Low-carb food shopping (UK)

Low carb shop UKSwitching to a low-carb diet is a major lifestyle change. Getting used to shopping the low-carb way is essential to your diet’s success.

Most of us perform regular tasks such as shopping without thinking. We just act out of habit, buying similar things over and over again.

If you are used to structuring your meals around pasta and potatoes, you need to learn new habits.

This post provides guidance on buying low-carb foods in the UK.

These tips are for people who have recently started a low-carb, moderate to high-fat diet. I assume you are not a vegetarian (being a passionate carnivore myself, I don’t really have any advice that would be of use to vegetarians).

Always consult the guidelines of your chosen low-carb diet plan, as there may be variations in specific permitted foods.

Carb count info. I provided approximate carb counts for each food group. Except for zero-carb foods like meats and fats, provided carb counts are a guideline only – always use your carb counter book or app, and check food labels for precise carb counts.

Animal proteins

Animal protein foods Net carbs per 100g
All fresh meat, poultry and fish 0g
Shellfish, offal 2-4g
Eggs 1

Meats low-carb diet All meat, fish, and poultry contain zero carbs and are the perfect staple foods in low-carb diets.

If you can afford it, opt for organic free-range produce, preferably from a local farm rather than a supermarket.

Quality and flavour will be better. But it will cost you more than standard supermarket meat. I believe that this extra expense is worthwhile. But it obviously depends on your budget and lifestyle.

Always buy fresh, unprocessed varieties, with nothing added. If a food has been processed, marinated, or had a sauce added to it, then extra carbs and chemical preservatives can sneak in.

Avoid anything breaded or battered, as that adds carbs. So fish fingers don’t count as fish.

One way of spending less without compromising on quality is getting frozen meat or poultry in big packs. Fish tinned in brine or oil is another good way to save. Eggs are also a great inexpensive source of protein. 

Note on shellfish – Be aware that some shellfish (mussels, octopus, scallops) and offal meat (liver, kidneys) have a small amount of carbs, usually about 2-4g per 100g. This matters if you are on a strict low-carb plan such as Atkins Induction or Keto.

There are thousands of ways to cook animal proteins. I find the most convenient ways for me are usually pan-frying, roasting and slow-cooking.

My personal shopping list includes the following:

  • Nice treats: Beef steaks, beef rib roast, duck breasts, fresh shellfish, fresh whole fish
  • Average every-day options: Chicken (whole bird, breasts), lamb (chops, leg, rolled shoulder), pork (chops or steaks), salmon or cod fillets, minced meats (ensure there is nothing added), seafood or fish-pie mix, smoked salmon and mackerel, eggs
  • Budget options: Tinned tuna and salmon, chicken legs, pork belly, chicken or duck livers

Good low-carb choices
Any fresh (or frozen and tinned with no additives) unprocessed meat, fish, poultry, seafood, eggs, offal

Bad low-carb choices
Anything processed, breaded or covered in sugary sauce

Vegetables on a low-carb diet

Vegetables Net carbs per 100g
Green leafy vegetables and salad vegetables (e.g. salad leaves, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes) 1-4g
Low-carb tubers (e.g. turnips, swede) 3-7g

green-low-carb-vegetables Contrary to what journalists tell you, non-starchy vegetables are another staple of a low-carb diet.

Vegetables will step into the void left by potatoes, rice and pasta, to provide some company for your proteins.

They do contain some carbs, about 2-7g per 100g. Do keep an eye on quantities if you are on a very low-carb plan.

Generally speaking, any vegetable that’s green in colour is usually low in carbs. This includes all salad and leafy greens – lettuces, spinach, kale, pak choi, salad herbs. Other green-coloured heroes are cabbages, green beans, broccoli, okra, courgettes, cucumbers, green peppers, spring onions, asparagus. Avocado is also good.

Non-green salad vegetables such as tomatoes, radishes and bean sprouts are also low in carbs.

Other non-starchy vegetables that provide a good alternative to chips and roast potatoes are cauliflower, aubergines, butternut squash, pumpkin and mushrooms. More about low-carb potato substitutes

I am jealous of Americans posting recipes with spaghetti squash, but it’s hard to find this elusive vegetable in the UK. Apparently some branches of Waitrose have it.

Stay away from root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots, as they tend to be much higher in carbs. Potatoes are definitely a no-go!

If you are on a budget, buy frozen vegetables – they tend to be cheaper than fresh.

Check the guidelines of your low-carb diet to see which specific vegetables are permitted, or get a carb counter book or app that you can consult on the go.

Here are some further posts from previous years about low-carb vegetables:

Good low-carb choices
All vegetables that are green in colour, salad vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, squashes, mushrooms, onions

Bad low-carb choices
Root vegetables, potatoes

Fruit on a low-carb diet

Fruit Net carbs per 100g
Popular fruit 10g-25g
Berries 3g-8g
low-carb-fruit-berries

Watch out for fruit! It masquerades as the ultimate healthy food.

But most fruit contain quite a lot of sugar and so don’t fit with the low-carb lifestyle.

Berries are lower in carbs and are a much better choice.

Plums are ok for moderate low-carb plans, with about 5-7g net carbs per plum.

Lemons (obviously not the sweetest of fruit!) have a strong taste and lots of vitamin C – if you are craving fruit flavours, have some lemon-flavoured water or try a lemon-infused sugar-free dessert, like this low-carb lemon tart.

Stay away from fruit juices and smoothies. They are even worse than fresh fruit, as they strip out the fibre, increasing proportion of sugar. Make your own smoothie with yoghurt and fresh crushed berries.

Dried fruit such as raisins, dates or apricots are very high in sugar.

Good low-carb choices
Berries, rhubarb, plums

Bad low-carb choices
Most sweet-tasting fruit, fruit juices, dried fruit

Low-carb dairy

Dairy Net carbs per 100g
Full-fat dairy 2-6g
low-carb-dairy

The general rule of thumb is that the higher the fat content, the lower it is in carbs. Stay away from anything that’s labelled as low-fat! That’s usually done at the expense of higher carb content.

High-fat dairy like cream and cheese are perfect for boosting your diet’s fat macro.

It is vital to get lots of fat into your low-carb diet – you should aim to replace most of the calories you used to get from carbs with fat, rather than with protein. You have to eat fat to burn fat!

Good low-carb options:
Butter, cheeses, double cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sugar-free yoghurt

Bad low-carb options:
Anything labelled as low-fat

Fats and oils on a low-carb diet

Fats and oils Net carbs per 100g
Vegetable and animal fats 0g
oils-fats-low-carb

Most fats and oils have zero carbs. You can use them liberally to ensure that you get sufficient amounts of fat.

Some diet plans have specific recommendations on preferred types of fats and oils. There is an ongoing debate about oils with high Omega-6 content.

Adding fat to low-carb meals makes them lovely and rich. Use fat when cooking and dress your meals with oil and butter.

Make your own salad dressings with pure oils, vinegars and spices. Don’t trust ready-made dressings – even if they look like oil, they might have something sugary lurking within.

Always choose butter over processed spreads and margarines. As with dairy, avoid anything that’s labelled low-fat.

Good low-carb choices
Butter, olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil

Bad low-carb choices
Processed hydrogenated fats, margarine

Nuts and seeds on a low-carb diet

Nuts and seeds Net carbs per 100g
Most nuts and seeds 2-8g
low-carb-nuts-seeds

Most nuts and seeds have a reasonably low carb content, so they make a good low-carb snack.

Nuts are lower in carbs than seeds. But they are very high in calories and omega-6 oils, so take care not to eat too much.

This is especially important if you use ground nuts for low-carb baking.

Flaxseeds (also known as linseed in the UK) are a low-carb superfood – very low in carbs, high in protein and fibre. Flaxseeds are a popular low-carb baking ingredient. The flavour is quite strong and needs some getting used to (or masquerade it with other strong flavours, like hers and spices). But the nutritional profile is fantastic.

Good low-carb choices
Macadamia, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, flaxseeds

Bad low-carb choices
Cashews, pistachios, chestnuts

Low-carb baking and desserts

Low-carb baking and dessert ingredients Net carbs per 100g
Nut flours (almond, coconut, sesame) 6-15g
Sugar substitutes 0g
Sugar-free chocolate and cacao 10-15g
low-carb-chocolate-desserts

Yes, you can still have desserts, breads and baked goodies when on a low-carb diet!

But you will need to use low-carb ingredients and slightly different methods than with traditional recipes.

There are low-carb equivalents for most traditional high-carb ingredients, for example:

Have a look at our guides to low-carb baking and low-carb desserts. I also did a blog on how to avoid common low-carb baking problems.

Good low-carb choices
Nut flours (almond, coconut), sweeteners (Stevia, sucralose, erythritol), sugar-free chocolate, sugar-free cocoa powder

Very, very bad low-carb choices
Sugar, grain-based flours. These two items epitomise high-carb and are basically the devil incarnate. Avoid them always and at all costs.

So you think you know your carb counts?

Take our quick low-carb food quiz to check.

Further reading

Low-Carb Food Guides

Low-Carb Recipes

 

low-carb-food-shopping

 

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14 comments on “Low-carb food shopping (UK)

  1. I’m a fish- and dairy-eating vegetarian but have been put off low carb diets by pictures of loads of meat but thanks to your useful tips I have been encouraged to give it a try. Many thanks!!

  2. Thanks for this! I’m UK based and all the US based low carb shopping advice sites has been filled with things we can’t get!

  3. Keep up the work for uk based approach.
    Suprised how much you need to learn or pay attention to,rather than just blagging it.
    Im a fat truck driver,keto with inermittent fasting is working a treat
    P.S for sweet drink addicts like the missus.
    ALPRO Coconut chocolate milk is the solution.even hot.better than those coffee mocha sachets!

  4. This is fantastic!!! At last, information from a British source. So many of the websites and cook books for LCHF are American or from Australia and New Zealand so brands and ingredients are hard to come by. Now i can really get to work in the kitchen 🙂

  5. I’ve been eating low/carb since 2 months and lost 10 pounds so far. I’m wheat free and only have berries every second day and some dark chocolate (80% cacao) once in awhile, this is my sugar intake. I started this way of eating because I suffer from Lipoedema/Lipedema which is a rare fat disorder affecting mostly women and I was told that it would help manage my condition and it does!
    Low Carb Diet

  6. very informative thanks! the only thing I dont see mentioned is sugar free jello you can splurge with a dollop of heavy cream for only 2 carbs a serving.

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