Grains are often completely off-limits on many low-carb diets.
However, several types of grains are high in fiber, and you can enjoy them in moderation as part of a healthy, carb-controlled diet.
This is because foods high in fiber contain a lower number of net carbs, the number of carbs the body absorbs. You can calculate net carbs by subtracting the fiber grams from the total carbs.
Here are some of the top grains that are low in carbs, plus a few others that you may want to limit on a low-carb diet.
Oats are highly nutritious and a great source of many essential nutrients, including fiber.
A 1-cup (33-gram) serving of cooked oats contains more than 8 grams of dietary fiber and just 21 grams of net carbs.
Oats are also rich in beta-glucan. This is a type of fiber that research has shown to reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease.
Oats are a great source of several other micronutrients, including manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and thiamine.
Be sure to select steel-cut or rolled oats instead of highly processed varieties, such as instant oatmeal, to get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrition.
Summary: A 1 cup (33-gram) serving of cooked oats contains 21 grams of net carbs. Oats are also high in beta-glucan, a type of fiber that may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Although technically classified as a pseudocereal, quinoa is often prepared and enjoyed as a grain.
Quinoa contains beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help decrease inflammation and protect against chronic disease.
It’s relatively low in carbs, too, with just 34 grams of net carbs in each 1 cup (185 gram) serving of cooked quinoa.
Quinoa is also one of the few plant-based complete protein sources, meaning that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids the body needs to obtain from food sources.
Additionally, quinoa is high in other vital nutrients, including manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and folate.
Summary: Quinoa contains 34 grams of net carbs per cooked cup (185 grams). It’s also high in antioxidants and contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs.
Bulgur is a type of cereal grain typically made from cracked wheat berries.
You can use it in various dishes, including tabbouleh salad, porridge, and pilaf.
Not only is bulgur versatile and easy to prepare, but it’s also highly nutritious.
In particular, it’s a great source of manganese, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.
Plus, with just 25.5 grams of net carbs in 1 cup (182 grams) of cooked bulgur, it’s also one of the lowest-carb whole grains available.
Summary: One cup (182 grams) of cooked bulgur contains 25.5 grams of net carbs. Bulgur is versatile, easy to prepare, and rich in manganese, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.
Millet is a type of ancient grain that’s cultivated around the world.
Like other whole grains, millet contains antioxidants and polyphenols, which may help prevent chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Millet is also a good source of fiber and relatively low in net carbs, making it a great addition to a healthy, low-carb diet.
A 1-cup (174-gram) serving of cooked millet contains over 2 grams of fiber and 39 grams of net carbs.
Millet is also high in other vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and folate.
Summary: Millet contains 39 grams of net carbs per cooked cup (174 grams). It’s also high in phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and folate.
Couscous is a processed grain product typically made from semolina flour or durum wheat.
A staple in many Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes, couscous is relatively low in carbs, with around 34.5 grams of net carbs in each 1 cup (157 gram) serving of cooked couscous.
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Couscous is also packed with selenium, a trace mineral that plays a crucial role in heart health, thyroid function, immune health, and more.
Adding couscous to your diet can also boost your intake of several other essential micronutrients, including pantothenic acid, manganese, copper, and thiamine.
Summary: Couscous is a grain product with 34.5 grams of net carbs per cooked cup (157 grams). In addition to providing plenty of selenium, couscous is high in pantothenic acid, manganese, copper, and thiamine.
6. Wild rice
Wild rice is a grain derived from grasses in the Zizania genus of plants.
Wild rice is significantly lower in carbs than other types of rice, with 32 grams of net carbs in each 1 cup (164 gram) serving of cooked wild rice.
Plus, wild rice is brimming with health-promoting antioxidants.
Interestingly, one review showed that the phenolic compounds found in wild rice exhibited 10 times the antioxidant activity of white rice.
Moreover, wild rice is an excellent source of several other nutrients, including zinc, vitamin B6, and folate.
Summary: Wild rice is lower in carbs than other types of rice, with 32 grams of net carbs per cooked cup (164 grams). It is also high in antioxidants and zinc, vitamin B6, and folate.
Also sometimes referred to as hulled wheat or dinkel wheat, spelt is an ancient whole grain with several health benefits.
Studies show that eating more whole grains, such as spelt, may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Although spelt contains mostly carbs, it does offer a good chunk of fiber in each serving.
For instance, a 1-cup (194-gram) serving of cooked spelt contains about 7.5 grams of fiber and 44 grams of net carbs.
Spelt is also rich in niacin, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
Summary: One cup (194 grams) of cooked spelt contains 44 grams of net carbs and 7.5 grams of fiber. Each serving is also high in niacin, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
Most people think of popcorn as little more than a snack, but it is technically a whole grain.
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It’s also one of the lowest carb grains available, with 6.5 grams of net carbs in each 1 cup (14 gram) serving of popped popcorn.
Plus, popcorn is low in calories and contains B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
However, be sure to opt for air-popped popcorn whenever possible to maximize the nutritional value of this healthy grain.
This is because many prepared varieties are high in unhealthy fats, added sugar, and artificial flavorings, which can negate any potential health benefits.
Summary: Each cup (14 grams) of popped popcorn contains 6.5 grams of net carbs. Popcorn is also low in calories and high in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Barley is a nutritious cereal grain notable for its nutty flavor and distinctive, chewy texture.
Barley is also high in fiber, with 6.5 grams and about 41.5 grams of net carbs in each 1 cup (170 gram) serving of cooked barley.
Additionally, cooked barley is an excellent source of selenium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and copper.
However, be sure to opt for hulled barley instead of pearled barley whenever possible because hulled barley is less processed and is considered a whole grain.
Summary: Barley contains 41.5 grams of net carbs in each cup (170 grams). In addition to being high in fiber, barley is an excellent source of selenium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and copper.
High carb grains to watch out for
Although many grains can fit into a healthy, low-carb diet, some grains contain a high number of carbs and are low in fiber.
Refined grains, in particular, are grain products that have undergone processing to improve their texture and shelf life.
This results in a lower fiber content, which can increase the number of net carbs in the final product.
A few examples of grains that are high in carbs include:
- white bread
- refined pasta
- white rice
- breakfast cereal
- pizza dough
- potato chips
- instant oatmeal
Additionally, keep in mind that if you’re cutting carbs, you may still need to limit many healthy whole grains, depending on how restrictive your diet is.
For example, very low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets often limit carb intake to less than 50 grams daily, making it challenging to fit any grains into your daily allotment of carbs.
Summary: Refined grains have undergone processing to improve their texture and shelf life. These foods are typically lower in fiber and higher in net carbs than whole grains.
Although many low-carb diets do not eliminate grains, many varieties can fit into a healthy, carb-controlled diet.
Many types of grains are high in fiber and low in net carbs, the number of carbs the body absorbs.
For best results, select whole grain varieties and steer clear of grains that have been heavily processed or refined whenever possible.