Cutting carbohydrates might be your strategy for reclaiming those too-tight jeans. According to the CDC, low carb diets have been growing in popularity over the past 10 years.

While no grain is completely free of carbs, several low carb grain options are out there to support a carb-restricted diet.

Which grains are lowest in carbs? A ranked list

We’ve ranked the carb counts of these grains from lowest to highest:

  1. rye
  2. buckwheat
  3. bulgur
  4. popcorn
  5. wild rice
  6. quinoa
  7. couscous
  8. millet
  9. barley
  10. spelt
  11. teff
  12. oats

Get ’em, rye!

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These grains are the cream of the crop for a low carb count.

Low carb enthusiasts tend to use a food’s net carb count when deciding what to include in their diets, so we’ve included those numbers here.

You can figure out the net carbs using this equation:

Total carbs – fiber = net carbs

The amount and types of grains you include in your diet will mainly depend on how strict your low carb lifestyle is.

1. Oats

Steel-cut and old-fashioned oats can become breakfast staples if you want to check your carb count.

A quarter-cup of steel-cut oats (which makes about 1 cup when cooked) provides:

  • 27 grams of carbs
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • 23 grams of net carbs
  • 5 grams of protein

Oats have the highest carb count of all our low carb grains. It’s best not to include them if you’re following the keto diet — even 1/2 cup of oats will take up a huge chunk of your daily carb allowance.

Instant oats may seem like a great timesaving option, but they’re highly processed. This processing removes many of the grain’s nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and the very filling protein and fiber.

Oats are naturally gluten-free, but gluten contamination can still happen if the oats are processed in a facility that also processes wheat, rye, or barley. Keep an eye out for gluten-free certification on the packaging if that’s a concern for you.

Recipes involving oats can go way beyond your typical oatmeal. Savory oatmeal dishes are also totally delicious.

2. Quinoa

This naturally gluten-free grain (OK, technically a pseudograin) has become popular with the plant-based eating community because of its higher-than-average protein content.

Half a cup of cooked quinoa provides:

  • about 20 grams of carbs
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 17 grams of net carbs
  • 4 grams of protein

Quinoa makes a fantastic stand-in for overnight oats and can be added to salads for a fiber, protein, and texture boost. It’s also a great replacement for higher-carb grains for people on the keto diet.

There’s a whole caboodle of interesting ways to eat quinoa.

3. Rye

Rye flour is one of the most nutrient-dense grains out there, but it’s not the most well known.

Rye bread is the most common way to add rye to your diet (and a great choice, we might add).

One slice of rye bread contains:

  • 15 grams of carbs
  • almost 2 grams of fiber
  • 13 grams of net carbs
  • almost 3 grams of protein

This makes it a clear winner for folks smashing the keto diet.

It also makes a fantastic base for avocado toast and just about any sandwich.

4. Bulgur

Bulgur is versatile. You can sub it in for rice, quinoa, or even your morning oats.

Half a cup of cooked bulgur adds these nutrients to your diet:

  • 17 grams of carbs
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • 13 grams of net carbs
  • 3 grams of protein

Plus, it adds about 80 calories to your daily intake — boom! Bulgur’s net carb count makes it one of the lowest-carb whole grains and a good choice for keto champions looking to boost their grain intake.

5. Millet

Millet comes in a bit lower in the fiber department. Half a cup of cooked millet provides:

  • 20 grams of carbs
  • 1.1 grams of fiber
  • 19 grams of net carbs
  • 3 grams of protein

You can find millet in many packaged grain blends, but it also makes a great breakfast cereal option or a stand-in for rice in this week’s stir-fry.

6. Couscous

Couscous isn’t the most nutrient-dense of the grain options, but it’s at the lower end of the scale when it comes to carb count.

Half a cup of cooked couscous provides:

  • 18 grams of carbs
  • 1.1 grams of fiber
  • 17 grams of net carbs
  • 3 grams of protein

If that side of brown rice is getting you down, switch things up with couscous. Like rice, it’s a blank slate for flavor. Get creative! Couscous is so low carb, they named it twice.

(Hint: It goes great in a stuffed squash or a salad.)

7. Wild rice

Wild rice is almost identical nutritionally to couscous (although it offers a shade more fiber).

Half a cup of cooked wild rice provides:

  • 18 grams of carbs
  • 1.5 grams of fiber
  • 16.5 grams of net carbs
  • 3.2 grams of protein

If you’re looking for an alternative to the same old white or brown rice, this is a denser and nuttier option to try.

8. Spelt

You’re likely to find spelt bread on store shelves. It’s not a bad choice (especially for protein content), but it does have more carbs than some other whole grains.

Half a cup of cooked spelt provides:

  • 25 grams of carbs
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • 21 grams of net carbs
  • 5.3 grams of protein

If you’re looking for spelt bread, make sure you read nutrition labels to check that the first ingredients are whole spelt flour and water. The exact numbers vary by brand, but a 1-ounce slice offers roughly:

  • 12 grams of carbs
  • 1.5 grams of fiber
  • 11.5 grams of net carbs
  • 3 grams of protein

9. Popcorn

Sometimes you want a snack you can eat slowly, one piece at a time, that really hits the spot. Do you even popcorn, bro?

Here are the nutrition stats for 1 cup of popped popcorn (but keep in mind that 1 cup is just a couple handfuls, so you’ll probably eat more than that in a sitting):

  • 6.2 grams of carbs
  • 1.1 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of net carbs
  • 1 gram of protein

A small 2012 study compared feelings of satisfaction after snacking on 1 cup of popcorn, 6 cups of popcorn, or 1 cup of potato chips. Participants reported feeling just as satisfied by 1 cup of popcorn as by 1 cup of potato chips.

One 30-calorie cup of popcorn brings the same satisfaction as a 150-calorie cup of potato chips. *Mic drop*

We’ve got plenty of inventive popcorn recipes for those mid-movie-marathon munchies.

10. Barley

Barley is another versatile grain. Half a cup of cooked barley provides:

  • around 22 grams of carbs
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 19 grams of net carbs
  • 1.7 grams of protein

The amount of protein here isn’t going to fill you up, but the 3 grams of fiber can help you go from feeling famished to full.

Barley has pretty phenomenal street cred as mushrooms’ partner in crime in mushroom barley soup. It can also make a fantastic side dish, serve as a stand-in for risotto, or give a fiber boost to salads.

11. Teff

Your first reaction to reading this heading may have been “WTF is teff?” We get it. Allow us to elaborate.

Teff is an African grain that’s gluten-free and a better source of calcium than almost any other grain.

Half a cup of cooked teff provides:

  • 25 grams of carbs
  • 3.5 grams of fiber
  • 21.5 grams of net carbs
  • 4.8 grams of protein

If gluten-free baking is your jam, teff flour is a great swap for wheat flours. It’s also perfect for those mornings when oats feel kinda blah, and it’s a great replacement for rice.

12. Buckwheat

This gluten-free grain will definitely satisfy and comes in pretty high on the low carb list.

Half a cup of cooked buckwheat provides:

  • 17 grams of carbs
  • about 2 grams of fiber
  • 15 grams of net carbs
  • 3 grams of protein

Soba noodles, traditional in Japanese cuisine, are made entirely of buckwheat and water. They make a great substitute for spaghetti. If the grain train is feeling a bit boring, give soba a try.

Some folks cut carbs to lose weight, and the keto diet is one possible way to do that. Some low carb diets leave plenty of room for healthy whole grains, but the keto diet is pretty restrictive when it comes to carbs.

Grains aren’t a low carb food, TBH. Very low carb diets allow only up to 50 grams of carbs per day. This might mean having to pass on even the most nutritious grains.

Low carb grains like quinoa, popcorn, and rye are great options for keto eaters. Their low net carb counts make them ideal candidates for anyone who wants to get in some whole grains while keeping carbs to a minimum.

If you have any doubts about how certain whole grains might affect your diet, it’s best to chat with a registered dietitian about how best to include them.

Does cutting out grains help you lose weight?

It’s not that simple. Whole grains provide a whole bunch of benefits for your body.

A 2020 study examined the weight loss effects of a diet rich in whole grains over 8 weeks, comparing the weight changes of a group who ate refined grains with those of a group who chowed down on whole grains.

The researchers found that the group who ate whole grains lost more weight and felt fuller due to the grains’ fiber content. Plus, they reaped the benefits of plant compounds and minerals like zinc and magnesium that promote weight loss in other ways.

So, while whole grains are high in carbs, they’re still an important part of a balanced diet, and they can support your weight loss goals.

Be sure to carefully measure portions of whole grains and work out how many net carbs you’re using from your limit.

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Whipping up faux grains is a genius way to reduce your carb intake. Your grains don’t even need to be grains! #sneaky

Cauliflower rice

To quote the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, “Rice is great when you’re really hungry and wanna eat 2,000 of something.” And yes, that also applies when the rice isn’t really rice.

Cauliflower “rice” helps you feel like you’re eating rice — but with a huge carb cut.

A 3/4-cup serving of cauliflower rice provides:

  • 4 grams of carbs
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 2 grams of net carbs

You can incorporate this versatile cruciferous veggie into tons of dishes. One of our favorite uses is swapping it for rice in a traditional Korean bibimbap.

Zucchini noodles

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s spiralized zucchini. And it’s in your mouth, pretending to be spaghetti.

One cup of zucchini noodles provides:

  • 3 grams of carbs
  • 1 gram of fiber
  • 2 grams of net carbs

Spiralized zucchini is a great pasta stand-in (hello, chicken Parm!). But be warned, zucchini contains a lot of water. You may want to drain and salt the zoodles before cooking.

Refined grains lose most of their nutrition when manufacturers remove their germ and bran during processing. These products are typically high in carbs and missing much of their fiber and protein content.

This matters. Protein and fiber fill you up, reducing the urge for hardcore snackage later on. But the extra carbs in refined grains can cause blood sugar spikes — bad news generally, and even worse news for folks with diabetes.

Your body easily breaks down refined carbs, which enter your bloodstream. From there, you either use the carbs for energy or store them as fat.

Replace these high carb grain products

If you’re on a low carb diet, replace these foods with whole-grain alternatives or avoid grains altogether:

These foods have less fiber than whole-grain products, which means they count for more net carbs in your diet.

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If you live with diabetes, low carb grains can be part of a diet that helps you manage blood sugar changes. Eating foods low in simple sugars and high in fiber can help you avoid huge spikes or crashes.

Because fiber slows down sugar absorption, it plays a key role in managing symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting 14 grams of fiber from every 1,000 calories you consume. That means women ages 19 to 30 should get 28 grams per day and men in the same age group should get 34 grams per day. But the numbers vary depending on age and activity level.

To keep on top of your daily fiber needs, nosh on a whole bunch of plant foods, including:

  • whole grains
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • beans and legumes
  • nuts
  • seeds

Grains contain carbs — there’s no getting around that. But if you’re trying to lower your carb intake, some diets leave space for this important food group. And you’ve got plenty of healthy grain options to keep you stocked up.

The best ways to include grains in a low carb diet are to choose whole grains with at least 3 grams of fiber and protein per serving and to focus on their net carb content when factoring them into your daily total.

It’s best to check in with your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting any diet plan. This can help you make sustainable changes and avoid nutrient deficiencies.