low carbohydrate diet

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the nutrients in food that provide energy and are usually converted into a sugar called glucose. They are found in all foods with added sugar (such as baklava, sweet cakes, biscuits, jams, sweets and chocolate) and in starchy foods (loaf, bread, pita bread, potatoes, rice flakes, pasta, macaroni). Other foods such as fruit and milk contain carbohydrates in the form of naturally occurring sugar. More information on carbohydrates can be found here.

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How much carbohydrate?

To find out the amount of carbohydrates in a food, look at the “total carbohydrate” amount on food labels. It may appear per package or per 100gm so you will have to work out what this means for your serving size. For unpackaged foods, apps, books, and lookup tables may be helpful.

What is a low-carb diet?

A low-carb diet (often called low-carb) is designed to restrict the amount of sugary and starchy carbohydrates you eat. This diet helps people lose weight and/or improve their diabetes (glucose) control.

A low-carb diet aims to limit carbohydrates to less than 130g per day.


  • Use food labels and search apps, books, and other online resources to track your carb intake and keep it within limits
  • You don’t usually need to count calories
  • The approach should be based on your own preferences
  • It must be in keeping with the culture

what is the way?

Research has shown that a low-carbohydrate diet can lead to weight loss that improves diabetes health outcomes/risks in people who are overweight or obese. For overweight type 2 diabetics, a low-carb diet can improve diabetes (glucose) control, reduce the need for diabetes medications and can, in some cases, put diabetes into remission.

If a person carries more weight around their stomach, this is usually related to the accumulation of fat around important organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. When you lose weight through a low-carb diet, the fat content in these organs decreases, which means that the pancreas gland will be better able to produce insulin, the hormone needed to push glucose out of the bloodstream into cells where it can be used as energy.

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Is it safe?

To reduce the side effects you may experience, try to slowly reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Research studies show that a low-carb diet is safe and effective in the short term (up to a year), but there is no information on long-term effects. As you get used to the diet, you may find that you experience some side effects, including:

  • feeling dizzy
  • palpitations
  • A change in bowel habits – either constipation or diarrhoea
  • Headaches

Most people find that they get better when they drink plenty of water and that they get through it after the first two to three weeks. If these symptoms persist or if you are concerned about them, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

 How much will I lose?

On average, people lose about 5 kg but this can vary from person to person, and you may find that you lose more or less than this weight.

What can I eat?

For a low-carb diet, try to stick to these guidelines:

  • Avoid refined, sugary and starchy carbohydrates (eg cakes, cookies, candy, white bread, pasta, white rice)
  • Reduce carbohydrate intake in general
  • Avoid processed and fast food / fast food / pizza
  • Replace whole grain options with refined carbohydrates
  • Eat healthy Mediterranean foods (lots of vegetables, fish, nuts, olives, avocados and berries)
  • Eat more protein, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables and low-carb fruits instead
  • Pay attention to your portion size

Avoid refined, sugary and starchy carbohydrates

Starchy carbohydrates are found in bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, pita breads, baked goods, noodles, macaroni and flour. “Refined” carbohydrates are foods like white bread and rice, which are highly processed, meaning whole grains that contain nutrients and fiber have been removed.

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The body digests refined carbohydrates quickly, causing your blood glucose levels to rise rapidly. Whole grains or healthier options can be added in limited portions. Healthier choices include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, and bread with whole grains or seeds.

Examples of foods you should avoid include:

  • Baklava, halva, dumplings, sugar, candy, chocolate, jam, marmalade, honey, syrup
  • Pudding, Umm Ali, sweets, ice cream, biscuits, cakes, baked goods
  • Breakfast cereal, porridge, maple syrup
  • Bread, potatoes, pasta, noodles, rice (white and wholegrain)
  • Delicious snacks – samosas, potato chips, crackers, corn snacks, salted popcorn
  • Anything made with flour – baked goods, butter, sauces
  • The majority of prepared and processed foods

There are other foods that contain natural carbohydrates that you can eat, including:

  • Milk and natural yogurt
  • Whole fruit
  • Most vegetables except for starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, cassava, and sweet potatoes
  • Legumes and pulses (dried peas and cowpeas)

Eat a fresh, healthy dish with a Mediterranean approach

Adding plenty of fresh, unprocessed food to your diet means that you will get all the nutrients and minerals your body needs. It also means that you will know exactly what the meals you eat contain.

Try to eat fish, poultry (meat, chicken, turkey), beans and legumes to reduce the amount of red meat you eat and add healthy fats such as olives, avocado or rapeseed oil. Build your diet on the pyramid shown below:

What can I eat?

There are many useful ways to calculate your portion size, including weighing your food, using the size of your hand, or comparing your portions to a tennis ball or deck of cards.

Low carb vegetables

One serving equals one serving in one clenched hand. Try to eat 5-6 servings of vegetables per day. Almost all vegetables are low in carbs so fill your plate with all kinds of green leafy vegetables, six fingers, eggplant with mushrooms, onions, eggplant, bean sprouts, carrots, peas and parsnips.

Some vegetables are high in carbohydrates including potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and sweet corn and should be avoided as much as possible.


Add a serving of green leafy vegetables and a green salad to each meal. You should have at least two servings of vegetables with meals, but you can add more to replace the carbohydrates on your plate.

Try cooked cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, cabbage and fresh green beans instead of large portions of pasta, potatoes or rice. Add flavor with turmeric , garlic , cumin , cinnamon, parsley , coriander , and sumac , or add a mixture of spices such as allspice , ras el hanout , zaatar, or harissa to taste and add texture to meat with tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. All of these flavors are very low in carbs and are a good source of plant fibre.

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the fruit

One serving is about the size of your fist, and you can choose to eat two servings of fruit per day. Choose fruits with lower sugar content, such as berries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, and sweet fruits such as cherries, plums, peaches, and citrus fruits. Avoid tropical fruits that have a higher sugar content, such as bananas, mangoes, papayas and pineapples.

Lean proteins

One serving is about the size of your palm and the thickness of your little finger, or the size of a deck of cards. Eat 2-3 servings daily. All meat, chicken and fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, can be eaten freely.

Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein and two eggs count as one serving. Experiment with different ways to cook eggs, such as omelets, scrambled, boiled, or fried.

Highly processed meats such as burgers, nuggets and hot dogs should be avoided as much as possible. Vegetarian options such as eggs, lentils, peas and dried black beans can be included, and you should try to eat one serving of lentils or peas per day.


Milk and dairy products are another good source of protein. You can have 8 ounces (½ cup) of skim or semi-skimmed milk and a small bowl of plain or Greek yogurt with berries and chopped nuts every day. You can have it for breakfast, as a snack, or as a dessert.

You can eat cheeses such as halloumi, feta, or mozzarella in moderation.

Meal suggestions

Take a look at our 7-day low-carb meal plan below:

[Meal plan link in PDF]

You can also make some simple swaps between low-carb meal times. Here are some ideas below:

Breakfast exchanges

High carbohydrates  Low carbs
 Dried or sugar-coated fruit cereal  Oats porridge (50g) / plain yoghurt with nuts/seeds and berries
Cake/panini An egg with a slice of toasted Arabic bread or with seeds
 Waffles/pancake  Pancakes made with buckwheat or coconut flour (two)
Flatbread (made from white chapati flour) Flatbread made from wholegrain flour (1 medium) or made from coconut flour
dried fruit  Fruit – raspberry / strawberry / cherry
Fruit yogurt Plain/Greek yogurt


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 Lunch exchanges

High carbohydrates  Low carbs
white pasta  Quinoa, bulgur wheat, couscous
White bread sandwiches  Salad + lentils and peas
Samosa/  Kebab, kofta
canned soups Lentil soup
Baked potatoes with their skin on Grilled vegetables with grilled chicken or fish (fish) or grilled halloumi
chocolate  Handful of nuts / raspberries / cherries / strawberries

Dinner exchanges

High carbohydrates  Low carbs
 White rice  Brown rice
 potatoes  Stuffed peppers with meat and vegetables (mushroom, eggplant, avocado, pepper)
 Arabic white bread  Arabic bread with seeds
potatoes Vegetables (spinach) / lettuce leaves
macaroni  Lentils or chickpeas
 candies 0% natural yogurt, um ali and halawa without sugar


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Snack exchanges

High carbohydrates  Low carbs
Cereal/popcorn with sugar porridge / puree /
sandwiches  Omelette/boiled eggs
potato chips/crackers,  nuts/seeds
Chips / wedges / french fries  

Vegetable fingers with hummus tahini

Falafel / Grape Leaves (stuffed with meat) Kebbeh / Sambousek (stuffed with cheese)

 fruit juice fruit (a handful of berries)

Shake milk

A cup of milk

avocado juice


If you enjoy cooking and want to try different low carb recipes, there are plenty of recipe books available to choose from.

Since this diet is designed for weight loss, you are advised to avoid snacks as much as possible. But it may take 2-3 weeks to get used to this diet and if you feel hungry between meals during this time, try to keep your portions of fruit and use them in between snacks. And you can always grab bites of low-carb veggies if you need a snack.

What else do I need to know?

Can I do exercise?

Most people find that they are unable to maintain their usual levels of physical activity on this diet. For general health, it’s recommended that you try to do 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (you should sweat a little, feel your heart beating a little faster than usual, or feel a little out of breath) each week.

What about my medications?

If you have diabetes and are receiving insulin, a sulphonylurea, or glinide, you may need to reduce or stop your medications to avoid low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

If you take medications for high blood pressure, you may need to reduce some of your medications. Speak to your healthcare team for advice before starting a low-carb diet to ensure you are following it safely.

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