Fact Checked

This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.

Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

The 50 Best Low-Carb Foods, Plus Recipe Ideas & Tips

By

Low carb food recipes ideas tips - Dr. Axe

While low-carb diets have been shown to have many benefits, especially for those who can afford to kick a sugar habit or perhaps lose weight in order to improve their health, many are hesitant to try this way of eating out of fear of giving up some of their favorite foods.

Rest assured that when following a healthy low-carb diet, it’s still possible to keep enjoying all sorts of awesome recipes. For example, low-carb recipes include everything from slow cooker chicken and veggies to grass-fed burgers.

And what about low-carb breakfasts or travel-friendly low-carb snacks? These can include green smoothies or protein shakes, low-carb desserts made from things like coconut or almond flour, 1–2 cage-free hard-boiled eggs, or newer varieties of grass-fed beef jerky, for example.

While eating a low carbohydrate diet might not be the “magic bullet” to lasting weight loss for every person, it’s very helpful for most people to cut back on added sources of sugar and processed carbs. Removing foods such as bread, cereals, sweetened drinks, processed dairy and in some cases, even whole grains or starchy veggies from your diet can result in your body releasing less insulin.

This helps to balance blood sugar levels, reduce cravings and fatigue, and may potentially reduce your risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

What Are Low-Carb Foods?

“Carbohydrates” describes foods with all types of added sugar, plus all grains, fruit, dairy and veggies in your diet.

Low-carb foods include: all types of meat, eggs, fish and seafood, most cheeses, butter, oils/fats, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

A diet that’s “low carb” can mean different things for different people. Generally speaking, however, what qualifies as a low-carb diet is one where you’re getting only around 20–30 percent (or sometimes much less) of your daily calories from sources of carbohydrates.

Why is it helpful to you replace carb-heavy foods in your diet with low-carb foods like non-starchy veggies, healthy fats and high-quality proteins? The benefits associated with low-carb diets include: 

  • weight loss
  • helps to reduce hunger and make you feel satisfied between meals
  • possibly even reverse certain nutrient deficiencies or health conditions.
  • normalized blood sugar levels due to better control over insulin and blood sugar (glucose)
  • neuroprotective effects and enhanced cognitive performance; less “brain fog” or dips in energy’ improved memory
  • improvements in hormonal balance
  • reduced bone loss or osteoporosis
  • in athletes, possible favorable changes in body mass and body composition, along with increase in the relative values of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and oxygen uptake at lactate threshold (VO2 LT)

Total Carbs vs Net Carbs

What are net carbs?  They are the amount of carbs left over when fiber grams are subtracted from total carbs. In other words, fiber is not counted toward net carbs because fiber isn’t actually digestible once consumed, nor does it spike blood sugar levels like glucose does.

For this reason most people eating even a very low-carb diet try to still consume some foods high in fiber, such as non-starchy veggies and sometimes nuts/seeds.

If you were to aim for about 100 grams of net carbs daily, split between three main meals, each low-carb meal would be around 30–35 grams of net carbs. What would a low-carb meal that has 30–35 grams of net carbs look like?

Examples of low-carb meals could include:

  • A serving of protein along with 2 cups of non-starchy veggies, a side salad with mixed greens, and 1–2 tablespoons of oil or dressing. This would equate to even less than 35 grams of net carbs
  • Lettuce cups, or a “collard wrap”, filled with things like veggies, sesame dressing and shredded chicken
  • Fajitas made with a protein of your choice and lots of veggies
  • Chicken or salmon burgers over salad (no bun)
  • Empanadas or quesadillas filled with grass-fed beef and cheese, made with an almond or coconut flour crust
  • Cauliflower crust pizza
  • And many more options like smoothies, casseroles and crockpot/slow cooker recipes

The 50 Best Low-Carb Foods

Below is a list of low carb foods for weight loss, blood sugar balance, and more:

Low-Carb Veggies:

1. Broccoli

High in antioxidants and beneficial phytonutrients including glucosinolates that fight cancer, plus vitamins C and K, potassium and more.

Net carbs: 3.5

2. Cauliflower

High in nutrients like vitamin C and phytochemicals including polyphenols, carotenoids, flavonoid, and ascorbic acid that can help prevent inflammation and oxidative stress.

Net carbs: 3.5

3. Mushrooms

Provides many important nutrients including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, proteins and fiber.

Net carbs: 2

4. Peppers

High in vitamin C and shown to have rich polyphenol content that possesses free radical-scavenging activities.

Net carbs: 3.5

5. Chard or collard greens

Excellent source of vitamins A, C and K along with numerous antioxidants that protect against cancer, heart disease vision loss and neurological disorders.

Net carbs: 1-4

6. Asparagus

A natural diuretic that helps reduce swelling and edema, plus has been shown to have antioxidant, immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial properties.

Net carbs: 2.5

7. Kale

Considered a “superfood”, kale is a cruciferous veggie that has a high macronutrient and phytochemical content, especially rich in vitamins K, C, A, fiber and carotenoid and glucosinolate antioxidants.

Net carbs: 3.5

8. Spinach

One of the best high-fiber, low-carb foods to fill up on, with less than 20 calories per two cup serving. Great source of numerous nutrients including vitamin C, K, A, iron, potassium, calcium and more.

Net carbs: 0.5

9. Green beans

A great source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium, potassium, chlorophyll (which gives them their green color and detoxifying effects) and carotenoids antioxidants.

Net carbs: 4.5

10. Arugula

Very low in calories and supplies isothiocyanate compounds, which are linked to cancer prevention, immune support and more.

Net carbs: 0.5

11. Leeks or onions

High in fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, sulfur-containing compounds. These have been linked to protection against carcinogens and protective antimicrobial activities.

Net carbs: 4.5 per 1/2 cup

12. Tomatoes

One of the best sources of the antioxidant called lycopene, which has been linked to reduced risk of cancer and heart problems, plus high in vitamin C, carotenoids and potassium.

Net carbs: 5

13. Brussel sprouts

Very good source of vitamins C and K, along with phytonutrients that increase antioxidant status and protect DNA from damage.

Net carbs: 4.5

14. Avocado

A great source of healthy monounsaturated fat, plus fiber, magnesium, vitamin A and potassium.

Net carbs: 2

15. Turnips

Contains glucosinolates and isothiocyanates and has been shown in studies to have antitumor, antihypertensive, antidiabetic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Net carbs: 6

16. Cabbage

As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is high in vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, manganese and vitamin B6.

Net carbs: 3

17. Carrots

A great source of vitamin A, carotenoid antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin that protect skin and eye health, plus fiber, vitamin C and vitamin B6.

Net carbs: 4.5 (1 medium carrot)

Eggs & Dairy:

18. Cage-free eggs

A convenient and delicious way to obtain healthy fats, protein and many nutrients including B vitamins, choline, and even carotenoid antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin.

Net carbs: 0

19. Full-fat unsweetened yogurt or kefir

Full of gut-friendly probiotics and minerals including potassium, B vitamins and magnesium.

Net carbs: 11 grams per cup

20. Raw whole milk

A relatively low-carb, high-protein food that also provide important micronutrients like vitamin D, healthy fats, potassium and magnesium.

Net carbs: 12 grams per cup

21. Hard cheese, sour cream and heavy cream

Great sources of healthy saturated fat, B vitamins and more. All are low in carbs, but very importantly, opt for grass-fed and organic dairy whenever possible, ideally made from raw milk. Cheeses low in carbs include blue cheese, cheddar cheese, goat, feta, Swiss, parmesan and asiago.

Net carbs: 1-3 per ounce

Low carb foods guide - Dr. Axe

Meat & Seafood:

All meats and fish are high-protein, low-carb foods. Ideally always looking for wild-caught fish and avoid or limit most shellfish such as shrimp, which tend to be higher in heavy metals like mercury.

Fish are a great source of important nutrients, including the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) eicosapentaenoic acid/docosahexaenoic acid (EPA/DHA), also known as omega-3 fatty acids. These are associated with enhanced brain development in children and reduced heart disease risk and protection against cognitive decline.

Grass-fed beef and other fatty red meats like lamb and poultry with the skin on are great sources of protein, fat, B vitamins and trace minerals. Whenever possible opt for grass-fed, pastured animal products which tend to come from healthier animals.

In addition to providing satiating protein and minerals like iron and zinc, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a type of fat found in meat from ruminant animals that has been linked with enhanced immunity and protection against fat accumulation.

22. Salmon

One of the healthiest high-protein low-carb foods available, salmon also supplies you with omega-3 fatty acids and even antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects.

Net carbs: 0

23. Haddock

Net carbs: 0

24. Trout

Net carbs: 0

25. Halibut

Net carbs: 0

26. Sardines, anchovies and mackerel

Net carbs: 0

27. Turkey

Relatively low in fat and high in protein, plus good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins.

Net carbs: 0

28. Chicken

High in protein, good source of fats if you eat the skin, plus provides iron, zinc, copper and B vitamins.

Net carbs: 0

29. Grass-fed beef and lamb

Net carbs: 0

Nuts & Seeds:

30. Chia seeds

Great source of filling fiber and ALA omega-3 fats, plus can help prevent constipation. Also provides antioxidants including chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol.

Net carbs: 2 per 2 tablespoons

31. Flax seeds

Excellent source of fibers and flax lignans that have potential to help with reduction of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, autoimmune and neurological disorders. Also provides omega-3s, polysaccharides, lignans, phenolic compounds, vitamins A, C, F and E, and minerals.

Net carbs: 0.5 per 2 tablespoons

32. Almonds

Contains monounsaturated fat, fiber, minerals such as magnesium, calcium and copper, vitamin E and phytonutrients. Linked to help managing body weight, glucose regulation, reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, and heart health.

Net carbs: 3 per 1/4 cup

33. Walnuts

The best plant source of omega-3s, plus a good source of bioactive compounds, vitamin E and polyphenols. Have been shown have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory bioactivity, and to offer protection against conditions including cancer, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Net carbs: 2 per 1/4 cup

34. Pumpkin, sesame and hemp seeds

Rich source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, phytosterols, antioxidant vitamins, such as carotenoids and tocopherols, and trace minerals such as selenium and zinc.

Net carbs: 1.5 per 1/4 cup

35. Cashews, Brazil nuts, and most other nuts

Provide polyunsaturated fatty acids, vegetable proteins, fibers, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and phytosterols with potential antioxidant activity.

Net carbs: 1.5 to 5 per 1/4 cup

Oils & Fats:

36. Coconut, olive, hemp, flaxseed, walnut or avocado oil

Although these are high calorie, low-carb foods, they help to fill you up and keep your hunger in check. They provide a range of fatty acids (saturated and unsaturated) that support neurological health, hormonal health and digestive and heart health.

Net carbs: 0

37. Grass-fed Butter or ghee (clarified butter)

Provides healthy saturated fatty acids, along with vitamins A and E. Ghee can usually be tolerated by those with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivities.

Net carbs: 0

38. Palm oil

Similar to butter, provides healthy saturated fatty acids, along with vitamins A and E.

Net carbs: 0

39. Lard

A type of animal fat, adds healthy fats and flavor to meals.

Net carbs: 0

Condiments, Herbs and Spices:

40. Herbs (including turmeric, ginger, oregano, rosemary, basil, real sea salt, pepper, etc.)

Help to enhance the flavor and aroma of meals with basically zero calories, plus they possess anti-inflammatory properties that protect from diseases. Many have also been shown in studies to have antioxidant, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, and glucose- and cholesterol-lowering activities.

Net carbs: 0 to 0.5 per teaspoon

41. Hot sauces

Made from peppers that contain essential minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins, including vitamin C and vitamin A. Cayenne pepper, which contains the active compound capsaicin, has been shown to have positive effects on atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions.

Net carbs: 0.5 per teaspoon

42. Apple cider vinegar

Contains the active ingredient acetic acid which is linked to benefits such as regulation of hunger and blood sugar management. Other vinegars (balsamic, white, red, etc.) are also beneficial but can be higher in carbs, so use in moderation.

Net carbs: 0

43. Cocoa powder (raw and unsweetened)

A low-sugar ingredient that adds flavor and antioxidants including polyphenols to healthy “sweets”, smoothies, etc.

Net carbs: 1 per tablespoon

44. Mustard

Mustard seeds contain phytochemicals including isothiocyanate which is linked to cancer prevention. Just avoid high-sugar kinds like honey mustard.

Net carbs: 0 to 0.5 per tablespoon

45. Soy sauce, tamari or coconut aminos

Adds flavor to meals with very little calories, but is high in sodium, so use in small quantities. Also possesses antimicrobial activities and may enhance digestion due to fermentation.

Net carbs: 0. 5 to 5 per tablespoon

No-Carb Drinks:

46. Bone broth

A rich source of difficult-to-get collagen, trace minerals and electrolytes. Can be consumed on its own or cooked with.

Net carbs: 0

47. Teas (including green, black, oolong or white)

Provide antioxidants such as catechins and polyphenols and small amounts of caffeine. Have been linked with benefits including appetite regulation, cognitive health and protection against heart disease and more.

Net carbs: 0

48. Coffee (unsweetened)

A source of not only caffeine but also antioxidants. Linked to possible protection against diseases including diabetes, liver disease, neurological disorders, depression and more.

Net carbs: 0.5 per cup

49. Herbal teas (ginger, chamomile, honeybush, peppermint, chai, etc.)

Free of caffeine and can help to improve digestion, fight anxiety, reduce edema, help with sleep, and more.

Net carbs: 0

50. Fresh pressed green vegetable juice

High in vitamins and minerals, chlorophyll and antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavonoids. May help offer protection against oxidative stress, certain types of cancer and digestive issues.

Net carbs: 5 to 12 per cup, depending on the specific kind

Related: 7 High-Cholesterol Foods to Avoid (Plus 3 to Eat)

Tips for Eating Low Carb

Wondering what types of high carb foods to avoid when on a low-carb diet?

Because they’re higher in things like added sugar and carbs from flour or thickeners, limiting the foods below will keep your carb intake on the lower end:

  • If you’re intending to eat very low carbs, avoid all grains (including wheat, barley, oats, rice and other whole grains). This also includes all foods made with grain flour such as bread, cakes, biscuits, chips, cereal, muffins, pasta, etc.
  • Sugar and foods that contain artificial or added sweeteners (honey, cane sugar, coconut sugar, etc.)
  • Most commercial fruits and fruit juices (juice is high in sugar, with the exception of lime or lemon juice)
  • Most pre-made condiments, sauces or packet mixes, which tend to be high in sugar
  • Alcohol, soda and other sweetened drinks
  • If you’re looking to drastically reduce carbs (such as following a ketogenic diet), you’ll also want to avoid most dairy products that contain milk, yogurt, ricotta or cottage cheese. Higher fat, low-carb cheeses are often included even on very low-carb diets because they have very few carbs.

Can you eat oatmeal on a low carb diet? While oats and other whole grains are high in fiber, they also contain a lot of carbohydrates. Therefore most people don’t eat oatmeal while on a low carb diet.

If you’re having trouble remembering which types of veggies are non-starchy, and therefore lower in carbs, here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • Most veggies that are grown above ground are considered “non-starchy” and, therefore, have fewer carbs (cruciferous veggies like broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, chard and cabbage for example). Some squashes are also non-starchy, including spaghetti squash and zucchini.
  • Veggies grown below the ground, also sometimes called “root veggies,” are usually richer in starch and carbs (like potatoes, carrots, turnips and beets, for example).
  • This rule doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. For example, pumpkins grow above ground and are higher in carbs, but it’s a good place to start.

What fruit is lowest in carbs? While most root veggies and fruits aren’t usually considered to be “low carb,” the majority are still very nutrient-rich, low in sugar overall, and good additions to any diet.

For this reason, in moderation you may still want to include the following foods in your diet: berries (like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries or raspberries), tart cherries, cranberries, kiwi, citrus fruits, and melon, along with starch veggies like sweet or purple potatoes, rutabaga, beets, celeriac and parsnips.

What about beans and legumes, such as chickpeas, black beans, mung beans, adzuki beans, etc.? These are also not necessarily low carb, but still can be healthy in moderate amounts. If you do choose to eat legumes or grains, we recommend soaking and sprouting them before cooking, which helps release more of their protein, vitamins and minerals.

Precautions and Possible Side Effects of Low Carb Foods

Keep in mind that just because a food or meal is low in carbs doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. In many cases, the quality of the carbs you eat is even more important than the quantity.

For the sake of keeping processed/synthetic ingredients out of your diet, focus on avoiding low-carb packaged foods — like most commercial protein bars or meal replacement shakes. These may provide fat and protein, and be low in sugar or carbs, but they’re still not beneficial overall if they contain things like processed protein powders, refined oils and artificial sweeteners.

It’s also wise to steer clear of “diet” or “light” foods that have reduced or low fat and artificial ingredients. To make up for lost fat, these products are usually made with extra flour or carbs, thickeners, emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners.

Finally, skip foods made with trans-fats or hydrogenated oils, which is mostly junk foods, packaged foods or fast/fried foods.

Sample Meal Plans With Low-Carb Foods

Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros

Nutrition per serving:

  • 151 calories
  • 46.8 grams protein
  • 10.4 grams fat
  • 1.7 grams sugar

For breakfast, try a hearty meal of Huevos Rancheros. This classic Mexican dish includes ground beef, eggs, peppers and spices all served on a tortilla with fresh tomato, avocado and cilantro. With this low-carb meal, your day will be off to a healthy, protein-packed start, sure to keep you feeling full and energized until lunchtime.

Lunch: Cauliflower Fried Rice

Nutrition per serving (1 1/3 cup):

  • 108 calories
  • 9 grams protein
  • 3 grams fat
  • 1 gram sugar

A quick and healthy alternative to fried rice, cauliflower fried rice will become your new go-to for a tasty lunch. Chop up some cauliflower and add it to a blender or food processor to create a fluffy “rice.” Add in eggs for protein, ghee as a healthier alternative to butter, onions and garlic, and you have an easy, delicious fried rice.

Dinner: Pecan Pesto Salmon

Nutrition per serving:

  • 140 calories
  • 17 grams protein
  • 5 grams fat
  • 2 grams sugar

If you’re looking for healthy low-carb snack ideas to bring on-the-go with you, your best bet is to make your own. Low-carb snacks you can prepare yourself at home — using things like nuts, seeds, hummus, coconut flour or coconut oil, protein powders (like whey or bone broth), cocoa “energy bites,” cauliflower tots, and even low-carb “sweets” like cookies, muffins or donuts. And quickest of all are making up some low-carb protein shake recipes.

Final Thoughts

  • Low-carb diets can help people lose weight quickly and potentially improve certain health conditions like sugar dependence, brain fog, fatigue, and risk factors for metabolic syndrome or diabetes.
  • Here’s a brief list of low-carb foods: non-starchy veggies (like leafy greens or cruciferous veggies), healthy fats like coconut or olive oil, butter and hard cheeses, meat, seafood and eggs. Moderate sources of carbs are nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and some starchier veggies.
  • Depending on your overall health and goals, it’s not usually necessary to completely avoid healthy sources of carbs in moderation. These include high-carb, low-fat foods like fruit or starchy veggies. In some cases, sprouted or soaked grains and legumes (higher in carbs) can also be included in an otherwise balanced diet that includes lots of low-carb foods.
  • What can you do with low-carb foods? Low-carb recipes include ones that can be made without things like added sugars, refined grains or artificial sweeteners, such as protein shakes, smoothies, salads, slow cooker recipes, fajitas, burgers or meatballs, and many more.

Read Next: 101 Recipes for Protein Powder Made From Bone Broth

Josh Axe

Get FREE Access!

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

Free eBook to boost
metabolism & healing

30 Gluten-Free Recipes
& detox juicing guide

Shopping Guide &
premium newsletter

More Nutrition

Ad