10 Tips for Cutting Carbs

There are different reasons that you might consider going on a low-carb diet. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, you may need to change your diet. Or perhaps you currently consume a lot of simple carbohydrates and wish to reduce them.

Your experience starting and sticking with a low-carb diet will be unique. If you want to make this type of change, you should not cut carbohydrates drastically. In fact, for personalized advice, it's best to work with a registered dietitian to ensure that you are receiving adequate nutrition and working towards reaching your health and dietary goals.

Initially, you are likely to lose water weight. But, it's essential to understand that a lower carbohydrate diet isn't a no carbohydrate diet. Choosing filling, satisfying, and nutrient-dense foods will ensure that you are getting all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need. In addition, eating various foods will allow you to maintain the pleasure of eating. You're more likely to sustain an eating plan this way.

1:37

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Low-Carb Diet

Here are 10 tips on how to cut carbs, face low-carb diet challenges, and stay motivated as you work toward reaching your goals.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is one of the best ways you can care for your whole body. While you'll definitely need to avoid dehydration if you're exercising regularly, even mild dehydration can affect everything from your skin to gut health.

Proper hydration is vital to promoting regular digestion. Since low-carb diets can cause constipation, making sure you're getting enough fluid each day is essential.

Water should be your go-to choice for hydration. Sweetened drinks, like soda, are rich in calories and sugar and don't have additional nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eating too much sugar can have negative effects to your health.

Avoiding sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks is especially important if you're trying to cut carbs. Choosing water will also help you avoid adding extra calories—either from the beverage itself or overeating later.

When you reach for a sweet drink instead of a meal or snack when you are truly hungry, you're not likely to feel satisfied because these beverages do not have filling nutrients like fiber, protein, and fat.

One hundred calories of apple juice is about 5 ounces and is probably less filling than a medium-sized apple, which contains roughly the same amount of calories and 5 grams of filling fiber.

Eat Your Veggies

When you first start a low-carb diet, one of the food groups you’re likely to stock up (and fill up) on is non-starchy vegetables, like greens, cauliflower, peppers, mushrooms, and more.

Not all vegetables are created equal on a low-carb diet, though: Limit veggies high in starch, like potatoes and corn, which are best enjoyed with small portions and in moderation.

Consume More Healthy Fats

Add healthy fats to your meal plan for flavor, health benefits, and satiety. Your body needs enough fat to function correctly; eating a diet that includes plenty of healthy fat is vital to your overall health. While you may want to limit certain saturated fats in your diet, you don’t have to avoid all fat.

Focus on including fat from olive oil, nuts, avocado, fatty fish, and flax seeds.

Pack Protein

As you're adjusting your carb and fat intake, don’t forget about protein. Protein-rich foods will help keep you full and offer many additional health benefits. Animal and plant proteins are made up of amino acids. Nine essential amino acids must be consumed through diet. Protein-rich foods also contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some good sources of protein include:

Your individual protein needs will also depend on how active you are, your muscle mass, and your individual metabolism.

Check for Hidden Sugar

Some sources of carbs will be evident and easy to watch for—but others, especially those from sugar, may be more difficult to spot. Added sugar can even pop up in typically savory rather than sweet spots, like salad dressing.

Keep an eye out for some of the common names sugar goes by on food labels, including dextrose, fructose, cane crystals, maltodextrin, xylose, and malt syrup.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

When you allow yourself a treat, have something you enjoy—just keep an eye on portion size. You’ll likely feel more satisfied having a small slice of delicious cake than if you try to fill up on a sugar-free, fat-free, low-carb alternative that isn’t what you really want.

Go for Whole Grains

When choosing between carbs, the ones you choose make a difference. Whole grains contain more micronutrients and fiber because the entire grain is intact. Whole grains include oats, quinoa, corn, millet, barley, bulgur, buckwheat, etc. When you have the choice, go for brown rice instead of white rice and whole-wheat bread instead of white.

Use Swaps and Substitutes

One of the easiest ways to cut carbs is to substitute lower-carb alternatives for high-carb meal staples. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with low-carb ingredients and get creative with recipes.

Follow these tips to cut carbs throughout the day:

  • Start your day with high-fiber, low-carb cereal for breakfast.
  • Swap the bread on your lunchtime sandwich for a low-carb wrap or use lettuce. Many different wraps and flats are veggie-based, such as cauliflower wraps.
  • Reach for fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, or nuts and seeds rather than hitting the vending machine.
  • Cook up some spaghetti squash instead of pasta, or try zucchini noodles for dinner.
  • Snack on a package of nuts instead of candy or buttery popcorn at the movies.

Use Tools

If you follow a low-carb diet for medical reasons, you will need to know how to count carbohydrates. There are many online tools and smartphone apps that can help you. CalorieKing, myfitnesspal, and MySugr, are a few tools to assist you. In addition, you may consider using a portion plate, such as the USDA My Plate, to help you with portions.

Find Support

Even when it’s a positive step, change is not always easy. The ups and downs of adjusting to the changes you make, finding ways to solve problems, and staying motivated for the long haul will be easier to get through if you have support.

You may have a supportive partner, friend, or family member who can be there for you, but it can also be helpful to find others who are going through the same process.

People with diabetes or those who need to use a low carb diet for medical reasons should see a diabetes care and education specialist for diabetes self-management education. In addition, anyone who is starting a lower-carb diet should see a registered dietitian and discuss it with their physician before beginning.

Many online groups or forums exist, and some of them even let you link up your fitness app, activity tracker, or calorie counter with others for day-to-day support—and maybe a little healthy competition. Your friends and family or a support group, who can help you stay motivated if you encounter challenges during the first few weeks of your new eating plan.

Your body’s response will guide you and give you clues about when it’s time to add or reduce your carbs, get more activity, or take another look at the low-carb food pyramid. Stay in touch with your healthcare or nutrition professional to get guidance along your journey. Listening to what your body needs and honoring it will help you reach your personal best and thrive.

Was this page helpful?
14 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Low carbohydrate diets for adults with diabetes: summary. Diabetes Canada.

  2. Seidelmann SB, Claggett B, Cheng S, et al. Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health. 2018;3(9):e419-e428.

  3. Oh R, Gilani B, Uppaluri KR. Low carbohydrate diet. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  4. Bolla AM, Caretto A, Laurenzi A, Scavini M, Piemonti L. Low-carb and ketogenic diets in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetesNutrients. 2019;11(5):962. doi:10.3390/nu11050962

  5. Freeman CR, Zehra A, Ramirez V, Wiers CE, Volkow ND, Wang GJ. Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2018 Jun 1;23:2255-2266. doi: 10.2741/4704 doi:10.2741/4704

  6. An R, Mccaffrey J. Plain water consumption in relation to energy intake and diet quality among US adults, 2005-2012. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016;29(5):624-632. doi:10.1111/jhn.12368

  7. Apple, raw. USDA FoodData Central.

  8. Abbasi J. Interest in the ketogenic diet grows for weight loss and type 2 diabetes. JAMA. 2018;319(3):215-217. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.20639

  9. Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J. 2017;16(1):53. doi:0.1186/s12937-017-0271-4

  10. Wolfe RR. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017;14:30. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9

  11. Cleveland Clinic. The top four protein sources may surprise you.

  12. Harvard Health Publishing. When it comes to protein, how much is too much?

  13. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studiesBMJ. 2016;353:i2716. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716

  14. Boston University School of Public Health. The Transtheoretical Model (stages of change).

Additional Reading