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39 of the best low-carb foods you should be eating

Written by John Davis

Last updated: July 25, 2022

39-low-carb-foodsEating a low-carb diet lines you up with a range of health benefits, including weight loss and metabolic improvements.

Cutting carbs can act like an appetite suppressant, causing you to eat less, as most people don’t need to count calories on a low-carb diet in order to lose weight. (1, 2)

You’re likely to lose 2 to 3 times more weight following a low-carb diet than following a low-fat diet. (3, 4)

Metabolic health also improves on a low-carb diet. (5)

Positive changes experienced by subjects eating low-carb diets include drops in blood sugar, triglycerides and blood pressure, and higher levels of
HDL cholesterol (the good kind). (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Low-carb diets can be simple and delicious.

This list of 39 low-carb foods will help you get started on the road to better health.

1. Beef

From hamburger to steak, beef is carb-free and rich in iron and vitamin B12, both vital nutrients for keeping body systems running smoothly. Organ meats from cows also contain low amounts of carbohydrates but are nutritional powerhouses.

Beef is categorized as a red meat because it is higher in iron than many other meat sources, like poultry. Fresh, lean beef is high in countless vitamins, including zinc. A moderate intake of beef is recommended for a healthy diet.

In total, cooked beef contains about 26% to 27% protein. It is a high-quality, complete protein that contains all the amino acids your body needs to survive. The exact composition of the amino acids varies depending on what the cow ate before being slaughtered. The amino acid content is very similar to that found in your own muscles, however.

2. Chicken

Even the more fatty cuts of chicken, like thighs and wings, have zero carbs and are an excellent source of protein. They are lower in fat than many other cuts of meat as well. The white meat, in particular, is very low in fat, making it a good choice for those who just want some protein.

The dark meats are a bit higher in fat, but they are also much higher in nutrients like iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins. Skinless chicken is the lowest cut you can purchase, but the skin also contains tons of different nutrients. You should think twice before skipping it just because it is higher in fats.

3. Pork

Many people enjoy pork, and bacon is especially popular among low-fat dieters. Since bacon is a processed food, keep consumption occasional, and choose products that are sugar-free; locally made bacon usually has fewer additives.

Pork is extremely nutritious and is high in protein. It contains everything from iron to thiamine to potassium, making it a great choice for nearly anyone. Pork also contains more omega-3 fatty acids than beef and lamb, which are the good fats that you want in your diet.

4. Lamb

Often grass-fed, lamb is loaded with vitamin B12 and iron, as well as generous amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a beneficial fatty acid. (11)

Like other sorts of meat, lamb contains mostly protein as well as a bit of fat. It contains all the amino acids your body needs, making it a complete protein source. Eating lamb provides your muscles with everything they need to build up and stay repaired. In total, lamb contains about 26% protein if it is lean and grass-fed.

How much fat lamb contains depends on the cut as well as what the animal ate. But, the overall percentage is usually 17% to 21%. Lamb fat does have a bit more saturated fat than other meat choices, so this may be a time where choosing lean cuts it particularly important. Saturated fat has been linked to heart disease by some studies, but others have found no connection.

5. Jerky

This can be a great snack food on low-carb diets, as long as you buy a brand made without sugar; read labels and avoid artificial ingredients, or make your own.

You may want to try veal, game meats, and commercially grown bison as well. Beef jerky is made from lean cuts of meat with plenty of added spices and salt. Jerky is not completely void of carbohydrates, especially if it has sugar on it. However, the exact composition varies depending on the type of jerky you’re buying, so be sure to read the ingredient labels.

It is high in many different nutrients, such as zinc and iron. Both of these are important for immune function and can provide you with an increase in energy, making jerky a great afternoon snack.

6. Shellfish

While shellfish deliver a few carbs, nutrient density is comparable to organ meats; expect 4 – 5 grabs of carbs in a 3 to 4 ounce serving. Lobster and shrimp are among the most popular.

Shellfish contain tons of different nutrients and may help boost your immunity and promote heart health. They’re one of the most nutritious meats you can eat, as long as you aren’t allergic to them. They are low in calories but very high in protein and healthy fats. Most of the fats they contain come from omega-3 fatty acids, which are the sort you want in your diet.

7. Salmon

Salmon is a fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and a favorite among the health-conscious. Loaded with vitamins D3 and B12, salmon also delivers a good dose of iodine, all of which are essential for the proper function of various body systems.

Salmon is also high in b vitamins, which are essential to your metabolism and DNA creation. It may even reduce the inflammation that can lead to heart disease according to some studies (21).

8. Sardines

Containing at least small amounts of virtually every nutrient your body needs, sardines are an oily fish eaten whole, bones and all. It would be tough to find a more perfect carb-free food.

If you’re trying to stay healthy, sardines are one of the best things you can add to your diet. They contain tones of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12, which is important for keeping your energy levels high. Because you often eat the bones as well, sardines are quite high in calcium.

9. Trout

Also loaded with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, trout is an excellent zero carb protein source.

Rainbow trout is your best option. You want to choose farmed trout instead of wild because it would have been raised protected from contaminants, which are very common in wild-caught trout.

10. Eggs

If there is any superfood, it is eggs. With negligible carb counts, eggs are another ideal food containing a wide range of beneficial nutrients, some of which can nourish the brain and contribute to good eye health. (12, 13)

Eggs contain everything from iron to phosphorous to vitamin A. One serving of eggs has 113 mg of Choline, which is a very important nutrient for brain health and extremely important if you’re pregnant.

11. Greek Yogurt

Thicker than regular yogurt, Greek yogurt works well with low-carb diet plans, containing only about 6 grams of sugar per container. Of course, this varies depending on what greek yogurt you purchase, so check labels before you make your purchase.

Greek yogurt is extremely high in protein and probiotics. Because it is made from milk, you can also expect quite a bit of calcium as well. It is also one of the fewer vegetarian sources of vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential for red blood cell formation and brain function.

12. Full Fat Yogurt

You’ll get many of the same nutrients in milk, and choosing yogurt with live cultures adds a probiotic to your diet, which helps nourish the friendly bacteria in the gut.

Most of the benefits of yogurt come in the good fat it contains, so you want to choose full-fat versions where possible.

The protein content of yogurt is actually higher than milk itself because it is more concentrated. Dried milk is often added during processing, which brings up the protein content even more.

13. Cheese

Another concentrated source of the nutrients found in milk, cheese makes a great low-carb snack and also compliments meats like hamburgers.

Lots of cheeses are awesome choices. However, not all cheeses are made equal. There are quite a few “processed cheese food” products on the market that aren’t actually cheese at all and are missing many of the health benefits cheese offers.

Be sure you purchase real cheese and always check the labels before making your purchase.

14. Heavy Cream

Super-low in carbs, heavy cream can be used in coffee or as a topping for suitable fruits, including berries. There are many desserts you can make out of heavy cream as well. Many of these recipes contain sugar, but you can easily add in berries or another sweet fruit instead.

Heavy cream actually has more protein in it than milk. This is because heavy cream is really just the protein-rich portion of the milk, which is usually removed during processing.

Heavy cream is high in saturated fat, which may be linked to heart problems. However, many recent studies have shown that this link is probably unfounded (22).

15. Chia Seeds

While chia seeds have a higher carb count at about 44% of calories, most of this is fiber, so net carb count is actually low. A true superfood, chia seed can be added to recipes or sprinkled over salad for extra nutritional value.

The best benefit of chia seeds is that they deliver tons of nutrients in very few calories. There is only one carbohydrate per ounce of chia seeds, though this same amount includes nearly 27% of your daily phosphorous needs and 30% of your magnesium needs.

Most of the fat in chia seeds is from omega-3s.

16. Peanuts

Technically a legume, peanuts are usually eaten like nuts. A good source of fiber, vitamin E, and magnesium, peanuts deliver about 5 carbs per ounce.

They are high in fat, most of which is good fat. Most of the world’s peanuts are actually used to make peanut oil. However, we recommend consuming whole peanuts instead of just using peanut oil in your diet.

17. Almonds

Another good source of magnesium, almonds are also rich in fiber and vitamin E; these make excellent snacks at a bargain carb-count of about 6 grams an ounce. They may even help with weight loss. (14, 15)

Almonds also come with tons of other health benefits as well. They are loaded with antioxidants, which protect against oxidative stress. They are low in carbohydrates, but very high in fat and protein. They may an excellent choice for stabilizing your blood sugar because of this.

18. Walnuts

These delicious nuts deliver alpha-lipoic acid, another omega-3 fatty acid. With only 4 carb grams per ounce, it’s easy to fit a handful into your daily allotment while reaping a range of benefits.

Walnuts are also rich in antioxidants and vitamin E. One study found that adults who eat walnuts prevented oxidative damage after eating (23). They may also decrease your inflammation, which is the root cause of many diseases. The papery skin of the walnut is actually one of the most nutrient-dense parts.

19. Coconut Oil

The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil can positively affect metabolism and may help melt away dangerous belly fat. (16) We typically do not recommend processed cooking oils because they are full of omega-6s, which are the “bad” fats. However, coconut oil is an exception to this. It is actually one of the healthiest oils you can use.

Coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid. This is an acid that is somewhere between a long-chain and medium-chain acid. It is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease because it re-balances your blood cholesterol levels (24).

20. Olive Oil

Olive oil is loaded with antioxidants and known for beneficial effects on heart health. Olive oil is another exception to the “no processed oils” rule.

This oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are connected to make health benefits. Specifically, it contains quite a bit of oleic acid, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and might even prevent cancer (25, 26).

Some studies have found that olive oil may even help prevent strokes. A large review of 841,000 people found that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil reduced the overall risk of stroke and heart disease (27).

21. Butter

Now that the saturated fat scare has been proven wrong, more people are welcoming butter back into their diets; at zero carbs, it’s a delicious choice rich in valuable nutrients, especially if you buy grass-fed butter.

Butter is made of mostly fat and is somewhat high in calories for its size. However, grass-fed butter contains high amounts of omega-3s, which is a reason in itself to eat it. It also contains very many vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. All of these vitamins are essential for your health.

22. Green Beans

Classified as a legume, green beans are usually prepared and eaten as a vegetable. At 8 carb grams per cup, they’re an abundant source of fiber, vitamins C and K, magnesium, and potassium.

Green beans are somewhat of a strange “vegetable” because they are also very high in things like calcium. They also do not contain any cholesterol, which may be good if you’re having difficulties balancing your cholesterol levels.

23. Mushrooms

Technically a fungus, mushrooms are rich in potassium and B vitamins. They’re an interesting addition to soups, sauces or a vegetable sauté, and you’ll only get 3 carb grams in a full cup.

Mushrooms contain quite a bit of antioxidants, which can protect you from age-related damage and boost your immune system. They are also rich in soluble fiber, particularly beta-glucan, which can help your body regulate blood sugar. They contain some copper as well – a nutrient that is used to make red blood cells.

24. Asparagus

Protein-rich in comparison to other vegetables, asparagus is also a good source of fiber, vitamins C and K, and folate.

They are very low calorie, even when compared to other veggies. Because of this, they might be a solid option for those who are trying to manage their weight. They are also a good source of iron, zinc, and riboflavin. They’re a particularly good course of antioxidants as well, like many other green veggies.

25. Bell Peppers

Add distinct flavor to any dish with brightly colored bell peppers, which are also a high-fiber food loaded with carotene antioxidants to help make sure your body gets adequate vitamin A. Bell peppers do contain most carbohydrates, particularly sugars. This is what gives them their sweet taste.

However, they also contain a lot of water, so they don’t contain as many carbohydrates by weight as other foods. They also contain lots of different vitamins, like folate and potassium.

26. Cucumber

The high water content of cucumber makes it mild in flavor; you’ll get modest amounts of vitamin K from this popular salad vegetable.

Like most green veggies, they also contain antioxidants, which protect your body from free radicals. Cucumbers contain quite a bit of water. They can encourage hydration because of this. They also can aid in weight loss because they are very low in calories but contain quite a bit of water to help you feel full.

27. Eggplant

Get creative with this low-carb food that’s actually a fruit, but used more like a vegetable. You’ll add plenty of fiber to your diet eating eggplant.

Eggplants contain very few calories, making them a great choice for those who are trying to regulate their weight. They also contain quite a bit of water, which can help you feel full. Eggplants also contain lots of copper, vitamin B6, and thiamine.

28. Kale

This leafy green vegetable is recognized as a multi-benefit food and has become more popular than ever before. It’s a great way to get vitamins C and K, as well as carotene antioxidants. In fact, this is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.

It contains tons of vitamin A and is quite low on calories as well. It is a great addition to nearly any diet.

29. Cauliflower

The mild flavor of this vegetable makes it versatile in the kitchen and can serve as a substitute for mashed potatoes in a low-carb diet. Try blending cooked cauliflower to thicken soups. It is low in calories, but high in many different nutrients, including vitamin B6 and folate.

Cauliflower is also quite high in fiber, making it a solid choice for those trying to lose weight.

30. Brussels Sprouts

A member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, Brussels sprouts are loaded with healthy plant compounds and only contain 5 carb grams in a cup.

31. Onions

Popular for their distinctive flavor to enrich a variety of dishes, onions are known for high antioxidant content as well as anti-inflammatory properties.

32. Tomatoes

This fruit is usually eaten as a vegetable, and delivers a good dose of vitamin C; it’s also an excellent source of potassium. One large tomato packs about 7 carbs.

33. Broccoli

Rich in vitamins C and K, this well-known cruciferous vegetable contains plant compounds that may help fight cancer.

34. Avocado

Classified as a fruit but eaten as a vegetable, avocado is relatively low in carbs at about 13 grams a cup, most of which are fiber. It’s loaded with healthy fats and other valuable nutrients.

35. Olives

The fruit of the olive tree, these gems are high in copper and iron, as well as respectable amounts of vitamin E. Olives are a great snack or addition to salads and other dishes.

36. Apricots

You can have two small apricots for about 8 carb grams, and these tasty fruits are rich in potassium and vitamin C.

37. Grapefruit

Related to oranges, this citrus fruit is also a good source of vitamin C, as well as being loaded with carotene antioxidants.

38. Strawberries

You’ll have to look long and hard to find a fruit more nutrient-dense than strawberries. Rich in manganese and vitamin C, they also have plenty of antioxidants.

39. Dark Chocolate

There’s no better low-carb treat than dark chocolate. Make sure to read labels and stick with 70% to 85% dark chocolate, since carb counts vary between brands.

The flavonols in cocoa can help lower blood pressure, improve brain function, and drop the risk of developing heart disease. (19, 20)

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Summary: When you’re following a low-carb diet, it can be tempting to focus on the hands-off list, but there are plenty of delicious and nourishing foods low in carbohydrates that can help you lose weight and make overall health improvements.


John Davis