In recent times, there’s a lot of interest in low carb diets, and more people are starting them every day.
However, for some people, it’s tough knowing what a low carb shopping list should look like.
Over this article, we’ll take a look at the best foods to eat and also some information on how to optimize health.
But first, the basics.
What is a Low Carb Diet?
Put simply; a low carb diet is an eating plan that emphasizes whole, real foods and attempts to limit starches and sugars.
The first thing to remember is that the focus should be on low carb, healthy fat (LCHF). In other words, healthy fats such as cheese, meat, and avocados should replace sugars and starch.
When it comes to carbohydrate, the LCHF diet is not just some low sugar diet plan, though.
In reality, it’s about choosing the most nutrient-dense forms of carbohydrate (e.g., avocado, nuts, and spinach).
Which Carbohydrates to Avoid?
In contrast, we should restrict the carbohydrates that are higher in energy density and not as nutritious. For instance, foods such as rice, bread, and pasta.
If you can’t face up to giving up sandwiches, then cloud bread is a convenient option.
Also, a key point to hammer home is that low carb is not the same as no carb. Low carb diets can be anything up to about 100g carbohydrate per day.
The most important thing is the source; fibrous carbs from green vegetables and nuts are so much better for you than sugary foods and flours.
What to Eat on a Low Carb Diet?
While many people feel a low carb diet is restrictive in options, there are so many foods you can eat.
Best of all, the majority of these foods are both healthy and super tasty.
In general, these are the foods that we should prioritize on a low carb diet:
- Dairy products
- Fruit – preferably emphasize low-sugar fruits.
- Fats and oils – naturally occurring fats—avoid the manufactured stuff.
- Fish and seafood in general
- Meat – all different varieties
- Vegetables – any kind, but don’t go overboard with starchy vegetables.
Eating an Affordable Low Carb Diet
If you are a student or anyone with a tight budget for food, then this guide may also be appropriate: A Low Carb Diet on a Budget
Let’s now take a look at each of the sections, with some explanations as to the why.
- Clotted Cream (UK)
- Cottage Cheese
- Cream / Double Cream / Whipping Cream
- Créme Fraíche
- Milk (whole milk)
- Sour cream
- Whey protein (OK, but try to emphasize real foods)
Dairy is certainly a great food group for a low carb diet; many of the foods are low in carbs and extremely nutritious.
Despite this, it’s important to realize that milk contains the sugar lactose.
While some milk is no problem, glasses and glasses of the stuff will quickly put you into higher carb territory.
The Truth: Dairy Fat is Healthy
After the decades-long fear of fat, it’s interesting to see recent studies supporting cheese and dairy fat as a heart-healthy food:
- Higher consumption of cheese has an association with higher HDL, and also lower CVD risk (5).
- Based on the results of numerous meta-analyses, most studies show either no association or an inverse association between high-fat dairy and CVD (6).
Up to the present time, cheese has been a dietary villain in the eyes of many.
However, it belongs in any healthy diet.
- Pastured eggs
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods in the world, containing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
Regarding the type of eggs, it’s always better to choose eggs from hens who can graze on pasture. Studies show that eggs from hens raised on their natural diet offer a higher amount of beneficial nutrients (7).
However, if you are on a tight budget, then any eggs are better than none.
Fish and Seafood
Seafood is an incredibly important source of omega-3, and consequently, it’s essential on your low carb shopping list.
If you plan to eat a heart-protective diet, then including some fish is a must.
- Anchovy (*)
- Herring (*)
- Mackerel (*)
- Salmon (*)
- Sardines (*)
- Sea Bass
- Tuna (**)
(*) Denotes high in omega-3 content and also low in mercury; these are the best options for your low carb shopping list.
(**) High in omega-3, but also high in mercury.
Shellfish are also exceptionally nutritious, high in protein, and help regarding sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals.
- Sea urchin
Provided below are some of the best fruits for a low carb diet.
Many people treat fruit as black or white. While some view it as a beacon of optimal health, others feel it is little more than sugar with few vitamins and minerals.
In reality, the truth lays somewhere in between.
A Summary on Fruit
First, vegetables are so much more nutrient-dense than fruit. Therefore, despite what you may have heard, fruit is entirely unnecessary for vitamins and minerals.
However, fruit—especially berries—is also a significant contributor of phytonutrients to the average diet. And our scientific understanding of phytonutrients found in food is only very basic at this time.
For instance, the discovery of phytonutrients didn’t even happen until the 1990s. Before this period, we lacked an understanding of precisely how certain foods had protective effects on our health (8).
Generally speaking, whole food is so much more than the sum of its isolated nutrients. And then there’s this question: how many more useful compounds are we yet to discover in food?
Should Fruit Be Part of a Low Carb Diet?
On the whole, including a little fruit is likely beneficial to any low carb diet.
That said, I think that we should emphasize nutrient-dense fruits. For this reason, various berries dominate the fruit choices on the low carb shopping list.
Other fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges can fit into a low carb diet. But they are relatively high in fructose and should be used in moderation if you want to eat them.
Avoid Fruit Juice
Another key point regarding fruit is that fruit juice is not the same as whole fruit.
While whole fruit consumption has an association with reduced type 2 diabetes risk, fruit juice increases risk (9).
It comes as a surprise to many, but meat is incredibly nutrient dense.
Here are some of the best meats for your low carb shopping list:
- Bacon (ideally traditionally cured)
- Organ Meats
- Sausages (real meat, not hot dog style!)
Although people often think meat is just protein, it’s full of a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Eating some beef gives you more vitamins than a piece of fruit does!
Eat the Whole Animal
It’s important not only to eat lean cuts of meat.
You should also include some fatty meat, as well as gelatinous and bone-in cuts.
Traditional human diets used to contain these foods, but consumption is very low in modern times.
Oils and Fat
Choosing healthy fats is key to a low-carb diet.
If you’re not sure what a healthy fat is, then reading this guide to dietary fat will help.
In any event, you should focus on naturally occurring fats from plants and animals and stay away from manufactured fats.
Here are some great oils and fats to put on your low carb shopping list:
- Avocado Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Flaxseed Oil (not for cooking)
- Macadamia Oil
- Olive Oil
- Red Palm Oil (ideally sustainably sourced)
As for me, my personal favorites on here are butter, lard, and olive oil.
Interestingly, the primary fatty acid in lard is oleic acid – the very same fatty acid that is the main component of olive oil.
In short, using natural sources of fat in your cooking isn’t anything to fear.
Unfortunately, the media imagery of low-carb diets often shows cavemen eating piles of meat.
While I certainly have nothing against meat, it’s good to include some vegetables in the diet too. Generally speaking, most vegetables are nutritious and valuable for meeting your micronutrient needs.
It is better to primarily focus on leafy greens, as they tend to be the most nutrient-dense vegetables.
- Beets (Beetroot)
- Bok Choy
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Eggplant (Aubergine)
- Green Onion (Spring Onion)
- Mustard Greens
- Parsnip *
- Potato *
- Rutabaga (Swede)
- Sweet Potato *
- Zucchini (Courgette)
* While parsnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are a little higher in starch, they can play a role in a relaxed low carb diet.
However, if you have any issues with weight or high blood sugar, then it’s best to adopt a stricter low-carb diet. In this case, it is better to avoid the foods with a star.
- 100% Cacao/Cocoa powder
- Dark Chocolate
It’s okay to add chocolate to your low carb shopping list! However, if you plan to eat it then ideally opt for 85% or more cacao content.
At this ratio, not only is the sugar content very low, but the nutrient value is also high.
While some people might be surprised to hear this, chocolate should be considered a health food.
For instance, it’s one of the best foods for magnesium, and it’s also a very high source of potassium.
Good Chocolate, Bad Chocolate
Consuming chocolate in cocoa powder form is also extremely nutritious.
Nevertheless, watch out for products labeled as “hot chocolate” or “drinking chocolate.”
These products are not pure cocoa powder, so they contain massive amounts of sugar.
Nuts are also an excellent choice for overall health. However, they are very energy dense so just a handful will suffice.
LCHF diets are extremely healthy if implemented well, so I hope this low carb shopping list can help you in some way.
The biggest key is to focus on nutrient density; there is no such thing as essential foods, but there are many crucial nutrients.
Lastly, if you are curious about drinks for the shopping list, see this guide to the best low carb drinks.