Protein-Based Foods to Eat on a Low-Carb Diet
Firstly, let me tell you that it’s a misconception that a low-carb diet is also a high-protein diet. In truth, there should be a moderate amount of protein, a high amount of fat, and a little amount of carbohydrate.
There are typically two types of protein: complete and incomplete.
Complete protein just means that the food contains all the essential amino acids; meat and dairy are great examples of this. An incomplete protein contains amino acids, but not the full range of them; typically plant-based proteins are incomplete.
For the purpose of this list, all sources are complete proteins.
Sources of Protein
- Beef Jerky
- Cottage Cheese
- Greek Yoghurt
- Organ meats (heart, kidney, liver)
- Whole milk
- Full-fat yoghurt
Due to the imagery of apples and oranges being the global poster child for healthy eating, you may not know this next point. All of these animal foods are extremely high in vitamins and minerals. Much more so than the fruits mentioned above. Despite this, many people still have concerns about eating meat, and how healthy (or not) it is.
Particularly relevant to this category is the status of red meat. All things considered, the truth is that it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the human diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
Despite the ‘high fat’ part of LCHF diets, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat lots of plant-based foods. Most noteworthy are leafy greens, as they are some of the most nutritious foods available and supply a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols.
Additionally, some of the lower-carb fruits are nice to include in an LCHF diet for two reasons:
They are full of beneficial polyphenol antioxidants & berries with cream are one of the best-tasting things on earth!
Sources of Fruit and Vegetable
- Bok Choy
- Green/Spring Onion
- Peppers – All
Some people unnecessarily worry about whether vegetables contain too many carbs. Due to the high fibre content, most of these vegetables have tiny amounts of digestible carbohydrate.
On balance, it’s also possible to fit the higher carb root vegetables into a low-carb diet too (like sweet potatoes). However, be aware that these should be eaten moderately (depending on how low-carb you want to be).
A quick note on fruit and the low-carb diet; some fruits can be extremely high in fructose, so they are best suited to an occasional treat. As an example, some of the high-sugar fruits include grapes, peaches, and most dried fruit. Lower sugar fruits tend to be much more nutrient dense and are fine to eat on a daily basis.
Most noteworthy among these lower-sugar fruits are avocado, olives and all kinds of berries.
Probably every time you hear a low-carb diet mentioned on TV, it’s always followed by some ‘expert’ giving ominous warnings. For the most part, these warnings tend to revolve around the idea of grains as an essential food group. How can we cut grains out? What about fibre? How can we live without grains?
I hear this a lot, so I made the image below to show just how non-essential grains are for fibre.
Not only are fruit and vegetables a lot more nutrient dense than grains, but they are higher in fiber too.
Healthy Fats on a Low-Carb Diet
Firstly, fat doesn't make you fat. Secondly, fat doesn't cause heart disease. Thirdly, fat is essential to our health.
The fear of fat came from the lipid hypothesis of heart disease, with the myth of dietary cholesterol being a primary cause. Following this, the media scare-mongering lasted for decades and had people replacing butter with margarine, and low-fat processed products taking over supermarket aisles.
Thankfully, the truth about dietary fat has been emerging rapidly over the past decade. Most of all, several large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCT) have shown that diets high in fat and low in carbs have several significant benefits.
However, there is one group of fats that you should avoid. Despite carrying the (sponsored) tag of “heart-healthy”, it’s better to stay away from refined vegetable oils. While you may have heard that vegetable oils decrease LDL cholesterol (which is true), the fact that they significantly increase heart disease mortality shows just how little this means.
We should emphasize natural animal and plant fats. Here are some great options:
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Duck Fat
- Ghee (my personal favourite!)
- Macadamia oil
- Nuts – almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia (and all types)
- Olive oil (extra virgin)
- Red palm oil (opt for a sustainably produced one)
Is Snacking Okay on a Low-Carb Diet?
Sure it is – if you want to. Obviously, excessive snacking will reduce the advantages of a low-carb diet that you see, but a little is okay. However, I recommend getting out of the mindset that a snack must come in a packet.
Real foods can be a great snack; here are a few snack ideas that can all be made (or opened) in less than a few minutes:
- A handful of nuts
- Boiled eggs
- Oily fish such as canned tuna/salmon
- A bowl of yoghurt combined with blueberries and pieces of dark chocolate
- Mixed berries with heavy cream
- A few pieces of cheese with some olives
- Sliced and salted avocado
- A few pieces of dark chocolate
- Leftover meat from the night before
- All these ideas are simple to prepare, tasty and healthy for you.
Additionally, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. Especially, I’d like to recommend you look into fermented foods.
As the health of our body depends on having a healthy gut and digestive system, supporting the ‘good bacteria’ in our gut with probiotics is always a good idea. Some great-tasting fermented foods include kimchi and sauerkraut.
While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional glass of milk, latte, or tea with milk, it’s better to eat your calories rather than drink them. In other words; no soda, fruit juice or sugary coffee drinks. Instead, opt for healthier options like water, tea, coffee and herbal tea.
What Foods Should I Avoid on a Low-Carb Diet?
These foods are full of refined grain, sugar and vegetable oils. All in all, these ingredients are disease-promoting, and we should stay well away from them.
While some foods like potatoes and other starchy vegetables are obviously a lot healthier, on a low-carb diet it’s better to generally avoid them.
The avoid list:
- Commercial ice cream
- Commercial pizza
- Candy (sweets)
- Cookies and biscuits
- Excessive high-sugar fruit
- Excessive starchy vegetables
- Fast food (take-out/takeaway)
- Fries (chips)
- Fruit juice
- Grains in general
- Low-fat dairy
- Potato chips (crisps)
- Processed meats like hot dogs and spam
- Soda and other sugary drinks
- Sugary drinks
- Sweeteners like honey and coconut sugar
- Vegetable oils
Sugar, refined grains, and vegetable oils are the very worst foods we can eat – and they are found in most of the foods on this list. Also, if you eat packaged processed foods, it’s so easy to underestimate the amount of sugar you’re eating. The reason? It’s in almost everything.
Equally important, sugar is a very devious ingredient as it hides in food under many different names. Make yourself aware of the names that mean sugar.
Grains have a relatively low amount of nutrients compared to their digestible carbohydrate content. Additionally, they contain anti-nutrients that inhibit optimal absorption of minerals. Many people who are new to low-carb diets wonder how they can eat with “such a restrictive diet plan”.
Fortunately, low-carb diets are not restrictive once you understand them, and there are so many delicious foods to eat. You can even make your favourite junk foods but by using healthy ingredients!
Of course, some people like to see evidence that there are diverse food possibilities, so next, we’ll look at some meal options.
Take a look at the next page for a FREE low-carb meal plan to see how delicious low carb eating is.