Making Your Carbs Count

Low-Carb and High-Nutrition

Eating healthy food
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Articles and books which criticize low-carb diets often say it's a bad thing to "cut out a food group" and that it's difficult to get enough nutrients when restricting carbohydrates. When constructing my menus to include the daily requirements of nutrients, I haven't really found this to be the case except at the very low end such as Atkins Induction, which is only meant to be a short-term phase of a diet.

I have found that in order to cover all the nutritional bases, it is helpful to pay attention to certain principles.

1. Eat Plenty of Vegetables

The base of my low-carb pyramid is vegetables. This is because non-starchy vegetables are very high in nutrients while being low in carbohydrates. Additionally, those carbs are usually packaged inside so much fiber that they don't enter our bloodstream quickly.

Take vitamin C as an example. You might think that oranges are the ultimate in providing vitamin C, but look at the list below. All measurements are for one cup of chopped raw fruit or vegetable. 60 mg vitamin C is the recommended daily intake for most of us.

Oranges - 95 mg of vitamin C, 16 grams of usable carb, 85 calories
Red Bell Pepper - 190 mg of vitamin C, 6 grams of usable carb, 31 calories
Broccoli - 81 mg of vitamin C, 4 grams of usable carb, 31 calories
Cauliflower - 47 mg of vitamin C, 2 grams of usable carb, 25 calories
Cabbage - 33 mg of vitamin C, 3 grams of usable carb, 22 calories

Low-Carb Vegetable List

Vegetables Made Easy

Make Your Own Comparisons with Calorie Count

2. Go for Color

When choosing which vegetables and low-sugar fruits to eat, the ones with the most color are often the highest in nutrients. This is especially true when it comes to antioxidants and other phytonutrients.

Eating a "rainbow of colors" can help guide you in getting a variety of these valuable substances -- for example, eating leafy greens, red peppers, pumpkin, blueberries, and cauliflower would cover a variety of nutrients, including antioxidants.

Leafy Greens: Nutritonal Powerhouses

Low-Carb Fruits

Benefits of Berries

3. Eat Nuts and Seeds

Grains (such as bread or rice) contain a lot of starch, so they don't play a large role in a low-carb diet. However, it turns out that grains are not very dense in nutrients when compared with many other food groups. Small amounts of nuts and seeds can fill in the same nutrients as larger amounts of whole grains. Nuts have been found to be heart-healthy as well, and most nuts and seeds are low in carbohydrates.

Carbs, Fats, and Calories in Nuts and Seeds

Flax Seeds: The Low-Carb Whole Grain

Almonds: Low-Carb Super Food

Almond Meal: Where to Get it and How to Use It

What are Chia Seeds?

4. Know that Meats, Fish, and Eggs Are Nutrient-Rich

We're used to thinking of meats as protein sources only, but they have much more to offer.

Depending on the type and cut, these foods are often high in the B vitamins, iron, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Egg yolks are particularly packed with nutrients.

List of High-Protein Foods

Benefits of Eggs, and Recipes

Some Low-Carb Foods Which are High in Potassium

5.Choose Dairy Products Wisely

Dairy foods are the easiest way to get calcium and a smattering of other nutrients, but milk has about 11-12 grams of carbohydrate per cup. This is too much for some people who are carb-sensitive. Some low-carb options are cottage cheese (3 grams of carbohydrate per half-cup), ricotta cheese (4 grams per half cup), and regular cheese (most minimal, but the softer cheeses like mozzarella can be up to 1 gram per ounce). If you choose carefully, you can find yogurts and kefir at about 6-8 grams per cup.

6. Got Room For More Carbs? Try Legumes

Beans and lentils are high in carbohydrate, but for most people the carbohydrate is more slowly absorbed than carbs from other sources, and some of it is never converted into glucose at all (this is called resistant starch). Beans are high in fiber, in lots of minerals, including iron and potassium, and in phytonutrients. Soybeans have the least amount of carbohydrate. I'm especially fond of black soy beans.

More About Beans

7. Eat a Variety

Whatever the category of foods, eat a variety. Choose different meats throughout the week. Try a new fish. Mix up your nuts. Get out of your salad rut and buy some new greens. Each food has its own constellation of nutrients to contribute to your health, most likely including some that haven't even been discovered yet. By eating a variety, you can maximize the nutrition you're packing into each and every gram of carbohydrate you're eating.


USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20.

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