Making Your Carbs Count

Enjoy a Variety of Low-Carb and High-Nutrition Food

Eating healthy food
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You'll see criticism of low-carb diets, often saying that it's difficult to get enough nutrients when restricting carbohydrates. But other than in short-term induction phases such as with the Atkins Induction, that doesn't have to be the case. You can cover all of your nutritional bases on a low-carb diet if you pay attention to certain principles.

1. Eat Plenty of Vegetables

The wide base of a 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

Enjoy vegetables from the low-carb vegetable list. See 10 tips on how to prepare them with vegetables made easy.

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.

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. Explore carbs, fats, and calories in nuts and 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 B vitamins, iron, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Egg yolks are particularly packed with nutrients. See a list of high-protein foods and the benefits of eggs.

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 to 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 to 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 and you might want to try black soy beans. Learn 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 Food Composition Database. USDA.

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