Since carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy, you should never avoid carbs entirely. However, cutting back on carbs by choosing healthy carb-free foods helps overweight individuals shed weight and improve heart-disease risk factors, according to a review published in 2014 in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases.
1. Lean Meats, Poultry and Seafood
Choosing lean meats, un-breaded poultry or seafood is a healthy carb-free way to fill you up without the extra carbs. Protein found in these foods not only boosts satiety, it helps your body burn extra calories, according to a review published in 2009 in Annual Review of Nutrition. Getting plenty of protein also helps your body maintain lean muscle mass during periods of weight loss. One 3-ounce portion of grilled chicken breast provides you with 26 grams of high-quality, complete protein.
2. Egg Whites
While the yolks of eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, eating egg whites only is a carb-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie way to fill you up, boost protein intake and help keep blood cholesterol levels in check. One large egg white provides less than one-fourth gram of carbs, just 17 calories and almost 4 grams of dietary protein. Try scrambling egg whites with olive or canola oil, or making egg-white omelets mixed with reduced-fat cheese or grilled chicken for breakfast.
3. Reduced-Fat Cheeses
Choosing reduced-fat cheeses over other dairy products, especially milk and yogurt, will significantly reduce your carb intake, but still provide you with protein and calcium. While 1 cup of low-fat milk provides about 12 grams of carbohydrates, a slice of reduced-fat cheddar cheese contains less than 1 gram of carbs. Reduced-fat cheeses are generally much lower in saturated fat, sodium and dietary cholesterol than regular cheeses.
Many non-starchy vegetables contain about 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Spinach, however, provides just 1 gram of carbs in each 1-cup portion. Spinach is also packed with vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, folate and fiber, making it a healthy, low-carb option when you're trying to cut carbs. Try topping a raw spinach-leaf salad with grilled chicken, low-fat shredded cheese and sesame oil for a healthy, very low-carb lunch.
5. Heart-Healthy Oils
Oils are entirely carb-free, and many are excellent sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Oils with high smoke points that work well for cooking include olive, canola, peanut and sunflower oils. Walnut, hemp, pumpkinseed and flaxseed oils are excellent sources of heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids and good choices for low-heat baking, marinades, salad dressings and dips. While carb-free coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, which can increase blood cholesterol and heart-disease risks when consumed in excess, coconut oil may actually help boost your beneficial, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, according to a study published in 2011 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
While reducing carbs in your diet can be beneficial, going carb-free for long periods of time may actually cause more harm than good, because carbs are your body's preferred energy source and many are packed with essential nutrients. Side effects from getting too few carbs may include fatigue, bad breath, dehydration, dizziness, nausea, constipation and headaches. Most adults should aim for a minimum of 130 grams of carbs daily, suggests the Institute of Medicine. The following healthy low-carb foods provide about 7 grams (or fewer) of carbs per serving: nuts, seeds, soy milk, tofu, cottage cheese, leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and peppers.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com