Low Carb Diet: What Foods to Eat?

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Posted by Linda O'Byrne (Atkins Nutritionist)

One of the keys to successful dieting is knowing which foods should form part of your new eating plan, and which foods you should only eat in moderation or not at all.

The Atkins lifestyle offers a more sustainable way to lose weight and to sustain your target weight on a long-term basis. That’s why we encourage you to cut down on foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, replacing them with healthier carbs such as leafy green vegetables from day one.

To help you better understand what to eat and what to steer clear of, we’ve put together a few short lists that outline the basics of what you should and shouldn’t eat in each phase of Atkins. For a more comprehensive list, see our Food Lists for all phases.

Maintaining a varied diet

Knowing by heart what you should eat is something that’ll eventually come as a second nature as you settle into the Atkins lifestyle. You will soon learn that it’s actually very easy to maintain a varied and exciting diet once you get used to a lower daily intake of carbs. With that in mind, the following items are all low carb, Atkins-friendly foods:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Foundation vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, cucumber, kale, and so on.
  • Aged or firm cheeses
  • Sources of fat, such as oils, butter, and mayonnaise
  • Herbs and spices

One of the essential elements of the Atkins lifestyle is the reintroduction of ‘good’ carbs back into the diet as you get closer to your ideal weight, which will allow you to maintain the progress you’ve made. In the meantime, you can enjoy all the foods listed above throughout Atkins, and you can look forward to adding an even greater variety of foods as you progress through the four phases.

Phase 1

Getting Off to a Good Start

Phase one is where you kick-start weight loss by cutting out ‘bad’ carbs whilst getting a wide variety of complex carbs from vegetables. The recommended carb intake is 20g or less per day, with 12-15 of those grams coming from ‘foundation’ vegetables that are high in fibre and nutrients, rather than starch and sugar. So, instead of carbs making up 45-60% of your plate; you’ll have more protein & healthy fat and reduce carbs to 5-10%.

During the initial phase, you should eat protein such as beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, or shellfish at every meal. You can eat oils and fat as long as you follow the guidelines for fat intake, but you will need to avoid breaded products, processed meats with added sugar, and generally any products that contain added sugar.

Other than that, your low carb shopping list can include the following:

  • Eggs
  • Tofu, soya, Quorn, and unbreaded veggie burgers
  • Aged and firm cheeses
  • Foundation vegetables, excluding starchy veg such as potatoes, corn, and peas
  • Salad dressings and condiments with no added sugar

While berries and nuts/seeds are normally introduced in Phase 2 food, some people experiment by adding them into Phase 1; whilst staying within 20g carbs per day. Finally, you should drink eight glasses of water each day.

What to Avoid?

 The good news is that you will likely see your weight loss progress most quickly during this phase. That said, there are several foods and drinks you should watch out for in order to keep your new lifestyle on track:

  • Pulses such as lentils, peas, and beans
  • Fruits
  • Fruit juices, except lemon and lime
  • Grains
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Alcohol
  • Any foods containing added sugar

Note that Phase 1 will last for at least two weeks, but you’re free to extend the induction period depending on the amount of weight you wish to lose.


Phase 2

Slowly Reintroducing ‘Good’ Carbs

In Phase 2, foundation vegetables continue to account for 12-15g of your daily carb intake. But slowly, nutrient-rich carbs like more vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds are added into your diet. We recommend that you reintroduce these at a rate of around 5g per week. The foods from which you can get your ‘good’ carbs include the following:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Berries
  • Pulses
  • Dairy products such as ricotta, cottage cheese (full fat), whole milk, and Greek yoghurt
  • Spirits such as Scotch, rye, vodka, and gin (not mixed with juice, tonic water, or non-diet soda)

Phase 3 & 4

Working Out Your Long-Term Diet

Phase 3 is the home stretch, where your ideal weight is within reach. In this phase, you’ll gradually expand the range of foods you eat, including the ‘good’ carbs listed below that will make up part of your long-term diet plan:

  • Fruit juices, like tomato juice
  • More fruits
  • Starchier vegetables such as carrots and parsnips
  • Wholegrains
  • Atkins penne pasta

You can add about 10g of ‘good’ carbs into your diet per week for as long as you keep progressing towards your target weight. Stay in Phase 3 until you’ve reached your goal weight and maintained it for one month, then you’ll continue the same way of eating to maintain it throughout Phase 4.

Bear in mind that there are more foods out there than we’ve listed here – not all of them are suitable for Atkins. So always take the time to familiarise yourself with the carb content of different items in order to work out how they can fit into your eating habits. For more information, refer to our Carb Counter.

With an array of easy low carb recipes and meal plans that you can try, and a range of support tools to guide you along your journey to achieving weight wellness, there’s really nothing stopping you from getting started with the Atkins lifestyle.