The Zero Carb Diet – A Beginner’s Guide
If you’re already doing keto (or want to), you know about the importance of limiting carbs in your diet. However, is it better to consume as little carbs as possible, to the point of going zero carb (or almost)?
Are no carbs better than a small amount? If you have already been doing keto, but your weight loss has stalled and you need a slight boost, is zero carb the way to go?
Let’s look into all of these questions.
What Is The Zero Carb Diet?
The zero carb diet is a type of diet where you completely exclude any carb sources from your diet, and stick to no carb foods, such as meat, fish, some cheeses, and different types of fat. As such, it’s very restrictive, but also very simple to follow.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that zero carb is somewhat of a misnomer, as a minimal amount of carbs would be present in almost anything – even muscle meat has some trace amounts of carbs, as it contains glycogen.
Besides, most people who do zero carb adapt a carnivorous approach to food where some of them also eat organ meats, which contain a varying amount of carbs. So, going completely (or almost completely) zero carb might prove to be a challenge even for the most motivated individuals.
Additionally, you should be aware of the fact that, based on each country’s specific food regulations, food producers might not be obliged to state the exact amount of carbs in a given food, if it’s less than 0.5 or even 1 g, either per serving or per 100 g, depending on the country.
This might look insignificant, but depending on how strict you are about being zero carb, it might be worth considering – for example, if a single serving of 1 oz of a type of cheese has 0.5 g carbs and if you have 4 servings in a day, that would be 2 g carbs. This likely won’t affect you negatively, and certainly won’t kick you out of ketosis, but it might be worth considering.
If Limiting Carbs When Doing Keto Is Beneficial And Helps With Weight Loss, Is Going Zero Carb Even Better?
For the moment, there isn’t a straight answer to that question, and there aren’t any significant studies on a zero carb type of diet, and very few on the long term effects of keto; there aren’t any studies that compare the two and the weight loss of each diet.
Following keto macros (i.e. limiting carbs to 20-25 g net daily) will put you in ketosis; it might not be really necessary to limit carbs even further to achieve very good results, and removing carbs completely might result in some micronutrient deficiencies, if you’re not careful about the way you’re doing zero carb.
Ketosis is not a competition and you don’t need to be in deep ketosis in order to do well with your diet. If you’re getting your carbs from green low-carb veggies and not from junk, you’ll likely experience all of keto’s benefits, and you probably do not need to go any lower on carbs.
Nevertheless, there are many people who report feeling better when following a zero carb or a carnivore diet, and who say removing all carbs has had a huge benefit for them.
The evidence is only anecdotal for the moment, but there are a few Facebook groups for zero carb enthusiasts and those who are curious about this diet.
Why Do Some People Respond Particularly Well To A Zero Carb Diet?
There are people who are sensitive to specific foods, and for some the list might be very long, including most fruits and vegetables, so naturally these people do feel better when they remove them from their diet.
Unlike the long list of foods you can eat on keto, your food choices when doing a zero carb diet will be very limited, so you’re naturally excluding most foods that might cause inflammation, bloating, indigestion or similar symptoms.
If you suspect that you’re sensitive to a specific food, or a group of foods (such as nightshades, for example), you can try excluding it from your diet for a couple of weeks (4-6 weeks, ideally) and then slowly reintroduce it, by starting with small amounts of it and observing how your body reacts to it.
Going zero carb is a rather extreme approach if your main issue is food sensitivities. Trying to find out what your triggers are might be a much slower process, but will allow you to not limit your food choices as much.
Are The Zero Carb Diet And The Carnivore Diet The Same Thing?
Zero carb and carnivore are very similar diets, in the sense that you’re eating minimal carbs on both, and that most, or all of your food comes from the animal kingdom on both diets.
The accent of a zero carb diet would be to eat no carbs (so, technically, you could decide to have some plant fats, such as coconut oil or olive oil), while the most important thing of the carnivore diet is to not consume anything that is plant-based.
Different people adapt different approaches and have different motives for doing one or the other. Both diets are very restrictive and have an adaptation period that’s completely different from keto (i.e. even people who are already fat-adapted and who have done keto for months experience symptoms of an adaptation process once they switch to zero carb or to a carnivorous diet).
What Do You Eat On A Zero Carb Diet?
On a zero carb diet, most of the food you eat would be from the animal kingdom, the most important thing being that it has zero carbs.
Meat, fish, poultry, some types of cheese, butter, ghee. Note that organ meats, some seafood (such as mussels), and some types of cheese do contain carbs.
Additionally, people who are doing a zero carb diet, contrary to those who decide to go carnivore, might add plant-based fats, such as olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and so on.
What Are The Foods To Avoid When Doing Zero Carb?
In short, anything that contains carbs. A detailed list would be way too long for this article, as most foods contain some amount of carbs, but basically any plants (fruits or vegetables), any grains, any beans, any food containing sugar, any beverages that are not zero calorie and zero carb (i.e. anything but water, black coffee, unsweetened tea, and, based on your specific approach, diet soda) are off-limits.
Is Zero Carb Diet Healthy? Should You Try It?
At the moment there are virtually no studies on the zero carb diet, so it’s difficult to know what are its long-term health effects.
There are many people who have followed a zero carb diet for long periods of time, and who report feeling great on it; you can find their testimonials online, and some of them are active in various forums or Facebook groups.
There are also many people who have tried zero carb and have not felt so great on it, which has made them reintroduce carbs.
At the moment there are certainly more questions than answers regarding the long term health aspects of a zero carb diet, and no definitive data is available.
For that reason, the decision to try a zero carb diet remains a strictly personal one, based on your specific circumstances and preferences; either way, you should be mindful of the signals your body is giving you and reassess your approach if you don’t feel good (beyond the adaptation phase).
What Are The Things To Consider If You Decide To Try A Zero Carb Diet?
Switching to zero carb is not an easy process for most people. In fact, it frequently includes a lengthy adaptation period (which can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months), where different people experience different symptoms, ranging from fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, insomnia, and upset stomach, among others.
You might notice that these symptoms are largely similar to the ones you experience while getting fat adapted, however, even people who have already adapted to keto and to burning fat for fuel tend to experience them once they go zero carb.
Once the adaptation period is over, many people report feeling better than on their previous diets.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you switch to a diet where you consume mostly meat, your gut flora will slowly change, and if you reintroduce other foods later on, you might have a hard time digesting them in the beginning.
If you have done zero carb for long periods of time but wish to go back to having other foods, reintroduction of non-zero carb foods should be slow.
In order not to develop any deficiencies, it is generally a good idea to consume some organ meat for the micronutrients that it contains, even at the expense of a couple of carbs here and there.
Is Zero Carb Good For Weight Loss?
It can be. Similarly to other diets, if you’re staying below your energy needs for a while, you’re bound to lose weight. Being in a calorie deficit might be easier on zero carb than on high-carb diets, but the same is true for keto. One of keto’s benefits is decreased hunger.
Many people who follow a zero carb diet decide to not count calories, and to let their hunger cues guide them. This might be a successful strategy for some, for example for people who are at their goal weight, or if they have been eating at maintenance for a while.
Many people report weight loss from going zero carb even without counting calories or making a specific effort to eat less; that’s likely due to the fact that food that was less than optimal for them is now removed from their diets, and that the food that they’re consuming on a zero carb is highly nutritious (i.e. they’re no longer eating empty calories).
Other people who do zero carb decide to count calories, and stick to a certain amount of protein and fat per day (i.e. they still count macros, even if carbs are removed from the equation), in order to sustain their lean body mass and to make sure they’re not eating too much or too little.
Each of these two approaches has their followers and supporters, and in many zero carb / carnivore Facebook groups you’ll see heated discussions on the matter of calories.
Regarding carbs, less is not necessarily better. While there are many people who report doing exceptionally well on zero carb, there are also many others who do not do so great on it.
Zero carb is a very restrictive diet that has a tough and lengthy adaptation period, so only the most motivated people succeed in staying zero carb for long periods of time.
Due to the novelty of this diet, research on it is practically non-existent; at the moment, the evidence is only anecdotal. There are a number of online zero carb communities which can provide lots of additional information on this diet, as well as guidance and tips.
As with any drastic lifestyle change, anyone who tries zero carb needs to be mindful of the signals their bodies are giving them and to make the necessary adjustments.