The low-carb trend may seem as old school as fax machines, but eating naturally low-carb foods (I’m looking at you, veggies and lean protein) will always be good for your health. Everyone needs some healthy, utility players in the fridge that can make snacks and meals a little better.
A low-carb diet can have many benefits, as high-carb foods can be highly processed and don’t offer much nutritional value. Low-carb foods are often high in fiber, which can help you feel full for longer, an important factor in weight loss. Many of the most versatile low-carb foods are also leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, which are dense in vitamins in other nutrients, too. Some low-carb foods are high in healthy fats, too, and research shows that healthy fats can lower risk of heart disease, improve cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
While low-carb diets can be a struggle for some people to maintain long-term, adding more low-carb foods into your meals can offer many benefits without the pressure of never having any carbs.
Here’s a list of my of some of my favorite low-carb, nutrient-dense, tasty foods.
A third of an avocado has only 5 grams of carbs and, aside from being Instagram famous, it’s also known for being high in monounsaturated healthy fats, which helps lower bad cholesterol and is linked with burning belly fat.
Mash an avocado into hummus for the perfect hybrid dip for crudité, top an apple slice (yes this is delish!) or of course, there’s that whole toast thing.
A whole cup will cost you only 30 calories and contains just 6 grams of carbs, but has an impressive 3 grams of fiber and, like other cruciferous vegetables, is rich in cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates.
For an easy dinner side dish, lay broccoli out on a baking sheet and drizzle with avocado oil before roasting at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
This jam packed with MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) cooking oil has zero grams of carbs. MCTs are a type of saturated fat that can help you increase your good cholesterol, reduce the bad and even help you burn fat. Because of its high cooking temp, you can use it for everything from baking to broiling to sautéing.
A full cup of aubergine (yes, that is the other name of this pretty purple veggie) contains less than 5 grams of carbs and contains nasunin, a compound that protects your brain cells from oxidation.
For eggplant newbies, here’s a healthy way to get your feet wet: sprinkle with salt, let stand for 10 minutes, blot with a paper towel to remove excess water, then, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 375°F for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Quite possibly the most convenient form of protein, a single egg has 0.6 grams of carbs and 6 grams of protein. And, don’t go tossing that yolk, it’s packed with choline an important nutrient for brain health.
Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand and mash onto a slice of Ezekiel toast for an on-the-go breakfast or sprinkle with sea salt and cayenne for a simple snack.
At 13 grams of carbs per half, a grapefruit is also lower in sugar compared to other citrus fruits. One study showed there was a positive relationship between eating a half of a grapefruit before a meal and weight loss. Section half a grapefruit, sprinkle with cinnamon and a drop of honey and place under the broiler for three to four minutes for a perfect jam-packed nutrient dessert.
Each 6-ounce container of greek yogurt has about 6 grams of carbs and a whole lot of protein, approximately 17 grams! Go for one that has no added sugar and add your fave nuts or seeds and berries for a calcium-packed breakfast.
Green beans provide you with 7 grams of carbs per cup and are rich in vitamin K, which contributes to your bone health, healthy blood clotting and can help prevent heart disease. Mix 1 cup steamed beans with a teaspoon of pesto and top with a soft-boiled egg or grilled chicken for a super fast, nutrient-dense lunch.
Snacking on two tablespoons of olives will still have you consuming just under 1 gram of carbs and the antioxidant oleuropein, which is specific to olives and has been shown to lower cholesterol and prevent oxidative stress.
Add olives to Ezekiel toast and goat cheese for a savory breakfast, couple with veggies for a snack or toss onto your go-to romaine salad at dinner.
Peanuts and peanut butter
One ounce provides you with less than 5 grams of carbs and high amounts of biotin, an important vitamin B when it comes to metabolism, nerve and digestive health. Crumble them up before tossing them in a salad, couple a handful with a piece of fruit for a snack or add to your next veggie or tofu stir fry.
These super seeds have 15 grams of carbs per ounce and are loaded with magnesium, a mineral crucial to maintaining healthy blood pressure and to overall better digestive health. Add to your oatmeal or mix into guacamole to give it a crunch.
A handful of ten of these pretty berries have less than 2.5 grams of carbs. High in manganese, these fiber-filled gems also provide some serious benefits when it comes your bone health. Buy them frozen to always have on hand for smoothies, to top yogurt or drizzle a little dark chocolate over a cup for an extra sweet treat.
Salmon is a filling fish that provides you with zero carbs. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help you burn fat, make your skin glow and fight inflammation. Add salmon to eggs, top a high fiber cracker and a squeeze of lemon or grill with a pomegranate glaze.
A half-cup of shrimp provides you with less than 1 gram of carbs. It’s also low in calories and high protein for all of you watching your waistline. Shellfish also contains zinc, an important mineral for helping your immune system fight off viruses. Stir fry shrimp with broccoli, snap peas, onion and shredded carrots for a fast, simple, healthy weeknight meal.
Six grams of carbs per quarter cup, this seed is known for being high in selenium, a cancer-fighting mineral. Who needs trail mix to get these seeds in? Add them to your main course by sprinkling on roasted Brussels sprouts or sauteéd butternut squash.
One medium tomato has less than 5 grams of carbs. This perfect sandwich topper has 1.5 grams of fiber and is also rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which contributes to glowing skin and boosting your immune system.
Chop tomato, onion and mushrooms and add to an egg scramble or hollow out and fill with an almond farro salad for a vegan meal.
Get over 50 percent of your vitamin C needs in one medium-sized zucchini. These veggies have a high water content to help you stay hydrated and to keep you fuller longer. Slice thinly and layer with red sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese for a low carb way to get in your lasagna fix.
Chicken is an excellent source of protein and has no carbs. One 4-ounce serving has 26 grams of protein and 120 calories. Chicken can also be used in a variety of ways — such as a salad or pasta topping or alongside roasted veggies or even in soup.
Cottage cheese is one of TikTok’s favorite ways to get a creamy flavor with more protein and minimal carbs. Half a cup of cottage cheese has only 5 grams of carbs but 12 grams of protein. It’s made of curdled milk, where the milk is mixed with live cultures that separate the milk’s contents into curds made of fat and protein, and liquid, made of whey. Some extra milk and salt is usually added. Cottage cheese comes in full-fat, low-fat and non-fat options.
Grass-fed beef has no carbs and 22 grams of protein in a 4-ounce serving. Beef that is grass-fed, meaning the cow has eaten entirely grass for most of its life, has healthier fats and more antioxidants. Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef contains fats that can reduce cancer and heart disease risk, as well as improve cholesterol levels.
Hemp seeds are one of the most nutrient dense foods around. By eating 3 tablespoons, you’ll get10 grams of protein, 240 milligrams of potassium, up to 20% of your daily iron and just 2 grams of carbs. It also has plenty of healthy, fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. Hemp seeds can give your morning yogurt or smoothie an extra punch of nutrition.
Spirulina is a type of green algae that contains comparable quality protein to eggs and is often used as a nutritional supplement. It also contains B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid, according to Mount Sinai. It has a strong flavor so it’s best to eat it with things that mast the taste, like smoothies.
Tempeh is a plant-based protein made of fermented soybeans. It contains probiotics, which are good for the gut, and has 14 grams of protein in a 4-ounce serving. Some people use tempeh as a meat substitute, such as with tempeh bacon, but you can also stir fry it, use it in hash and in a variety of other dishes.
Tofu is a popular plant-based meat substitute for people looking to add more protein to their diets. Similar to tempeh, it’s made from condensed soy milk. It’s delicious to crumble with veggies or eggs, or throw cubes in the air fryer for a crispier, nugget-like bite. It’s lower-carb than tempeh, with 20 grams of protein and less than 4 grams of carbs in a 4-ounce serving.
Fennel bulbs, from the same plant that produces fennel seeds, contain about 6 grams of carbs for one cup of fennel. It has a sweet, licorice-like flavor and can be easily thrown into a salad or soup. Research indicates it has anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s high in potassium, calcium, good fatty acids and magnesium.
Spinach contains only 1 gram of carbs in a 1-cup serving, as well as a lot of magnesium, which can have brain health benefits, and fiber, which is good for bowel health, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. Spinach can be easily eaten in a salad, pasta, smoothies, soup or sautéed as a side. It doesn’t have a strong flavor so blending it into a sauce can add extra fiber to any dish.
Brussels sprouts contain about 8 grams of carbs in a 1-cup serving. They’re also high in fiber, rich in antioxidants and high in vitamin K, which is good for bone health and blood clotting. Try roasting them or eat them raw and shaved into a salad.
Radishes are a root vegetable like potatoes that can be cooked somewhat similarly, but they have fewer carbs. You can also eat them. They contain antioxidants, vitamin C, and can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve liver function. One medium radish contains less than one-quarter gram of carbs.
This peppery, slightly bitter green contains less than a gram of carbohydrates per cup. It’s also high in calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and K, potassium, magnesium and more. It’s a popular choice for salads or to add some extra punch and nutrition for sandwiches and wraps.
One serving of collard greens provides over 20% of your daily dose of calcium. Plus one cup contains only 2 grams of carbohydrates. Use the leaves to make a healthy, low-carb wrap, or lightly cook them to get the maximum nutrients out of them.
One cup of broccoli rabe has only 5 grams of carbohydrates. It also has 7 grams of protein, almost 5 grams of fiber and most of your daily need of vitamins A and C. It has a bitter taste if you eat it raw. Most often it’s cooked by sautéeing, as in Italian cuisine. It’s an excellent side dish or addition to a pasta or salad.
One cup of kale contains less than 1 gram of carbs. There are different varieties of kale that can be used in different ways, such as curly kale, dinosaur (lacinato) kale and Chinese kale. It’s doesn’t have a super strong flavor, so it’s an excellent base for salads especially in the fall. As with most leafy greens, it’s an excellent source of vitamins, such as A, K and B6, as well as folate and fiber. It’s also low in calories, with one cup only containing 20.
If you’re eating a low-carb diet and in need of a pasta replacement, spaghetti squash gets its name because when it’s cooked, its insides take on a stringy, noodle-like texts that’s a great base for pasta sauces. It contains about 7 grams of carbs per cup and is high in fiber so it’s beneficial for gut health and weight loss because it keeps you full longer.
The most commonly eaten varieties of mushrooms are naturally low in carbs. A one-cup serving of white button mushrooms contain only 3 grams of carbs. You can thinly shave mushrooms and throw them on a soup, salad or another dish, or sautée them as a side. Certain types of mushrooms, such as king oyster and portobellos, are also an excellent plant-based meat alternative.
Cauliflower, another cruciferous veggie, often used as a more nutritious alternative to rice and white flour, such as in pizza crust. One cup contains only 5 grams of carbs. It’s also high in protein, vitamins C and B6, as well as magnesium.
One medium, green bell pepper contains only 6 grams of carbs. Bell peppers come in several colors, each with their own flavor, and have a much milder spice level than some of their relatives. You can cute them up and eat them raw as part of a crudité plate, stuff them, sauté them in a stir fry — the options are practically endless. They also are high in vitamins C, K1, E and A, folate and potassium.
Low-carb food recipes
Don’t know where to start with eating more low-carb foods? These recipes offer a range of ideas and many feature more than one low-carb food that you can try adding to your diet.
Courtesy Sheela Prakash
Courtesy Adam Friedlander
Claudia Sintigo / TODAY
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY
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