It might be hard to give up bread and pasta at the beginning of your low-carb diet, but once you know what you can eat, you won't have a hard time finding tasty replacements. You'll eat meat, cheese and low-carb veggies on any low-carb diet, and if it's a more liberal plan, limited amounts of nuts, fruits, starchy veggies and dairy may be allowed. If you're not sure what you can eat, consult a registered dietitian for guidance in planning your meals.
Meat, Poultry, Seafood and Tofu
To limit carbs and keep you feeling full, protein foods should be the focus of your meals. Fresh beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs and fish are all carb-free. Add tofu, which has 1 to 3 grams of net carbs per 4-ounce serving, if you prefer meatless meals. "Net" carbs are digestible carbs -- the total carbs minus fiber grams -- and are used by many low-carb plans for tracking carb intake. Bacon, sausage and deli meats also work, but may be a source of carbs due to added sugar and fillers with 1 to 4 grams of net carbs per serving, so read the food label to track your intake.
Very Low-Carb Veggies and Fruit
If you add low-carb veggies to round out your meals, you'll get healthy nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Satisfy hunger by bulking up meals with veggies that have 1 gram of net carbohydrate or fewer per serving, such as alfalfa sprouts, arugula, bok choy, broccoli raab, napa cabbage, endive, escarole, mustard greens and spinach. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, green beans, tomatoes, mixed greens, onions, celery and cucumbers are a little higher in carbs, with 1 to 5 grams per 1/2-cup serving, but they make tasty add-ons for meals.
Most fruits are high in carbs and a tough fit for very low-carb diet plans, but pumpkin, avocados and olives -- technically classified as fruits -- fit most low-carb plans. Five black olives have less than 1 gram of net carbs while green olives are almost carb-free. Half of a Haas avocado has 1 gram of net carbs, and 1/2-cup of mashed pumpkin has 6.
Cheese, Nuts and Seeds
Cheese, nuts and seeds aren't carb-free, but still fit into most low-carb plans. An ounce of cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Camembert, brie, Colby or Muenster cheese has less than 1 gram of net carbs. One-half cup of cottage cheese has 4 to 6 grams, and 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese has 2 to 3 grams. Grated Parmesan has only trace carbs per tablespoon and can be used to add flavor to savory dishes.
Eat nuts as a snack or add them to salads for extra crunch and flavor. Ten pecans or macadamia nuts, 12 hazelnuts or 2 tablespoons of peanuts contain only 1 gram of net carbs. Walnuts have only 2 grams of net carbs in 12 halves, while almonds have 3 grams of net carbs in 24 kernels. Their nut butters, which you can spread on celery or cucumbers, have 2 to 3 grams of net carbs per 2 tablespoons. Sesame and sunflower seeds have a similar carb count with 2 grams of net carbs per 2 tablespoons.
Fats, Oils and Flavorings
Like animal proteins, butter and vegetable oils are carb-free, so sautéing low-carb veggies in fat adds flavor without any extra carbs. A number of salad dressings are low in carbs, with 1 to 2 grams per 2 tablespoons, including ranch, Caesar and blue cheese. But be sure to read the label to see if your favorite dressing works, because some may contain added sugars and a few extra carbs. Balsamic vinegar has 3 grams of net carbs per tablespoon, but red wine and apple cider vinegars are carb-free, as are yellow and brown mustard. Herbs and spices, such as rosemary, oregano, basil, garlic and pepper, have less than 1 gram of net carbs per tablespoon, so they can be considered carb-free.