Carbs have received a bad rap over the years, and while diets that completely eliminate them have remained popular for decades, cutting carbs entirely can actually do more harm to your body than good. However, if you’re looking to still eat carbs but just cut back a little, whether it’s for weight loss or blood sugar reasons, we’ve got a list of the 20 healthiest low-carb foods to stock in your kitchen.
Load up on these foods so you can watch your waistline while also making sure your body has the vitamins and nutrients it needs to thrive. (Along with any of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)
Why do carbs get such a bad rap?
You’ve likely heard that carbs come in two types: simple and complex. The simple carbohydrates are found in foods like table sugar, honey, dairy products, fruit, and fruit juice, while complex carbohydrates are found in grains and grain products like bread, pasta, and crackers, and in some veggies like sweet potatoes, corn, and peas. They all end up turning into glucose when digested, but complex carbs take longer to convert into glucose than simple carbs, which means they don’t spike those glucose levels quickly—an important factor in weight management. Why? Because quick spikes in glucose will give you a lot of energy at once but won’t keep you full for very long. After eating simple carbs, you’ll end up even hungrier later.
Another factor in whether carbs are considered “good” or “bad” is whether they contain any fiber. For example, an apple contains carbs but also lots of fiber, which benefits your digestion and makes the glucose release slower, while refined carbs like rice and pasta have had their nutrients removed and you are basically not getting a whole lot of nutrition value from eating them (plus they spike your glucose levels through the roof).
Lowest carb kitchen staples—ranked by carb content from highest to lowest
From fresh strawberries to Parmesan cheese, all 20 items on this list are popular pantry staples, and each food contains only 12 grams of carbs or less. For more tips on how to maximize the benefits of carbs without gaining weight or negatively impacting your overall health, replace unhealthy sources of carbs with these complex carbs that uncover your abs! Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest food news delivered straight to your inbox.
Carbs per 1 cup, diced: 11.5 grams (9.4 grams sugar, 0.6 grams fiber)
With summer almost here, you’ll be happy to know that watermelon is one tasty and hydrating low-carb fruit. As with many other fruits, however, most of these carbs come from sugar, so indulge mindfully and in moderation.
Carbs per 1 cup, cooked and chopped: 11.2 grams (2.2 grams sugar, 5.1 grams fiber)
Like many vegetables, broccoli is low in carbs but packed with other nutrients such as fiber and vitamin B6. Sauté it with heart-healthy olive oil as part of a tasty stir-fry or dip it in some hummus for a nutritious treat that you won’t feel guilty about.
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Carbs per 1 cup, whole: 11.1 grams (7.0 grams sugar, 2.9 grams fiber)
Fruit can be fairly rich in carbs thanks to the simple sugars glucose and fructose, but strawberries are on the lower end of the carb spectrum, clocking in at just over 11 grams of carbs per cup.
Carbs per 1 cup (cooked): 9.9 grams (4.5 grams sugar, 4 grams fiber)
One cup of the cooked veggie has less than 10 grams of carbs. While the amount of sugar in green beans is slightly higher than the amount of fiber, they still make a low-carb and nutritious addition to any meal.
Carbs per 1 cup, chopped: 9.0 grams (6.3 grams sugar, 3.1 grams fiber)
Despite a fair amount of sugar for a veggie, red bell peppers also contain about nine grams of carbs per one cup serving and have beta-carotene, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Carbs per ¼ cup, kernels only: 7 grams (1 gram sugar, 3 grams fiber)
Finding a low-carb snack can be tough, but it turns out that ¼ cup of sunflower seed kernels contains just seven grams of carbs. Translation: Go ahead and munch on a handful or so of these throughout the day or sprinkle some onto a salad for added crunch.
Carbs per 1 cup (cooked): 6.8 grams (0.8 grams sugar, 4.3 grams fiber)
Another low-carb veggie worth taking note of is Popeye’s favorite: spinach! Not only does one cup of the cooked leafy green contains less than seven grams of carbs, but it also has a negligible amount of sugar and more than four grams of fiber. That sugar-to-fiber ratio alone means that spinach is a great food to load up on if you’re looking to get rid of that pesky belly fat.
Carbs per 1 cup: 6.2 grams (0.1 grams sugar, 1.2 grams fiber)
While we don’t recommend gorging on salty and buttery movie popcorn, one cup of the plain, air-popped stuff is actually surprisingly nutritious. Need proof? Like spinach, air-popped popcorn has more fiber than sugar, making it an ideal snack for those looking to lose weight. Drizzle it with some olive oil and sprinkle some parmesan cheese and dried oregano for a tasty, filling snack.
Carbs per 1 container (170 grams): 6 grams (5.5 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber)
Although yogurt contains the natural sugar lactose, opting for a plain, nonfat Greek yogurt will up your protein intake while still staying low in carbs. Kefir—a yogurt-like fermented dairy drink—is a probiotic-rich treat that’s similarly packed with protein and light on carbs, which is great news for your waistline!
Carbs per 1 cup: 5.8 grams (3.9 grams sugar, 1.8 grams fiber)
With less than six grams of carbs per cup, cherry tomatoes are perfect to add to a salad or eat as a snack for a flavorful option that’s low in calories. They are also a solid source of the antioxidant lycopene, which can help fight inflammation.
Carbs per 1 cup, grilled: 5.3 grams (2.7 grams sugar, 2.7 grams fiber)
Fungi are considered health food all-stars because they are a great source of potassium, which is vital for muscle health and recovery, and can also lower blood pressure and decrease the effects of a high-sodium meal. In addition to being low-cal and fat-free, studies have shown eating fungi can lead to increased immunity and protect against breast cancer. In particular, meaty portobello mushrooms contain the highest vegetable source of inflammation-fighting vitamin D and are frequently used as a meat substitute thanks to their hearty texture.
Carbs per 1 cup, cooked: 5.1 grams (2.6 grams sugar, 2.9 grams fiber)
Though white foods should generally be avoided, cauliflower is one of a handful of exceptions thanks to its nutrient-rich profile. The cruciferous veggie (which can also be made into a delicious “rice”) contains high amounts of vitamins C and B and about three grams of fiber in one cup.
Carbs per 100 g, cooked: 4.7 grams (0.3 grams sugar, 6.0 grams fiber)
Not only are kidney beans an excellent source of fiber, but they’re low in carbs as well, making them an ideal pantry staple for those looking to shed a few pounds. Beans can help boost feelings of fullness and manage blood sugar levels. Try swapping meat for beans every now and then or even adding beans to a soup or casserole for an added dose of the nutritious legumes.
Carbs per ¼ cup, chopped: 4 grams (0.75 grams sugar, 2 grams fiber)
The next time you feel guilty about tossing caloric walnuts on a salad, remember that one serving, about¼ cup chopped, only contains 4 grams of carbs. Other low-carb nuts include almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts, which are all also excellent sources of fiber.
Carbs per 1 cup, chopped: 3.0 grams (1.4 grams sugar, 1.6 grams fiber)
Celery is famous for being virtually calorie-free, and it also happens to have very few carbs for a one cup serving. Though the stalks can get a bit boring when eaten on their own, consider pairing celery with tasty hummus or almond or peanut butter for added flavor and a boost of fat-blasting fiber and healthy fats.
Carbs per 1 oz.: 0.9 grams (0.2 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber)
Believe it or not, hard cheeses such as Parmesan are low in carbs. What’s more? One ounce of Parmesan contains about 31 percent of your daily recommended intake of bone-building calcium! Other low-carb cheesy options include blue cheese, cheddar cheese, goat, feta, Swiss, and asiago, but make sure you consume them in moderation since they are also quite caloric.
Carbs per 1 egg: 0.6 grams (0.6 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber)
One large hard-boiled egg (about 50 grams) contains less than one gram of carbs and remains an excellent source of protein. Eggs are also loaded with amino acids, antioxidants, and healthy fats. What’s more? Research has shown eating eggs for breakfast can make you feel more full and help you eat fewer calories throughout the day, meaning that they’re quite the secret weapon for weight loss.
Carbs per 1 Tbsp: 0 grams (0 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber)
With no carbs, sugar, or fiber you may not think much of extra virgin olive oil, but the cooking companion and pantry staple shouldn’t be ignored. Not only has EVOO been shown to boost levels of adiponectin, a hormone that breaks down fat, but it also contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Other low-carb oils with similar health benefits include coconut oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil.
Carbs per 3 oz., cooked: 0 grams (0 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber)
Not only is ground chicken a lean source of protein, but it’s also tasty, versatile, and carb-free. Throw some ground chicken into tacos or make a comforting bowl of delicious chili, and rest assured you aren’t consuming any empty carbs. You can also opt for ground turkey, which has 0 grams of carbs and is low in calories.
Carbs per fillet: 0 grams (0 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber)
If you’re a fan of fish, wild salmon is another low-carb food that’s protein-rich like ground chicken. Unlike chicken, wild salmon is an excellent source of omega-3s, a healthy fat that fights off metabolism-slowing inflammation.