If you're focusing on a high-protein diet, you might be in need of some low-fat, low-carb options to include in your eating plan. However, the key to sustaining a healthy low-carb, low-fat plan all lies in the foods you choose.
In fact, January 2020 research discovered that unhealthy low-carb diets — aka, those that allow for refined grains and added sugars — are linked to higher total mortality while healthy low-carb diets — that include limited amounts of low-quality carbs as well as pack in healthy sources of protein and unsaturated fats — are tied to a lower overall risk of death, per the JAMA Internal Medicine study.
The study's researchers stress that opting for quality sources of protein, fat and carbs might just help you improve your health and live longer.
Want to Track Your Carb Intake Without Doing the Math?
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Low-Carb, Low-Fat Diets
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average person following a 2,000-calorie diet should get about:
This means that the majority of the calories recommended for most people to eat come from carbohydrates and fat. Low-carb, low-fat diets aren't too common; reducing both of these means you're eliminating two of the three main macronutrients from your diet. It also means that, in order to sustain yourself, you'd have to get most of your calories from protein.
Diets that focus on protein, like the carnivore diet, eliminate carbohydrates altogether. Adhering to this type of diet doesn't just mean eliminating sugar or bread — it also means saying goodbye to fruits and vegetables, which are an important part of your diet.
Getting Your Healthy Fats In
Fats get a bad rap because of their association with heart disease, high cholesterol and other health problems. Not all fats are bad, though — certain fats are actually essential for your body's good health.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered to be healthy fats. These fats are found in foods like avocados, eggs, nuts, vegetable oils and seafood. Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy fats that should be eaten in moderation and are found in fatty meats, high-fat dairy products, fried foods and baked goods.
The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day for the average person on a 2,000-calorie diet and eliminating intake of trans fat altogether, if possible.
Most people eating a 2,000-calorie diet should get about 65 grams of fat per day, according to the FDA. This amount includes healthy fats, like omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, as well as unhealthy fats, like saturated and trans fat.
If you're trying out a lower-fat diet, you should aim to reduce your saturated fat and make sure to focus on eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It's possible to get as little as 6 percent of your daily calories from fat, but people who do this usually eat a diet that's rich in carbohydrates to get enough calories each day.
Focusing on Healthy Carbs
There are many foods in the average Western diet that are filled with refined and processed carbs — one of the reasons carbs have been on the "bad" food list. However, carbohydrates are found in all sorts of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lactose-containing dairy products.
It's generally recommended that 50 to 60 percent of your calories come for carbohydrates. According to the Mayo Clinic, this translates to 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates each day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
However, you can also eat far fewer carbohydrates safely. For example, people on ketogenic diets often get just 20 grams of net carbohydrates each day. (ICYMI: Net carbs are the total carbs you get after subtracting the amount of fiber.) Other popular low-carbohydrate diets, like the Atkins diet, also recommend consuming between 20 and 100 net grams of carbs each day. However, in order to eat so few carbohydrates, people need to boost their fat intake.
Getting Low-Fat and Low-Carb Foods From Plants
Most foods contain some carbohydrates, which include fiber, sugars and starches. Fiber is important for the function of your digestive system, and most people should get around 25 grams a day, per the FDA.
Most low-fat, low-carb foods are vegetables, which are typically rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. These include:
- Bean sprouts
- Bell peppers
- Bok choy
- Broccoli, broccolini and broccoli rabe
- Brussels sprouts
- Onions, scallions and shallots
- Salad greens, including watercress, arugula, lettuce and chicory greens
- Squash, including yellow squash and spaghetti squash
Some fruits are also low in carbohydrates and fats. These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber and include:
- Berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, cranberries, gooseberries and strawberries
- Lemons and lines
- Melon, including honeydew melon and cantaloupe
Legumes are good sources of plant-based protein but are often rich in carbohydrates. Low-carbohydrate legumes include lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans and black beans.
Unlike many other plant-based foods, nuts and seeds supply all three macros: carbohydrates, fats and protein. Nuts often differ widely from one another; cashews and pistachios are rich in carbs, for instance, while Brazil nuts and macadamias are rich in fats. Some nuts that are good sources of protein but low in fat and carbs include walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds.
What About Animal-Based Foods That Are Low-Fat and Low-Carb?
Meats typically lack carbohydrates and are good sources of protein. However, they can be rich in fats. This means that finding low-carbohydrate meats is easy, but low-fat meats can be challenging. Low-fat proteins include:
- Eggs, like chicken eggs, duck eggs and quail eggs. These are good sources of protein and are rich in many different vitamins and minerals.
- Seafood, including fish, shellfish and mollusks. These food products are typically rich in healthy fats, like omega fatty acids, and are low in saturated fat.
- Skinless poultry, such as chicken, duck, goose and turkey. The skin from these birds is where most of their fat content lies; removing it yields low-fat, high-protein foods.
- Lean cuts of meat (like loin or lean ground meat), which come from beef, pork, lamb, game and other animals.
You should avoid products such as lard, margarine, mayonnaise, sweetened yogurts and many types of dairy if you're looking for low-fat, low-carb animal products. However, many dairy products are available that are low in fat and carbs. Low-fat (1 percent) and fat-free dairy products are the best options and include:
- Low-fat or fat-free milk
- Low-fat yogurt (without added sugars) and Greek yogurt
- Light and fat-free cheese products, including cream cheese, American cheese and cheddar
- Food and Drug Administration: "Total Carbohydrates"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Total Fat"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Protein"
- Food and Drug Administration: Dietary Fiber
- American Heart Association: Saturated Fat
- Mayo Clinic: "Carbohydrates: How Carbs Fit Into a Healthy Diet"
- American Heart Association: Trans Fat
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Association of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets With Mortality Among US Adults"