Must-Have Items for Your Low-Carb Grocery List

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When you’re on a low-carb diet, a trip to the grocery store can be overwhelming—especially if you’re trying to avoid processed items and refined carbohydrates. Your local grocery may not have an easy to spot aisle dedicated to low-carb options, but as long as you know what to look for (and what to steer clear of) you can create a helpful shopping list that will serve as a guide.

Once you get your groceries home and put away, the frustration may pop up again on days when you’re flat-out busy and don’t have the time or energy to cook up a meal. If you have a pantry, freezer and refrigerator stocked with low-carb options, you'll be armed to create a quick, balanced, and tasty meal even when your pressed for time.

Low-Carb Foods

The USDA 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates. For someone who is ingesting 2000 calories per day this equates to 900–1,300 calories or 225–325 grams of carbohydrates per day. There are several types of low-carbohydrate diets. For example, there may be one that requires that less than 50% of your calories come from carbohydrates. There are also keto diets where carbohydrate intake doesn't exceed 50 grams per day and can be as low as 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.

Some nutrition experts indicate that a very low-carbohydrate diet would include about 21g to 70g of carbs per day and a moderately low-carbohydrate diet would include 30% to less than 40% of total calories from carbs.

Before going grocery shopping, research recipes with macronutrient information to help you build a grocery list that fits your individualized low-carbohydrate diet. This will decrease stress that may be associated with grocery shopping. Consider recipes containing rich sources of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. When you're shopping, be sure to check the nutrition labels. For the products you're considering, check total carbohydrates, sodium, and saturated fat content before you buy. Even though you're following a low carbohydrate diet, you should also consider other healthy nutrients.

When you’re reducing your carb intake, meals consisting mostly of protein and fat with some carbohydrates are crucial to ensuring your body is getting adequate nutrition. Remember, your goal is low-carb—not no carbs.

While the main focus of your diet will be low-carb meals that are high in protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables, leave room for occasional, small servings of carb-containing foods like whole grains and fruits.

With these guidelines in mind, here’s a low-carb grocery list to help guide you as you shop for everything you’ll need to create nutritious, easy, low-carb meals.

Produce

According to a review published under the USDA, diets rich in dark leafy greens helps with heart health and prevents some types of cancer.

There are no limitations on how many non-starchy vegetables you can eat on a low-carb diet, so the produce aisle will be one of your favorite places to shop. Opt to load up on frozen vegetables, too, as they are frozen at peak freshness and can offer a quick and nutritious option on busy days and nights. Try loading up your cart with these options:

While you're in the produce aisle, look for fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, and oregano, which you can use to add flavor to meals and beverages. If you cannot find fresh, it is okay to purchase the dried version as they last longer, especially if the fresh herbs end up going to waste in your refrigerator.

Fruit can be a little trickier on a low-carb diet. Some types of fruit can have 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving. When you're choosing fruit, reach for fresh or frozen berries and melon which contain the lowest amount of carbohydrates for the largest volume.

Meat, Poultry, Seafood, and Eggs

A well-rounded low-carb meal will include a rich protein source. Animal products contain vital nutrients, such as essential amino acids, vitamin B12, heme iron, and omega-3 fats predominantly found in seafood.

For a low-carb breakfast, eggs are an inexpensive, quick, and easy option. They're also a source of B vitamins as well as choline, which boosts brain health. Try a hard-boiled egg, which has 6g of protein, 78 calories, and 0.6g of carbohydrates as a snack or salad add-in.

For lunch and dinner protein, think carefully about the types of meat you choose as well as how you prepare it. For example, consumption of processed meats has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Having a steak or adding bacon to your breakfast are best as an occasional treat rather than a dietary staple. Note that the World Cancer Research Fund recommends consuming little, if any, processed meats.

For easy low-carb, protein-packed snacks you can eat on the go, try:

Dairy

Milk and milk products are permitted on a low-carb diet, but some options will be lower in carbohydrates than others. Avoid flavored milk which is high in sugar; one cup contains almost 12 grams of carbs which comes from the milk sugar, lactose. Flavored milk, like chocolate milk, will be higher in carbs. When you’re at the dairy case, look for these options instead:

  • Full-fat milk and cream
  • Non-dairy milk alternatives such fortified almond or cashew milk. For higher protein choose unsweetened fortified soy milk
  • Butter
  • Cottage cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Cheeses
  • Ricotta
  • No-sugar-added yogurt (note that Greek yogurt contains more protein)

Fats and Oils

Whether you're eating low-carb or not, foods with partially hydrogenated oils are best enjoyed in moderation. These oils contain trans fats, which increase harmful LDL cholesterol and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Sources of healthy, unsaturated fats to include on your low-carb grocery list, include:

  • Nuts: unsalted varieties of pistachios, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, cashews, or almonds
  • Oils: olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil
  • Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, ground flax seed, or chiaseed
  • Nut butters (almond, cashew)
  • Avocados

Frozen Foods

Most of the foods you'd find in the produce aisle can also be purchased frozen. Having bags of frozen veggies on hand to toss in a quick stir fry or berries to add to a breakfast smoothie are convenient, tasty, and packed with nutrition.

Grains and Legumes

Grains, such as rice, oats, quinoa, millet, and amaranth, as well as legumes such as lentils, beans, and chickpeas, are high in carbohydrates: one half-cup of cooked brown rice has 23 grams of carbs. These foods won't be a staple of your low-carb diet, but when you do have them, stick to small portions (1/4 to a 1/3 cup).

Try these low-carb swaps instead, especially if you enjoy baking.

  • Coconut flour
  • Flour made with flax
  • Almond flour and meal

Learn about The Best High-Fiber and Low-Carb Foods

Condiments and Shelf-Stable Items 

Low-carb condiments, spices, and dips can be a creative and versatile way to dress up the foods you eat regularly. Changing up the taste and texture of your low-carb diet standbys can help prevent boredom and curb cravings.

Fill your pantry with these low-carb friendly additions—many of which will keep for a long time, so you can buy in bulk.

  • Full-fat mayo
  • Sugar-free ketchup and barbecue sauce
  • Soy sauce (unless you are watching your sodium intake)
  • Pesto
  • Mustard
  • Broth or bouillon
  • Spices
  • Hot sauce
  • Olives
  • Vinegar
  • Guacamole
  • Hummus
  • Yogurt dip
  • Low-carb tortillas
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder
  • Unsweetened soy, coconut, almond, rice, or hemp milk

Partially hydrogenated oils should always be avoided as they contain trans fats, which increase harmful LDL cholesterol and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol. As of January 1, 2021 there should be no added partially hydrogenated oils according to an FDA requirement. However, it is important to note that partially hydrogenated oils occur naturally in small amounts in dairy, meats, and other edible oils.

Deli Counter

The deli counter can be a great place to find low-carb foods. Rotisserie chicken is one healthy, take-home option—especially if you’re planning meals for your family.

If you don't need the entire chicken, order a portion-sized serving of grilled salmon and an extra-thick slice of roast beef, pastrami, or turkey breast instead. You can also go for tuna, chicken, or shrimp salad which can be eaten as a meal on their own or wrapped in a low-carb tortilla or lettuce cup.

Prepared foods like crab cakes or meatloaf can be packed with hidden carbs. Unlike packaged items, you may not have the nutritional information and ingredients right in front of you to check. This is also the case for salad bar items, especially dressings (which can be high in sugar).

Ask the deli counter employees about nutrition and ingredients for products you are considering before you buy.

Salad Bars

Salad bars can be an even better place to create a grab-and-go meal, and you can mix and match to your own tastes and dietary preferences. You can also head over to the condiment aisle and check the labels on your favorite dressing, then buy a bottle to take home and add yourself.

When building your salad, choose mixed greens, spinach, or kale as these leafy greens contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Don't skimp on the protein: add a proper serving of cubed chicken, tuna, beans, tofu, or a hard-boiled egg. You may want to pass on cubed ham, however, which is often cured in sugar.

Other Foods

You don't have to search endless aisles and labels to complete your low-carb, take-home meal. A general set of guidelines is often enough to guide you through your list. For more creative snack options, look to these ideas next time you hit the grocery store:

  • Pre-cut vegetables with a guacamole or hummus dip
  • Sugar-free yogurt and fresh berries
  • Low-carb fruits
  • Individually wrapped cheeses like Mini-Bel or Mini-Gouda
  • Black or stuffed olives
  • Deviled eggs or whole boiled eggs, often found in the cheese case
  • Sugar-free gelatin cups
  • Sliced tomato with mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar
  • Buffalo chicken wings made with hot sauce and spices (no sugar-based, sticky sauces)
  • Roasted seaweed snacks
  • Parmesan cheese crisps
  • Dried roasted edamame
  • Kale chips
  • Cauliflower crackers
  • Cauliflower flats
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut wraps
  • Nut crackers
  • Tapenade
  • Nut bars
  • Chia bars
  • Coconut chips
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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. PDF. USDA

  2. Warshaw, Hope, MMSc, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, FAADE, Smithson, Toby, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, CCP. Very Low-Carbohydrate Diets. Today's Dietitian. November 2018. Vol. 20, No. 11, P. 28

  3. Blekkenhorst LC, Sim M, Bondonno CP, et al. Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Specific Vegetable Types: A Narrative ReviewNutrients. 2018;10(5):595. Published 2018 May 11. doi:10.3390/nu10050595

  4. Brown Rice. USDA FoodData Central 4/1/2019. 

  5. Limit red and processed meat. World Cancer Research Fund International 

  6. de Souza RJ, Mente A, Maroleanu A, et al. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ. 2015;351:h3978. Published 2015 Aug 11. doi:10.1136/bmj.h3978

  7. Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Removing Trans Fat). U.S. FDA. Updated 05/18/2018