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A Handy Guide to Zero Carb Foods

Bookmark this handy list of zero carb foods: aka foods that are carb-free or nearly carb-free.

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For people with diabetes or who are following a low-carbohydrate diet, knowing which foods contain carbs is extremely important. Having a list of zero carb foods on hand is helpful to know what you can splurge on and not have to worry as much about portion sizes.

Also referred to as free foods in the diabetes world, these foods contain no carbs or almost no carbs (five grams or less) per serving.

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Vegetables

With the exception of starchy vegetables like peas, corn, winter squash and potatoes, most vegetables are extremely low in carbohydrates due in part to their high water content. Here are some of the lowest carb choices. Use them in these low-carb side dishes.

  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Bell Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Zucchini
  • Spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Green Beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Radishes
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Various cuts of raw meat shot from above on rustic kitchen table. The cuts are on a cast iron grill and includes Angus steak, tenderloin, sausages and hamburger meat. The grill is surrounded by herbs, vegetables and spices for cooking meat like peppercorns, salt, garlic, tomatoes, asparagus and rosemary. A vintage fork is included in the composition. Predominant colors are red and brown. Low key DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM.fcafotodigital/Getty Images

Meat

On their own, meats usually contain only protein and fat—no carbs. The preparation of meat tends to be where carbs sneak in, so beware of sugary marinades or glazes and breading. Psst: Here’s how to cut carbs in cooking.

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Bacon (Make sure to read the label here, as there could be sugar added in the processing.)
  • Lamb
  • Jerky (Watch for added sugar here, too!)
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High angle view of a large group of seafood like fish, crustacean and mollusk. The composition includes two sea bream, giant red shrimp, prawn, crab, clam and scallop. DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USMfcafotodigital/Getty Images

Seafood

Like meat, seafood is carb free at baseline. Carbs can be added during cooking, so be mindful of sauces, breading and dressing. This broiled lobster tail recipe is the perfect star of a fancy, low-carb meal!

  • Fish (Like salmon, tuna, halibut, cod, mackerel, swordfish, trout, sea bass, anchovies and sardines)
  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Crab
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Fats and Oils

Sources of fat in the diet tend to be free of carbs and even protein, in some cases. Choosing healthy fats is important to maintain good heart health—try to focus on unsaturated fats found mostly from plant-based sources while limiting excessive saturated fat, typically from animal sources.

  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Coconut Oil
  • Cooking Oils (Like olive, avocado, canola, safflower and sunflower)
  • Lard or Shortening (These will be made mostly of saturated fats, so use sparingly.)
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Seasonings

The ingredients that make our food taste delicious (mainly spices, herbs and other seasonings) are typically carbohydrate-free! This is because they are usually derived from plant-based sources.

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh Herbs (Like dill, chives, cilantro and scallions)
  • Dried Herbs & Spices (Like basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon and cumin)
  • Chili Powder (Read the label, as some brands may contain carbs.)
  • Hot Sauce (Like chili powder, some sauces have added sugar.)
  • Ginger
  • Chili Peppers
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Cheese

The process involved in making cheese removes most of the carbohydrates found in milk, leaving you with a low-carb result. However, be careful with portion sizes, because there is still a small amount of carbs that will add up with larger servings. Here are some of the lowest-carb cheese options:

  • Cottage Cheese
  • Fontina
  • Gruyere
  • Swiss
  • Goat
  • Provolone
  • Parmesan
  • Ricotta
  • Romano
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Beverages

While there are many drinks out there loaded with carbs due to added sugar, there are also quite a few delicious drinks that are totally carb-free! It’s really important to read the label to be sure there’s no added sugar. Here are a few ways to reduce added sugar.

  • Water
  • Sparkling water
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Club Soda
  • Seltzer Water
  • Soda Water

Christina Manian, RDN
Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Boulder, Colorado. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, she has been involved with the nutrition departments of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital. She completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy and most recently practiced clinical nutrition at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. While her background has largely been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces and is shifting her focus towards wellness nutrition as the backbone to optimum health.