Can you have bread on a low-carb diet?
How to bake your own low-carb bread from scratch or from mix (or buy ready-made if you can't be bothered)
What was your biggest food worry when you first decided to go low-carb?
Mine was having to live without bread. Bread is the quintessential high-carb food, so there was definitely no place for it in a low-carb diet, right? Wrong!
Bread doesn't have to disappear from your life on a low-carb diet - it just has to evolve into a low-carb form.
Can low-carb bread taste the same as “normal” bread?
Well – yes and no. It won’t be exactly the same, especially the texture. Low-carb bread is usually heavier and denser than standard bread.
However, it will let you keep things like sandwiches and toast in your low-carb diet, so that you can get over the separation from carbs. Once you get used to low-carb bread, you might actually prefer it.
Some photos of typical low-carb bread slices are below:
So how can you get low-carb bread?
There are three obvious ways:
1) Buy ready-to-eat low-carb bread from a specialist bakery or a low-carb shop
Pros: very quick and easy – no effort required on our part
Cons: you don't really know what’s inside – you would have to trust the producer that the bread is as low in carbs as the package claims.
Unfortunately, low-carb marketing claims are sometimes exaggerated or outright untrue.
If you do decide to go down this route, don’t just blindly buy the first brand you come across – do some research first and study the list of ingredients carefully. Look for reviews from fellow low-carb dieters. The most reliable information is backed by actual biometric measurements taken by reviewer after eating the food, by measuring either ketones or blood sugar.
Another point to note is that mass-produced bread (whether low-carb or not) often has to be laden with chemical preservatives to prolong its shelf life.
2) Bake low-carb bread yourself using a pre-packaged mix
Pros: still pretty quick and easy - some effort is required on your part, but it usually takes about 5 minutes to add moisture ingredients to a bread mix and stick it in the oven
Cons: although you still don’t really know what’s inside, there are more reputable companies in this segment of the market than with ready-made low-carb bread. It is easier to prepare and market a bread mix than actual bread, as dry mixes have a much longer shelf life.
3) Bake your own low-carb bread from scratch
Now we are talking! This is the option that we think is the best one overall when on a low-carb diet.
Pros: you will know exactly what’s inside the bread and can calculate its carb content precisely. You will not need to add any nasty preservatives or chemicals to it.
Cons: obviously it would require effort on your part to find a recipe, purchase the ingredients and bake the bread.
Baking low-carb is actually a bit easier than baking traditional breads, so even if you have never touched baking before, it is well worth a try! Some specific recipes are provided below.
The rest of this article is going to be all about low-carb baking ingredients and methods.
The main baking ingredient is usually flour. This is the cornerstone of our low-carb challenge – traditional baking flours are made from wheat and other high-carb grains. The way around this issue is to use flours made from nuts and seeds, which are much in carbs than grains.
This is not a new concept – ground nuts and seeds had been used for baking widely in the medieval times, before wheat and white flour production reached the industrial scales of today.
The taste produced by using these flours is quite similar to traditional methods. However, the big difference is the texture – low-carb bread is usually more dense and “heavy”. This is because nut flours are gluten-free – and it is gluten that gives dough its supple and light texture. There are some ways to make up for the absence of gluten – read more below in the Gluten Substitutes section.
The most popular low-carb flours are listed below.
Almond flour (7-10g net carbs per 100g)
This is the most popular low-carb flour. Although it is made from ground almonds, strangely enough, it doesn’t actually taste of almonds at all. It can be used for all types of low-carb baking, both sweet and savoury.
There are two main types of almond flour available:
- Ground almonds, or almond meal (7-10g net carbs per 100g): the first and most common type is just ground blanched almonds, also called almond meal. The texture of ground almonds is usually coarser than that of traditional flour, but that doesn’t affect the quality of your baked goodies. Nutritional profile of ground almonds is almost the same as that of whole almonds, with just a little less fibre, because the skins are removed. (You can also sometimes find almond meal made from whole unblanched almonds with skins - fibre content would be higher, but it would work less well in baking).
- Defatted almond flour (4-6g net carbs per 100g): Some almond flour products are ground more finely, so that the texture is powdery and similar to the traditional flour. Almonds need to be defatted and dried further before they can be ground to that level, so the nutritional profile of almond flour is a bit different to ground almonds – less fat, more fibre and fewer calories. It produces better texture in baking, but is harder to find and can be more expensive than ground almonds.
|Ground almonds||Almond flour|
Coconut flour (9-12g net carbs per 100g)
Coconut flour consists of finely ground organic coconut flesh, which has been dried and defatted. It is extremely high in fibre (up to 50g per 100g).
Because of this high fibre content, coconut flour guzzles a lot of moisture, and expands in volume, Typically, you would only need to use about 1/3 to 1/4 of the volume compared to other flours.
Coconut flour does have a slightly sweet taste and a hint of coconut, so it works best in sweet recipes. In bread and other savoury recipes, add some other strong flavours to mask the taste.
Many low-carb bread recipes use mixture of coconut flour with almond flour, to get the nutritional benefits of both and to improve texture.
Flax (linseed) meal (4-6g net carbs per 100g)
Flax (also called linseed in UK) has a great nutritional profile, being very low in carbs and high in protein and fibre. The taste is ok but not great by any means, so flax is often combined with other flours. Adding strong flavours like spices and herbs also helps to improve the taste.
Flax is the only seed ingredient allowed on Atkins Induction, and was in fact recommended by Dr Atkins as a fibre supplement, so it is a popular ingredient amongst Atkins followers.
You can buy flax as whole unground seeds, or ground into meal. Unground option will store for longer.
Sesame flour (6-8g net carbs per 100g)
Sesame flour is a fairly new product which can be hard to find. It is very low in carbs and high in protein. The taste is quite strong and slightly sweet, so it works great in cake and biscuit recipes.
Other low-carb flours
Most nuts can be ground and made into a meal at home, or defatted and ground into a fine powder by using industrial methods. While the flours listed above are the most popular and widely available ones, you might be able to find further options, for example, flours made from peanuts, hazelnuts and pecans.
Beans can also be ground into flour, for example, chickpeas, white beans and black beans. However, these tend to be higher in carbs than nut flours.
Low-carb flours – nutritional comparison
Values provided below are for guidance only, using products by Suma and Sukrin as an example.
Nutritional information can vary depending on the brand. Nutritional profile of nuts can vary slightly year by year depending on harvest conditions. Different processing techniques and storage methods can also cause variations in the final nutritional profile.
The table below includes net carb counts as per European system (fibre count already subtracted).
Always check product labels for precise nutritional data of that specific product.
|per 100g (3.5oz) of product||Net carbs||Protein||Fat||Fibre||Calories|
|Almond flour (defatted)||8g||40g||11g||33g||293cal|
|Coconut flour (defatted)||9g||19g||12g||50g||320cal|
|Sesame flour (defatted)||6g||46g||19g||15g||405cal|
Sweeteners and sugar substitutes for low-carb baking
Not all sugar substitutes are suitable for baking. For best results, they need to be granulated, so liquid sweetener drops will not work.
The best choice in terms of results vs carb content would be erythritol, or erythritol mixed with Stevia. This sweetener mix is available under brand names of Sukrin, Swerve and Truvia.
Thickeners and gluten substitutes
- Xanthan gum or guar gum – these are artificial gelling agents which bind moisture. In baking, this helps to make the dough more supple and your bread less crumbly.
- Whey protein – gluten is a protein, so it can be to some extent substituted with other isolated proteins, the most common type being whey protein (available from most sports and health food shops). Make sure you mix it in very thoroughly so that it does not form lumps. Get unflavoured mix, or choose a flavour that matches your recipe e.g. vanilla or chocolate.
Other ingredients for low-carb baking
- Psyllium husks – another natural source of fibre, psyllium husks can help to bind moisture and so improve the texture of your bread, as well as improve its nutritional profile.
- Whole nuts and seeds – add whole or roughly chopped nuts and seeds to your recipe to make the taste more interesting.
- Baking powder and baking soda – these traditional raising agents can be used equally well in low-carb baking.
Adding moisture to low-carb bread
Once you have your dry ingredients sorted out, you will need some wet ingredients to add moisture to the mix. The wet ingredients are pretty much the same as those in traditional baking:
- Eggs – the obvious choice, very low in carbs and contain protein which helps to improve texture in absence of gluten
- Dairy milk – go for full-fat option, as that’s lowest in carbs
- Nut milks – if you don’t do dairy milk, most health food shops carry a range of mil substitutes, for example, as coconut milk, almond milk, soya milk. All would work well in low-carb baking.
- Water – the simplest option is of course just to use water. It doesn’t add anything to the nutritional profile but provides the essential moisture. Try using carbonated water to achieve lighter textures.
Baking times and oven temperatures
Low-carb bread takes usually longer to bake than traditional breads, and often at lower temperatures to avoid burning. Specific temperatures and times will depend on the ingredients used, so check your recipe and follow it exactly.
Keeping and freezing low-carb bread
Most low-carb breads will keep for at least several days.
It tends to freeze quite well – for best results, cut into slices and freeze, and then defrost or toast as and when required.
Are gluten-free products also low-carb?
There is some overlap between low-carb and gluten-free baking. Gluten-containing grains are high in carbs, so they are excluded from low-carb diets for that reason. Many nut flours mentioned above are also popular amongst gluten-free dieters.
However, there are plenty of gluten-free flours that are still quite high in carbs. So always check the label and do your research before using gluten-free flours or products.
Low-carb bread recipes
Finally, here is a selection of some low-carb bread recipes to get you started:
Golden flax focaccia (0.7g net carbs per slice)
via The Primitive Palate
Classic oopsie rolls 0.8g net carbs per roll
via Healthy Recipes blog
Paleo coconut flour bread (1g net carbs per slice)
via Healthy Living How To
Almond flour bread rolls (3g net carbs per roll)
via Divalicious Recipes
Cheesey garlic bread (2g net carbs per serving)
via Cut the Wheat
High-fibre bread (1.8g net carbs per slice)
via Low Carb Support (that's us!)
Coconut flour zucchini bread (est. 3g net carbs per slice)
via Empowered Sustenance
Low-carb tortillas (2g net carbs per serving)
via Ditch the Wheat
Low-carb sandiwch sub (5g net carbs per sub)
via Maria Mind Body Health
Low-carb "rye" bread (1.8g net carbs per slice)
via KetoDietApp blog