No-Carb Diet Plan Guide, Plus Foods to Eat vs. Avoid

What to eat on a no carb diet

Take a moment and imagine slashing your carbohydrate intake by 90 percent. It sounds incredibly challenging but still possible. Now imagine following a no-carb diet plan completely free of all carbohydrates, including pasta, bread, legumes, baked goods, sweets and even fruits and vegetables.

To many, the thought of a low-carb diet plan for weight loss, let alone a diet without any carbohydrates at all, probably seems like a cruel form of torture.

As opposed to the high-carb and sugar-addicted diets that most people living in industrialized nations eat today, no-carb diets tend to spark fast weight loss by reducing foods like grains, fruits and sweeteners.

Cutting these sources of carbs from your diet changes what type of macronutrients your body uses for fuel. Each no-carb/low-carb diet is a bit different, but most drastically reduce glucose (sugar) intake over the course of several phases, resulting in a  diet that keeps carbs to about 20–50 net grams or even less daily.

So should you, or shouldn’t you, give low-carb dieting a try? What fruit is lowest in carbs? And does this controversial diet plan really work?

Below you’ll find out how no-carb diets work, which foods are included, potential benefits and also the risks involved.

What Is a No-Carb Diet? Is It Even Possible?

The no-carb diet is comparable to low-carb diets and the ketogenic diet, a diet that severely limits carbohydrate intake and focuses on healthy sources of fat and protein.

While how many carbs are in a low-carb diet can vary quite a bit, most restrict carb intake to less than 30 percent to 40 percent of total daily total calories. On a no-carb diet, however, even foods that contain small amounts of carbohydrates are off-limits completely.

Although it may come with similar health benefits as low-carb and ketogenic diets, it also comes with a whole different set of risks and challenges as well and must be done very carefully to prevent adverse side effects.

This is because carbs are found in pretty much all types of foods, even if it’s only in small amounts. While there are low-carb vegetables, for instance, there aren’t any no-carb vegetables that are completely carbohydrate-free.

While theoretically you could eat very close to no carbs — such as from only consuming things like meat, oils or lard — this is not exactly a very healthy way to eat. Most very low-carb diets include at least some plants for fiber and essential nutrients, with an emphasis on those lowest in carbs like leafy greens or broccoli.

Unlike most weight loss diets that usually rely on calorie counting and/or strict portion control, no-carb diets result in weight loss by focusing primarily on reduction of carb-containing foods.

Some sources of carbohydrates that are restricted on a no-carb diet include (but are not limited to):

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes, including beans, peas and peanuts
  • Grains, such as pasta, bread, rice and oats
  • Dairy products
  • Sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or juice
  • Condiments like ketchup, salad dressing or sauces
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Crackers and chips
  • Cakes, cookies and sweets

Conclusion: No-carb diets eliminate all carb-containing foods from the diet. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, dairy products, sugar, condiments, nuts, seeds and processed foods are all limited on this restrictive diet.

Ketosis and How No-Carb Dieting Works

In order to evaluate the benefits and potential risks of a no-sugar, no-carb diet, it’s important to understand how carb digestion and fat-burning works.

When you eat carbohydrates, blood sugar levels rise, which triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin. This important hormone helps shuttle sugar from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for energy.

When there’s more glucose (sugar) in your blood than your cells can use, the extra is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle cells for later use. If there’s even more left over, they are converted to fat and stored throughout the body.

Research suggests that for those who lose weight while reducing carbs, it’s likely due to consuming less calories overall and feeling full due to adequate protein and fat intake. Protein and healthy fats tend to be very satisfying, killing most sugar/carb cravings.

Another reason no-carb diets increase weight loss is because they often cause your body to enter into “ketosis.”

What is ketosis? It means that the body begins burning fat instead of sugar for fuel.

Severely restricting carbohydrates to less than 20 grams a day is often needed to enter into ketosis, which causes ketones (substances left behind when the body burns fat) to build up in your body.

Ketosis can be beneficial in some cases but also potentially has side effects, such as nausea, headaches, mental and physical fatigue and bad breath.

Conclusion: Eliminating carbs from the diet can put your body in a state of ketosis, which causes your body to start burning fat instead of sugar for fuel. No-carb diets are also higher in proteins and fats, which are considered more satiating than carbohydrates.

What to eat on a no carb diet

Foods to Eat

While a very low-carb diet may help you achieve some of the benefits mentioned above, it’s only really likely to work for more than a few weeks if you actually enjoy the types of foods that are very low-carb (meats and oils, for example). Examples of healthy low-carb foods and no-carb diet foods include:

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  • Organic and grass-fed beef, turkey and chicken
  • Pastured eggs from chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Fish and seafood (preferably wild-caught fish, such as salmon, haddock or trout)
  • Organic or unrefined coconut oil, grape seed, walnut, avocado and olive oil
  • Butter and lard
  • Hard cheese, butter, sour cream and heavy cream (choose grass-fed and organic whenever possible, ideally made from raw milk). Approved cheese products include blue cheese, cheddar cheese, goat, feta, Swiss, Parmesan and American cheese
  • Herbs and spices, like curry powder, cinnamon, thyme, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, chili powder, 5 spice powder, Dijon mustard, parsley, oregano, basil, tarragon, black pepper, garlic (whole or ground)
  • Non-starchy veggies, such as spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cabbage, cabbage, canned cucumber, tomatoes, Jalapeño peppers, broccoli, bell peppers, lettuce and asparagus
  • Other sweeter veggies have more carbs but can still be healthy. These include tomatoes, zucchini or eggplant, squash, peppers, carrots, etc.
  • Water, tea and coffee

Conclusion: Most foods included on the no-carb diet are meat, fish, poultry and fats/oils. Other low-carb foods include dairy, non-starchy vegetables, herbs and spices.

Foods to Avoid

You may be wondering: what carbs should I avoid to lose weight? Just important as filling your diet with the right foods is limiting other carb-containing ingredients.

Here are some foods to eliminate as part of a no-carb diet:

Short-Term Benefits

What kind of results can you expect when eating a very low-carb/no-carb diet? Although not every person reacts to ketosis or a no-carb diet positively, research shows that for those who make good candidates, the following health benefits may be experienced:

  • Fast weight loss
  • Enhanced satiety from eating or reduced hunger and cravings (especially for sweets)
  • Better control over insulin and blood sugar (glucose) spikes. This can be especially beneficial for prediabetics or diabetics, although low-carb diets aren’t the only way to reduce diabetes risk factors
  • Neuroprotective effects and enhanced cognitive performance, including less brain fog or dips in energy, improved memory in the elderly, and reduced symptoms of epilepsy
  • Sometimes better sleep, less pain or muscle weakness, and more energy overall
  • Reduced bone loss or osteoporosis
  • In athletes, possible favorable changes in body mass and body composition, along with increase in the relative values of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and oxygen uptake at lactate threshold (VO2 LT)
  • In some cases, lower risk for cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome, including normalizing factors like blood sugar or unhealthy cholesterol levels

Weight loss, sometimes even substantial reductions in body fat, are very common when eating a very low-carb diet. The reason this happens is due to the effects of reducing glucose, as described above.

Once glucose from carbohydrate foods is no longer available for energy, the body will use stored body fat instead, or fat and protein consumed from foods.

Removing foods like fruits, starchy veggies, pasta and bread from your diet will also cause your body to release less insulin, helping balance blood sugar levels reduce risk for diabetes. While this is very helpful, it’s not the only way to shed extra weight or improve things like blood sugar and cholesterol.

Research shows that almost any diet that helps you reach a healthier body weight can reduce or even reverse risk factors for cardiovascular disease/metabolic syndrome. Remember that the diet type of diet for you is the one you can actually stick with.

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No-Carb Diet Plan and Sample Menu

So what can you eat on a no-carb diet? If you do decide to follow a no-carb diet plan, you will be eating meat and fat/oil for all three meals as well as any keto snacks.

It may be a good idea to gradually decrease your carb intake instead of quitting carbs cold turkey.

Here’s what a typical no-carb diet menu may look like, plus some easy low-carb diet recipes that you can try out as well:

Day One

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil
  • Lunch: Seared salmon with butter
  • Dinner: Herbed turkey breast
  • Snacks: Jerky

Day Two

  • Breakfast: Turkey bacon cooked in coconut oil with keto coffee
  • Lunch: Grilled sardines
  • Dinner: Garlic butter steak
  • Snacks: Pepperoni slices

Day Three

  • Breakfast: Hard-boiled eggs
  • Lunch: Baked chicken breast with bone broth
  • Dinner: Garlic lamb roast
  • Snacks: Turkey slices

Conclusion: Because carbs are eliminated on this restrictive diet plan, a typical no-carb diet menu is generally made up of meat, fats and oils.

What to eat on a no carb diet

Risks and Side Effects

Final Thoughts

  • A no-carb, no-sugar diet focuses on eliminating all carb-containing foods from the diet, which is thought to help increase weight loss and fat-burning.
  • Ingredients permitted on the no-carb diet food list include meat, fish, poultry and healthy fats. Other low-carb foods that may be allowed include non-starchy vegetables, hard cheeses and eggs.
  • Meanwhile, foods that are not permitted as part of the no-carb diet list include grains, sugar, fruits, starchy vegetables, pre-made condiments, dairy products and alcohol.
  • The diet is highly restrictive, which can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies and other adverse side effects. It’s also difficult to follow long-term as most meals will be made up solely of meats and oils, and there are limited no-carb diet recipes available online.
  • Instead, consider trying a low-carb or ketogenic diet, both of which can achieve the same results, but without the negative side effects associated with this incredibly restrictive eating pattern.

— Update: 30-12-2022 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article No-Carb Foods: A Simple List of Zero-Carb FoodsBy Nathan Phelps on Dec 17, 2020 from the website chomps.com for the keyword what to eat on a no carb diet.

What to eat on a no carb diet

When you’re on a keto, AIP, or other low-carb diet, it’s nice to know what foods are completely free of carbs. The options that won’t raise your carb count by any amount. There are so many low-carb foods, but you still have to factor those counts in. What can you eat without consequence? With complete carb freedom?

Well, we’ve done the research and found the answers. We made a big list and split them by category, and for every food we’ve listed here, we are assuming that it isn’t processed or added to in any way — it’s just the pure food.

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In other words, when we say chicken, we mean grilled or baked. Not something that is battered, fried, or stuffed with carb-loading ingredients.

Let’s jump right in.

No-Carb Meats

Meat is the star category in a zero-carb diet. Practically any meat in its natural form is zero-carb. So eat your steaks, bake that chicken, and stay full with these high-protein, zero carb foods.

Beef

Any beef you want is up for grabs! Just remember that some diets like Whole30 also require you to eat grass-fed or organic to avoid preservatives, additives, and other harmful ingredients found in low-quality beef.

Plus, when you opt for high-quality, grass-fed beef you get all kinds of extra health benefits like Vitamin E and rich Omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce your risk of heart disease[*].

Carbs: zero.

Chicken

Chicken is a lean meat that is packed with protein. If you want to grow muscle and keep your diet low-carb, then chicken is a great choice.

Carbs: zero.

Lamb

Eating low-carb usually means eating more meat, so it’s nice to know that lamb is an option for when you want to switch it up.

Lamb is also a fantastic source of Vitamin B12, which helps your body form its red blood cells[*].

Carbs: zero.

Pork

Out of all the major meat categories, you need to watch out for added sugars, additives, and other harmful or carb-containing ingredients when eating pork. The industrial pork industry is notoriously unhealthy[*].

Carbs: zero.

Other Zero-Carb Meats

  • Veal
  • Venison and other game
  • Duck
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Deli meats
  • Most organ meats, except liver

No-Carb Fish and Seafood

Fish are a great source of protein and are also a safe choice for zero carbs. You have a ton of options here.

Note: some seafood and shellfish, surprisingly, have trace amounts of carbs[*]. It’s not much, but it’s enough to remove them from the no-carb camp. These include oysters, shrimp, crab, mussels, lobster, and all other shellfish.

Salmon

Salmon is one of my favorite foods, and fortunately it falls into the no-carb camp.

It’s also a fantastic source of B Vitamins, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, protein, and potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure[*].

My favorite way to cook it is low and slow a la Salmin Nosrat.

Carbs: zero.

Tilapia

The famous white fish is also on the no-carb menu. People love it for its mild, non-fishy flavor.

Carbs: zero.

Tuna

Keep an eye on the mercury, but stocking your pantry with a bunch of tuna is a surefire way to have a no-carb dinner or snack nearby.

Apart from chicken, it’s hard to beat tuna’s protein to calorie and carb ratio.

Carbs: zero.

Catfish

You can’t have catfish battered and fried at your local meat and three joint, but grilled, baked, or sautéed catfish is fair game.

Similar to salmon, catfish is a great source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, protein, and Vitamin B[*].

Carbs: zero.

Other Zero-Carb Fish

  • Trout
  • Sardines
  • Cod
  • Bass
  • Haddock

No-Carb Fats and Oils

Lots of times eating low-carb means eating more fats. Here are the no-carb oils and fats available to you.

Butter

Butter is just the fat and protein of milk or cream, and is naturally zero-carb.

Carbs: zero.

Olive Oil

This kitchen staple is also no-carb — plus it’s loaded with antioxidants that fight inflammation and may help prevent strokes[*].

Pro tip: if you want the best tasting olive oil, try to get some that was pressed in the last few months.

Carbs: zero.

Coconut Oil

I love using coconut oil with tilapia. It’s a nice way to impart some extra flavor.

Apart from being tasty, coconut oil may boost heart health and encourage fat-burning[*].

Carbs: zero.

Canola Oil

Canola oil is okay as well, although many people opt for olive due to canola’s low nutrient profile and small amounts of trans fats[*].

Carbs: zero.

Other Zero-Carb Fats and Oils

  • Lard
  • Suet
  • Tallow
  • Ghee
  • MCT oil

No-Carb Beverages

The list is fairly short for beverages. As long as you skip the sugar and juice drinks, you’ll be okay.

Water

No surprises here, but water is completely free of carbs.

I like to wake up and chug a glass of water immediately to get my day started feeling awake and refreshed.

Carbs: zero.

Coffee

Don’t worry coffee drinkers, you can still drink your joe. You can’t have cream, sugar, or Starbucks frappe, but black coffee is just fine.

Carbs: zero.

Carbonated Water

That includes seltzer water, soda water/club soda, and sparkling water — all of which are pretty much the same thing.

This doesn’t include tonic water, though, since that includes sugar.

Carbs: zero.

Tea

Some teas have very small traces of carbs, but most tea is considered zero-carb. Just skip the cream and sugar here as well.

Carbs: zero.

Other Zero-Carb Beverages

  • Diet soda
  • Clear, unflavored liquors
  • Water with lemon or lime

No-Carb Seasonings

Almost all spices and herbs have some traces of carbs — we just don’t use enough of them to bother calculating them into our carb counts with the possible exception of cinnamon or red spices like paprika or red pepper.

With that in mind, we’ve included below some of the zero-carb spices and then a few others that are almost zero-carb. But again, you probably don’t have to worry too much about eating herbs and spices unless you are being incredibly strict.

Salt

Salt, the king of all spices, is free from any and all carbs.

Carbs: zero.

Black Pepper

While black pepper technically contains carbs, it is so small most zero-carb dieters don’t worry about it.

One “dash” or crack has around 0.1g of carbs — a.k.a. not enough to get hung up over.

Carbs: almost zero.

Mustard Powder

Mustard also has a very tiny amount of carbohydrates, but it’s so small that it doesn’t register even when you use a teaspoon.

Carbs: almost zero.

Everything Bagel Seasoning

Same story here. This blend of poppy seeds, garlic, salt, onion, and sesame seeds also registers so low per serving that it is “zero-carb” — even though it does have a small amount of carbohydrates.

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Carbs: almost zero.

Other Zero-Carb Seasonings

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Clove
  • Herbs de Provence
  • Italian seasoning
  • Curry powder
  • Oregano
  • Onion powder

No-Carb Condiments and Dips

If you’re looking for dipping sauces and dressings, then your options are limited but not completely dry. Vinegar is definitely your friend in the world of zero-carb.

Vinegar

Vinegar is fair game. Use a fork to mix it with olive oil and salt for an easy homemade vinaigrette.

Carbs: zero.

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is just eggs and oil, and if it’s made naturally, then the carb count usually registers at 0g per serving.

Just check your labels since some mayo has sugar.

Carbs: usually zero.

Liquid Aminos

Liquid aminos are a naturally gluten-free substitute for soy sauce and are great for stir frying vegetables and meats in.

Just keep an eye on your sodium intake when using liquid aminos.

Carbs: zero.

Hot Sauces

Hot sauces may have really small amounts of carbs but when just using a dash or two the serving size will often show 0g — assuming it’s not a variety high in sugar.

Carbs: usually zero.

Other Zero-Carb Condiments

  • Olive oil + herbs and other seasonings
  • Dijon mustard (usually zero)
  • Sriracha and other chili garlic sauces (usually zero)
  • Spicy mayo

No-Carb Sweeteners

While we would argue that it’s a smarter long-term health decision to kick the sweet habit altogether when eating no or low-carb, it can be difficult to do that.

Here are a few of the best zero-carb sweeteners for when you need that extra bit of sweetness.

Stevia

Stevia is an extremely popular zero-carb sweetener and is known as the “sugar leaf”.

It’s also “non-nutritive”, meaning it contains zero calories or nutrients[*].

Carbs: zero.

Pure Erythritol

Pure erythritol is a type of sugar alternative that has just 6% of the calories of sugar while keeping 70% of the sweetness.

Plus, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like normal sugar and may even reduce the risk of heart disease[*].

Carbs: zero.

Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is zero-carb, but it’s almost up to 200x sweeter than sugar, so make sure you adjust for that.

Carbs: zero.

Splenda

Splenda, a.k.a. sucralose, is zero-carb, but it also contains dextrose and maltodextrin, which can kick you out of ketosis[*]. So if keto is your goal, I would avoid this.

Carbs: zero.

Other Zero-Carb Sweeteners

  • Xylitol
  • Swerve

No-Carb Snacks

Since diets tend to restrict your calorie intake, it’s good to know what no-carb snacks you can have whenever hunger strikes.

Here are a few of our favorites.

Pork Rinds

Pork rinds are a classic keto snack and for good reason. They’re just cooked pig skins and don’t contain any natural carbs.

Just make sure there aren’t any additives or added sugar in whatever brand you buy.

Carbs: zero.

Beef Sticks/Jerky

Beef sticks are our personal favorite no-carb snack, but we may be a little biased.

We use the highest-quality, sustainably-sourced protein with no added sugar and no harmful ingredients to deliver meat snacks that taste delicious and offer the fuel you need any time of the day.

Carbs: usually zero.

Other Dried Meats

Your charcuterie board is saved! Pepperoni, salami, and other dried meats without any sugar finishes are zero-carb as well.

Carbs: zero.

Salmon Skins

Fish skins are another delicious no-carb snack.

Check out what Goodfish is up to for all sorts of delicious options.

Carbs: zero.

Almost No-Carb Foods

Because fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are the only source of natural carbohydrates, they always contain them — even in amounts that could be considered “low-carb”.

So while we can’t say any fruit or vegetable is zero-carb, many people do include certain vegetables and fruits into their own version of a “zero-carb diet” to maintain a healthy diet.

Dairy and eggs are similar. No natural dairy or egg product is without some amount of carbs, but many people include a bit of dairy and eggs in their zero-carb diets.

Here’s a short list of foods that are still considered “low-carb” and often eaten as a small portion of a “zero-carb” diet.

Fruits

When eating low-carb fruits, you want to stick to the fruits that have the lowest amount of natural sugars or to the fruits that you don’t naturally use a lot of like lemons or limes.

Oranges and apples are two of the biggest hoarders of carbohydrates, so make sure you skip those!

Here are a few of your best low-carb fruit options:

  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwis
  • Lemons
  • Limes

Vegetables

In the world of low-carb vegetables, the greener the better. Go leafy over starchy — any day of the week. The cruciferous family in particular is a good place to start.

Here are a few of your best low-carb vegetable options:

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Sprouts

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts are all over the place when it comes to carb content, so always check your labels. In general, seeds are preferable over nuts — so try and stick to those.

Here are a few of your best low-carb nut and seed options:

  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Chia seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Dairy

When it comes to dairy, only eat the full-fat versions. Low-fat dairy typically includes a lot of extra sugars. That means no skim or 2% — stick to what’s natural.

Here are a few of your best low-carb dairy options:

  • Heavy cream
  • Asiago cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Provolone cheese
  • Blue cheese
  • Goat cheese

The Bottom Line

While there aren’t a ton of foods that are strictly no-carb, it’s useful to know that meat, fish, most oils, and some condiments are free from carbs.

Then, you can use that as your base and build low-carb sides around them for healthy, low-carb meals.

And always remember to check your labels and eat as natural, organic, and fresh as possible. This reduces your risk of extra sugar or other additives sneaking in and messing with your carb count.

Frozen and canned foods are notorious for additives, so start by avoiding those or being extra careful when you’re eating them.

References

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About the Author: Tung Chi