When you hear about low-carb, you're often told more about the foods you're not allowed to eat -- like grains, potatoes and sweets -- than the ones you are allowed. But eating low-carb doesn't mean deprivation, and you can enjoy a wealth of foods even on a more restrictive low-carb diet. Just pick relatively unprocessed, naturally low-carb foods and liquids, and you'll drop your carb intake -- and your waist size.
Fibrous Vegetables and Lower-Carb Fruits
It's no surprise that vegetables are low in calories, but they're very low in carbohydrates, too. Even the most restrictive low-carb diets call for several servings of veggies each day. Phase 1 of the Atkins diet -- which limits your carb intake to just 20 grams of net carbs per day -- calls for about 2 cups of cooked veggies and 6 cups of leafy greens daily.
Shop for leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, mustard, turnip or beet greens, and collards. For other veggies, look to asparagus, bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower. You may also be able to eat a small amount of lower-carb fruit -- try cranberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries as the best options.
Meats, Fish, Dairy and Eggs
High-protein foods also make up a key part of a low-carb diet. Phase 1 of the Atkins diet calls for 4 to 6 ounces of high-protein foods at each meal. Shop for minimally processed foods -- like regular eggs, milk, unsweetened yogurt, cheese, unsweetened kefir, grilled turkey and chicken, lean pork and beef, shellfish and other fish. These foods supply lots of protein with few carbs -- or no carbs, in the case of meat.
Avoid more processed foods, like liquid eggs with added flavorings, sweetened dairy products, bacon, sausage, cured meats and breaded meats. While these foods still contain protein, many of them also supply added carbs. And even low-carb options, like bacon, come packed with sodium that can make you bloat -- not helpful when you're trying to look slim!
Other Low-Carbohydrate Foods
While veggies, low-carb fruits and lean proteins likely make up the bulk of your low-carb diet, that's not all you can eat. Pick up almonds, walnuts or other nuts to snack on your low-carb meal plan. Walnuts, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts all have under 2 grams of digestible "net" carbs per serving, and a serving of 24 almonds has just 2 grams of net carbs.
Beans and lentils can also add variety to your diet while supplying plant-based proteins. Stock up on lower-carb options like lentils, which have just 4 grams of net carbs per 1/4 cup cooked, or pinto, kidney or lima beans, which supply 6 grams of net grams per 1/4-cup serving. If you're following a less restrictive low-carb diet you can also shop for chickpeas and navy beans, which have 11 and 10 grams of net carbs per 1/4-cup serving, respectively. These two options likely have too many carbs to fit into a very-low-carb diet, however.
Liquids and Beverages
Even the best-planned low-carb diet won't work if you don't consider your liquid intake. If you down sweetened drinks, you could blow your carb "budget" for the day in just a few sips. In addition to water -- which should make up most of your liquid intake -- drink unsweetened coffee or tea, which are naturally calorie- and carb-free. Avoid lattes -- often, the high milk content means you're taking in too many carbs; instead, add a tablespoon or two of cream to your coffee. Even 1/4 cup of cream has roughly 1 gram of net carbs, so you can likely still fit it into a very-low-carb diet. If you're craving a savory liquid, go for low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock -- each cup has just 1 gram of net carbs.