How to Pick Low Carb Dairy Products

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One reason for the popularity of low-carb diets is that once you are used to ingesting a much smaller amount of carbs, you won't feel as deprived as you might on a low-fat and/or calorie-counting diet. When you are snacking on luxuriously creamy cheese instead of empty, crunchy carbs, you almost feel like you're not dieting at all. However, not all dairy products are appropriate for a low-carb diet and it may surprise you to see which ones you need to ration most carefully. Here are some tips to help you.

  • For purposes of low-carb diets, it's helpful to divide dairy products into categories and then acquaint yourself with the best and worst choices within each one. You can consume dairy products on their own as beverages or you also enjoy them in combination with other foods, such as cream for coffee or a sour cream dip for fresh veggies. Finally, you eat stand-alone dairy products as a snack or meal, utilizing them as a primary source of protein. It makes sense to consider them in these three groups.

  • Dairy beverages for a low-carb diet. Many low-carb dieters are surprised to find out that there is virtually no difference in the carb count of whole, 2%, 1% and fat-free milk. An 8-oz. cup of each type of milk has approximately 11.5 grams of carbohydrates! This is because of the amount of lactose it contains. So if you regularly drink milk in any quantity, you will need to do without it for at least the first two weeks of your low-carb diet. The best alternative to milk is soy milk, which can have between 2 and 5 carbs per cup, depending on the brand. You'll need to choose carefully, since most soy milk is sweetened. If you can't find a brand that is sweetened with a sugar alternative, you will need to buy unsweetened soy milk and adjust it to the desired level of sweetness with Splenda. Almond milk has 2 or 3 carbs per cup, but the same issue applies, most varieties are sweetened. A popular substitute for milk, Calorie Countdown, has a mere 3 carbs per cup and is virtually indistinguishable from 2% milk. However, it can be hard to find at the grocery. Yogurt drinks are very high in carbs, so it is best to avoid them completely during your diet.

  • Low-carb dairy accompaniments to food. At Starbucks, dedicated low-carb dieters can enjoy skinny lattes made with Splenda and soymilk, but when enjoying a cup of coffee at home, it makes more sense to lighten it with heavy cream. A tablespoon of heavy cream has slightly under half a carb, an important consideration if you drink coffee or tea throughout the day. Under no circumstances should you ever put evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk in your coffee or tea, as both are extremely high in carbs. If you are having a slice of low-carb toast, by all means enjoy it with real butter. The amount of butter you'll spread on that slice of toast has virtually no carbs, but if you were to use margarine instead, you'd be adding almost as many carbs as the bread. And of course, have all the butter you want with any cooked vegetables. If you have found a breakfast cereal that is relatively low in carbs (Special K qualifies) and want to have cereal and milk for breakfast, use the Calorie Countdown milk. Other dairy products that you typically enjoy with food, such as sour cream on baked potato, or whipped cream on dessert, don't pose much of an issue on a low-carb diet because it's unlikely to include many baked potatoes or desserts. However, a quick, easy and very enjoyable low-carb dessert is to sweeten a cup of Greek yogurt with Spenda and stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of unsweetened strawberries or raspberries. Berries of various types are the fruits that are lowest in carbs.

  • Low-carb dairy foods on their own. For low-carb diets without a lot of time to cook, yogurt and cheese are the mainstays of many a quick meal. However, both must be chosen with care. The carb count of yogurt varies dramatically from one brand to another and is higher for low-fat yogurt than full-fat yogurt. The best yogurt to choose for your low-carb lunch or snack is Greek-style yogurt, such as that manufactured by FAGE, which is strained and has 6 grams of carb per 7-oz. serving. Most of the carbs in yogurt are actually in the whey, so straining produces a lower-carb version. Of course, you need to stick with plain yogurt and sweeten it with Splenda; fruit-flavored yogurt adds in more carbs. Yogurt that contains live cultures (as opposed to yogurt that is merely made with them) may actually be lower in carbs than the label indicates because the bacteria consume some of the lactose. Cheese is more straightforward. In general, soft and semi-soft cheese is lower in carbs, with camembert and brie averaging 6 grams of carbohydrate per ounce. Medium-firm cheeses, such as cheddar and swiss, are slightly higher, at 7 or 8 grams. Be careful with cottage cheese, however; a half-cup serving has 15 grams of carbs.

Tips & Warnings

  • Read labels religiously while using a low-carb regimen. Many foods you consider appropriate may have additives that sends the carb count sky high!

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