Low-carb diets aren't reserved for folks on keto and people living with diabetes — everyone can apply some facets of low-carb eating to their daily meal plans to improve their health. After all, many inherently "low-carb" foods are those that come from whole-food sources, like cottage cheese, nuts and tuna.
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So how do health experts define "low-carb snacks," anyway? The definition is really up to you, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN and author of Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You From Label to Table.
"There is no legal, solid definition. Some people may look at low-carb dieting as eating less bread or only eating carbs from fruits and vegetables," Taub-Dix says. "Going low-carb might mean you cut back on your portion sizes and choose carbs that are more valuable, or that you have less candy and desserts."
Ultimately, the best low-carb snacks (or healthy snacks in general) have the perfect trifecta of protein, fat and a bit of carbs. "This powerful combo allows you to slowly digest the food — first the carbs, then protein and fat. This keeps you satiated longer and prevents dips in blood sugar," Taub-Dix says
But if you're looking for some baselines, Marina Savelyeva, RD, author of the Easy Gastric Sleeve Bariatric Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Healing and Sustainable Weight Loss and president-elect of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics, says low-carb snacks are generally those with no more than 15 grams of carbs and 5 grams of sugar.
"These carbs should come from high-quality food sources, like whole grains and fruits, and provide antioxidants and fiber."
Try focusing less on counting how many carbs a snack has and more on what the carbs you choose offer, Taub-Dix says. For example, one piece of whole-grain bread has about 15 grams of carbs, but three packets of sugar also have 15 grams of carbs. The whole-grain toast will provide fiber, B vitamins and essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium, copper and zinc; the sugar won't.
Try the best low-carb snacks below — they're all recommended by dietitians.
Need an Easy Way to Count Carbs?
1. Dannon Light + Fit Mango Kiwi Non-Fat Yogurt
Per 1-container serving: 90 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 7 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 65 milligrams sodium, 15 grams protein
Escape to a tropical paradise with a delicious cup of this mango-kiwi yogurt, which won't put a damper on your daily carb or sugar count. It packs 15 grams of muscle-building protein (including collagen) in just one serving, making it a great post-workout snack. Plus, it's low in sugar, with only 6 grams coming from real fruit. Top with your favorite low-sugar granola to add a hearty crunch.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $1.97
2. Savoritz Parmesan Crisps
Per 12-crisp serving: 100 calories, 7 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated fat), 0 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 230 milligrams sodium, 9 grams protein
These cheesy, zero-carb snacks are a crunchy and savory alternative to potato chips and crackers. The ingredients don't get any simpler than aged Parmesan cheese that's been baked in small batches. Dietitian and certified personal trainer Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, likes to crush a couple of them as a topping on salads or enjoy them as is.
"While their flavor is downright crave-worthy, these airy, half-dollar-sized cheese rounds also pack 9 grams of protein her serving," she says. In addition to salad toppings, you can use these cheese crisps in place of breading or seasoning for chicken breasts, zucchini fries, casserole or baked pasta dishes and homemade meatballs.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $3.19
3. Olive Oil Tuna and Barilla Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Per 1/4-cup Barilla Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto: 120 calories, 10 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 6 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 370 milligrams sodium, 1 gram protein
Per 2 oz. Bumble Bee Tonno in Olive Oil, drained: 110 calories, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 0 grams carbohydrates, 220 milligrams sodium, 15 grams protein
For a quick savory snack made with easy pantry items, Savelyeva likes to cut up cucumber or radish slices (which you can roast in the oven with some olive oil) and top them with tuna and sun-dried tomato pesto.
She usually goes for tuna in olive oil, like this one from Bumble Bee, for its healthy fats and flavor. But instead of mixing it with mayo, she likes Barilla's sun-dried tomato pesto, which lends the fresh taste of basil, capers and oregano. If you prefer something creamy, try cucumber slices with cream cheese, lox and fresh dill.
4. Muuna Low-Fat Plain Cottage Cheese With Sunbutter
Per 1 container Muuna Plain Low-Fat Plain Cottage Cheese: 120 calories, 3 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 4 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar), 460 milligrams sodium, 19 grams protein
Per 2 tbsp. SunButter: 210 calories, 18 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 5 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar), 130 milligrams sodium, 7 grams protein
Before you knock cottage cheese as a dated low-carb snack, know that brands have re-invented their spreadable cheese so it's not as salty but just as flavorful. In fact, cottage cheese is so versatile that you can turn it into a sweet or savory nosh with just a few spices or a couple of fruits.
Savelyeva likes Muuna's plain cottage cheese for its mild flavor and she dresses it up with zero-added-sugar jam and SunButter No-Sugar-Added sunflower seed butter. "Cottage cheese comes in different styles, including European and Russian styles, so find one you like best. Good Culture and Lifeway Farmer Cheese are other great brands that have less sugar. They also have probiotics," she says.
5. Hilo Life Piece-A-Pizza Snack Mix
Per 1-package serving: 250 calories, 21 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated fat), 6 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 220 milligrams sodium, 10 grams protein
As delicious as some low-carb snacks are, sometimes, they just don't stack up to eating something bready and crispy. Enter Hilo Life's snack mixes. These crunchy nuggets of mozzarella cheese and walnuts are seasoned with mouthwatering spices, like garlic powder, onion powder and tomato powder, for that pizza flavor you've been craving.
You'll get 10 grams of protein and only 4 grams of net carbs in one serving, so you'll feel satiated until your next meal. Not in the mood for a slice? Hilo Life comes in Ranch and Cheesy snack mixes, too.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $14.98 per pack of 6
6. Nature's Garden Keto Snack Mix
Per one-ounce serving: 170 calories, 15 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 4 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, <1 gram sugar), 55 milligrams sodium, 7 grams protein
Think of this nuts-and-cheese snack mix as the equivalent of Chex mix — just without the actual cereal pretzels and rye crisps. You won't miss out on the crunch because it's packed with cheddar cheese puffs, almonds, pepitas, pecans and macadamia nuts.
In addition to the filling protein and fiber you'll get from the nuts, it provides a dose of probiotics for the gut. Separate portions into individual sandwich bags or sprinkle some over a salad, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt for a savory snack.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $22.50 per 24-ounce bag
7. KIND Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt Bar
Per bar: 200 calories, 17 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 14 grams carbohydrates (5 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 3 grams added sugar), 5 grams protein
Instead of reaching for a candy bar from the vending machine, satisfy your hankering for a sweet-salty treat with a fiber-rich bar, such as KIND. They're an excellent on-the-go snack that you can easily stash in your glove compartment, desk drawer or gym bag.
"What I love about these bars is that they're in a transparent wrapper, so you can tell exactly what's in them. You can point to the nuts and fruit, and they have the perfect trifecta of protein, carbs and fat," Taub-Dix says. "They only have 5 to 6 grams of sugar and provide fiber and protein."
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $14.22 per pack of 12
8. EPIC Bison Bacon Cranberry Bars
Per bar: 130 calories, 8 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 8 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, 6 grams sugar), 320 milligrams sodium, 7 grams protein
Beef jerky lovers will enjoy the flavorful, meaty-yet-soft texture of these bison bars. EPIC products are made with high-quality meats that are 100-percent grass-fed and Certified Gluten-Free. Plus, they don't contain any added nitrates or nitrites.
Savelyeva likes the bison bars because they aren't as mass-produced as chicken and beef, and they have chunks of dried cranberries to add a naturally sweet flavor.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $22 per pack of 12
9. Folio's Cheddar Cheese Wraps
Per wrap: 180 calories, 13 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 0 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar), 330 milligrams sodium, 12 grams protein
Deli meat roll-ups are delicious, but they can get boring on a low-carb diet, and they aren't as satisfying as a sandwich or wrap. These cheese wraps make a heartier low-carb snack, which you can enjoy with turkey, tuna, chicken and your choice of veggies. Choose from Cheddar, Parmesan and Jarlsberg.
"One wrap contains 12 grams of protein and no carbs. You can bake it in the oven for about five minutes and break it up into smaller pieces. Combine them with nuts and seeds and store it in a container for a few days," Savelyeva says. Aside from this upgraded trail mix, you can also dip the pieces into hummus, guacamole or salsa.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $29.99 per pack of 3
10. Wonderful Lightly Salted Pistachios
Per 1/2-cup serving: 150 calories, 13 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 8 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 65 milligrams sodium, 6 grams protein
Pistachios take a little work to enjoy, but they're worth it for their high-protein, healthy fat and low-carb content. Eat them as is or roughly chop them to sprinkle over a bowl of low-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
You can also prepare your own trail mix, combining them with almonds, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, cacao nibs and unsweetened dried fruit.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $7.19