Foods that are low in carbohydrates aren't necessarily low in calories as well. Understanding which foods from different food groups fit best into both categories can be helpful in a low-carb diet plan for weight loss.
Because of their significant carbohydrate content, most grains and starchy vegetables are off the table for low-carb diets. When you're trying to lose weight, it's cutting calories that matters the most, not cutting carbs, although both may be helpful.
Low Carb, Low Calorie Foods
When you're looking for foods that are low in both carbohydrates and calories, your best choices are nonstarchy vegetables, which often have a high water and fiber content, so they are low in energy density, or calories per gram. This makes it easier to eat a large portion and fill up on them without going over your daily calories.
According to the USDA, red leaf lettuce, with less than 1 gram of carbs and only 4 calories per cup, is an example of a particularly low-calorie and low-carb vegetable. Others vegetables with fewer than 5 grams of carbs and 20 calories per 1-cup serving of raw vegetables or 1/2-cup serving of cooked vegetables include lettuce, kale, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, celery, summer squash, okra, snap beans and radishes.
Fruits tend to be higher in both carbohydrates and calories than vegetables, but still lower in calories than many other low-carb foods, according to the USDA. For fewer than 10 grams of carbs and 50 calories, eat a cup of starfruit or a clementine. Fruit choices with fewer than 15 grams of carbs and 75 calories include a cup of sliced peaches, apple, raspberries, cantaloupe, blackberries, strawberries, watermelon, casaba melon and water-packed canned apricots.
Meat, Poultry, Seafood and Dairy
Meat, poultry and seafood typically have very few carbohydrates, but they can be high in calories. Fish is usually lower in calories than meat, according to the USDA. Options with fewer than 100 calories and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate per 3-ounce serving include canned light tuna, pork tenderloin with the fat trimmed, ham with the fat cut off, chicken or turkey breast, queen crab, pike, halibut, ling, Dungeness crab, mahi-mahi, lingcod, bass, cod, orange roughy, shrimp, monkfish and crayfish.
Eggs and certain dairy products can be very low in carbohydrates, but at the same time high in calories, according to facts provided by the USDA. Among those that contain fewer than 100 calories and less than 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving are an egg, soft goat cheese, brie, Camembert, tilsit, mozzarella and low-fat Swiss. A single-serving container of plain nonfat Greek yogurt has just 100 calories but about 6 grams of carbs, and a cup of skim milk provides 83 calories as well as about 12 grams of carbs.
Nuts and Net Carbs
Because nuts are high in fat, they also tend to be high in calories, as listed by the USDA. There are a couple of options with under 5 grams of carbs and under 100 calories, including a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter or the same amount of cashew butter. Other nuts that are closer to 200 calories and 4 grams of carbs per ounce include walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans. Although almonds and pistachios have fewer than 200 calories per ounce, they have 6 and 8 grams of carbs, respectively.
Some low-carb diets recommend using net carbs instead of total carbs. Net carbs are usually defined as total carbs minus any sugar alcohols or fiber in the food. These measurements don't always provide an accurate picture of how much a food will affect blood sugar levels, according to the American Diabetes Association, so diabetics shouldn't use net carbs for carb-counting purposes. It is OK for diabetics to subtract fiber from total carbs if a food contains at least 5 grams of fiber, however, notes the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
- American Diabetes Association: "Taking a Closer Look At Labels"
- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension: "Carbohydrate Counting"
- USDA Nutrient Lists: "Vegetables and Vegetable Products"
- USDA Nutrient Lists: "Dairy and Egg Products"
- USDA Nutrient Lists: "Meat, Poultry and Seafood"
- USDA Nutrient Lists: "Nut and Seed Products"
- USDA Nutrient Lists: "Fruits and Fruit Juices"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Lettuce, Red Leaf, Raw"