Carbs are an important source of energy and one of three main macronutrients in the diet, along with fat and protein.
Not only do carbohydrates fuel your brain and cells throughout your body, but they also regulate digestive health, appetite, cholesterol levels, and more (
Still, many people choose to limit their carb intake. Low carb diets have been linked to benefits like increased weight loss and improved blood sugar control (
On a low carb diet, you need to limit certain foods high in carbs and sugar, such as sweetened beverages, cake, and candy.
Yet figuring out which staple foods to avoid isn’t always easy. In fact, some high carb foods are highly nutritious but still unsuitable for a low carb diet.
Your total daily carb target determines whether you need to merely limit some of these foods or avoid them altogether. Low carb diets typically contain 20–130 grams of carbs per day, depending on your goals, needs, and preferences (
Here are 14 foods to limit or avoid on a low carb diet.
Bread is a staple food in many cultures. It comes in various forms, including loaves, rolls, bagels, and flatbreads, such as tortillas.
However, all of these are high in carbs, regardless of whether they’re made from refined flour or whole grains. Most grain dishes — including rice, wheat, and oats — are also high in carbs and need to be limited or avoided on a low carb diet.
- White bread (1 slice): 13 grams
- Whole wheat bread (1 slice): 14 grams
- Flour tortilla (large): 35 grams
- Bagel (regular): 55 grams
Depending on your carb limit, eating a sandwich, burrito, or bagel may put you near or over your daily limit.
As such, if you still want to avoid these foods, you should buy or make low carb varieties.
Most breads and grains are too high in carbs to include on a low carb diet.
- Apple (1 small): 23 grams
- Banana (1 medium): 27 grams
- Raisins (1 ounce/28 grams): 23 grams
- Dates (2 large): 36 grams
- Mango, sliced (1 cup / 165 grams): 25 grams
Berries are lower in sugar and higher in fiber than other fruits. This makes berries suitable for low carb diets — though people on very low carb eating patterns may want to stick to 1/2 cup (50 grams) per day (
You should limit several high sugar fruits, including dried fruits, on a low carb diet. That said, berries are generally fine.
Most diets allow an unlimited intake of vegetables.
Plus, many veggies are very high in fiber, which may aid weight loss and support blood sugar control (
- Corn (1 cup/165 grams): 24 grams
- Potato (1 medium): 34 grams
- Sweet potato or yam (1 medium): 27 grams
- Beets, cooked (1 cup/170 grams): 17 grams
Notably, you can enjoy many low carb vegetables on a low carb diet, including bell peppers, asparagus, and mushrooms.
Although many vegetables are low in carbs, a few are quite high. It’s best to choose mostly non-starchy, high fiber vegetables when limiting your carb intake.
Though pasta is versatile and inexpensive, it’s very high in carbs.
On a low carb diet, pasta isn’t a good idea unless you consume a very small portion, which may not be realistic for most people. If you’re craving pasta but don’t want to go over your carb limit, try making spiralized vegetables or shirataki noodles instead.
Both regular and whole wheat pasta are high in carbs. Spiralized vegetables and shirataki noodles are healthy low carb alternatives.
It’s well known that sugary breakfast cereals contain a lot of carbs. However, even healthy types of cereal may be high in carbs.
For instance, 1 cup (234 grams) of cooked oatmeal provides 27 grams of carbs. Even steel-cut oats, which are less processed than other types of oatmeal, are also high in carbs, with 28 grams of carbs in each 1/4-cup (40-gram) dry serving (
A bowl of cereal can easily put you over your total carb limit — even before you add milk.
Even healthy, whole grain cereals are high in carbs. You should moderate or avoid them on a low carb diet.
Dry wine and spirits are better alcohol options on a low carb diet than beer.
Yogurt is a tasty food that has many uses. Although plain yogurt is fairly low in carbs, many people tend to eat fruit-flavored, sweetened varieties, which often contain as many carbs as dessert.
Instead, it’s best to opt for unsweetened, plain yogurt whenever possible and add your favorite low carb toppings. For instance, 1/2 cup (123 grams) of plain Greek yogurt topped with 1/2 cup (50 grams) of raspberries keeps the net carbs under 10 grams (
Sweetened low fat or nonfat yogurt often contains as many carbs as ice cream and other desserts. Plain yogurt paired with low carb toppings, such as berries, may be a better choice if you’re on a low carb diet.
Although it contains some valuable vitamins and minerals, juice is high in carbs and low in fiber, which can make it challenging to fit into a low carb diet.
For instance, 12 ounces (355 mL) of apple juice contains 42 grams of carbs. This is even more than the same serving of soda, which has 39 grams. Meanwhile, grape juice packs a whopping 55 grams in the same serving size (
As such, you may want to watch your juice intake on a low carb diet.
Juice is high in carbs and low in fiber, which may make it difficult to include on a low carb diet.
You can eat a wide variety of salads on a low carb diet.
However, commercial dressings — especially low fat and fat-free varieties — often end up adding more carbs than you might expect.
Many people commonly use more than 2 tablespoons (30 mL), particularly on a large entrée salad.
To minimize carbs, dress your salad with a creamy, full-fat dressing.
Limit your intake of fat-free and low fat salad dressings, which are typically high in carbs, and opt for creamy dressings or make a homemade vinaigrette instead.
While they’re high in carbs, they also contain a fair amount of fiber. Depending on your personal tolerance and daily carb allotment, you may be able to include small amounts on a low carb diet.
- Lentils: 39 grams (23 grams net)
- Peas: 25 grams (16 grams net)
- Black beans: 41 grams (26 grams net)
- Pinto beans: 45 grams (30 grams net)
- Chickpeas: 45 grams (32 grams net)
- Kidney beans: 40 grams (27 grams net)
Beans and legumes are healthy, high fiber foods. You can eat small amounts on a low carb diet depending on your daily carb limit.
You’re probably well aware that foods high in sugar, such as cookies, candy, and cake, should be limited if you’re on a low carb diet.
However, you may not realize that natural forms of sugar have as many carbs as white sugar. In fact, many of them are even higher in carbs when measured in tablespoons.
- White sugar: 13 grams
- Maple syrup: 13 grams
- Agave nectar: 16 grams
- Honey: 17 grams
What’s more, these sweeteners provide little to no nutritional value. When you’re limiting your carb intake, it’s especially important to choose nutritious, high fiber carb sources.
To sweeten foods or beverages without adding carbs, choose a low carb sweetener instead, such as stevia or monk fruit.
If you’re on a low carb diet, you should limit your intake of sugar, honey, maple syrup, and other forms of sugar, which are high in carbs but low in other important nutrients.
Chips and crackers are popular snack foods, but their carbs add up quickly.
Just 1 ounce (28 grams) of tortilla chips — or 10–15 average-sized chips — contains 19 grams of carbs. Crackers vary in carb content depending on processing, but even whole wheat crackers pack about 20 grams per ounce (28 grams) (
Most people eat processed snack foods in large quantities, so you should limit them if you’re on a low carb diet.
You can try making veggie chips at home or shopping for keto-friendly alternatives, which are usually made from ingredients like almond flour, wheat bran, or flaxseed.
Most commercial chips, crackers, and other processed, grain-based snack foods are high in carbs. Try making veggie chips or look for keto-friendly alternatives that are lower in carbs.
Milk is an excellent source of several nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and several B vitamins.
If you’re only using 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 mL) in coffee each day, you may be able to include small amounts of milk in your low carb diet. However, cream or half-and-half may be better options if you drink coffee frequently since these contain fewer carbs (
If you enjoy drinking milk by the glass or use it to make lattes or smoothies, consider unsweetened almond or coconut milk instead.
Adding a small amount of milk to coffee once per day is unlikely to derail a low carb diet. However, unsweetened almond or coconut milk may be better if you prefer to drink large amounts.
That said, gluten-free bread, muffins, and other baked goods aren’t typically low in carbs. In fact, they often boast even more carbs than their gluten-containing counterparts.
What’s more, the flour used to make these foods is typically made from starches and grains that tend to raise blood sugar rapidly (
If you’re limiting your carb intake, stick to whole foods or use almond or coconut flour to make your own low carb baked goods rather than eating processed gluten-free foods.
Gluten-free breads and muffins can be as high in carbs as traditional baked goods. They’re also often made with carb sources that raise blood sugar quickly.
Although a low carb diet isn’t right for everyone, people may choose to reduce their carb intake for many reasons.
For example, research shows that low carb diets may support weight loss as effectively as other popular eating patterns, such as low fat diets. All the same, low carb diets may have limited efficacy over the long term (
Low carb or carb-controlled diets are also often recommended to treat diabetes. In fact, one review of nine studies reported that a low carb diet helped improve long-term blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes (
What’s more, one study found that low carb diets may help reduce the effects of metabolic syndrome — a group of risk factors that may increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes — in people with obesity (
Low carb diets may help increase weight loss, improve blood sugar control, and help prevent metabolic syndrome.
Low carb diets can be healthy and have been linked to numerous health benefits, especially for weight management and blood sugar control (
In fact, a well-planned low carb diet can include a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients, including high fiber fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
However, some types of low carb diets, like keto and Atkins, may be overly restrictive and unsustainable in the long run.
While the keto diet may aid short-term weight loss, it also limits many nutritious food groups and may increase your risk of several conditions if followed long-term, including constipation, kidney stones, fatty liver disease, and vitamin or mineral deficiencies (
Furthermore, very low carb diets may not be suitable for everyone, including children, people who are pregnant, and those with certain underlying chronic health conditions, unless under medical supervision (
That’s why it’s best to talk with your doctor or dietitian before lowering your carb intake drastically.
Low carb diets may be linked to several health benefits. However, very low carb diets can be overly restrictive and may be associated with adverse effects if followed long term.
When following a low carb diet, it’s important to choose foods that are highly nutritious but low in carbs.
You should minimize or avoid certain types of foods altogether. Your choices depend in part on your health goals and personal carb tolerance.
In the meantime, focus on eating a variety of healthy foods and following a balanced diet.
Just one thing
Try this today: For a simple way to get started on a low carb diet, check out this meal plan, which includes a sample menu, shopping list, and detailed guide for which foods to eat and avoid.