Low-carb foods include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and natural fats, like butter.
Low-carb foods have become more sought-after as low-carb diets, like keto or Atkins, surge in popularity.
Most people try low-carb diets as a way to
or manage their blood sugar levels, says Natalie Allen, RD, clinical assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University.
It’s possible to eat delicious real food until you are satisfied… and still lose weight.
At least 23 studies have found that low-carb diets can cause up to 2–3 times more weight loss than low-fat diets
A low-carb diet is a diet that restricts carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary foods, pasta and bread. It is high in protein, fat and healthy vegetables.
There are many different types of low-carb diets, and studies show that they can cause weight loss and improve health.
A low-carb diet is one that limits carbohydrates, primarily found in sugary foods, pasta, and bread. Instead of eating carbs, you focus on protein-rich whole foods and vegetables.
Studies show that low-carb diets can result in weight loss and improved health markers.
These diets have been in common use for decades and are recommended by many doctors.
Though there are plenty of low-carb foods out there, filling your plate with high-protein, low-carb foods, in particular, will help ensure your meals are super satisfying.
Best yet, there’s usually no need to count calories or use special products. All you need to do is eat whole foods that make for a complete, nutritious, and filling diet
This is a detailed meal plan for a low-carb diet. It explains what to eat, what to avoid and includes a sample low-carb menu for one week.
If you’re eating a low-carb diet or just looking to cut back on carbs, you may be wondering what foods you can eat. Or how many carbs are in certain foods like quinoa and oatmeal-healthy whole grains that still have carbs, but also pack a lot of nutrition in. Not to mention, what kind of vegetables, fruits and proteins can you eat and how many carbs do those foods have?
Depending on how much you’re limiting your carb intake, a low-carb food typically is anything with less than 15 carbohydrates per serving. So with that, here are some low-carb foods you may want to consider adding to your diet.
What Is Low Carb?
A low-carb diet means that you eat fewer carbohydrates and a higher proportion of protein and fat. This can also be called a keto diet.
However, not all low-carb diets result in ketosis.
For decades we’ve been told that fat is detrimental to our health. Meanwhile, low-fat “diet” products, often full of sugar, flooded supermarket shelves. This coincided with the beginning of the obesity epidemic and, in hindsight, was likely a major mistake. While the proliferation of low-fat products doesn’t prove causation, it’s clear the low-fat message didn’t prevent the increase in obesity, and we believe that it has contributed.
Studies now show that there’s little reason to fear natural fats.
Instead, on a low-carb diet you don’t have to fear fat. Simply minimize your intake of sugar and starches, make sure you are getting adequate protein — or even high amounts of protein — and you can eat enough natural fat to enjoy your meals.
When you avoid sugar and starches, your blood sugar tends to stabilize, and the levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin drop, which may make it easier to burn fat stores in the body.
In addition, the higher protein intake and presence of ketones (if eating very low carb) may make you feel more satiated, thereby naturally reducing food intake and promoting weight loss.
Studies show that a low-carb diet can make it easier to lose weight and to control your blood sugar, among other benefits.
What’s A Low-Carb Diet?
But how low is low-carb? There are different types of low-carb diets. Generally, low-carb eating is when you reduce the total amount of carbs you consume in a day to less than 130g.
To put this into context, a medium-sized slice of bread is about 15 to 20g of carbs, which is about the same as a regular apple. On the other hand, a large jacket potato could have as much as 90g of carbs, as does one litre of orange juice.
A low-carb diet isn’t for everyone. The evidence shows they can be safe and effective in helping people with type 2 diabetes manage their weight, blood glucose (sugar) levels and risk of heart disease in the short term.
But the evidence also shows they can affect growth in children, and so should not be recommended for them. And there is little evidence to show the benefits of this type of diet in people with type 1.
If you do decide to follow a low-carb diet, it’s important to know all the potential benefits and how to manage any potential risks.
Why you might follow a low-carb diet
You might choose to follow a low-carb diet because you:
- Want a diet that restricts certain carbs to help you lose weight
- Want to change your overall eating habits
- Enjoy the types and amounts of foods featured in low-carb diets
Check with your doctor before starting any weight-loss diet, especially if you have any health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.
A low-carb diet restricts the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Carbohydrates are grouped as simple natural (lactose in milk and fructose in fruit), simple refined (table sugar), complex natural (whole grains or beans) and complex refined (white flour).
Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include:
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
In general, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly and they have less effect on blood sugar than refined carbohydrates do. They also provide fiber.
Refined carbohydrates such as sugar or white flour are often added to processed foods. Examples of foods with refined carbohydrates are white breads and pasta, cookies, cake, candy, and sugar-sweetened sodas and drinks.
Your body uses carbohydrates as its main energy source. During digestion complex carbs are broken down into simple sugars (glucose) and release into your blood (blood glucose).
Insulin is released to help glucose enter the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy. Extra glucose is stored in the liver and muscles, and some is converted to body fat.
A low-carb diet is intended to cause the body to burn stored fat for energy, which leads to weight loss.
The Different Types of Low-Carb Diets You Might Try
Keto Diet This is the strictest plan, requiring you to eat less than 50 g of carbs per day and up your fat intake significantly. This is a popular weight loss diet.
Traditional Low Carb This approach includes 50 to 100 g of carbs per day; this is where many people start because it’s less restrictive than a keto diet meal plan but can still deliver results.
Atkins Diet The Atkins diet takes you through four phases, starting with very-low-carb consumption and then gradually introducing more carbohydrate-rich foods throughout. It’s good for people who like a more structured plan.
Dukan Diet This option also includes four phases: two weight loss and two maintenance. For instance, the first phase of the Dukan diet focuses on high-protein foods, the second adds vegetables back in, the third allows two “celebration” meals per week, and the fourth is about keeping your weight stable. Because you can follow the diet from the book, it also appeals to people who need a planned approach.
Paleo Just because the paleo diet eliminates grains doesn’t mean it’s low in carbs, especially if you eat root veggies (like sweet potatoes) and fruit, but it can be followed this way.
Foods to Avoid
You should avoid these six food groups and nutrients, in order of importance:
- Sugar: Soft drinks, fruit juices, agave, candy, ice cream and many other products that contain added sugar.
- Refined grains: Wheat, rice, barley and rye, as well as bread, cereal and pasta.
- Trans fats: Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
- Diet and low-fat products: Many dairy products, cereals or crackers are fat-reduced, but contain added sugar.
- Highly processed foods: If it looks like it was made in a factory, don’t eat it.
- Starchy vegetables: It’s best to limit starchy vegetables in your diet if you’re following a very low-carb diet.
You must read ingredient lists even on foods labelled as health foods.
Low-Carb Food List — Foods to Eat
You should base your diet on these real, unprocessed, low-carb foods.
- Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, chicken and others; grass-fed is best.
- Fish: Salmon, trout, haddock and many others; wild-caught fish is best.
- Eggs: Omega-3-enriched or pastured eggs are best.
- Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and many others.
- Fruits: Apples, oranges, pears, blueberries, strawberries.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- High-fat dairy: Cheese, butter, heavy cream, yogurt.
- Fats and oils: Coconut oil, butter, lard, olive oil and fish oil.
If you need to lose weight, be careful with cheese and nuts, as it’s easy to overeat on them. Don’t eat more than one piece of fruit per day.
Foods to Maybe Include
If you’re healthy, active and don’t need to lose weight, you can afford to eat a few more carbs.
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes and some others.
- Unrefined grains: Brown rice, oats, quinoa and many others.
- Legumes: Lentils, black beans, pinto beans, etc. (if you can tolerate them).
What’s more, you can have the following in moderation, if you want:
Dark chocolate: Choose organic brands with at least 70% of cocoa.
Wine: Choose dry wines with no added sugar or carbs.
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and may provide health benefits if you eat it in moderation. However, be aware that both dark chocolate and alcohol will hinder your progress if you eat/drink too much.
- Sugar-free carbonated beverages, like sparkling water.
The Best Healthy Low-Carb Foods
Eggs and Meats
Eggs and all types of meat are close to zero carb. Organ meats are an exception, such as liver, which contains about 5% carbs (13).
Eggs (Almost Zero)
Eggs are among the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet.
They’re loaded with various nutrients — including some that are important for your brain — and compounds that can improve eye health (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
Carbs: almost zero.
Beef is highly satiating and loaded with important nutrients like iron and vitamin B12. There are dozens of different types of beef, from ribeye steak to ground beef to hamburger.
Like beef, lamb contains many beneficial nutrients, including iron and vitamin B12. Lamb is often grass-fed, and tends to be high in the beneficial fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (14Trusted Source).
Chicken is among the world’s most popular meats. It’s high in many beneficial nutrients and an excellent source of protein.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, it may be a better choice to go for fattier cuts like wings and thighs.
Pork, Including Bacon (Usually Zero)
Pork is another delicious type of meat, and bacon is a favorite of many low-carb dieters.
Bacon is a processed meat, and therefore definitely not a health food. However, it’s generally acceptable to eat moderate amounts of bacon on a low-carb diet.
Try to buy your bacon locally, without artificial ingredients, and make sure not to burn it during cooking.
Carbs: zero, but read the label and avoid bacon that is cured with sugar.
Jerky (Usually Zero)
Jerky is meat that has been cut into strips and dried. As long as it doesn’t contain added sugar or artificial ingredients, jerky can be a perfect low-carb snack food.
However, keep in mind that a lot of the jerky available at stores is highly processed and unhealthy. Your best bet is to make your own.
Carbs: Depends on the type. If it’s purely meat and seasoning then it should be close to zero.
Fish and other seafoods tend to be incredibly nutritious and healthy.
They’re particularly high in B12, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids — all nutrients of which many people don’t get enough.
Like meat, almost all types of fish and seafood contain next to no carbs.
Salmon is one of the most popular types of fish among health-conscious individuals — for good reason.
It’s a fatty fish, which means it contains significant amounts of heart-healthy fats — in this case omega-3 fatty acids.
Salmon is also loaded with vitamin B12, iodine and a decent amount of vitamin D3.
Like salmon, trout is a type of fatty fish that is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients.
Sardines are oily fish that are generally eaten almost whole, including their bones.
Sardines are among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and contain almost every single nutrient that you body needs.
Shellfish (4–5% Carbs)
It’s a shame that shellfish rarely makes it onto people’s daily menus, as they’re one of the world’s most nutritious foods.
In fact, they rank close to organ meats in their nutrient density and are low in carbs.
Carbs: 4–5 grams of carbs per 100 grams of shellfish.
Shrimp is a seriously underrated lean protein source (and virtually carb-free). “Just one serving provides nearly half of the daily value (DV) of protein,” says Martin. Shrimp also get their pink color from an antioxidant called astaxanthin, which is said to have skin and heart health benefits.
Per serving (100 grams): 106 cals, 1.7 g fat (0.3 g sat), >1 g carbs (>1 g net carbs), 0 g fiber, 148 mg sodium, 0 g sugar, 20 g protein
1/2 cup cooked quinoa = 20 grams carbohydrate
Quinoa’s one of the grains with the biggest fanfare, thanks to its protein content (8 grams per cup) and fiber (5 grams per cup). But remember, just because it’s a higher-protein grain doesn’t mean it’s super low in carbs. 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa has 20 grams of carbohydrate, so make sure to plan that into your day and stick to a 1/2 cup serving
1 cup of cooked oatmeal = 28 grams carbohydrate
If you’re going to have a big bowl of carbs-even on a low-carb diet, make it oatmeal. Oats contain beta-glucan, which helps slow digestion. In a study in Nutrition Journal, eating oatmeal helped reduce appetite over four hours better than cold cereal containing the same amount of calories. Whether you’re going for a serving of old-fashioned or quick oats, they both contain 27 grams of carbs per 1/2 cup dry. Make sure you buy plain versions rather than flavored instant oats, which come with a lot of added sugar.
Made from cornmeal, polenta is a staple of Italian cooking. You can whip it up at home or buy ready-to-eat polenta in rolls that you slice. A 3.5-ounce portion (one-fifth of the roll) contains only 15 grams of carbs, quite low when it comes to grains. If you’re gluten-free, polenta also makes a good choice.
Almonds are loaded with fiber and magnesium. Grab a handful to munch on as a snack or add them to a salad.
One ounce of almonds contains:
- 6 g of carbohydrates (2% DV)
- 164 calories
- 76 mg of magnesium (18% DV)
While almonds are higher in calories than other kinds of low-carb foods, their high-fiber content keeps you full for longer, which could result in weight loss.
In fact, a 2014 study found patients who ate a reduced-calorie diet with 50 grams of almonds daily lost more weight over three months than participants who ate a reduced-calorie diet without almonds.
Most vegetables are low in carbs. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables have particularly low levels, and the majority of their carbs consist of fiber.
On the other hand, starchy root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes are high in carbs.
Broccoli is a tasty cruciferous vegetable that can be eaten both raw and cooked. It’s high in vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber and contains potent cancer-fighting plant compounds.
Carbs: 6 grams per cup, or 7 grams per 100 grams.
Tomatoes are technically fruits or berries but usually eaten as vegetables. They’re high in vitamin C and potassium.
Carbs: 7 grams in a large tomato, or 4 grams per 100 grams.
Onions are among the tastiest plants on Earth and add powerful flavor to your recipes. They’re high in fiber, antioxidants and various anti-inflammatory compounds.
Carbs: 11 grams per cup, or 9 grams per 100 grams.
Brussels Sprouts (7%)
Brussels sprouts are highly nutritious vegetables, related to broccoli and kale.
They’re very high in vitamins C and K and contain numerous beneficial plant compounds.
Carbs: 6 grams per half cup, or 7 grams per 100 grams.
Cauliflower is a tasty and versatile vegetable that can be used to make various interesting dishes in your kitchen.
It’s high in vitamin C, vitamin K and folate.
Carbs: 5 grams per cup, and 5 grams per 100 grams.
Kale is a very popular vegetable among health-conscious individuals, offering numerous health benefits.
It’s loaded with fiber, vitamins C and K, as well as carotene antioxidants.
Carbs: 7 grams per cup, or 10 grams per 100 grams.
Eggplant is another fruit that is commonly consumed as a vegetable. It has many interesting uses and is very high in fiber.
Carbs: 5 grams per cup, or 6 grams per 100 grams.
Cucumber is a popular vegetable with a mild flavor. It consists mostly of water, with a small amount of vitamin K.
Carbs: 2 grams per half cup, or 4 grams per 100 grams.
Bell Peppers (6%)
Bell peppers are popular fruits/vegetables with a distinct and satisfying flavor. They’re very high in fiber, vitamin C and carotene antioxidants.
Carbs: 9 grams per cup, or 6 grams per 100 grams.
Asparagus is a highly delicious spring vegetable.
It’s very high in fiber, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K and carotene antioxidants.
What’s more, it’s very high in protein, compared to most vegetables.
Carbs: 3 grams per cup, or 2 grams per 100 grams.
Green Beans (7%)
Green beans are technically legumes, but they’re usually consumed in a similar manner as vegetables.
Calorie for calorie, they’re extremely high in many nutrients, including fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium and potassium.
Carbs: 8 grams per cup, or 7 grams per 100 grams.
Though they’re technically not plants, edible mushrooms are often categorized as vegetables.
They contain decent amounts of potassium and are high in some B vitamins.
Carbs: 3 grams per cup, and 3 grams per 100 grams (white mushrooms).
Raw carrots are crunchy, which may help you feel more satisfied compared to softer foods and help you eat less overall. They make a great snack by themselves or they can be roasted and served as a side dish with a meal.
One cup of raw carrots contains:
- 11 g of carbohydrates (4% DV)
- 49 calories
- 1,000 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A (111% DV)
Though fruits are generally perceived as being healthy, they’re highly controversial among people following a low-carb diet.
That’s because most fruits tend to be high in carbs, compared to vegetables.
Depending on how many carbs you are aiming for, you may want to restrict your fruit intake to 1–2 pieces per day.
However, this does not apply to fatty fruits like avocados or olives. Low-sugar berries, such as strawberries, are another excellent choice.
The avocado is a unique type of fruit. Instead of being high in carbs, it’s loaded with healthy fats.
Avocados are also extremely high in fiber and potassium and contain decent amounts of other nutrients.
When looking at the listed carb numbers below, keep in mind that the majority, or about 78% of the carbs in avocado are fiber. Therefore, it contains almost no digestible net carbs.
Carbs: 13 grams per cup, or 8.5 grams per 100 grams.
The olive is another delicious high-fat fruit. It’s very high in iron and copper and contains a decent amount of vitamin E.
Carbs: 2 grams per ounce, or 6 grams per 100 grams.
Strawberries are among the lowest-carb and most nutrient-dense fruits you can eat. They’re very high in vitamin C, manganese and various antioxidants.
Carbs: 11 grams per cup, or 8 grams per 100 grams.
Grapefruits are citrus fruits that are related to oranges. They’re very high in vitamin C and carotene antioxidants.
Carbs: 13 grams in half a grapefruit, or 11 grams per 100 grams.
The apricot is an incredibly delicious fruit. Each apricot contains few carbohydrates but plenty of vitamin C and potassium.
Carbs: 8 grams in two apricots, or 11 grams per 100 grams.