Low Carb Foods: A Comprehensive List
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy, and fuel everything from our brain to our muscles.
All carbohydrates are made up of individual sugars; carbohydrates with only one or two sugars are described as “simple sugars,” and those with long, “daisy chain” like structures are described as “complex carbohydrates”. The bonds between linking individual sugars together can also affect how our body uses that given carbohydrate.
“Good” vs. “Bad” carbs
Whilst all foods can be good foods (depending on how they are used within the context of a healthy lifestyle), there are certain carbohydrates which may be favourable for maintaining a better state of health.
Complex carbohydrates – found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cereal – take longer to break down, promoting better blood sugar regulation and help keep you feeling fuller for longer. They can also help improve the absorption of certain nutrients and minerals in the gut.
Fibre would be considered a complex carbohydrate and carries with it many health benefits, including reduced risk of constipation and lowering the risk of certain cancers. Everyone should aim to consume around 30g of fibre a day for optimal health.
“Bad” carbs are typically going to be those consisting of (either entirely or primarily) simple sugars; these can rapidly elevate blood sugar levels, triggering a greater, and equally as fast, insulin response. Insulin is a hormone whose role is to help shuttle carbohydrate into cells. This rapid rise and subsequent decline in blood sugar can leave you feeling lethargic, tired, and moody, which can then actually lead to the intake of more simple sugar foods to combat those feelings.
The combination of this cycle continuing and its ultimate effect on the insulin response and our cell sensitivity to insulin, as well as poor weight management control, can contribute to metabolic disease – such as metabolic syndrome or “pre-diabetes” and diabetes itself if the condition progresses.
Low carb diets
Whilst carbohydrates are the primary source of energy, they are not considered essential. We have the capability to use other nutrients to meet our energy demands. When we consider this, and the fact that excess and frequent carbohydrate intake may contribute to weight management and metabolic disorders (like diabetes), the use of low carb strategies when dieting becomes ever more attractive.
This has been reflected in recent years with numerous iterations of low carb dieting coming to the forefront of the public eye, initially these diets were actually used to treat epilepsy, but have now been pushed more towards weight management.
Whilst there is no general consensus for what is and isn’t a low carb diet, generally speaking the research tends to have a cut-off point in and around the 130 to 150g mark. Diets which are severely low in carbohydrates would fall into the ketosis bracket, and they typically come in at sub 50g of carbs per day.
Low carb food list
Low carb diets are a great strategy for weight management; however, they can be difficult to implement as knowing what foods are and aren’t low in carbs is not that straightforward. To help you figure out how many carbs are contained in a wide variety of common foods, we’ve created a comprehensive guide of which foods to look out for and include if you intend to give low carb a try!
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of health promoting nutrients and minerals that can help stave off non-communicable diseases and improve weight management efforts. Whilst it’s true that they’re also a naturally occurring source of carbohydrates, there are options out there that will fit perfectly into a low carb diet.
Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew
All belonging to the melon family, these are great options for keeping hydrated during the summer months (given they are water dense and rich in electrolytes). They are excellent in a variety of dishes, including savoury (try prosciutto wrapped honeydew if you do not believe us!) and packed with vitamins, including vitamin A and C.
Carbs: These will land you anywhere between 7.5 to 9g of carbs per 100g of melon.
This may come as a surprise to some, but avocado is indeed a fruit; a fruit which is rich in health boosting fats, vitamins, minerals and even fibre.
Carbs: Around 100g of avocado will net you between 1 – 3g of carbs.
Berries are an amazing inclusion for any diet. Not only are they one of the most nutritional dense foods, in terms of vitamins and minerals you can expect per calorie, but they’re also packed with phytochemicals (which have a range of health benefits) and incredibly versatile when it comes to cooking.
Carbs: A 100g of mixed berries will contain between 5 – 10g of carbohydrates (varying per berry type included).
Green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables – such as kale, spinach, and cabbage – are good sources of many vitamins (such as vitamins A, C, K and folate) and minerals (such as iron and calcium). They are also a great source of fibre and calorie efficient for the food volume you are taking in (making them a great weight management tool).
Carbs: A serving of 100g of green leafy veg will typically fall under 5g of carbohydrates.
Cucumber & Courgette/Zucchini
Cucumber is a great source of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and K, magnesium, potassium and manganese. Due to their high-water content (greater than 95%) and being a source of electrolytes, cucumbers make an excellent dietary inclusion to promote adequate hydration. Courgette/Zucchini has similar properties to cucumber and can be swapped in if you fancy making “zoodles”.
Carbs: A 100g serving will land you less than 4g of carbohydrates.
Cauliflower & Broccoli
Cauliflower and broccoli are extremely versatile ingredients; the florets can be used in a multitude of dishes and even processed to create rice alternatives and pizza bases!
Carbs: A 100g serving of either will net you less than 6g of carbs and provides a few grams of fibre too!
A super source of vitamin C, polyphenols and a potentially helpful, naturally occurring weight management component; capsaicin. Bell peppers are a great addition to any dish, and can be sautéed, roasted, curried and even eaten raw!
Carbs: There is roughly less than 5g of carbohydrate per 100g of bell pepper serving.
Mushrooms are a great option for bulking out meals, not only are they extremely calorie efficient but are also a source of protein and fibre. They are also great to have on their own or stuffed with other low carb ingredients.
Carbs: A 100g of cooked mushrooms will provide roughly 4g of carbohydrate.
Tomatoes have a similar nutrition profile to bell peppers, bar being a richer source of vitamin A and being slightly more calorie friendly.
Carbs: They are also a little lower in calories, netting you roughly less than 3.5 to 4g of carbs per 100g.
Eggs and dairy
Eggs are a great source of high-quality protein and packed with a range of vitamins and essential fatty acids. Wonderfully versatile, eggs are a great inclusion in any low carb diet/recipe and can really help bulk out meals for little calories (especially when you exclude the yolks!).
Carbs: A large sized egg (50g) will provide less than half a gram of carbohydrate.
Despite what you may think, cow’s milk is on the menu for low carb dieters! Packed full of health boosting vitamins and minerals, as well as a great source of high-quality protein, you can make milk work in your diet if you are mindful of the serving size.
Carbs: A 100ml serving will net you under 6g of carbs with the amount depending on how the milk is produced (with highest fat content milks having the least amount of carbs).
Is there anything that does not work with cheese? A great source of protein and essential minerals (like calcium), cheese can be eaten both raw and cooked; with the number of ways it can be included in a dish limited only by your imagination.
Carbs: A 100g serving of cheese will contain less than 4.5g of carbs (with the lowest carb source being goat’s cheese and the highest being feta).
Cottage cheese is a great source of protein (roughly 20g per 100g serving), containing predominantly slow digesting casein protein (helping to keep you fuller for longer). Due to how it is produced, it may also be a great addition to benefit your gut health!
Carbs: A 100g serving of cottage cheese will tend to have less than 3.5g of carbs.
Full fat yoghurt
A lower carb alternative to most store-bought yoghurts, full fat yoghurt is packed with many of the same vitamins, minerals and quality protein as cow’s milk. It is also a great source of probiotics that can help promote a healthy gut!
Carbs: A 100g serving of full fat yoghurt will typically net you less than 8g of carbs.
Kefir grains contain many strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a rich and diverse source of probiotics, the healthy gut bacteria that aids in digestion and boost immunity. It is rich in an essential amino acid called tryptophan which can help you relax and improve mood.
Carbs: You can expect less than 5g of carbohydrates per 100ml of pure kefir milk.
Quark is a great low carb option; loaded with protein, calcium and packed full of gut friendly probiotics.
Carbs: This soft cheese will net you around 3–4g of carbs per 100g serving.
Milk alternatives, such as soy, almond, coconut, rice, oat etc. are great for those who are lactose intolerant. Aim for unsweetened alternatives to keep carbs at a minimum.
Carbs: Generally speaking, per 100ml of milk, you can expect less than 10g of carbs.
Spreads, fats and oils
Few things are better than buttered toast on a Sunday morning; rich in certain vitamins and minerals, it is important to consider that it may contain a higher level of fats that may negatively impact your health if overconsumed. Use in moderation and value the richness of the taste.
Carbs: There are virtually no carbs to speak of in butter, especially in serving sizes of 10–15g.
Plant based spreads
Plant based spreads can be a healthier alternative than butter, richer in fats that can improve cardiovascular health and cholesterol levels/profiles.
Carbs: Much like butter, there are minimal amounts of carbs for low carb dieters to be concerned with.
Margarine is an important component of many recipes, particularly baked goods, helping to give recipes a certain richness and texture that they would otherwise lack.
Carbs: Per 100g of margarine, you can expect to find less than 1g of carbohydrates.
Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet. It is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which can promote a better state of health when swapped into your diet in place of saturated and trans fats.
Carbs: A tablespoon of olive oil will have trace amount of carbohydrates.
Coconut oil can be a great oil to use within cooking and has some unique health benefits. It contains medium chain triglycerides which, due to their chemical structure, can provide a quick source of energy that will not affect blood sugar levels. Coconut oil can be of particular benefit for those focusing on weight management.
Carbs: A tablespoon of coconut oil will also have trace amounts of carbohydrate.
Other Nut and Seed based oils
There are a whole range of nut and seeds oils to choose from. Depending on what you are cooking and the desired approach to cooking, it is important to consider various oils will have various flavours and smoking points.
Carbs: Virtually all oils will have trace amount of carbohydrates per each tablespoon serving.
Nuts and seeds
Peanuts are a great source of healthy fats, as well as being packed full of other important minerals and vitamins. They are also a relatively good source of protein and have some fibre to offer too!
Carbs: A 35g serving of peanuts will net you around 4g of carbs.
Hazelnuts are abundant in monounsaturated fats, perfect swaps for “unhealthy” fats that, when made, can improve heart health and cholesterol profiles!
They are also packed full of potent phytochemicals, vitamin E, Manganese, Zinc and even fibre!
Carbs: You can expect just less than a meagre 2.5g of carbs per 35g serving of hazelnuts.
Almonds have a great dietary fat profile and are packed with fibre. They are also rich in vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, zinc and even have a few B vitamins thrown in for good measure!
Carbs: A 35g serving of almonds will come in at just under 3g of carbs.
Pecans are jam packed full of healthy fats and fibre. Uniquely, pecans also provide an abundance of phytochemicals (extremely potent antioxidants), fat-soluble bioactive components and essential minerals (magnesium, manganese, zinc).
Carbs: 35g of pecans will provide just under 2g of carbs.
Having a health benefitting fat profile is one of the many excellent reasons to include brazil nuts in your diet. They are also loaded with magnesium, selenium and a range of incredibly potent antioxidants.
Carbs: Like pecans, you can expect under 2g of carbs per 35g serving.
Flaxseed is a great low carb dietary addition, packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and health boosting phytochemicals.
Carbs: A tablespoon of flaxseed will contain under 3.5g of carbs.
These wholegrain seeds are power packs of nutritional goodness, rich in a whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre.
Carbs: Chia seeds will land you just under 4.5g of carbs per tablespoon.
Sunflower seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, contain dozens of vitamins, minerals, and are packed with phytochemicals. They are also a decent source of protein and fibre.
Carbs: A 25g snack serving of sunflower seeds will provide under 5g of carbs.
Sesame seeds are a great dressing for salads and many other dishes, as well as providing an extra layer of texture to many baked goods (breads, bagels etc.). They are also a good source of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and slot in nicely to any low carb diet/recipe.
Carbs: A 10g serving of sesame seeds contains just under 2g of carbs.
Chicken is one of, if not the most popularly used meat worldwide. A great source of protein and packed full of vitamins and minerals, chicken is a truly versatile meat that can be used in a whole host of increasingly interesting ways.
Carbs: It is also a great low carb option, with trace amounts of carbs per 100g cooked (any cut, without sauce).
From burgers to steaks, ribs and mince, the ways in which beef can be incorporated into a dish or had on its own make it an incredibly valuable inclusion into a low carb diet. As nutritious as it is delicious, beef is packed full of vitamins and minerals (most notably iron) and is a great source of protein.
Carbs: A 100g serving of beef (in virtually any form, excluding any sauces) will provide virtually no carbs.
Pork is an excellent source of protein and is the focal point for many main meals and dishes spanning a variety of different countries. From Mexican to Asian cuisine, pork can be used and flavoured in a wonderfully diverse way. Also, try and name a better sweet and savoury combo than bacon and pancakes…
Carbs: Around 100g of pork (any cut without sauce) will net you trace amounts of carbs.
Turkey is an underrated meat; with breast leaner than chicken and the darker meat of the bird being richer in flavour than it is more popular counterpart, it really should find its way into more mainstream dishes. A great source of dietary protein and abundant in vitamins and minerals, turkey really is a meat that’s worth giving a try.
Carbs: 100g of turkey (any cut or mince, without sauce) will provide trace amount of carbs.
Speaking of rich, lamb can bring a certain feeling and taste of expertise to your culinary efforts. As diverse in use as it is rich in taste, lamb is also great for those who are more health conscious. Another great source of protein and loaded with vitamins and minerals (rich in iron much like beef), lamb is also uniquely a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA has been associated with improved metabolic health and a lower risk of many diseases.
Carbs: You can expect trace amount of carbs in a 100g of lamb (any cut or mince, without sauce).
A much more difficult cut of meat to convince people to try, offcuts are arguably the cuts most packed full of health promoting vitamins and minerals. The taste and texture can dissuade some, so looking for recipes which can minimize these issues (such as curries, stews etc.) may help you fit in these protein packed, and often extremely affordable, cuts into your diet.
Carbs: As is the norm with meat, you can expect minimal amounts of carbohydrate in a 100g serving (any cut or mince, without sauce).
Tuna is a good source of essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, high quality protein, selenium and Vitamin D. Flaked or as a steak, tuna is a great addition to any low carb diet.
Carbs: A 100g serving of tuna provides trace amounts of carbohydrate.
“White” fish varieties
White fish varieties (including cod, haddock, whiting, hake, pollock, and others) are packed full of protein, healthy fats and rich in B vitamins (including B12) as well as other vitamins and minerals. They also tend to be friendlier when bringing up the calorie conversation too and may be an overall healthier alternative to some cuts of meat.
Carbs: Across the spectrum of white fish species available, a 100g serving will contain a trace amount of carbs.
Salmon, anchovies and other darker fish varieties
Much like the white fish varieties, salmon, anchovies and other darker fish varieties will be high in protein and a good source of essential vitamins and minerals. They stand apart, however, due to their notably high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve a whole host of health markers, for both mental and physical health.
Carbs: A 100g serving of these fish varieties will net you trace amount of carbs.
Crustaceans (Crab, lobster etc.)
A similar nutrition profile to white fish varieties, crustaceans differ in the richness and texture they can add to a dish; with a meatier, denser flavour, crustaceans could be considered the “class” of the seafood cuisine family.
Carbs: 100g of any crustacean meat will contain trace amount of carbs.
Prawn and scampi
Calorie friendly and packed full of protein, the incorporation of these nutrition wonders into your diet should extend far beyond cocktails at Christmas; curries, salads, on their own and wherever else your imagination leads you will reward you with a fabulous flavour experience.
Carbs: Trace amounts of carbohydrates will be found in 100g servings of prawn and scampi.
Calamari is a great alternative option for those looking to expand their culinary skills and taste/texture palates. Rich in protein, low in fat and packed full of essential vitamins and minerals like B12, B6, vitamin E and selenium, calamari is an underrated seafood option!
Carbs: Perfect for low carb meals too. You can expect to land zero to minimal carbs in a 100g serving of calamari.
Caviar is a good source of protein, omega-3s, vitamins and minerals. Caviar is particularly rich in vitamin B12. Other nutrients included are vitamins A, E, B6, Iron, Magnesium and Selenium. A delicacy for sure, but one that slots in nicely to any low carb diet.
Carbs: A 100g serving of caviar provides just under 4.5g of carbs. A serving size is roughly between 30 – 50g, so you can expect under 2.5g carbs per relative serving.
High carb foods to avoid
On a low-carb diet, you want to steer well clear of foods that have a high concentration of ‘bad carbs’. Here are 10 foods you should aim to completely avoid, or at least limit, on a low-carb diet.
From flatbreads to bagels, bread comes in a wide variety of forms and has been a staple food in many cuisines for thousands of years. Healthier options, such as wholemeal breads, are a good source of B vitamins, dietary fibre, and iron, and carry many benefits. White breads, on the other hand, are made from processed flour that lacks the fibre, vitamins and minerals contained in wholemeal alternatives, and provides carbs but little else.
Carbs: Whichever form it comes in, whether it’s made from whole-grains or refined flour, bread is high in carbs. One slice of white bread will contain around 14g of carbs, while a slice of whole-wheat bread nets you 17g of carbs.
Versatile and widely available, pasta is a popular ingredient that can be used in a variety of different dishes. On a low-carb diet, however, consuming pasta in any form isn’t a good idea as it is very high in carbs.
Carbs: One cup – or around 250g – of pasta contains 43g of carbs.
Like bread, rice is a staple food across the world and, in one form or another, features in almost all cuisines. There are many different types of rice, but generally speaking, these fall into two types: white and brown rice. Although brown rice offers more health benefits, both types are high in carbs and should be limited or avoided on a low-carb diet.
Carbs: One cup of long-grain brown rice contains around 52g of carbs; a similar amount of carbs (53g) can be found in the same serving of short-grain white rice.
Sugar, Honey & Maple Syrup
It’s a given that if you’re on a low-carb diet you should completely avoid foods that are high in sugar, such as desserts. This also applies to natural forms of sugar, like honey and maple syrup, as these can contain as many, if not more, carbs than white sugar.
Carbs: One tablespoon of white sugar contains about 13g of carbs, while you can expect the same serving of honey and maple syrup to have 17g and 13g of carbs respectively.
Starchy vegetables: Corn, Potato and Sweet Potato
While low-carb diets allow you to eat as many low-starch vegetables as you like, some high-starch vegetables – such as potatoes and corn – contain a relatively high number of carbs and should be avoided or limited.
Carbs: One medium potato provides around 37g of carbs, a medium sweet potato will contain 24g and one cup of corn will net you 41 grams of carbs.
Beans & Legumes
Although these high- fibre foods are nutritious and have many health benefits, such as helping reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease, beans and legumes contain a large number of carbs.
Carbs: Per one cup (150g – 200g) of cooked product you can expect the following carb counts – lentils 40g, peas 25g, kidney beans 40g and black beans 41g.
As featured in our low-carb list above, plain yoghurt is relatively low in carbs; however, the far more popular alternative, sweetened yoghurt, can contain as many carbs as a dessert. In fact, similar servings of sweetened yoghurt and ice cream can contain almost the same amount of carbs.
Carbs: One cup of sweetened yoghurt contains up to 47g of carbs; definitely something you want to avoid on a low-carb diet.
Dates & Raisins
Although a tasty addition to many dishes, raisins and dates are dried up fruits, which are high in both carbs and sugar.
Carbs: A serving (28g / 1 ounce) of raising contains around 22g of carbs, while two large dates contain 36g of carbs.
Everyone knows that sugary breakfast cereals such as frosted cornflakes contain a high number of carbs. However, the amount of carbs healthier alternatives such as oats and whole grain cereals also provide may shock you.
Carbs: One cup of oatmeal contains around 32g of carbs, while half a cup of granola packs 37g of carbs.
While nutritious, fruit juice is one of the worst drinks you can consume on a low-carb diet, as it is high in fast-digesting carbs that increase blood sugar levels.
Carbs: Apple juice contains roughly 48g per 12oz serving.
It may feel like there are incredibly challenging barriers of entry when it comes to sourcing low carb foods and recipes or implementing an overall low carb approach. Carbohydrates are arguably the most abundant nutrient group, and finding which foods fit that low carb demographic may appear daunting.
We hope that this list will help you find foods (some of which may surprise you) that fit the low carb criteria and allow you to diversify your low carb cuisine.
If you’re looking for some inspiration to get you started on your low carb diet, discover our delicious recipes below to get your creative juices flowing.
Low Carb Recipes
- Octopus with Greek Salad Recipe
- Steamed Sea Bass Fillets and Courgette Tagliatelle with Olive Oil Sauce Recipe
- Halloumi Curry Recipe
- Steamed Salmon with Mango Salsa Recipe
- Lemon and Thyme Steamed Chicken Recipe
- Beef Meatballs with Carrot Spaghetti Recipe
- Watermelon Popsicles Recipe
- Mediterranean Fish Bake Recipe
- Almond Milk Recipe
- Ratatouille Recipe using Steam
- Steamed Salmon Fillet with Mustard Sauce Recipe
- Berry Sorbet Recipe
- Roasted Cauliflower Curry Recipe
- Summer Salad with Steamed Tuna, Poached Egg and Green Asparagus Recipe
- Healthy immune boosting shot – Green Recipe
- Zucchini Boats with Feta Cheese Recipe
- Baked Stuffed Aubergines Recipe
- Steamed Vegetable Salad Recipe
- Roast lamb stuffed with lemon-couscous on glazed carrots Recipe
- Tuna Salad with Tomatoes and Spinach Recipe
- Ginger Pork Recipe
- Simmered Shrimps with Bell Peppers Recipe
- Whole Chicken With Mixed Vegetables and Spiced Yoghurt Recipe
- Tofu and spinach meatballs Recipe
- Cauliflower Cheese with Kale, Leeks & Hazelnuts Recipe
- Baked Sea Bream with Herbs and Roasted Radicchio Recipe