The Ultimate Guide to Avoiding High Carb Foods on a Low Carb Diet

A low carbohydrate diet can be an effective way to lose weight, manage diabetes, and improve health. However, avoiding hidden sources of carbohydrates in foods and drinks takes some knowledge and effort. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top 14 high carb foods and ingredients to avoid on a low carb diet.

1. Added Sugars

Sugar is the most obvious source of carbohydrates to avoid. This includes:

  • Table sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Agave nectar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Any other form of added sweetener

Avoid adding extra sugar to foods and beverages. Read ingredient lists carefully and watch out for words ending in “ose” like dextrose and sucrose. A single can of soda contains around 40g of added sugar. Skipping the sweetened drinks is one of the easiest ways to dramatically cut carbs.

2. Condiments and Sauces

Many condiments and sauces contain hidden sugars used to enhance flavor. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, and other obviously sweet sauces are high in sugar. But even condiments that don’t taste sweet could harbor added sugars.

Check the labels of tomato sauce, salsa, salad dressings, and other pre-made sauces. Or better yet, make your own sauces from scratch with healthy ingredients like olive oil, herbs, spices, and vinegar.

3. Salad Dressings

Speaking of salad dressings, these are another culprit for sneaking both sugar and carbs into an otherwise healthy meal. Low fat and “lite” dressings tend to be the worst offenders, using extra sugar to replace the flavor of fat. Stick to simple vinaigrettes made with olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and seasonings.

4. Low Fat Foods

In general, be leery of anything labeled as “low fat” or “fat free.” When the fat is removed from products like yogurt, they lose their flavor and creaminess. Food manufacturers compensate by pumping these items full of sugar and other carbohydrate-based additives. Always choose full fat real foods over low fat processed substitutes.

5. Natural Sugars

Raw cane sugar, agave nectar, and other “healthier” sounding sweeteners may come from natural sources, but your body still sees them as glucose and fructose. Honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar should be treated like any other added sweetener on a low carb diet.

6. Fruit and Fruit Juice

Whole fruits do provide important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, they can also contain significant amounts of sugar in the form of fructose. Dried fruits in particular are very high carb.

Pay attention to which fruits are lowest in carbs, like strawberries and lemons, vs. tropical fruits like bananas and mangos which are higher. Avoid drinking fruit juices, which have all the carbs and sugar of fruit without the fiber.

7. Grains

All grains, whole and refined, provide a substantial amount of carbohydrates and should be minimized on a low carb diet. This includes bread, rice, oats, corn, pasta, breakfast cereals, etc. Don’t assume that whole grains are much lower carb than refined. A slice of whole wheat bread can still contain 15-20g of carbs.

8. Gluten-Free Products

Going gluten-free does not automatically make a food low carb. Many gluten-free breads, pastas, and baked goods simply replace wheat flour with other starch-based alternatives like potato, tapioca, or rice flour. Check labels carefully and don’t assume gluten-free equals low carb.

9. Starchy Vegetables

Obviously potatoes and corn are very high in carbs. But there are other starchy vegetables that can trip people up like sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, and cassava. Enjoy these foods occasionally in small portions, but don’t make them a staple. Focus on the many delicious low carb veggies instead.

10. Beans and Legumes

Beans, lentils, and peas are healthy sources of plant-based protein. However, they contain a fair amount of carbohydrates due to their starch and fiber content. Portion and frequency is key with these foods. Stick to a 1?4 cup serving and avoid going back for seconds.

11. Pseudo-Grains

Pseudograins like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat are gluten free, but still relatively high in carbohydrates compared to vegetables, nuts, meats, etc. Occasionally enjoying these nutrient-dense foods is fine, but don’t overdo it. They shouldn’t be everyday staples on a low carb diet.

12. Cashews

Most nuts can be enjoyed in moderation on low carb diets thanks to their high fat and protein content. The exception is cashews, which have nearly double the carb content per ounce compared to almonds, pecans, and other nuts. Be mindful of portion sizes with cashews.

13. Milk

Cow’s milk contains the naturally occurring milk sugar known as lactose. While small amounts of milk are generally fine, drinking large quantities could add up in the carb department. Stick to no more than one cup per day and choose full fat varieties.

14. Beer

All alcoholic beverages should be limited on a low carb diet, but beer is one of the worst offenders. The high carb grains used to brew beer make it more akin to liquid bread. Save the beers for special occasions and stick to low carb liquors like whiskey, vodka, and dry wines.

Tips for Identifying Hidden Carb Sources

As you can see, potential carb pitfalls abound, even in foods that seem innocent. Here are some tips for weeding out the hidden sugars and sneaky starches:

Read Labels Carefully

  • Scan ingredient lists from top to bottom and avoid products with sugar in the first few ingredients.
  • Watch out for alternative sugar names like cane juice, corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, etc.
  • Compare the total carbs vs. fiber. If they are very close, it’s a sign of hidden carbs.

Stick to Whole Foods

The fewer ingredients a food product has, the less likely it contains added sugars or starch.

  • Choose fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.
  • Avoid anything pre-packaged or processed.

Limit Portions of Higher Carb Foods

Some foods like fruit and dairy can fit into a low carb diet in moderation. Just be mindful of serving sizes.

  • Measure out 1?2 cup berries or limit fruit to once a day
  • Have just 1 tbsp nut butter or 1 oz of cheese
  • Choose fattier cuts of meat over lean
  • Drink nut milk instead of cow’s milk

Satisfy Cravings with Low Carb Substitutes

You don’t have to deprive yourself when cravings strike. There are now low carb alternatives for many higher carb favorites.

  • Cauliflower pizza crust instead of regular
  • Zucchini noodles or shirataki noodles instead of pasta
  • Cloud bread made with just eggs and cream cheese
  • Chocolate made with stevia instead of sugar
  • Ice cream made with avocado and cocoa powder

Benefits of Cutting Carbs

Avoiding sugar and refined carbs provides tremendous benefits beyond just weight loss. Here are some of the top reasons to maintain a low carb lifestyle:

Blood Sugar Control

Lowering carbohydrate intake can be very helpful for managing type 2 diabetes and reversing prediabetes. Keeping blood sugar stable avoids energy crashes and reduces diabetes complications.

Reduced Inflammation

Refined carbs and sugary foods promote inflammation throughout the body, contributing to numerous chronic diseases. Cutting carbs helps decrease systemic inflammation for overall better health.

Improved Heart Health

High carb intake raises triglycerides and small, dense LDL particles which drive atherosclerosis. Lowering carbs improves cholesterol ratios for reduced heart disease risk.

Healthier Gut Environment

Excess sugar feeds unhealthy gut bacteria, causing damage to the microbiome. A low carb diet helps create a more favorable gut environment with a greater diversity of beneficial bacterial species.

Enhanced Brain Function

Burning ketones instead of glucose provides an alternative brain fuel source, resulting in steadier energy and mental clarity. Memory, focus, and cognition improve on low carb for many people.

Higher Quality Nutrition

Emphasizing whole, unprocessed low carb foods means you naturally reduce inflammatory refined carbs while increasing nutrient-dense proteins, fats, and vegetables.

Sample Low Carb Diet Meal Plan

If you’re not sure where to start with low carb meal planning, here is a simple sample menu that limits carbs to around 50-75g per day:


Breakfast: Veggie omelet with cheese, avocado

Lunch: Tuna salad wrapped in lettuce leaves

Dinner: Bunless burgers with sautéed zucchini


Breakfast: Full fat Greek yogurt with nuts and berries

Lunch: Leftover burgers on salad greens with oil and vinegar

Dinner: Chicken thighs with roasted Brussels sprouts


Breakfast: Nut granola with unsweetened nut milk

Lunch: Chicken salad lettuce wraps

Dinner: Grilled salmon and asparagus


Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese

Lunch: Cobb salad with turkey, bacon, egg, avocado

Dinner: Meatballs with zucchini noodles and Parmesan


Breakfast: Veggie omelet muffins

Lunch: Taco salad with ground beef, cheese, avocado

Dinner: Bunless bacon cheeseburgers


Breakfast: Smoked salmon and avocado toast on low carb bread

Lunch: Leftover taco salad

Dinner: Chicken fajitas on bell pepper slices


Breakfast: Frittata with onions, spinach, feta

Lunch: Turkey clubs wrapped in lettuce leaves

Dinner: Grilled chicken skewers and Greek salad

A Low Carbohydrate Diet

Following a low carbohydrate diet requires rethinking many common foods and discovering new low carb favorites. But with a bit of education on identifying hidden carb sources, meal planning creativity, and accessing low carb substitute foods, reducing your carbs is highly doable.

Commit to avoiding the top 14 high carbohydrate foods outlined here. Find recipes and meal ideas you genuinely enjoy eating. Before you know it, low carb eating will feel like second nature. The effort is well worth it for achieving improved health, sustainable weight management, and an overall higher quality diet.

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