Low-Carb Foods foods

Introduction: What are Low Carb Foods?

Low-carb diets are “in” at the moment – the rise of various diets like Keto and Paleo, with focuses on reducing carbohydrates and relying more heavily on good fats, have resulted in a greater interest in “low-carbohydrate” foods. The problem is that low carbohydrate is a vague and relative term: carbohydrates are not equally-healthy and it is important to remember that no single food group is bad by itself.

That said, we can say that a low-carb food is a food that has low NET carbohydrates. This is simply the amount of carbohydrates that are present when we ignore dietary fiber. Whilst fiber is, initially, considered to be a carb it is fundamentally different because the body cannot digest fiber and it should not, therefore, count as a real carbohydrate for the sake of diets. However, fiber should always be present in a diet due to the essential role that it plays in digestive and metabolic processes [1]. This article will outline some of our favorite low-carb foods and give a brief overview of their contents and the way that they can help health and fitness. This guide can be used as a way of building a low-carbohydrate diet (the foods included here are central to good health) or simply improve food choices. All statistics regarding the calorie and nutrient content of foods was retrieved from the USDA [2].

Animal sources

Low-Carb Diet

1. Liver and Organ Meats

Aside from being very low-carb, liver and other organ meats are incredibly high in a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. These are very bioavailable and can provide a huge boost to a low-carb diet whilst providing a huge number of difficult nutrients to achieve.

2. Salmon

Salmon is the king of fatty fish – it is a central food in most LCHF diets because it provides a large quantity of protein, as well as essential Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Wild salmon is the best kind to aim for, but all salmon is low in carbs.

3. Seafood and Shellfish

Seafood such as prawns, scallops and other shellfish are similar to both Salmon and Organ meats in terms of the role they play in a diet. They are generally near-0 in carbohydrate content whilst providing proteins, good fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

4. Turkey

Turkey is one of the healthiest poultry food sources: it is an incredibly “dry” meat, meaning that it is very low in fats. For this reason, Turkey (especially ground or minced) has been a staple in the diet of athletes and fitness enthusiasts for decades.

5. Chicken

Whether it is breasts or thighs, chicken is a fantastic food source for humans and should play a central role in a low-carbohydrate diet. Chicken, like most of these meat sources, has virtually no carbohydrates and high protein content. Thighs are higher in fat and can provide a great balance of nutrients. Chicken is an incredibly versatile foodstuff and can be included in a variety of meals for many different purposes.

6. Sardines

Sardines, like salmon, are salty, fatty fish. These contain a wide variety of essential minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a key nutrient for human health and wellness, sardines can be used in a variety of recipes or with other low-carbohydrate ingredients for well-balanced meals.

7. Grass-fed beef

Beef, and grass-fed beef in particular, is a common source of protein and healthy fats. High quality beef is full of B12 and iron. Whilst an excessive intake of red meat can have some complications for digestive health, these nutrients are incredibly useful for health and fitness, with particular benefits to post-training recovery and building muscle.

8. Jerky

Whilst still, technically, beef, Jerky is a totally different foodstuff. At around 70g of protein per 100g of product, Jerky is one of the most protein-dense foods in existence. Whilst it may be very high in salt, jerky provides a great alternative to high-sugar or refined carbohydrate snacks.

9. Eggs

Eggs have been a controversial topic as a health food as they can contain a large amount of fat. For those on a low-carb diet, this is a great thing as they will be a major source of calories. Eggs also contain a wide variety of nutrients in some of their most bioavailable forms. Now that saturated fats and dietary cholesterols are no longer as heavily-demonised, eggs should be a staple in every low-carb diet.

10. Natural yoghurt

Whether its natural-set or greek-style, yoghurt is an excellent food for low-carbohydrate diets. If we go for the brands with 0 added sugar, the carbohydrate content is unbelievably low and it is a very versatile food. Yoghurt is also an important food for gut health, with probiotic qualities.

11. Cottage cheese

A classical “meathead” food for the past half century, cottage cheese has an incredibly high quantity of protein with almost no carbohydrates. It is almost totally tasteless and can be used in a variety of meals – it is a great source of protein for those who do not eat meat and has similar probiotic effects to yoghurt.

Plant Sources

Every diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables. The difficulty for the low-carbohydrate diet is that the vast majority of fruits and vegetables are starchy or sugary – fruit, for example, is almost universally high in carbohydrates. This should demonstrate that not all carbohydrates are bad, but below are some of the best low-carbohydrate foods to provide more options for the low-carbohydrate diet.

12. Tofu

Tofu is one of the best plant-based protein sources for most vegetarians. It is a fugus-derived, usually-square food with a “foamy” texture and can be added to almost any food to improve the nutritional profile. It has a low-carb content and will fill the gaps in a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet.

13. Blackberries

Blackberries should be in everyone’s diet with some regularity. Much like blueberries and other berries, they are very high in dietary fiber and contain a huge range of vitamins and minerals, as well as the highest levels of antioxidant agents of any fruit. They can be blended into shakes, baked into low-carbohydrate goods or simply eaten raw by the handful.

14. Avocado

The avocado is a very trendy fruit/vegetable right now. It has become a very common “health food” and can be found anywhere from guacamole to bagels to chicken wraps. The versatility and creamy texture of the Avocado has made it very common among low-carb diets, too, where it provides an alternative to processed foods. The avocado is primarily fats, with a high vitamin and phytochemical content. Excessive consumption may be linked to pro-oxidative processes, but a modest intake (perhaps once or twice a week) seems to be beneficial.

15. Kale

Another popular health food, Kale has been associated with healthy diets and living for a decade. Kale is high in a wide variety of essential vitamins – primarily Vitamins A, C, K and Manganese. Whilst it contains around 9-10g of carbohydrate per 100g, this same quantity contains 3g of dietary fiber and is still very low carbohydrate for the satiety and nutrients it provides.

16. Spinach

If its good enough for popeye, its good enough for you. Spinach is a dark, leafy green with a variety of culinary uses. Most importantly for us, however, is that it contains a large quantity of Vitamins A and C. At approximately 2g of carbohydrates per 100g of food, spinach is an easy filler for any low-carbohydrate meal.

17. Broccoli

As a staple in the diet of bodybuilders and athletes for as long as such people have existed, broccoli is almost synonymous with health. The tiny trees or florets of broccoli are incredibly fibrous and represent a very easy way to get lots of nutrients into a diet, primarily Folate, vitamin C and vitamin K.

18. Swiss chard

Chard is another leafy green that can help to bulk out a low-carb diet whilst increasing nutrient intake. With more than half of its carbohydrate content coming in the form of dietary fiber, and high quantities of vitamins A and K, chard is a great alternative to kale or spinach.

19. Asparagus

Asparagus is an incredibly low-calorie, low-carbohydrate food. Whilst it is equally famous for its health benefits and its effect on urine, this food is actually only 22 calories per 100g and contains as few as 1.7g of NET carbohydrates. Despite being so calorie-sparse, it is fairly nutrient-dense with a high proportion of the daily requirements of Folate and Vitamin K.

20. Pak Choi

Pak choi, often called “bok choy”, is an eastern-Asian vegetable that has become popular in the west in recent years. It is an incredibly low-calorie food at around 12 calories per 100g, but also provides a moderate amount of Folate and Vitamin K, with a carbohydrate content of just over 2g (more than half of which is dietary fiber). A delicious and versatile vegetable, this is a great way to keep nutrient intake and food volume high with almost no calories or carbs.

21. Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the most common vegetables in the English-speaking world and its popularity could be due to the fact that it tastes like water. Lettuce is overwhelmingly easy to eat with almost no taste, great texture and a huge water content. This means that a single leaf of lettuce will usually contain around a single calorie and 10% of our daily vitamin A needs. Lettuce is very low carb, of which 50% of all carbs are dietary fiber, and it is possibly the easiest food to eat. Whilst lettuce is often combined with other vegetables in a salad, we’re big advocates for just eating raw iceberg lettuce as a snack.

22. Celery

Celery, like lettuce, is mostly water. These foods are primarily useful for people who are trying to lose weight but need to curb hunger urges. Celery is low in pretty much everything: it contains fewer than 20 calories per 100g, with decent levels of Potassium and vitamin K. As with lettuce, we prefer to use raw celery as a snack but can also be used to fill out salads due to the low calories and high volume.

23. Tomatoes

Another classic salad food, tomatoes are common in the English-speaking world for their sweet taste and versatility. Whether cherry or plum, tomatoes are very low-calorie. 100g of tomatoes will generally contain only contain 4g of carbohydrates and can be combined with lettuce, celery and other vegetables to make excellent salads. Tomatoes are also relatively high in iron for their calorie content and can easily be added to other low-carbohydrate meals.

24. Peppers

Bell peppers are a great vegetable to add taste and variety to your diet, without adding excessive carbohydrates. The taste of these peppers will vary by size and colour, but they are generally sweet and work well in omelettes with leafy greens or any of the high-quality protein sources above. At 17 calories per 100g and only 3g carbohydrates, peppers are a great way to add some flavour and a huge dose of vitamin C (300% of the daily requirement).

25. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a great way of adding serious volume to your diet without increasing the carb intake. Mushrooms are used for the development of tofu as well as in a variety of other meat-replacement products such as quorn. The texture and bulk of mushrooms is something that may help us reduce hunger. At approximately 3g carbohydrate per 100g of mushrooms, these can be added to a wide variety of meals to keep us full without ruining our macros.

26. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds have risen in popularity with the increased popularity of the low-carbohydrate diet. They are incredibly high in good fats and low in carbohydrates, meaning that they make an excellent high-calorie snack for those who struggle to reach their calorie needs without carbohydrates. Certain nuts (such as walnuts) are high in organic Omega-3 fats (the short-chain ALA) and can be very helpful in reducing inflammation.

27. Courgette/Zucchini

This food is not as interesting or nutritious as some of the plant foods mentioned before, but it has been included on this list due to its use for “courgetti”. Courgetti is simply spiralised courgette, which is intended to replace real spaghetti. This foodstuff is low in carbohydrates, high in water content and a modest quantity of plant-based vitamins and phytonutrients. Whilst it does not have miraculous properties, it is far more suitable for a low-carbohydrate diet than pasta.

28. Cauliflower

A low-carb food in its own right, cauliflower has also been used in food replacements recently. “Caulirice” is a rice replacement made out of cauliflower – this means a far lower quantity of carbohydrates, calories and an increased number of nutrients. We’re not sure why anyone would feel the need to replace rice (a very bland food), but any food that reduces calories and increases nutrients is something we support!

29. Almond flour

Whole almonds could technically be considered part of the “nuts and seeds” section, but they are also widely used as a food replacement. Almond flour is a low-carbohydrate alternative to regular flour and can be used in a variety of cooking and baking recipes to reduce the carbohydrate content of favourites such as cakes.

30. Milk Replacements: Almond and Soy

Almond and soy milks are common replacements for dairy, primarily used to give vegans an alternative to cow’s milk, but also to reduce lactose content for the intolerant. Another effect of these alternatives is that, at least among unsweetened brands, they are incredibly low-carbohydrate and relatively low calorie. Whilst neither is, technically, a milk they can both be used to replace milk in the diet, which is often high in sugars such as lactose and even added sugars.

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[1] Anderson et al (2009): ‘Health benefits of dietary fiber’. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), pp.188-205
[2] USDA Food composition database [URL = https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list]