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10 Clean, Tasty, Low Carb Alternatives

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

For those battling all-too-common conditions such as excess weight, prediabetes, diabetes, inflammatory digestive system issues (IBD, IBS, diverticulitis, etc.), autoimmune conditions and/or chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis, a smart lower carbohydrate diet is often incredibly therapeutic. [1-19]


But putting a low carb diet into practice is often easier said than done! Of course you can always stick to the standard (but restricted) low carb formula of water, coffee, tea, salt, spices, low calorie veggies, animal proteins and fats/oils like butter, olive oil and avocados. But for those who want to expand their options into “carb-like” foods (ex. bread, cereal, cookies, ice cream, granola, etc.), finding clean and tasty low carb alternatives can prove challenging!


So to help you in your quest I’ve put together an alphabetized list of 10 of my current favorites. Before we dive in let’s define our terms…


CLEAN: With “clean” we’re talking about products that are free (or relatively free) of common allergenic or inflammatory ingredients. This tends to include things like wheat/gluten, soy, peanuts, conventional/non organic eggs, problematic dairy (high lactose, high casein), cane sugar, refined sweeteners, low quality refined seed oils and/or artificial ingredients.


TASTY: This one is totally subjective of course, but in addition to my own experiences eating these foods, we’ll also consider the customer ratings and reviews on popular websites like Amazon, Walmart.com, Target.com and Kroger.com. For an item to make this list they need to have a customer rating of at least out of 5 stars (in my experience food product ratings are largely determined by taste).


LOW CARB: The items that make this list have less than 10g of net carbs per serving. Net carbs are calculated by taking total carbohydrates and subtracting fiber and any sugar alcohols (such as erythritol).


1.BREAD


MY CHOICE: Carbonaut Gluten Free Low Carb Bread (they also make gluten free low carb bagels and pizza crusts).


HOW CLEAN: Very clean. Doesn’t contain any of the more problematic ingredients and is also non GMO.


HOW TASTY: Relatively tasty. If you’re expecting this bread to taste like some of the best sandwich bread you’ve ever had, you’ll likely be disappointed. That said, it tends to get a solid 4 out of 5 stars on sites like Amazon and Target.com because, for a VERY low carb, gluten free bread it’s pretty darn tasty. Pro tip- lightly toasting gluten free breads really helps with the taste and preventing the bread from falling apart.


HOW LOW CARB: Very low carb. At only 1g of net carbs per serving (1 slice) this is one of the lowest carb items on our list. One slice also contains 15g fiber, 1g protein and 2.5g fat per slice.


2.CEREAL (TOP RECOMMENDATION)


MY CHOICE: Catalina Crunch (my favorite flavor is cinnamon toast)


HOW CLEAN: Very clean. Doesn’t contain any of the more problematic ingredients and is also non GMO.


HOW TASTY: Depending on the flavor, relatively tasty. Again, if you’re expecting this cereal to taste just like a sugary, starchy traditional cereal you’re going to be disappointed. That said, it tends to get a solid 4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars on sites like Amazon, Target.com and Kroger.com. I personally love this cereal and will eat it plain or add it to some organic Greek yogurt with some berries and a drizzle of honey for a delicious high protein, high fiber, lower carb snack.


HOW LOW CARB: Low carb at only 5g of net carbs per serving (1/2 cup). A half cup also contains 9g fiber, 11g protein and 5g fat per serving. This high fiber and high protein make Catalina Crunch one of my favorite low carb options.


3.COOKIES



HOW CLEAN: Both Highkey and Catalina cookies are quite clean. Highkey cookies are almond flour based so they may not be recommended for those with moderate to severe Chronic Kidney Disease (stages 3-5) due to the high amounts of oxalates found in almonds. [20-22]


Highkey does have non organic egg as the 7th ingredient (probably won’t be an issue for the vast majority of people). Catalina Crunch has cane sugar as the 5th ingredient.


HOW TASTY: While no one in our house has ever complained about the teste of either brand, the Catalina Crunch cookies have probably been slightly more popular among our family members. That said, Highkey gets the slight edge when looking at reviews from popular online retailers.


HOW LOW CARB: Highkey is lower in net carbs than Catalina Crunch. After adjusting serving sizes to make them equal (24g), the macro breakdown per serving looks like this: Highkey- 1.5g net carbs, 1.5g fiber, 3g protein, 10g fat. Catalina Crunch- 5g net carbs, 3g fiber, 4g protein, 6g fat. So for those wanting to keep carbs as low as possible I’d recommend Highkey over Catalina. But for those dealing with chronic kidney disease (GFR <60) and looking to avoid oxalates, I’d recommend Catalina Crunch over Highkey.


4.DARK CHOCOLATE



HOW CLEAN: In general, a cacao content of 70% or more is needed for a chocolate to labeled a “dark chocolate.” With Lily’s, because they use zero calorie sweeteners like stevia and erythritol, their dark chocolate product is only 55% cacao. So to stay with the >70% cacao dark chocolate standard we’ll be looking at Lily’s extra dark (70% cacao) and extremely dark (85% cacao) chocolate bars. Both bars are very clean and don’t contain any of the more common problematic ingredients.


HOW TASTY: I’ve always really enjoyed Lily’s chocolate bars, and based on the online reviews at Amazon, Target.com and WalMart.com (usually around 4.5 out of 5 stars), so too have most consumers. One of the nice things about Lily’s is that the price is very comparable to other high quality and organic chocolate bars that are significantly higher in carbs.


HOW LOW CARB: Very low carb. Both the extra dark and extremely dark bars only contain 2g of net carbs per serving. The entire 2.8oz bar itself only contains 6g of net carbs. The rest of the macros look like this per serving size: 7-8g fiber, 3g protein, 12-14g fat.


5.GRANOLA


MY CHOICES: NuTrail, Lakanto, Livlo and Munk Pack.


HOW CLEAN: All four of the companies above make keto/low carb granolas that are quite clean. Some (like Lakanto) do offer flavors that contain peanuts (the most common food-related cause of anaphylaxis). [23]


HOW TASTY: All four of these keto granolas are highly rated (usually 4.6-4.8 out of 5 stars), and the vast majority of reviewers have very positive things to say about the taste.


HOW LOW CARB: Very low carb. The macronutrient break-down for most of the low carb/keto granolas made by these 4 companies look something like this: 1-2g net carbs, 3-5g fiber, 3-5g protein and 13-17g fats per serving (usually 1/3 cup, which is generally 30-35g).


6.ICE CREAM


MY CHOICES: So Delicious No-Sugar-Added Fudge Bars & Dipped Vanilla Bean Bars


HOW CLEAN: Very clean. Neither the fudge bars nor the dipped vanilla bars contain any of the more common allergenic/problematic ingredients. And a bonus- the coconut derived ingredients (ex. coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water, coconut oil) are all organic.


HOW TASTY: So Delicious’ no-sugar-added line also includes ice cream, but I didn’t include any of those flavors due to issues with taste and texture (the bars above tend to get significantly better reviews, particularly when it comes to taste, than their ice cream does). Personally, I like the no-sugar-added Mint Chip ice cream from So Delicious. And while I’ve had (and like the taste of) other keto/low carb ice creams (like Rebel), issues with how clean/hypoallergenic their ingredients are is what keeps them off this list for me.


HOW LOW CARB: The fudge bar is the low carb winner at only 3g of net carbs per bar, whereas the dipped vanilla is still much lower than a traditional ice cream bar at only 7g of net carbs per bar. Other macros for both are 3-7g fiber, 1-2g protein and 7-9g fat.


7.KETCHUP & BBQ SAUCE


MY CHOICE: Primal Kitchen Unsweetened Ketchup & BBQ Sauce


HOW CLEAN: Very clean and all organic. It should be mentioned that some research links nightshade veggies (including tomatoes) to inflammatory conditions. If you’ve noticed that consuming tomato products exacerbates your inflammation/joint pain, then you’d want to avoid these products. [24]


HOW TASTY: The ketchup tends to get better reviews (4.5 out of 5 stars) than the BBQ sauce (4/5 stars) on sites like Amazon, Walmart.com and Target.com. For unsweetened ketchups I would also give an honorable mention to two other products: True Made Foods ketchup and Simple Truth No Sugar Added Ketchup.


HOW LOW CARB: Both the ketchup and BBQ have just 2g of net carbs per tablespoon. By comparison, most “regular” ketchups contain around 5g of net carbs per tbsp.


8.PROTEIN BARS



HOW CLEAN: Relatively clean. The Quest double chocolate chunk protein bar is their only bar that doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners. It is an almond-based bar, so those with Chronic Kidney Disease or GFR <60 may want to avoid (due to high oxalates found in almonds).


HOW TASTY: I personally enjoy the taste of Quest bars. Are they the best tasting protein bar? No. Could they taste fresher? Yes. But are they unpalatable? Absolutely not, which is why their online customer ratings are in the 4.4-4.7 out of 5 stars range).


HOW LOW CARB: For a protein bar, very low carb at only 4g net carbs per bar. The rest of the macros look like this- 12g fiber, 20g protein and 7g fat.


9.PROTEIN SHAKES (TOP RECOMMENDATION)



HOW CLEAN: All 5 of the products above are very clean, especially when compared to other protein shakes on the market. The 3 whey-based shakes all use grass fed whey, which tends to cause fewer digestive issues than conventional whey. Many of them use all or mostly organic ingredients and all are non GMO and free of the most common allergens. For those highly sensitive to dairy, the plant based protein shakes are recommended.


HOW TASTY: I personally like the taste of all of these shakes. In looking on online reviews, I’d say that the Orgain and OWYN shakes get the higher marks (usually 4.5-4.8 out of 5 stars) with the Iconic not all that far behind (4.1-4.3 stars).


HOW LOW CARB: Most of these shakes fall in the range of 4-8g net carbs per serving (11-14oz). OWYN is the low net carb winner at 0g of net carbs per shake. The other macros per 11-14oz shake tend to look like this: 1-4g fiber, 20-32g protein and 2-7g fats.


10.TORTILLAS



HOW CLEAN: Very clean. Contains none of the more problematic foods. It is almond flour based, so being high in oxalates it may cause complications for those with moderate to severe chronic kidney disease.


HOW TASTY: I love the taste of these tortillas and based on the feedback from my clients and reviews online (generally 4.5-4.9 out of 5 stars) so do the vast majority of consumers.


HOW LOW CARB: Low carb enough to make this list but these are the “highest” low carb food on this list at 8.5g net carbs per 25g tortilla. The rest of the macros look like this per tortilla: 1.5g fiber, 3g protein and 5.5g of fat.


SUMMARY


DARK CHOCOLATE: Lily’s Chocolates


10 clean tasty low carb alternatives

SOURCES


1 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664869/ (2017 study on numerous benefits associated with a ketogenic diet)

2 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082688/ (2018; carbohydrate insulin model of obesity; “studies tend to show metabolic advantages for low-glycemic load vs low-fat diets.”)

3 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6472268/ (2018 study on ketogenic diets, body composition and metabolic markers)

4 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6251269/ (2018 study on numerous benefits of low carbohydrate diets)

5 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566854/ (2019 study on low carb & keto diets in type 1 & 2 diabetes)

6 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7269727/ (2020 on benefits of smart keto diet)

7 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7425171/ (2020 study of 34 obese participants assigned to either low carb or low fat diet group)

8 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/ (2023 stat pearls on Keto Diet)

9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36811468/ (2023 study of 609 participants with overweight or obesity (aged 18-50y) were assigned to a 12-mo LCD or LFD)

11 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8747023/ (2022; “Multiple studies have shown the beneficial effects of a ketogenic diet on metabolic health and reduced seizure activities. These effects are likely, at least in part, mediated via the gut microbiota.”)

12 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9110973/ (2022; “Low carb diet intervention did not change the diversity and overall structure of gut microbiota. Combining low carb diet with exercise training may have additional benefits on gut physiology. Specific microbial genera were associated with low carb diet and exercise-induced regulation of cardiometabolic health.”)

13 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293577/ (2021; “Keto diet associated gut microbiota reduces the levels of intestinal pro-inflammatory Th17 cells.”)

14 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678592/ (2019; “A few human and animal studies have shown different results demonstrating positive effects on reshaping bacterial architecture and gut biological functions, while others reporting negative effects as a lowered diversity and an increased amount of pro-inflammatory bacteria.”)

15 www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-25190-5 (2018; “Keto diet also increased the relative abundance of putatively beneficial gut microbiota (Akkermansia muciniphila and Lactobacillus) and reduced that of putatively pro-inflammatory taxa (Desulfovibrio and Turicibacter).”)

19 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409724/ (2017 study on the negative physical effects of AGEs, produced endogenously via high blood sugar, oxidative stress and glycation, and exogenously from pollution, smoke, high heat treated and ultra processed foods)

20 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551439/ (2020; “excess oxalate has deleterious effects on kidney function”)

21 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6459305/ (2019; “To limit calcium oxalate stone growth, we advocate that patients maintain appropriate hydration, avoid oxalate-rich foods, and consume an adequate amount of calcium.”)

22 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4891250/ (2017; “We propose that inhibiting oxalate-induced inflammasome activation, or lowering plasma oxalate, may prevent or mitigate progressive renal damage in CKD.”)

23 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005304/ (2010; “Peanuts are a frequent cause of food allergy and the most common cause of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis in the U.S.”)

24 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37202602/ (2023; “Nightshade-derived glycoalkaloid compounds, a key defense mechanism against predation, have been shown to disrupt intestinal epithelium and to potentially activate mast cells in the gut mucosa, leading to adverse symptoms in humans.”)

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