f you’re following a Paleo or keto diet or just trying to reduce your carb intake, there’s nothing worse than feeling the gnawing hunger pangs after you’ve hit your carb limit for the day. And when carbs are a no-go, even many go-to protein bars and protein shakes are off-limits (some can pack dozens of grams of carbs in a single serving).
But there’s a better way to argue with a growling stomach than surrendering to the allure of cheat day. Instead of giving into hunger and eating the first thing you see, keep these zero-carb options on hand—they’re easy to keep in the kitchen cabinet, easy to find in your grocery store, and easy to take with you on the go. And if you’re getting tired of eating boring old chicken breast, then these work perfectly as a way to switch things up a bit.
Here are our favorite protein-packed, zero-carb, break-in-case-of-emergency foods.
Tinned sardines are not only packed with protein and lots of omega-3 fatty acids, but also portable and easy to stock up on. And as fish go, Atlantic sardines are sustainable and responsibly caught. To stay true to the Paleo guidelines, opt for wild-caught varieties, like Norwegian-caught. Throw them atop a bed of lettuce for a quick mid-afternoon snack or eat them straight out of the can, if you’re feeling daring.
As one of the highest sources of plant-based unsaturated fat, nuts fit well within the parameters of the keto diet. Eating more nuts can even lower the inflammatory markers in your body, according to research. Buying small bags of nuts can get very costly, so buy in bulk or at lower-cost stores (Trader Joe’s, anyone?). If you’re the type of person who eats a whole container of nuts in one sitting, be mindful of these recommended 1-oz serving sizes:
Almonds: 23 nuts, 160 calories, 14g of fat
Pistachios: 49 shelled nuts, 160 calories,13g of fat
Walnuts: 14 halves, 185 calories, 19g of fat
Cashews: 18 nuts, 160 calories, 12g of fat
As a side note: The unsaturated fat in nuts can become rancid when exposed to heat, light, and oxygen, so store nuts in the fridge.
High-quality jerky is a satiating on-the-go option with protein, fat, B vitamins, and omega-3s. Because our Paleo ancestors didn’t have cages to lock up their livestock, all meat in the Paleo lifestyle should be grass-fed. Therefore, hardcore Paleo followers should opt for the more expensive grass-fed jerky, like the EPIC bar. Toss it in your gym bag, and dig in whenever hunger strikes.
Even the most amateur cook can hard-boil an egg. (And if you can’t, they make hard-boiled egg cookers.) One large egg has less than 1g of carbs, 7g of protein, 5g of fat, and 13 essential vitamins and minerals for just 70 calories. Boil a bunch at once and bring them to work for pre-workout fuel. (Just don’t make the faux-pas of tearing into a smelly hard-boiled egg in a room full of people.)
If there’s one food that’s loved by all types of diets, it’s the avocado. Known for its high fat content, avocados are one of the only fruits that have monounsaturated fats. Avocados also contain nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Although people tend to think of apples or bananas as a portable fruit, avocados don’t require refrigeration and won’t make a mess in your bag. Bring one with you and eat it right out of the skin when your stomach starts growling. With almost 300 calories in just one avocado, it will suffice as filling snack.
Bison is quickly becoming known as the healthier red meat, since it has less saturated fat than beef. A 3-oz serving has about 150 calories and 7g of fat, half of which are the “good” kind. And just like beef, bison is an excellent source of B12 and iron. But, since it’s lean, bison is very easy to overcook. Brown up some ground bison at the beginning of the week and throw atop a bed of greens for a quick post-workout dinner. You can mix ground bison with some simple spices, herbs, and garlic, and cook up a batch of bison burgers. Grill them to a temperature that’s a bit underdone, and then throw them on the grill for 5 minutes any night of the week.
Smoked Wild Salmon
The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend eating at least 8 ounces or two servings of fish per week. Yet, a recent survey found that most Americans only eat about one-third of the recommendation. Wild salmon is Paleo- and keto-friendly, but it’s not exactly portable and easy to grab when hunger strikes. That’s where smoked salmon comes in. Made by brining the fish and smoking over time, smoked salmon is preserved and vacuum-sealed into a compact package. It may not be as travel-friendly as tinned sardines, but you can definitely keep some preserved salmon in your fridge for any time of the day with little to no preparation.
Thanks to the generous amount of oil found in olives, they are a high-fat, low-carb snack. Specifically, they are rich in unsaturated fat and a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E. A one ounce serving of olives has about 50 calories and 6g of fat. Brands like Olives sell pre-packaged olives that are easy to transport and lower in sodium (240mg in a bag). They’re easy to eat, store, and carry, so bring them anywhere you think hunger may strike.
BY NATALIE RIZZO, MS, RD