Counting carbs is daunting for many people and may even sway some from reducing their carb intake. When deciding to follow a low-carb diet, foods that have zero carbs are precious commodities. Yet there are more zero-carb foods than you may think. Once you know what they are, you'll be well on your way to living a successful, low carb lifestyle.
Meat & Animal Protein
All naturally-occurring meats contain no carbohydrates; however, pre-packaged and deli meats are often processed with a sugar and salt solution or seasoning blends, conferring carbohydrates to the meats. Processed and cured meats, such as sausage, ham, bacon, and frankfurters regularly contain small amounts of carbohydrates. Eggs also have a trace amount of carbs (about .6g per egg). Reading package labels is essential to learn if pre-packaged products contain carbohydrates. In their natural state, the following contain zero carbs:
- Organ meats (including brains, liver, and kidneys)
- Fish (such as salmon, trout, and halibut)
- Shellfish (such as crab, shrimp, and lobster)
- Mollusks (such as oysters, mussels, and clams)
- Game meats (such as venison and elk)
- Exotic meats (such as ostrich and emu)
Milk contains simple sugars, and all dairy products are made from milk. Even fatty cheeses and heavy cream contain carbohydrates, although usually very low levels. Only one dairy product contains no carbohydrates - butter.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables contain carbs, but there are a handful veggies that make the zero carb list. Fruits, on the other hand, all have simple sugars and therefore, carbs. Although most have a trace of carbs, it's not enough to raise the percentage above the zero mark. These fruits and vegetables have zero carbs:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Bean sprouts
Condiments, Seasoning, and Oils
Most condiments contain carbohydrates. Likewise, salad dressings and mayonnaise often have carbs because they may use carb-containing ingredients, such as certain vinegars, herbs, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, mustard, dairy products, emulsifiers, or other ingredients. Read labels if you are uncertain. The following oils and condiments contain no carbs:
- Vegetable, nut, and fruit oils such as avocado, grapeseed, safflower, canola, and olive oil
- Animal fats like fish oil and lard
- Some brands of margarine and shortening - read package labels
Liquid sucralose has zero carbs. Other alternatives to sugar contain trace amounts of carbohydrates, although you might consider them no-carb options. These include:
- Powdered sucralose
Because they are so highly sweet, it only takes a little of a sugar substitute to go a long way. Keep in mind, sweeteners may affect insulin in the same way sugar does. Additionally, sweeteners in granular form may contain carbohydrate-containing fillers.
Many beverages contain zero carbohydrates; however, if they are sweetened with artificial sweetener, they may have some of the same caveats as listed above. The following beverages are carb-free when:
- Crystal Light soft drinks
- Coffee (black)
- Tea (unsweetened, without milk or cream)
- Sparkling water
- Club soda
- Distilled alcohol
Diet soda may be carb-free, depending on the artificial sweetener used. Check labels to confirm the carb count. Use alcohol with caution because your body prioritizes the alcohol first. This means you burn alcohol before using other fuel, including fat.
What Are Carbs?
"Carbs" is a shortened version of the word carbohydrates, which are macronutrients containing sugars. Carbohydrates are further broken down into distinct categories.
- Simple carbohydrates - Examples of simple carbohydrates include dairy products, candy, baked goods, fruit, and processed sugars.
- Complex carbohydrates - Examples include rice, corn, flour, whole grains, and legumes.
Fiber and sugar alcohols are also considered carbs. They are usually not restricted as part of a low-carb diet.
Foods With No Carbs
Low-carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins diet, limit the amount of carbohydrates you can eat to exert insulin control. Most low-carbohydrate diets recommend eating fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, and some suggest eating as few as 20 to 25 grams per day. When you consider that one cup of white rice has 151 grams of carbohydrates, and a slice of bread contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates, eating carbohydrate-containing foods adds up quickly. Foods with no carbohydrates can help you eat adequate amounts and still limit carbohydrate intake.
It is important to note that some food packaging labels list foods as containing 0 grams of carbohydrates. However, labeling laws allow food manufacturers to list 0 grams on the label if the food contains less than one gram.
How Low-Carbohydrate Diets Work
While your body utilizes carbohydrates for energy, many diet experts suggest minimizing carbohydrates is an effective form of weight loss. Multiple studies support this assertion. When blood glucose rises in response to dietary intake of carbohydrates, your pancreas releases insulin, which is the key to losing weight on a low-carbohydrate diet.
Health journalist Gary Taubes explains why this happens in an article for the New York Times, What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie. Insulin is a storage hormone. It is responsible for both escorting fuel (food) into fat cells as body fat storage and keeping it there. In some ways, insulin acts as prison guard, making sure fat finds its way into cells and keeps it locked inside. When you limit carbohydrate intake, your body releases very little insulin. As a result, stored body fat escapes and exits your body. This is the mechanism of low-carbohydrate weight loss.
Finding Zero Carb Foods
Finding foods with zero carbohydrates is not difficult, especially if you read package labels carefully. Some health professionals express concerns about the health effects of low-carbohydrate dieting, so it is always best to check with your doctor before trying a new eating plan.