A low-carb diet can help you lose weight and control diabetes and other conditions.
Some high-carb foods need to be avoided, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, cake, and candy.
Yet, figuring out which staple foods to limit is more challenging. Some of these foods are even relatively healthy — just unsuitable for a low-carb diet due to their high number of carbs.
Your total daily carb target determines whether you need to limit some of these foods or avoid them altogether. Low-carb diets typically contain 20–100 grams of carbs per day, based on personal tolerance.
Here are 14 foods to avoid or limit on a low-carb diet.
1. Bread and grains
Bread is a staple food in many cultures. It comes in various forms, including loaves, rolls, bagels, and flatbreads, such as tortillas.
However, all of these are high in carbs. This is true for whole-grain varieties as well as those made from refined flour.
Although carb counts vary based on ingredients and portion sizes, here are the average counts for popular bread:
- White bread (1 slice): 14 grams of carbs, 1 of which is fiber
- Whole-wheat bread (1 slice): 17 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber
- Flour tortilla (10-inch): 36 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber
- Bagel (3-inch): 29 grams of carbs, 1 of which is fiber
Depending on your carb tolerance, eating a sandwich, burrito, or bagel could put you near or over your daily limit.
If you still want to enjoy bread, make your own low-carb loaves at home.
Most grains, including rice, wheat, and oats, are also high in carbs and need to be limited or avoided on a low-carb diet.
Summary: Most bread and grains, including whole grains and whole-grain bread, are too high in carbs to include on a low-carb diet.
2. Some fruit
A high intake of fruits and vegetables has consistently been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease.
However, many fruits are high in carbs and may not be suitable for low-carb diets.
A typical serving of fruit is 1 cup (120 grams) or 1 small piece. For instance, a small apple contains 21 grams of carbs, 4 of which come from fiber.
On a very-low-carb diet, it’s probably a good idea to avoid some fruits, especially sweet and dried fruits, which have high carb counts:
- Banana (1 medium): 27 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber
- Raisins (1 ounce / 28 grams): 22 grams of carbs, 1 of which is fiber
- Dates (2 large): 36 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
- Mango, sliced (1 cup / 165 grams): 28 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber
Berries are lower in sugar and higher in fiber than other fruits. Therefore, small amounts — around 1/2 cup (50 grams) — can be enjoyed even on very-low-carb diets.
Summary: Many fruits should be limited on a low-carb diet, depending on your personal carb tolerance. That said, berries can sometimes be enjoyed.
3. Starchy vegetables
Most diets allow an unlimited intake of low-starch vegetables.
Many vegetables are very high in fiber, which can aid in weight loss and blood sugar control.
However, some high-starch vegetables contain more digestible carbs than fiber and should be limited on a low-carb diet.
What’s more, if you’re following a very-low-carb diet, your best choice is to avoid these starchy vegetables altogether:
- Corn (1 cup / 175 grams): 41 grams of carbs, 5 of which are fiber
- Potato (1 medium): 37 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
- Sweet potato/yam (1 medium): 24 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
- Beets, cooked (1 cup / 150 grams): 16 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
Notably, you can enjoy several low-carb vegetables on a low-carb diet.
Suggested read: A keto diet meal plan and menu that can transform your body
Summary: Although many vegetables are low in carbs, a few are quite high. It’s best to choose mostly non-starchy, high-fiber vegetables when limiting your carb intake.
Pasta is a versatile and inexpensive staple but very high in carbs.
One cup (250 grams) of cooked pasta contains 43 grams of carbs, only 3 of which are fiber.
The same amount of whole-wheat pasta is only a slightly better option at 37 grams of carbs, including 6 grams of fiber.
On a low-carb diet, eating spaghetti or other types of pasta isn’t a good idea unless you consume a very small portion, which isn’t realistic for most people.
If you’re craving pasta but don’t want to go over your carb limit, try making spiralized vegetables or shirataki noodles instead.
Summary: Both regular and whole-wheat pasta are high in carbs. Spiralized vegetables or shirataki noodles offer healthy low-carb alternatives.
It’s well known that sugary breakfast cereals contain a lot of carbs.
However, you may be surprised at the carb counts of healthy cereals.
For instance, 1 cup (90 grams) of cooked regular or instant oatmeal provides 32 grams of carbs, only 4 of which are fiber.
Steel-cut oats are less processed than other types of oatmeal and are generally considered healthier. However, a mere 1/2 cup (45 grams) of cooked steel-cut oats has 29 grams of carbs, including 5 grams of fiber.
Whole-grain cereals tend to pack even more. A 1/2 cup (61 grams) of granola harbors 37 grams of carbs and 7 grams of fiber, while the same amount of whole-grain cereals pack a whopping 46 grams of carbs with 5 grams of fiber.
Depending on your personal carb goal, a bowl of cereal could easily put you over your total carb limit — even before milk is added.
Summary: Even healthy, whole-grain cereals are high in carbs and should be avoided or minimized on a low-carb diet.
Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation on a low-carb diet. Dry wine has very few carbs and hard liquor none.
Suggested read: 13 easy ways to reduce your carbohydrate intake
However, beer is fairly high in carbs.
A 12-ounce (356-ml) can of beer packs 13 grams of carbs, on average. Even light beer contains 6 grams per can.
What’s more, studies suggest that liquid carbs tend to promote weight gain more than carbs from solid food.
That’s because liquid carbs aren’t as filling as solid food and don’t seem to diminish your appetite nearly as much.
Summary: Avoid drinking beer on a low-carb diet. Dry wine and spirits are better alcohol options.
7. Sweetened yogurt
Yogurt is tasty, versatile food. Although plain yogurt is fairly low in carbs, many people tend to eat fruit-flavored, sweetened low-fat, or nonfat yogurt.
Sweetened yogurt often contains as many carbs as a dessert.
One cup (245 grams) of nonfat sweetened fruit yogurt can have up to 47 grams of carbs, which is even higher than a comparable serving of ice cream.
However, choosing a 1/2 cup (123 grams) of plain Greek yogurt topped with 1/2 cup (50 grams) of blackberries or raspberries will keep digestible carbs under 10 grams.
Summary: Sweetened low-fat or nonfat yogurt often has as many carbs as ice cream and other desserts.
Juice is one of the worst beverages you can drink on a low-carb diet.
Although it provides some nutrients, fruit juice is very high in fast-digesting carbs that cause your blood sugar to increase rapidly.
For instance, 12 ounces (355 ml) of apple juice harbors 48 grams of carbs. This is even more than soda, which has 39 grams. Grape juice provides a whopping 60 grams of carbs per 12-ounce (355-ml) serving.
Even though vegetable juice doesn’t contain nearly as many carbs as its fruit counterparts, a 12-ounce (355-ml) serving still has 16 grams of carbs, only 2 of which come from fiber.
What’s more, juice is another example of liquid carbs that your brain’s appetite center may not process in the same way as solid carbs. Drinking juice can lead to increased hunger and food intake later in the day.
Summary: Fruit juice is a high-carb beverage that should be limited or avoided, especially on a low-carb diet.
9. Low-fat and fat-free salad dressings
A wide variety of salads can be enjoyed regularly on a low-carb diet.
However, commercial dressings — especially low-fat and fat-free varieties — often end up adding more carbs than you might expect.
For example, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of fat-free French dressing contain 10 grams of carbs. An equal portion of fat-free ranch dressing has 11 grams of carbs.
Many people commonly use more than 2 tablespoons (30 ml), particularly on a large entrée salad. To minimize carbs, dress your salad with a creamy, full-fat dressing.
Better yet, use a splash of vinegar and olive oil, which is linked to improved heart health and may aid weight loss.
Summary: Avoid fat-free and low-fat salad dressings, which are typically high in carbs. Use creamy dressings or olive oil and vinegar instead.
10. Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes are nutritious foods.
They can provide many health benefits, including reduced inflammation and heart disease risk.
Although high in fiber, they also contain a fair amount of carbs. Depending on personal tolerance, you may be able to include small amounts on a low-carb diet.
Here are the carb counts for 1 cup (160–200 grams) of cooked beans and legumes:
- Lentils: 40 grams of carbs, 16 of which are fiber
- Peas: 25 grams of carbs, 9 of which are fiber
- Black beans: 41 grams of carbs, 15 of which are fiber
- Pinto beans: 45 grams of carbs, 15 of which are fiber
- Chickpeas: 45 grams of carbs, 12 of which are fiber
- Kidney beans: 40 grams of carbs, 13 of which are fiber
Summary: Beans and legumes are healthy, high-fiber foods. You can include small amounts on a low-carb diet, depending on your daily carb limit.
11. Honey or sugar in any form
You’re probably well aware that foods high in sugar, such as cookies, candy, and cake, are off-limits on a low-carb diet.
Suggested read: Gluten foods list: List of what to avoid and alternatives
However, you may not realize that natural forms of sugar can have as many carbs as white sugar. Many of them are even higher in carbs when measured in tablespoons.
Here are the carb counts for one tablespoon of several types of sugar:
- White sugar: 12.6 grams of carbs
- Maple syrup: 13 grams of carbs
- Agave nectar: 16 grams of carbs
- Honey: 17 grams of carbs
What’s more, these sweeteners provide little to no nutritional value. When carb intake is limited, it’s especially important to choose nutritious, high-fiber carb sources.
To sweeten foods or beverages without adding carbs, choose a healthy sweetener instead.
Summary: If you’re on a low-carb diet, avoid sugar, honey, maple syrup, and other forms of sugar, which are high in carbs but low in nutrients.
12. Chips and crackers
Chips and crackers are popular snack foods, but their carbs can add up quickly.
One ounce (28 grams) of tortilla chips contains 18 grams of carbs, only 1 of which is fiber. This is about 10–15 average-sized chips.
Crackers vary in carb content depending on processing. However, even whole-wheat crackers contain about 19 grams of carbs per 1 ounce (28 grams), including 3 grams of fiber.
Processed snack foods are typically consumed in large quantities within a short period. It’s best to avoid them, especially if you’re on a carb-restricted diet.
Summary: Avoid eating chips, crackers, and other processed, grain-based snack foods while on a low-carb diet.
Milk is an excellent source of several nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and several B vitamins.
However, it’s also fairly high in carbs. Whole milk offers the same 12–13 grams of carbs per 8 ounces (240 ml) as low-fat and fat-free varieties.
If you’re only using a tablespoon or two (15–30 ml) in coffee once a day, you may be able to include small amounts of milk in your low-carb diet.
Still, cream or half-and-half are better options if you consume coffee more frequently since these contain minimal carbs.
Suggested read: Potatoes and diabetes: Safety, risks, and alternatives
If you enjoy drinking milk by the glass or use it to make lattés or smoothies, consider trying unsweetened almond or coconut milk instead.
Summary: Adding a small amount of milk to coffee once a day is unlikely to cause problems on a low-carb diet. Try not to drink it in large quantities.
14. Gluten-free baked goods
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Gluten-free diets have become very popular in recent years and are required for people who have celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which your gut becomes inflamed in response to gluten.
That said, gluten-free bread, muffins, and other baked goods are not typically low in carbs. They often boast even more carbs than their glutenous counterparts.
What’s more, the flour used to make these foods is typically made from starches and grains that tend to raise blood sugar rapidly.
Sticking to whole foods or using almond or coconut flour to make your own low-carb baked goods is a better strategy than consuming processed gluten-free foods.
Summary: Gluten-free bread and muffins can be as high in carbs as traditional baked goods. They’re also often made with carb sources that raise blood sugar quickly.
When following a low-carb diet, it’s important to choose foods that are highly nutritious but low in carbs.
Some foods should be minimized while others avoided altogether. Your choices depend in part on your personal carb tolerance.
In the meantime, focus on eating a variety of healthy foods.