The Short Answer: The best low carb intermittent fasting foods tend to be whole foods that have not been processed. Avoid overly refined/processed foods (including low fat options) containing added sugar.
In the following article we will find low carb intermittent fasting foods that are delicious, filling and good for you. We’re also going to investigate why some so called ‘health foods’ aren’t all that healthy and show you how to make better dietary choices at the supermarket.
The Best Low Carb Intermittent Fasting Foods
When getting started with any type of fasting regimen combined with a low carb diet the food choices you make are going to be critical. There’s a few reasons for this including:
- Must have a low carbohydrate content
LCIF requires you consume a low carbohydrate diet. As a result, there are a number of foods that are best avoided if you wish to keep your calories consumed from carbs low throughout the day. For example white bread and pasta.
- Must be low in added sugars
Added sugars are sugars added to food during processing which raise blood sugar levels, lead to weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease. A good way to avoid added sugars is to eat full fat foods rather than the ‘low fat’ alternative which typically will include a higher volume of added sugars to enhance taste.
- Must be satiating (filling): When fasting it is important to eat food that is satiating. For the most part when reducing your carbohydrate intake you will increase your protein intake which can help as protein is naturally more filling.
- Must form a balanced diet: Any form of restrictive diet can have an impact on your micronutrient intake (vitamins and minerals) that you consume. This is more important than most people realise from a dietary adherence perspective also. When deficient in a vitamin or mineral your body will signal that it is hungry in an attempt to address the deficiency, even if you have eaten enough to feel full, leading to weight gain. There are also a number of obvious health problems associated with nutrient deficiencies of any kind including, affecting your bodies ability to absorb nutrients from food.
- Mustn’t be difficult to adhere to: Food should always be enjoyable. There’s no reason why when undertaking LCIF you can’t have your low carb cake and eat it too. There are plenty of delicious foods that you can eat on LCIF and a number of alternatives to food you would otherwise have to avoid.
The simplest way to know if a food is low in carbohydrates, particularly added sugars, contains a high amount of protein and contains a good balance of vitamins and minerals is by knowing how to a read a nutritional profile.
How to Read a Nutritional Profile
You should take a careful look at any packaged food product you buy. Claims of low carb/high protein and low GI often are not as high (or as low) as the packaging may indicate. It’s also true that many products marketed using athletes or imagery of health and wellbeing in their advertising in reality aren’t healthy at all. Fruit juices and breakfast cereals often fall into this category.
If you are counting your calories and tracking your macros it really helps if you know how to read a nutritional profile. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the full fat milk food label on the right and work our way through the different sections.
Serving size refers to the portion of food the nutritional profile is based upon. You might also see this broken down further by weight or volume. In our example a serve is 1 cup/240ml
When first reading a nutritional profile we need to look at total calories per serve. In the example above we can see that there are 150 calories per serving.
Calories are units of energy. The energy from the food we eat is measured in calories. Our bodies use those calories to provide energy to carry out functions that allow us to survive. If the energy we get from food exceeds the energy we require we are far more likely to gain weight. Alternatively, if our bodies do not receive sufficient calories from our food our bodies will use reserved energy (body fat) as an energy source resulting in weight loss.
If you are based in Australia you may instead see Kilojoules or Kilojoules and Calories listed separately. Kilojoules are just another unit used to to measure energy from food and can easily be converted to calories. 1 Calorie = 4.2 kJ
%DV refers to the percentage 1 serve counts toward the daily recommended intake of that particular nutrient.
In the example above the 10% located beside total fat refers to the percentage of your recommended intake of fat per day a serve would contain.
Along with total fat, there are 4 specific types of fat that are listed on a nutritional profile:
- Trans fats
- Saturated Fat
*In the example food label unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats are not included as they are not present.
Low fat foods contain less than 3g of total fat per 100g.
Cholesterol is a type of fat located in the bloodstream. It is produced naturally in the body by the liver and is also derived from animal products such as meat and dairy, known as ‘Dietary Cholesterol’.
There are two types of cholesterol:
- HDL (High-density Lipoprotein)
This is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol and is responsible for the transportation of Cholesterol out of your body via the liver.
- LDL (Low-density Lipoprotein)
This is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Trans fats raise your LDL Cholesterol levels and reduce your HDL Cholesterol levels. A high level of LDL Cholesterol in the bloodstream is associated with ‘Atherosclerosis’. Atherosclerosis occurs when the arteries become narrow over time due to plaque buildup limiting blood flow. It is a primary cause of heart disease and stroke.
Aim for less than 300g of cholesterol per day and reduce saturated fats in your diet while increasing unsaturated fats.
Sodium can be found in food naturally or added during processing. Regular table salt is a combination of Sodium and Chloride. It’s recommended to keep your sodium intake at less than 2300mg per day. Too much sodium in your diet causes your body to retain fluid which in turn raises blood pressure increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Products advertised as ‘low sodium’ should contain 140mg per serve or less.
Carbohydrates include Dietary Fiber, Sugars and Added Sugars.
Not all food labels will include fiber, some foods do not contain fiber. To be considered high fiber the product should contain 5g per serving or more.
Toal Sugars and Added Sugars
Sugars indicate total sugar contained within the food per serving. Added sugars indicate how much sugar has been added to the product. Choose foods that have either none or only small amounts of added sugars.
Products advertised as reduced sugar should be 25% lower in sugar than the regular product.
Protein is fairly self explanatory e.g. in the example provided we can see that each serving, being 55g contains 3g of protein.
This would not be considered a high protein food source in comparison to steak for example which typically contains 25g per 100g.
Vitamins and Minerals
This section refers to the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) found within the food source.
Two vitamins are required to be added if present in the product: Vitamin A and Vitamin C and two minerals (Iron and Calcium). However if a vitamin or mineral has been added such as in the case when food is fortified with a particular vitamin then it also must be included. In general consume higher volumes of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium to ensure good health and check the amounts included in the %DV column.
An Ingredients section should be included if the product contains more than 1 ingredient. These are often listed in descending order based on weight and are often listed in percentage of total product. It is wise to look at, at least the first three ingredients listed as thiese will be present in the highest volume.
Ingredients may or may not form part of the nutritional profile or food label itself and may instead be shown on the packaging.
Remember, just because sugar is not included in the list of ingredients doesn’t mean a great deal. There are currently over 24 different names for sugar including Dextrose, Fructose and Sucrose.
How to Find Low Carb Intermittent Fasting Foods at the Supermarket
When you are at the supermarket it’s a good idea to buy most of your supplies from the outside perimeter of the store. Supermarkets tend to stock fresher and less refined foods on the outer radius and the more processed, packaged foods in the aisles.
Think about the last time you bought groceries. Did you notice your dairy, vegetables, meat and seafood products were all located on the perimeter of the store?
That’s not to say everything you find on the outside perimeter is good for you, and that everything you find in the aisles is bad for you. The bakery is one area you will want to avoid that is located on the outside ring of the supermarket. On the other hand you may find a number of organic and healthy food options in the health aisle.
Low Carb Intermittent Fasting Foods
When it comes to consuming low carb intermittent fasting foods there are two key areas to consider.
- 1) What you can consume during your eating window.
- 2) What you can consume during your fasting window
Wait. How can you consume food and drink while fasting?
When it comes to food it’s a little more difficult, if not impossible but in the case of drinks there are a few different options including:
|Water||0 calories||Try to consume at least 2 litres of water each and every day.|
|Sparkling Water||0 calories||Carbon Dioxide may trick your brain into thinking you are full due to filling your stomach with fizzy bubbles.|
|Black Coffee||2 calories per serve||While black coffee does technically contain a very small number of calories as does tea we really are talking small numbers here.|
|Zero calorie energy drinks||0-2 calories per serve||The occasional zero calorie drink is probably not going to do you any harm but consuming them daily as a way of overcoming your fasting periods is a bad idea.|
Zero Calorie Energy Drinks contain a cocktail of chemicals including artificial sweeteners which have dubious health credentials to say the least.
You can also add Stevia to Tea or Coffee as a natural sweetener without incurring any additional calories.
Stevia, Nature’s Sweetener
Stevia can be a useful product for fasting as it contains no calories, does not raise blood sugar levels and is a safe, natural alternative to artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame (better known as Equal or Nutrasweet).
The plant itself, formally known as Stevia Rebaudiana, is part of the Sunflower and Chrysanthemum family. It is indigenous to South America. Stevia is the ground and crystallized form of the Stevia plant. The plant is now cultivated worldwide, including in the United States due to its popularity as an all-natural sweetener,
Its sweetness derives from a compound in the plant known as steviol glycosides. Each of these compounds has a level of sweetness. When the plant is purified, the components are what mainly led to the plant’s sweetness. Stevia itself is known to be 400 times sweeter than traditional sugar.
Are there such thing as Zero Calorie Foods?
Not really. I know in some cases the media has presented this as fact. And it is true there are some high fibre foods that use almost as much energy to digest as they contain. But this does not equate to fasting.
When we fire up the digestion process in our bodies we signal a number of chemicals processes e.g. enzymes responsible for breaking down foods and do not receive the full benefits of fasting. While the same can be said for black coffee and tea the numbers are so low that the impact is negligible.
Low Carb, High Protein Foods
Whenever trying to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet, the single best place to start is with whole foods.
Whole foods low in carbohydrates are not difficult to find, they may even be growing in your garden. When talking whole foods we are talking about fresh vegetables, nuts and berries, meat products, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
Aren’t Dairy products processed?
Yes, they are but the pasteurisation process does not alter the nutritional value of food. As a result dairy products such as milk and cheese also fit comfortably into this category.
What About Fruit?
There are conflicting opinions on fruit consumption. Some low carb practitioners are guilty of demonising fruit while others tend to exaggerate the health benefits.
The truth is moderation is key.
The old adage an apple a day keeps the doctor away is repeated less often nowadays due to the high sugar content found in many fruits. E.g. Grapes can hold as much as 23g of sugar per 100grams and bananas as much as 12g per 100g.
That’s not to say fruit is bad for your health, far from it.
Along with the high sugar content comes a high fibre content which is important for our general health along with any number of beneficial micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) essential for good health. Fruit also has a low Glycemic Index, resulting in a more evenly distributed blood sugar response.
Taking these considerations into account it is better to consider fruit as a ‘sometimes’ food rather than ensuring you are having multiple serves per day. Try to also limit your intake of the higher sugar options such as grapes, bananas, watermelon, pears and mangoes.
At the end of the day when undertaking LCIF you will have limited calories from carbs that you can fit into your day so be smart with your choices while also remembering fruit has many beneficial health aspects.
What about Low Fat Foods?
Low Fat foods typically contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving. Reduced fat generally means less than 25g per serving. You are less likely to see ‘low fat’ emblazoned across food packaging, as food producers become more aware of the popularity of low carb diets. Instead being replaced with ‘low carb’ or ‘high in protein’.
This is good news for those of us interested in LCIF although some of this advertising can be misleading and doesn’t tell the entire story.
What’s the Problem with Low Fat?
When fat is removed from a product sodium (salt), preservatives, thickeners (to maintain texture) and of course, sugar (usually under another name) are often added.
Fructose (Fruit sugars), Dextrose (Corn sugar) and Sucrose (Cain sugar) are some of the alternative names given to sugar include. You can find a full list here.
It’s also important to point out, low dietary fat also does not equal low body fat. The human body is far more complex than most people realise and can convert any excess calories to body fat.
Health Repercussions of Sugar and Fat?
A diet high in sugar, combined with a sedentary lifestyle may lead to conditions such as Pre-Diabetes (a precursor to Diabetes), poor heart health and other conditions associated with inflammation including Cancer.
There is debate about whether high fat diets cause heart disease, particularly saturated fats. It’s fair to say what was once considered fact is now far from settled and at the very least far more complicated than previously thought.
Weight Loss? What wins, Low Fat or Low Sugar
When it comes to weight loss, studies indicate both low fat and low carb diets can be effective. While LCIF has some advantages in regard to muscle retention and a few additional health related benefits low fat diets also can work.
The key here for many is adherence and general health.
In most cases when consuming a low fat diet, you will be consuming a lot more Carbohydrates. Carbs are less satiating than Protein and in the case of refined carbs have a higher Glycemic Index e.g. 70 or higher. Carbohydrates with a high GI are highly processed and stripped of fibre. As a result they tend to leaving you feeling hungry again sooner.
Foods to Avoid
High sugar content junk food is easily identifiable but there’s also a number of so called ‘health foods’ that are best avoided. Fruit juice is a good example of this. Often marketed as a health food, fruit juice in some cases contains up to 28g of carbs per 100 grams and is stripped of fibre unless 100% natural.
For the most part read the label and be on the lookout for:
- Added sugar
- High Sodium content
- Saturated Fats
Avoid foods such as:
- Bread (particularly white bread) and baked goods
- Pasta and white rice
- Soft drinks, fruit juice, beer and sports drinks
- Salad dressings
- Many breakfast cereals and biscuits
- Low fat products (these have a tendency to have a higher volume of added sugars).
- High volumes of fruit especially those higher in sugar such as grapes
- Low Fat Yoghurt (often contains high amounts of added sugars)
Eating a health, balanced diet is easy. There are any number of delicious foods available on a low carb diet. Rather than provide a list of foods for you I hope the information above allows you to make better choices
The best low carb intermittent fasting foods are low in sugar (especially added sugars) and less processed. Remember when grocery shopping to get the bulk of your products from the outside perimeter of the store. Also, make sure to read the nutrition label, paying particular attention to calories per serve, carbohydrate content, added sugars and the %DV.