Condiments for the Low-Carb Pantry

Stocked shelves in grocery store aisle
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For people on a low-carb diet, the list of foods you can't eat can seem endless. However, if you focus on fresh produce and lean protein, your cravings for starches and grains may diminish. Another trick is to incorporate a variety of flavors to keep your food interesting and tasty. This is where pantry items come in. For instance, condiments like vinegar, mustard, hot sauce, garlic, chicken broth, and mayonnaise made with olive oil have virtually no carbs.

You should also make it a habit to read food labels and get familiar with sugar's many disguises so you know what to remove from your pantry.

Healthy Fats for Cooking

If you're on a low-carb diet, you know you need to incorporate healthy fats into your cooking and recipes. Some fats have higher nutritional value than others. These include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Ghee (clarified butter, which does not include the milk solids)

Most low-carb diet authors say to avoid oils that are high in omega-6 fats (soy, corn, most safflower, and sunflower). Partially hydrogenated oils should always be avoided as they contain trans fats.

Adding Flavor With Condiments

Many condiments are riddled with all kinds of sugar. Keep the following low- or no-carb condiments on hand to give your food flavor:

  • Mustard, with the exception of sweetened mustards, especially honey mustard
  • Cider and wine vinegars. You can also explore many infused vinegars but be sure to check for carbs in any fruit vinegar.
  • Dried herbs and spices. With the exception of some mixtures that have added sugar, all are acceptable.
  • Fresh herbs such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley
  • Seasoning salts and peppers
  • Coconut milk
  • Nut and coconut flours for baking and breading
  • Most bottled hot sauces, such as Tabasco
  • Most salsas
  • Soy sauce or tamari
  • Mayonnaise. Look especially for brands high in monounsaturated fat, rather than polyunsaturated fat and avoid soy oil if possible.
  • Sugar-free salad dressings, preferably brands high in monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil (check labels carefully).
  • Capers
  • Horseradish
  • Pesto
  • Lemon or lime juice (1 gram of carb per tablespoon)
  • Extracts (vanilla, lemon, almond, etc.)
  • Chicken, beef, or vegetable broth or bouillon
  • Low-carb ketchup
  • Dill pickle relish
  • Sugar-free sweet pickle relish
  • Low carb jams and preserves (check labels)

    Snacks on the Go

    Eating a low-carb diet doesn't have to mean constant food preparation and cooking from scratch. There are many commercially available snacks you should keep on hand, in addition to fresh produce, to satisfy hunger in a pinch. For all of the following, read food labels carefully to spot added sugar and starch: 

    • Some nutrition bars
    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Some jerkies, such as beef, turkey, or salmon
    • Nuts and nut butter

    What to Toss

    Knowing what not to eat is as important as knowing what you can eat. Some unlikely suspects of hidden sugars include balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. Also, you'll want to keep things simple for yourself by ridding your pantry of the following low-carb no-nos:

    • Regular ketchup
    • Tomato-based chili sauce and cocktail sauce (unless it's sugar-free)
    • Salad dressings with sugar
    • Tartar sauce
    • Plum sauce, sweet and sour sauce, oyster sauce
    • Teriyaki sauce
    • Steak sauce (most)
    • Many sauces, including barbecue, have a lot of sugar 
    • Jams, jellies, preserves
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