45 Low-Carb Foods, Plus Eating Tips - Dr. Axe

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45 Best Low-Carb Foods that Are Also Delicious


Low carb foods - 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 and sticking solely to low-carb 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.

Swapping these unhealthy foods for healthier, low-carb foods 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” are 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; plus 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 foods 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
  • 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.

Best Low-Carb Foods

Below is a list of healthy low-carb foods (including low-carb vegetables) for weight loss, blood sugar balance and more:

Low-Carb Veggies

1. Broccoli

Broccoli is high in antioxidants and beneficial phytonutrients including glucosinolates, plus vitamins C and K, potassium and more.

Net carbs: 3.5

2. Cauliflower

Cauliflower are 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

Mushrooms provide 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

Swiss chard and collard greens are both 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, asparagus 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

Spinach is 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

Green beans are 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

Arugula are 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

Leeks and onions are both 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

Tomatoes are 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. Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a 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. Turnips

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

Net carbs: 6

15. Cabbage

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

Net carbs: 3

16. Carrots

Carrots are 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)

17. Zucchini

A favorite among low-carb dieters and anyone who wants to lose weight fast, this type of squash has a very low score on the glycemic index.

Other things to love about zucchini nutrition include the fact that it has a high water percentage; is low in calories, carbs and sugars; and is high in essential nutrients like potassium, manganese, and antioxidants, like vitamin C and vitamin A.

Net carbs: 3

Eggs and Dairy

18. Cage-free eggs

Eggs are 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

Unsweetened yogurt and kefir are both full of gut-friendly probiotics and minerals including potassium, B vitamins and magnesium.

Net carbs: 11 grams per cup

20. Whole milk

Whole milk is 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-carb foods, 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 and 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

Haddock nutrition features B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, while having low levels of mercury.

Net carbs: 0

24. Trout

Trout is an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B12, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Net carbs: 0

25. Halibut

Halibut contains an excellent variety of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, protein and selenium, which may contribute to beneficial health implications for many conditions.

Net carbs: 0

26. Sardines, anchovies and mackerel

Sardines is a high-protein food with heart-healthy fats as well as containing important micronutrients like vitamin B12, selenium and phosphorus.

Net carbs: 0

27. Turkey

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

Net carbs: 0

28. Chicken

Chicken is 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

Grass-fed beef and lamb are healthy protein sources that offer a wide range of concentrated and health-boosting nutrients.

Net carbs: 0

Nuts and Seeds

30. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are a 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. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are an 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

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

Walnuts are a top 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

These seeds are a 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 and Brazil nuts

Cashews and Brazil 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 and Fats

36. Coconut oil

Although this is a high calorie, low-carb foos, coconut oil helps 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. Olive oil

Olive oil is mainly made up of monounsaturated fatty acids, the most important of which is called oleic acid. Is olive oil good for you? Yes, so much so that it’s also a staple of the Mediterranean diet and has been included in the diets of some of the world’s healthiest, longest-living people for centuries.

Net carbs: 0

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

Butter and ghee provide 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. Flaxseed oil

Flaxseed oil is an important functional food because it’s rich in linolenic acid, and the seeds are richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil is low in saturated fatty acids, moderate in monounsaturated fatty acids and rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Net carbs: 0

39. Avocado oil

Avocado oil doesn’t contain any cholesterol or trans fats and are rich in vitamin E. These nutritionally dense fruits also contain vital nutrients like thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin A.

Net carbs: 0

Condiments, Herbs and Spices

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

Healthy herbs 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

Hot sauces are 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

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)

Cocoa powder is 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

Soy sauce, tamari and coconut aminos add 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

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. Higher fat, low-carb cheeses are often included even on very low-carb diets because they have very few carbs.

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? 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.

Risks and Side Effects

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.

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.

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