Low-carb diets are becoming increasingly popular, but which foods are low in carbohydrates? In this post, you’ll find 100 healthy low-carb food choices so you understand what you can eat on a low-carb diet.
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Low-Carb Identification Trick
The best way for you to quickly classify whether a food is low-carb is to think about its source. Did it come from an animal or a plant?
Plants are the living organisms that make carbohydrates.
Photosynthesis is the process that plants use to make carbs from the raw materials of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water.
All plant foods will contain carbs, but that doesn’t rule them out of a healthy low-carb diet. You just need to pick the right ones.
What Are Low Carb Foods? [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- How to classify low-carb foods.
- Which foods are best for a low-carb diet.
- Additional advice on choosing the best options within each category.
Low-Carb Meats, Fish, Seafood, Eggs
Most foods that come directly from animals contain only trace amounts of carbs. Let’s start our low-carb food list with meats.
Meats can come from any source including beef, poultry, pork, lamb, venison, and bison. There are also products that come from meats that count as low-carb foods like bacon, pork rinds, beef jerky, and lunchmeats.
As with any food, processing lowers the nutrient quality of the food, so you will be happiest with the overall quality of your diet if you limit processed meats. Choose them wisely to avoid unhealthy ingredients as well as hidden sugars, which will increase the carbs.
All varieties of fish and seafood, from wild-caught salmon and haddock to shrimp and scallops, can be enjoyed as part of a low-carb diet.
The very versatile egg is a great addition to a low-carb diet and works great as a snack, meal, or recipe ingredient.
Dairy products are the category of animal-based foods that you’ll want to pay attention to when counting carbs. There are two reasons.
- Dairy contains a natural sugar called lactose.
- Dairy foods are often sweetened, which can increase the carb count of the food.
While it doesn’t apply 100 percent of the time, a general rule of thumb is that the higher a dairy food is in fat, the lower it is in the milk sugar lactose. For instance, a quarter cup of heavy cream has about one and a half grams of carbs, whereas the same amount of fat-free, skim milk has twice the carbs.
Fat also provides flavor, so full-fat dairy foods don’t need to rely on added sweeteners like their low-fat counterparts. Read your labels and don’t be afraid to choose the full-fat, low-sugar varieties.
The dairy foods that can fit into a low carb diet include full-fat yogurt, heavy cream, half-n-half, sour cream, and different varieties of cheese. Again, pay attention to the carb count of dairy foods.
Fats & Oils
We can round out our list of low-carb animal-based foods with cooking fats. Those that come from animals include butter, lard, and tallow.
This also provides a perfect segue into plant-based low-carb foods because we get some oils from plants, including avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil.
There are also oils classified as vegetable oils such as soybean, sunflower, and canola oil. These oils fit on the low-carb list, but I do not use them due to their questionable health value. If you want to know more about that, you can see my blog post on the best cooking oils.
All whole plant foods contain carbs, but that doesn’t rule them out of a healthy low-carb diet. You just need to pick wisely so that you’re getting the vital nutrients from the plant foods without excess carbs.
Let’s continue our list of low-carb plant foods, and I am going to loosely list them from lowest carb content to highest.
Coffee & tea come from coffee beans or tea leaves and contain only a trace amount of carb grams, making them favorite choices for low-carb dieters.
Herbs and spices also come from plants, so they contain trace amounts of carbohydrates. This is typically a non-issue because spices tend to be used in small quantities.
You do want to read the label on packaged spice blends that have other ingredients added in. For instance, a packet of taco seasoning mix contains four carbs per serving.
Leafy grees are a great low-carb vegetable choice and many other non-starchy vegetables will fit into your low-carb lifestyle.
A few of the more popular low-carb vegetables include asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and onions.
Onions are a bit higher in carbs than the other vegetables mentioned, so that is something you might want to pay attention to if you are following a very-low-carb/keto-style diet.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds qualify as low-carb foods, but monitor how many you are eating because they are easy to overeat. The carb content will also vary with nuts with pecans, walnuts, and macadamia nuts being lower in carbs than pistachios and cashews.
Low-carb seeds add a great crunch as a salad topper and can be blended into recipes to enhance the health values.
I prefer to eat seeds and nuts raw to avoid the unhealthy oils that they are typically roasted in. Some favorites include chia, hemp, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds.
Nut Butters & Flours
With the popularity of low-carb diets, we are seeing a rise in the popularity of butter derived from nuts and seeds.
These natural kinds of butter have a place on our list, but they are even easier to overeat than the nuts and seeds themselves. You also have to read the label to make sure that other ingredients, including sugar, were not added.
We also can grind nuts and similar plant foods to give us flour like almond or coconut flour for baking.
While these flours may have some health benefits when compared to white flour, anytime you refine a whole food, it changes the way your body handles it. If you are using a low-carb diet as a way to lose weight, you’ll be happiest with your results if you avoid or limit all types of flour.
There are many varieties of fruit. Some make the low-carb list, and others do not. Fruits that are generally regarded as being low-carb friendly include avocados, coconuts, lemons, limes, and olives.
There are other fruits that are not super high in carbs that can fit into a low-carb diet for some people. These include apples, apricots, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, and watermelon. However, if you are weight loss resistant, you may find that you need to limit your overall fruit intake.
I am also going to give an honorable mention to dark chocolate. For dark chocolate to qualify as low-carb friendly, you’ll need to look for brands that are at least 70% cacao with little added sugar.
Just a side note: dark chocolate is an acquired taste; the longer you’re following a low carb diet, the more your taste buds will adjust allowing you to taste the subtle sweetness.
You can see that there are a lot of nutrient-rich foods to choose from when you follow a low-carb diet. I threw a lot of foods at you in this post. If you’d like the complete downloadable low-carb food list, you can download it by clicking the button below.
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About the Author
Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.