If you’re starting a ketogenic diet, you may be overwhelmed by creating a meal plan and figuring out how to find low-carb and no-carb foods.
Many first-time keto dieters go heavy on low-carb veggies like kale, spinach, and other leafy greens, and focus on full-fat dairy products like cheddar and blue cheese.
While these options certainly fit into the guidelines for the keto diet, it’s possible to take the guesswork out of carb-counting altogether with no-carb foods.
Most foods contain carbs. The trick to being successful on the keto diet is knowing which foods are brimming with carbs, and which contain only traces.
There are, however, a handful of foods that contain zero carbohydrates. These foods can become your fail-safes on the ketogenic diet.
The lists that follow will detail zero-carb options for each food type.
Food Labels and Carbs
For clarity, to be listed as “zero carbs” on a nutrition label, the food needs to contain less than 1 gram of total carbohydrates per serving.
Any food other than oil (which are 100% fat) will contain trace carbs. Even animal products have small amounts of carbohydrates.
For this reason, the no-carb foods list means the food has less than one carb per serving.
It’s also worth noting that when you’re reading a food label, there are four aspects of the food that can fall under carbohydrates: total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, total sugars, and added sugars.
Who Is This List For?
Starting a keto diet can be tricky — it’s almost like learning a new language. When the biochemistry of your body depends on your keeping your carb intake under a certain level, even a seasoned keto dieter could benefit from this handy list of keto safe foods.
Taking the guesswork out of your food choices is a great way to free up mind power for more important things. Without further ado, here’s your ultimate list of no-carb foods.
Fats and oils that you use for cooking are the only true zero-carb options. These foods are fantastic sources of nutrition on your keto diet, but the quality is essential.
Here are your no-carb healthy fat and oil options (with a focus on quality):
- Olive oil (all varieties)
- One-hundred percent grass-fed butter
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- MCT oil
What to Watch Out for With Fats and Oils
While all oils and fats will be 100% fat and zero carbs, not all fats are created equal. Some oils use chemicals in their processing, or the fatty acid profile is suboptimal.
Most vegetable oils, for instance, are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can become inflammatory when consumed in excess. These fats may also inhibit the anti-inflammatory activity of other fats like omega-3’s[*].
For this reason, it’s best to avoid oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids like:
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
Another variable to be aware of is the quality of fat from animal products. When looking for lard, butter, and ghee, try to focus on organic, 100% grass-fed, or pastured varieties.
Almost all fresh meat will fall under the no-carb category, whether it’s a lean, low-fat protein or a marbleized, high-fat protein. Meat is mostly protein and fat and should be a staple for your ketogenic diet.
Just like with the animal fats listed above, it’s important to source your meat from healthy animals that are grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild. This standard is especially important when you’re on the keto diet because you’re consuming so much meat. You want your main sources of calories to be high-quality foods.
Here’s a list of common zero-carb fresh meat options:
- Organ meats (kidney, heart, tongue)
Fresh meat is fantastic, but sometimes you have to mix it with processed meat options. These foods often come pre-cooked, making it easier to satisfy your hunger.
- Hot dogs
- Smoked meat
- Deli meat (turkey, ham, chicken, roast beef)
- Corned beef
What to Watch for in Meat
The meat category comes with a few caveats. The things you want to keep an eye out for when buying meat are:
- Hidden carbohydrates
When it comes to animal products, quality is essential. Some animal farming practices to look for are:
- 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken and pork
When in doubt, choose organic. Processed meats can contain additives that help extend their shelf-life. The main culprit here is nitrates, and most food companies that avoid them will make that abundantly clear with a “nitrate-free” label.
With processed meats, keep an eye out for sneaky carb ingredients. Many food companies will add sugar, spices, and flavorings that can up the carb count. To avoid extra carbs, check out the nutrient breakdown on the food label.
You also want to keep an eye out for liver. It’s a wonderful source of nutrients, but it may contain more carbohydrates than you would expect. One serving of liver (about 100 grams) contains 4 grams of carbohydrates[*].
This certainly isn’t enough to kick you out of ketosis, but it also keeps liver off the “no-carb” list, despite its many health benefits.
Another high-protein food option is seafood. And luckily, there’s an abundance of seafood in the no-carb category:
There are a few seafood options that don’t fall under the zero-carb category but still offer an excellent low-carb option.
Seafood to Watch Out For
Buying seafood can be tricky. Whether you’re buying wild-caught fish or farm-raised, there are certain things to be aware of.
First, make sure canned fish comes in a BPA-free can. Many companies offer BPA-free packaging, so keep an eye out for that claim on the label.
BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical in products that store food and beverages. There is a rising concern that BPA that lines cans can seep into your food, effectively giving you a dose of chemicals that you didn’t ask for.
Second, be aware of the amount of large fish you’re consuming. In the ocean, large fish eat smaller fish, and the smallest fish eat algae. Large fish bioaccumulate what all the smaller fish have eaten, which is why large fish have higher concentrations of mercury and other potential toxins.
Considering the state of our oceans, it’s hard to say what kinds of toxins fish might bathe in. Since larger fish tend to eat the smaller fish, they have a greater chance of toxicity. This is also true for increased mercury content.
Drinking water is crucial for a healthy body, but sometimes, you want to mix it up. Luckily, there are plenty of no-carb drink options:
- Unsweetened naturally flavored sparkling water
- Naturally flavored still water (Flow)
- Soda water
- Sugar-free soda (zevia)
Watch Out for These Drinks
As the keto diet grows in popularity, there are more low-carb and no-carb beverages coming to market. While this is wonderful, it’s essential to understand where the flavors of these beverages is coming from.
For instance, Diet Coke has zero carbs, but its sweet flavor comes from a chemical sweetener called aspartame. Aspartame has been indicated as a potential carcinogen and should be avoided on a ketogenic diet[*].
There are a handful of sugar alternatives that are safe to consume on a keto diet. After all, you deserve to have your keto cake and eat it too.
The below list of sugar alternatives come from natural sources, and shouldn’t have an impact on your blood sugar.
- Stevia extract (can be found in liquid form or powder)
- Monk fruit (can be found in liquid form or powder)
- Erythritol (a sugar alcohol — more on this below)
- Swerve sweetener ( a mix of stevia and erythritol)
What to Watch for in Sugar
Sugar alcohols can be excellent allies on your ketogenic diet, but know what to look for and how to use them. For instance, the sugar alcohol maltitol may cause digestive discomfort and diarrhea.r[*].
As mentioned in the beverages section, you also want to be aware of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. These two sugar alternatives can be found in many low-quality sugar-free foods and may cause significant health risks[*].
An excellent way to diversify the flavors in your low-carb diet is by playing around with different herbs and spices. Most herbs are used in small quantities, lending them to the no-carb category. Below is a list of no-carb, keto-friendly herbs and spices:
Watch to Watch for in Seasonings
Some seasoning blends will add sugar to increase the sweet flavor. Single herbs are typically a safe bet, but always keep an eye out for the blends that don’t list all of their ingredients.
Watch Out for This in Condiments
All of the above options are safe bets as long as there are no sugars added. Unfortunately, many companies will add sugar to condiments to enhance the flavor, so make sure you always check the ingredients labels. If you’re looking for the healthiest possible mayonnaise options, avoid the ones that contain canola oil, and opt for avocado oil-based or olive oil-based mayonnaise.
The above food lists provide a fool-proof guide to keto-friendly foods that contain zero carbs. However, there is also the matter of net carbs.
Net carbs are the number of carbohydrates in food after any indigestible carbohydrates have been deducted from the total carbs. Dietary fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate because your body cannot fully break it down on its own.
Sugar alcohols are another indigestible carb. However, this is where things get tricky. Not all sugar alcohols behave the same way in your body.
Some experts suggest subtracting half the sugar alcohols to get to your net-carbs.
Here’s an example.
A protein bar contains:
- 20 grams of total carbohydrate
- 10 grams of dietary fiber
- 8 grams of sugar alcohol
The net carb count would be 20 -10 (grams of fiber) – 4 (8 grams of sugar alcohol / 2) = 6 grams net carbs.
Dietary fiber creates a category of foods that can be considered very low-carb. These are foods that, without the indigestible carbs, may supply significant carbs. Once calculated for net carbs, however, these are quite low.
Very Low-Carb Vegetables
Vegetables are made up mostly of carbohydrates. However, there are plenty of low-carb vegetables that are rich in dietary fiber:
- Bell pepper
- Bamboo shoots
- Swiss chard
- Bok choy
Very Low-Carb Nuts And Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a fantastic source of fiber. Here are some great very low-carb options:
While eggs and dairy do contain some carbohydrates, depending on how the dairy is processed, it can have a very low-carb count. Aged cheeses are less likely to contain lactose (milk sugar), and are therefore lower in carbohydrates than something like fresh brie.
Some eggs and dairy products with low-carb content are:
- Heavy cream
- Asiago cheese
- Blue cheese
- Goat cheese
- Colby cheese
- Havarti cheese
- Mozzarella cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Provolone cheese
As you can see, there are plenty of no-carb options in a variety of food categories.
There are, however, some things to keep in mind while you fill up your grocery cart. The world is full of sneaky sugars and carbs, so get into good habits like checking food labels and committing no- and low-carb options to memory.
Check Your Nutrition Labels
This is especially true for packaged foods, but if your fresh meats or dairy are packaged, check those too. You want to look for:
- Serving size: This is what the rest of the label is based on. Remember: Total carbs are calculated per serving. If you eat four servings of food labeled zero carbs that actually has 0.5 grams of carbs, you’re getting an extra 2 grams of carbs in.
- Servings per container: Before you down that bag of low-carb almond crackers, make sure that the bag contains only one serving, or you could be eating a lot more carbs than you were expecting.
- Ingredients: Always peek at the ingredients of packaged food. That’s where hidden sugars often reveal themselves. You may be surprised by the added sugars and other sources of carbohydrates that wouldn’t be obvious from the front of the package or the nutrition label.
- Total Carbohydrates: After looking at the ingredients, check out the total carbohydrates to be sure of what you buy.
Focus on Low-Carb and No-Carb Foods
This may seem obvious, but creating meals around no-carb-category foods will help ensure that you’re staying within your target carb count. Don’t forget that leafy greens are essential to the keto diet. So, load up on salad and kale whenever you can.
Understand Net Carbs
Understanding net carbs can be a big hurdle to getting your macros right on the keto diet. Everyone’s body works differently, so you’ll have to experiment to determine your own threshold.
Remember:the goal is to stay in ketosis, not to have a specific carb count every day.
There are plenty of low-carb and no-carb foods, you just need to know where to look and how to determine which ones are best for you.
Quality plays an incredibly important role in the keto diet, especially when it comes to healthy fats and animal products. If you want to reap the health benefits of a ketogenic diet, then focusing on high-quality food is a must.
Make sure you read your nutrition labels to figure out what foods work best for your body. To that end, be sure to check out this complete ketogenic grocery list.