-carb diet also suggests that garlic extract intake is helpful during the program to avoid regaining fat.
In fact, research shows that garlic extract, specifically aged garlic extract, could help reduce weight and avoid increases in body fat when combined with a 12-week exercise regimen (20).
Summary The slow-carb diet recommends replenishing electrolytes with calcium, magnesium and potassium supplements. It also suggests using policosanol, green tea flavanols, garlic extract and alpha-lipoic acid.
Throughout The 4-Hour Body book, Ferriss provides some recommendations that can help increase the chances of sticking to the plan in the long-term and seeing results.
It also gives some solutions to common problems and questions you may have along the way.
On Foods That Are Allowed
- Eat your veggies: Fill up with allowed vegetables like spinach, broccoli and asparagus.
- Eat healthy fats: The diet recommends increasing the fat in your diet by consuming healthy fats. This may help prevent increases in blood sugar levels.
- Small amounts of diet soft drinks are ok: While high-calorie beverages are not recommended, the diet allows you to drink no more than 16 ounces (450 ml) of diet soda per day.
- Red wine is ok: The diet allows you to drink up to two glasses of red wine per day during diet days, preferably dry types.
- Drink what you want on cheat day: You may drink any kind and amount of alcoholic beverages on your cheat day.
- Frozen or canned foods are ok: Foods preserved using either method are allowed.
- Meat not required: If you are ovo-lacto vegetarian, you can still follow the diet. Although meat is highly recommended, it is not required.
On Foods That Aren’t Allowed
- No fruits allowed, except for tomatoes and avocados: Avocado consumption should not exceed more than 1 cup (150 grams) or one meal per day.
- Snacks aren’t recommended: If you are eating large enough portions at the diet’s four meals per day, you should not be hungry for snacks. However, if you are still hungry and must have a snack, have a small meal consisting of just protein, or protein and vegetables.
- Dairy not allowed: However, cottage cheese is an exception.
A Few Special Foods
- Try almond or peanut butter before bed: If you get hungry before bed, you may eat 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 ml) of almond butter or peanut butter. Try to choose from products that have almonds or peanuts as their only ingredient, with no additives.
- Try fresh-squeezed lemon juice before meals: This may help lower your blood sugar levels. Avoid using store-bought lemon juice, which has added sugars and preservatives.
- Use cinnamon: Using cinnamon, specifically Saigon cinnamon, during meals can help lower your blood sugar levels after you eat.
- Beans could cause stomach discomfort such as gas: To avoid this, the diet suggests draining all the water from canned beans. If you choose to use dry beans, it is recommended to soak them in water overnight before cooking them.
Tips on Eating
- Meal timing is important: According to the slow-carb diet, breakfast must be consumed within an hour of waking. After breakfast, meals should be spaced out approximately four hours apart. However, this will also depend on your sleeping schedule.
- Limit calorie-dense foods you may tend to overeat: Even though foods like nuts, nut butters and hummus are allowed on the slow-carb diet, people tend to overeat them, adding unnecessary calories. Therefore, they should be limited as much as possible.
- Get enough protein at every meal: It is recommended to consume at least 20 grams of protein at each meal and 30 grams of protein for breakfast.
- Eat a protein-filled breakfast, even on cheat day: Even though you are allowed to eat anything you want on your cheat day, it is recommended that you still consume 30 grams of protein for breakfast.
- Take your time at the table: The diet suggests eating slowly and taking at least 30 minutes to consume your meals. This will also help decrease your glycemic response to the food you eat.
- Eat until you feel full: Do not count calories. Instead, eat until you are full.
- Substitute veggies for restaurant carbs: Always eat vegetables and beans instead of carbohydrates like rice and pasta when you’re eating out.
- Keep it simple when you’re in a rush: Basic foods like eggs, canned tuna, frozen veggies and canned beans are easy to turn into quick meals.
- Prepare for travel: You can grab some to-go meals such as tuna in pouches, nuts or protein powder with water. Again, try to keep it simple. However, in the case that no allowed foods are available, the plan says it’s better to choose hunger over deviation from the diet.
- Don’t exercise too much: It’s true that regular physical activity has been linked to weight loss. However, this diet suggests that if you eat the right foods, you only need to work out about two to three times a week for about 30 minutes.
- Start small: If you feel overwhelmed by so many diet and lifestyle changes at once, start small. For example, commit to eating a protein-rich breakfast within 30 minutes after waking. You can gradually build more rules into your routine once you feel comfortable.
Summary This chapter outlines some specific recommendations that could help increase your chances of success on the slow-carb diet.
The slow-carb diet could be relatively easy to follow, as it only involves a few food items and has only five general rules to follow.
Proponents of the diet claim that avoiding foods that promote fat storage is an efficient way to burn fat rapidly.
The diet also includes some techniques to help boost your metabolic rate and fat-burning capacity. For example, the diet recommends eating a protein-rich breakfast within an hour of waking up.
Some evidence suggests that eating a protein-rich breakfast can assist with weight loss by preventing fat storage, increasing feelings of fullness and reducing calorie intake throughout the day. It could also help promote better blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes (21, 22).
The slow-carb diet is similar to the ketogenic diet because it requires very low carbohydrate consumption and increased protein intake. These diets force the body to adapt to using fat as a primary source of energy, therefore helping with fat loss (1, 2).
Moreover, it seems that limiting the variety of foods that are allowed during a weight loss plan may help people consume fewer calories and maintain long-term weight loss (25).
In general, the slow-carb diet seems to be based on practical techniques that have been shown to promote weight loss and increase fat burning and feelings of fullness.
Summary The slow-carb diet suggests practices and techniques that have been shown to promote weight loss. These include increasing protein intake, limiting sugar intake and using the cheat day method.
The slow-carb diet does not seem to have any significant side effects.
However, the decrease in meal frequency could cause a lack of energy and increased appetite in some people. This can be avoided by eating enough protein at each meal and drinking plenty of water.
Additionally, because the slow-carb diet recommends avoiding all fruits and certain vegetables, it could restrict your intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients like antioxidants (28).
Furthermore, eating high amounts of animal protein and limiting carbohydrate-rich foods may produce excessive water excretion and possibly disrupt your electrolyte balance (28).
Therefore, as the diet recommends, it is important to restore electrolyte levels by taking calcium, magnesium and potassium supplements, or through foods rich in these minerals.
Summary The slow-carb diet should not produce any major side effects. However, due to some of the food restrictions recommended by this diet, people may experience a limited intake of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber contained in these foods.
The slow-carb diet recommends you repeat your meals as much as possible.
The idea is that deviating from the basic foods could decrease your chances of sticking to the diet and succeeding.
Here are some ideas for meals that you can repeat or mix-and-match.
- Two medium eggs, 1/2 cup (86 grams) black beans, 2 tbsp (30 ml) chunky salsa and half an avocado
- A shake with 30 grams of protein powder and water
- Three eggs and two slices of turkey bacon
- Salad made with one avocado, two hard-boiled eggs, one medium-sized tomato, two cooked slices of bacon and juice from one lemon wedge
- Tuna salad with spinach and any other vegetable
- Fajita salad with guacamole and black beans
- Grilled fish, steamed veggies and lima beans
- Rotisserie chicken, a side of spiced cauliflower and black beans
- Pork loin, broccoli and lentils
Summary The meal suggestions above are meant to be mixed and matched and repeated frequently. According to the slow-carb diet, eating the same foods over and over can help you stick to the diet and lose weight.
Proponents of the slow-carb diet claim that it’s effective for weight loss. It is based on five rules that it suggests could help increase your metabolic rate and prevent fat storage.
The diet recommends avoiding the intake of carbs like sugars and grains and instead promotes a high intake of protein, vegetables and legumes.
It also encourages one weekly free day, during which you can eat anything you’d like.
In general, this diet seems easy to follow for those looking to lose weight and eat cleaner, as it recommends only a limited amount of foods and easy-to-prepare meals.
Additionally, the practical techniques in this diet have been shown to promote weight loss, enhance fat burning and increase satiety.
The main downside to the diet is that it limits two very nutrient-rich food groups — fruits and dairy. For that reason, it might not suit people with high nutritional demands, such as athletes.
All in all, the slow-carb diet does not seem to produce significant side effects. Therefore, if you think you can stick to the plan long-term, this diet may be a simple way to shed some pounds.