On a low-carb diet, you need to make your carbohydrate choices wisely – especially when you’re just starting out and your carb count is very low. Bypass refined carbs, like bread and pasta, and instead look to non-starchy veggies, plus some fruits and nuts, as the foods lowest in carbohydrates. You’ll also have your pick of healthy proteins.
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Low-carb diets vary in the amount of carbohydrate you eat daily, but in general, you take in 50 to 150 grams a day, according to a review article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That’s much less than the recommended 45 to 65 percent of calories, which on a 2,000-calorie diet would equal 225 to 325 grams of carbs.
Some established low-carb diets reduce your carb count even further in the early stages of the plans. In Atkins 20™, for example, you take in only 20 grams of “net” carbs in the induction stage, which lasts two weeks or more. You calculate net carbs by taking the total grams of carbohydrate in a food and subtracting the grams of fiber, a nutrient that doesn’t affect blood sugar levels because your body can’t fully digest it. By Phase Two of Atkins, you are allowed up to 50 grams of net carbs a day. You may have been accustomed to eating 300 grams of carbs a day, so with such a low count, you need to make your carb choices wisely.
Carbs in Six Protein Foods
In general, most meats, poultry and seafood have zero carbs, as long as you prepare them without breading or carb-heavy sauces. Of the protein foods that contain carbs, the lowest counts occur in poached or boiled eggs, with less than half a gram of net carbs per egg; bacon, with half a gram per three slices; Canadian bacon, with 1 gram per 3 slices; most cheeses, with 1 gram or less per ounce; broiled lobster, with 2 grams per whole lobster; and fresh, cooked clams, with 3 grams per 2 ounces.
Carbohydrates in 14 Vegetables and Fruits
With veggies, the lowest carb counts are found in non-starchy varieties. A half-cup serving of these veggies will give you 1 gram of net carbs or less: steamed bok choy; raw broccoli florets; raw cabbage, either green, Chinese, savoy or Napa; raw or steamed chicory greens; raw or steamed escarole; and baby spinach. For 2 grams of net carbs or less, you could have six spears of steamed asparagus; 1/2 cup of steamed or raw cauliflower; 1 cup of steamed collard greens; 1/4 cup of cooked red or green bell pepper; a half-cup of steamed or raw zucchini; and a half-cup of raw cucumber slices.
For the lowest carb counts in fruits, look to fresh blackberries, boysenberries or raspberries, with 3 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup; and acerola cherries, with 3 grams in the same serving.
Five Low-Carb Nuts
Many nuts are low in carbs, while also providing protein and healthy fats. But make sure you stick to unflavored varieties and keep to the relatively small serving sizes. For a satisfying low-carb snack, you can have 6 Brazil nuts, 12 hazelnuts or an ounce of pecans for just 1 gram of net carbs. Twenty-four whole roasted almonds have only 2 grams of net carbs, and 12 walnut halves will give you the same carb count.