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Believe it or not, the “dangers’ you’ve heard associated with a diet high in saturated fats (think red meats, butter and full-fat dairy) are actually false.
Changing your nutrition plan to include plenty of fats, even saturated fats from animal products or coconuts for example, is really the key to long-term health and weight management. And as you can probably guess, when one thing goes up (fats), something else must come down: carbohydrates and sugars.
But not all low-carb foods are created equal. The key to low-carb eating is to still include plenty of non-starchy vegetables–especially for their fiber and antioxidants. Also, choose fat and protein sources that do “double duty”. In other words, look for low-carb foods that also provide you with an array of important nutrients.
Don’t be scared away by high-fat foods like grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds, avocados or coconut. They provide essential fatty acids as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.
Here are the best foods to include when following a low-carb diet:
Non-starchy vegetables are relatively low in carbs and sugar, but high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Basically anything that is green is going to be a good choice – especially if it’s“leafy”:
- Swiss chard
- Zucchini (use to replace noodles)
- Collard greens/mustard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Zucchini/summer squash
- Onions (adds flavor and slight sweetness to recipes)
- Tomatoes (always look for no-sugar-added sauces)
- Cauliflower (use to replace potatoes or rice)
- Mushrooms (great for boosting the immune system)
- Brussel sprouts
- Cabbage (sauerkraut is another good option which has probiotics)
- Asparagus (contains prebiotics which help the body utilize probiotics)
- Spaghetti squash (another good sub for noodles)
You don’t necessarily need to give up all fruit if you’re eating low carb, just make smart food swaps to avoid higher fructose content (like apples and bananas). Since fruit has a high-water content and provides antioxidants and important nutrients, one to two pieces a day of fruit can fit into a low-carb plan, but the amount will really depend on your exact needs.
- All berries
- Avocado (technically a fruit)
- Lemons and limes
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Fish, Meats and Poultry
Quality is key when it comes to meat, fish, dairy and poultry. It’s worth the extra splurge on buying organic, pasture-raised, wild-caught and cage-free products since these will provide more nutrients and fewer contaminants. Nearly all animal products are high in protein and some fats and free, or almost free, of carbs. But the best kinds give you essential nutrients and enzymes as well.
- All wild-caught fish: salmon, cod, halibut, catfish, tuna, mahimahi, sea bass, branzino
- Canned fish including sardines, mackerel, anchovies (great sources of omega-3s)
- Grass-fed beef (sirloin, roast beef, steak)
- Organic meats (such as liver)
- Pasture-raised turkey (ground or breast, ideally organic)
- Pasture-raised chicken (any part, ideally organic)
- Cornish game hen
- Uncured pork (including nitrate-free bacon, sausage, pork loin, pork chops, ideally organic)
Eggs and Dairy
- Grass-fed butter (ideally organic)
- Cage-free, pasture-raised eggs (ideally organic)
- Organic cottage cheese, ricotta or sour cream (full fat)
- Hard cheeses (gruyere, cheddar, blue, goat, parm, etc.)
- Organic goat milk or yogurt
- Organic plain unsweetened Greek yogurt (full fat is lowest in carbs)
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are relatively high in calories because they’re mostly fat, but they have a lot of protein,stabilizing your blood sugar and fiber, which makes you feel full, longer. You can also use baking flours or butters made from nuts and seeds too.
- Chia, flax, hemp seeds provide alpha linolenic acid, which diverts to omega-3 fats in the body. They also have huge digestive benefits since they add bulk to your stool and can keep you “regular” when you’re eating lower carb. Hemp seeds are a good source of protein, with about 10 grams per serving. Look for no-sugar-added hemp protein powder, ground flax seeds and whole chia seeds.
- Almonds provide the most vitamin E of all nuts (one serving has over 100 percent of your daily requirement). They’re a good source of calcium, especially since you’ll likely be avoiding high levels of dairy, as well as magnesium.
- Walnuts are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the brain as well as the cardiovascular system. Omega-3’s help reduce inflammation, balance cholesterol levels and are good for hormonal health and mood stabilization.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Poppy seeds
Fats and Oils
The key to a sustainable low-carb plan is eating plenty of fats. However avoiding refined fats from vegetable oils, like corn or safflower oil, is an important distinction. Focus on quality fats from whole foods, like coconuts and olives. Cook with saturated fats whenever possible, but avoid cooking olive oil at high heats since it’s less stable.
- Saturated fats: coconut oil, tallow, lard, butter
- Olive oil (expeller pressed and extra virgin)
- Avocado oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Almond oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Macadamia oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Sesame oil
- Coco butter
- Palm fruit oil
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