High-Carb Foods to Avoid on a Low-Carb Diet

The carbohydrates your body uses for energy fall roughly into two categories: sugars and starches. Once they hit your bloodstream, both sugar and starch get broken down into simple sugars. While fiber is also a carbohydrate, it’s not broken down during digestion (one reason why it keeps you feeling fuller longer and is beneficial to gut health).

When possible, choose foods that contain complex carbohydrates, heart-healthy fiber, and little to no added sugar. Simple or refined carbohydrates that are primarily from sugar may not be beneficial to your health. While they are easy to digest, they lack the same vital nutrients as complex carbs and often contain high amounts of added sugar. Excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates is also associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

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8 Quick Tips for Avoiding High-Carb Foods

If you’re following a low-carb eating plan, you may want to cut back on your intake of sugary and starchy foods. While most foods and beverages can fit into a healthy, balanced diet, there are certainly more nutritious options available. Here’s a list of high-carb foods to consider limiting if you’re on a low-carb diet, as well as potential substitutions for popular carb-rich foods.

Sugary Drinks

Foods high in sugar are broken down quickly, giving your body a fast energy boost. However, this also rapidly effects your blood sugar levels. While obvious sources of sugar, like candy, are known to provide a quick energy burst (and perhaps a crash), many foods contain added sugars as well.

Soda, Coffee, and Tea

soda
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Soft drinks, flavored coffee drinks, and bottled iced tea are known to be high-sugar beverages that also add calories. But you may not realize how many carbs these drinks can add to your daily intake.

  • A 12-ounce can of regular Coke has 140 calories and 39 grams of carbs (all of which come from added sugar).
  • A 16-ounce (grande) Starbucks latte with whole milk has 230 calories, 19 grams of carbs, and 16 grams of sugar. If you have pumps of flavored syrup added, be aware of the carb count for each flavor. For example, 1 pump of mocha syrup adds around 27 calories, 6 grams of carbs, and nearly 5 grams of sugar.
  • One bottle of Teavana Sparkling Blackberry Lime Green Tea has 80 calories, 20 grams of carbs, and 19 grams of sugar (all of which are added sugars).

Fruit Juice

Fruit juice
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

While generally touted as a healthy choice, most fruit juices are very high in sugar and may not have much nutritional value compared to whole fruits.

For example, one 8-ounce cup of Mott’s 100% Apple Juice has 120 calories, 29 grams of carbs, 28 grams of added sugar, and no fiber. One medium apple has 95 calories, 25 grams of carbs, about 19 grams of sugar, and just over 4 grams of fiber.

Other high-carb, high-sugar fruit juices include:

  • Orange juice: 27 grams of carbs and 20 grams of sugar per cup
  • Cranberry juice: 31 grams of carbs per cup, all of which come from sugar
  • Grape juice: 37 grams of carbs per cup and nearly 36 grams of sugar

Alcohol

Vodka
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you consume alcohol, keep in mind that many popular drinks add calories, carbs, and sugar—especially mixed drinks made with soda, concentrated juice, liqueurs, or syrups.

While a shot of most spirits straight or on the rocks won’t add any carbs, keep in mind that when you add mixers, you add carbs. A rum and coke, for example, has nearly 18 grams of carbs, about 17 of which come from sugar.

Liqueurs are another high-carb add-on to alcoholic drinks. Amaretto has about 19 grams of carbs per 1-ounce serving (2 tablespoons). However, amaretto is one taste you can achieve using sugar-free syrups (such as those manufactured by Torani).

Cocktails can also be very high in sugar and therefore carbs. Swapping traditional mixers for low-carb, sugar-free alternatives can help reduce the drink’s carb content. For example, instead of using peppermint schnapps for holiday cocktails, add a drop or two of peppermint extract.

While the carbs in a bottle of beer will vary by brand, the average for most beers is around 10–12 grams per bottle. As a general rule, the heavier the beer, the more carbs it has (such as stouts, porters, and black lagers).

Low-Carb Alternatives

While plain water is the best choice to stay hydrated, you can also look for sugar-free beverages like flavored sparkling water. Or, try adding sliced citrus, fresh berries, or sprigs of mint to your water bottle to give still water a flavorful kick.

Some lower-carb options for juice include those made from low-carb root vegetables, such as celery. One 8-ounce cup of celery juice has about 7 grams of carbs.

Additionally, some bottled fruit and vegetable juices, such as the V8 brand, can also be lower in carbs if you stick to the 8-ounce serving size. One small cup of V8 has 10 grams of carbs and is lower in sugar than other brands of bottled juice.

However, this choice can also be high in salt. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you might want to skip V8 or look for the low-sodium version.

High-Sugar Fruit

Prunes
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Fruit is part of a healthy diet. Whether fresh or frozen, it contains beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you’re watching your sugar and carb intake, focus on including low-carb fruits (such as berries and summer fruits, like peaches) in your diet.

However, many fruits, such as ripe bananas and figs, are naturally high in sugar. The sugar content can also be influenced by how the fruit is packaged and prepared.

Dried Fruit

While dried fruit contains natural sugar, it’s very concentrated, which is why it's a smart idea to monitor your portion size. Dates, for example, contain 120 grams of carbohydrate per cup and 101 grams of sugar. But a single date has only 6 grams of carbs and 5 grams of sugar.

Some dried fruits with the most carbs include:

  • ​​Apricots: 81 grams of carbs and 69 grams of sugar per cup
  • Prunes: 102 grams of carbs and 61 grams of sugar per cup
  • Raisins: 127 grams of carbs and 104 grams of sugar per cup

Many dried fruits have added sugar—especially when part of granola bars and trail mix.

Canned Fruit

Another potential source of carbs is canned fruit and fruit cocktail cups. These cups are often packed in a sugar syrup (including high-fructose corn syrup), though you can usually get varieties that are not.

  • Del Monte Pear Halves: 15 grams of carbs and 15 grams of sugar per serving
  • Dole Diced Pears in 100% Juice: 18 grams of carbs and 14 grams of sugar per serving
  • Great Value Cherry Mixed Fruit: 17 grams of carbs and 16 grams of sugar per serving

Consider making your own fruit cups, salads, and parfaits at home.

Dairy Products

glass of cow's milk
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Milk, whether whole, low-fat, or nonfat, has about 12 grams of carbs and sugar per cup. The sugar in milk is primarily in the form of lactose. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, this natural sugar is fine to include in your diet and is recommended by nutrition experts.

With other dairy products, such as sweetened yogurt, flavored milk, and ice cream, be aware of added sugars, which can influence the total carb count. 

  • Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream: 52 grams of carbs and 39 grams of sugar per 2/3 cup serving
  • Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Strawberry Yogurt: 25 grams of carbs and 21 grams of sugar per serving
  • TruMoo Chocolate Milk: 24 grams of carbs and 23 grams of sugar per cup

Keep in mind that when ice cream is advertised as “healthy” or yogurts are labeled “low-fat” and “fat-free,” these products will often have added sugar to replace the taste and consistency provided by fat.

If you’re trying to reduce your carb intake, you’ll need to balance the nutritional benefits of milk products (such as being a great source of calcium) with their carb load. If you’re lactose intolerant or prefer non-dairy alternatives such as almond and coconut milk, be sure to choose unsweetened varieties.

Desserts

Ice cream in a bowl
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Cake, ice cream, candy, and other sweets are obvious sources of sugar. Since sweets taste good but aren’t especially filling (or don’t satisfy your hunger for very long), it’s easy to lose sight of portions, and therefore, carbs.

  • Brach’s Classic Jelly Beans: 30 grams of carbs (all of which are sugar) per 14 pieces
  • Original Klondike Bar: 29 grams of carbs and 23 grams of sugar
  • Skittles: 56 grams of carbs and 47 grams of sugar per 2.17-ounce bag
  • Wegmans Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cupcake: 76 grams of carbs and 62 grams of sugar
  • Yellow cake with chocolate frosting: 36 grams of carbs and 25 grams of sugar per slice of an 18-ounce cake

You don’t have to completely avoid your favorite treats, even on a low-carb diet. In addition to keeping an eye on portions and enjoying sweets in moderation, there are plenty of recipes and swaps you can use for low-carb desserts.

Candy Bars and Snacks

Chocolate
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you’re looking for something quick, affordable, and convenient to grab when you’re at work or on the road, you might be tempted to reach for a candy bar or granola bar. While some are advertised as healthy, all candy bars are inherently high in sugar—even those sweetened with dried fruit and made with whole grains.

  • Cherry Pie LÄRABAR: 28 grams of carbs and 20 grams of sugar
  • Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Luna Bar: 26 grams of carbs and 9 grams of sugar
  • Kind Maple Cinnamon Breakfast Protein Bars: 28 grams of carbs and 10 grams of sugar per pack
  • Kit Kat: 27 grams of carbs and 22 grams of sugar per bar
  • Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Clif Bar: 43 grams of carbs and 21 grams of sugar
  • Snickers Bar: 35 grams of carbs and 29 grams of sugar
  • York Peppermint Patties: 34 grams of carbs and 27 grams of sugar per patty

Processed Foods

Manufacturers know that many people are naturally inclined to find sweet-tasting foods more pleasing to their palates. Products you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being sweet often have sugar added to them—everything from breakfast cereal to ketchup and salad dressings.

When you’re shopping or eating out, it’s important to know that the food industry has come up with many creative ways to say "sugar." If you’re trying to cut down on sugar, check the nutrition label on everything you buy. Added sugars are sometimes hidden sugars—that is, sugar by another name.

If ingredients like molasses, honey, agave, barley malt, or maltodextrin appear on a food label, the product contains sugar.  

Read Nutrition Labels

If you’re watching your carbs, take note when sugar-containing ingredients are found near the top of the list on a food's nutrition label or if there is more than one. If either (or both) is true, you’ll know the food is high in carbs as well as sugar.

Highly processed foods, like most breakfast cereals and foods made with white flour or other refined carbohydrates, are among the most prevalent sources of sugar. These foods also tend to be high in additives, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients that don’t offer any of the nutritional benefits of whole foods.

Manufactured ingredients and additives may even have negative health effects, particularly in children. Some people experience gas and bloating as a result of sugar substitutes like aspartame.

Breakfast Cereals

While products like fruity breakfast cereals marketed to kids are obvious sources of sugar, many seemingly healthy brands are relatively high-carb—especially if you’ve overestimated portion size.

  • Frosted Mini Wheats: 47 grams of carbs and 11 grams of carbs per half-cup serving
  • Grape Nuts: 47 grams of carbs and 5 grams of sugar per cup
  • Honey Bunches of Oats: 24 grams of carbs and 6 grams of sugar per 3/4-cup serving
  • Kellogg's Frosted Flakes: 53 grams of carbs and 31 grams of sugar per half-cup serving
  • Kellogg’s Raisin Bran: 46 grams of carbs and 18 grams of sugar per cup

Condiments

Condiments, including salad dressing, can also be high in carbs and sugar.

  • Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette: 11 grams of carbs and 9 grams of sugar per 2-tablespoon serving
  • Heinz Ketchup: 5 grams of carbs and 4 grams of sugar per 2-tablespoon serving
  • Newman’s Own Honey Dijon Mustard Dressing: 7 grams of carbs and 5 grams of sugar per 2-tablespoon serving
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce: 18 grams of carbs and 16 grams of sugar per 2-tablespoon serving

Keeping an eye on portion size helps, but the best way to avoid added calories, carbs, and sugar is to make your own dressing. Homemade dressing also gives you more control over the ingredients and portions, and you can easily keep your pantry stocked with low-carb condiments.

Balsamic vinaigrette you can make at home only has about one gram of carb per tablespoon.

High-Starch Foods

Starches are long strands of glucose the body breaks down into sugar. Many foods high in starch have low-carb alternatives or substitutions you can incorporate into your diet. 

Starchy Vegetables

Potatoes
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Vegetables are packed with nutrition and are a good source of fiber, so you should include them in your diet. Focus on choosing low-carb vegetables and mind your portions when including starchy ones. 

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and corn are examples of high carb, starchy vegetables. An easy way to evaluate how starchy a vegetable is to consider it from the root up.

Root vegetables and seeds have the most starch, followed by the fruits of the plant, with stems and leaves having the least.

Flour

Bagel
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Foods made with white or whole wheat flour, such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, pretzels, bagels, crackers, donuts, cakes, cookies, and pastries, are high in starch.

  • Auntie Anne’s Original Soft Pretzel: 65 grams of carbs
  • Challah bread: 21 grams of carbs per thick slice
  • Dunkin' Donuts Glazed Donut: 33 grams of carbs
  • Panera Bread plain croissant: 27 grams of carbs per serving
  • Spaghetti: 40 grams of carbs per cup (cooked, plain)
  • Starbucks Plain Bagel: 56 grams of carbs
  • Wheat Thins crackers: 32 grams per single-bag serving

For lower-carb flour alternatives for baked goods, use those made from nuts or seeds, such as almond flour. Baked goods made with whole grains can be a healthy choice as well.

Carbs in Flour
White

107 grams

Wheat

86 grams

Almond

24 grams

Per cup

Whole Grains

Quinoa
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Rice, barley, oats, quinoa, and other whole grains are high in starch. Even those with health benefits, such as oatmeal, still add carbs. However, these options also have more fiber, making them a better choice than processed grains. If you're not following a low-carb diet, health experts recommend including nutrient-rich whole grains as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Cinnamon roll oatmeal: 50 grams of carbs per serving
  • Long grain brown rice: 52 grams of carbs per cup, cooked
  • Oats: 26 grams of carbs per cup, cooked with water
  • Pearled barley: 44 grams of carbs per cup, cooked
  • Quinoa: 39 grams of carbs per cup, cooked
  • White rice: 53 grams of carbs per cup, cooked

The best way to avoid overloading your carb intake is to watch your portion size and include these foods thoughtfully in your meal planning. If you choose to include grains in your diet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends making at least half of your grain consumption whole grains.

Legumes

Chickpeas
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Beans and peas are high in carbs, but your body digests this type of starch more slowly—especially when the beans haven’t been canned or pureed. These resistant starches help you feel full and won’t cause spikes in blood sugar.

Common beans and legumes that are higher in carbs include:

  • Adzuki beans: 28 grams of carbs per half-cup serving
  • Garbanzo beans/chickpeas: 17 grams of carbs per half-cup serving
  • Navy beans: 24 grams of carbs per half-cup serving
  • Pinto beans: 22 grams of carbs per half-cup serving
  • White beans: 19 grams grams of carbs per half-cup serving

If you’re paying attention to the Glycemic Index (GI) of the foods you eat, legumes are a great low-GI food and are loaded with important vitamins and minerals.

A Word From Verywell

If you're following a low-carb diet for health reasons or to lose weight, it's important to familiarize yourself with both high-carb and low-carb foods to help keep your diet balanced. You don’t necessarily want to eliminate foods that are also high in nutritional value, but you may need to watch your portions, especially if you are managing your blood sugar or a medical condition like diabetes.

If you're interested in trying a low-carb diet but aren't sure where to begin, consult your physician or a registered dietitian who can help you develop a smart, well-balanced eating plan that ensures you get enough vital nutrients. Whenever possible, get your carbs from whole food sources rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as whole grains, legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and fruit.

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