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Free Foods

By David Mendosa

Last Update: July 17, 2016

Many foods have few available carbohydrates in a standard serving. We call these the “free foods,” not because your supermarket will give them to you without cost, but because they are essentially free of any serious impact on your blood sugar.

Another factor is that because servings of these foods are so low in available carbohydrates, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get volunteers to eat enough for a test of their glycemic indexes. The standard test portion is 50 grams of available carbohydrates. With any of the free foods, test subjects would have to eat huge portions.

It’s a free food, if it’s less than 5% carb.

For convenience we can say that any food with fewer than 5 grams of available carbohydrate in a 100 gram portion is a free food. The rest of the portion is protein, fat, fiber, ash, and water. This is similar but slightly different from the concept used in the Dietary Exchange Lists, which says, “Free foods are those with either under 20 calories or 5 grams or less of carbohydrates per serving.”

You can find many of these foods in the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at

Please note that Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, the author of Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution, wrote me challenging my statement, “It’s a free food, if it’s less than 5% carb.” He writes:

This may apply to some very mild type 2 diabetics, but for type 1 diabetics and for most non-obese type 2 diabetics weighing about 150 lbs, 1 gram of carbohydrate will raise blood sugar by 5 mg/dl. Thus, 100 grams of a 5% product would raise blood sugar by 25 mg/dl. In addition, we have the Chinese Restaurant Effect, which typically doubles the effect upon blood sugar for most people with diabetes. Thus, a 100 gram serving of one of your “free foods” will raise blood sugar by about 50 mg/dl for most people with diabetes.

Excluding those foods not commonly eaten in the United States, they are as follows. All of the vegetables and fruits are raw, unless otherwise stated. The numbers are the grams of available carbohydrate (that is, carbohydrate minus dietary fiber) in 100 grams of the portion of the food):

Alfalfa seeds, sprouted 1.28
Arugula 2.05
Asparagus, cooked 2.63
Bamboo shoots, cooked 0.92
Beans, green, cooked 4.69
Beans, snap, green, cooked 4.68
Beet greens, cooked 2.56
Broccoli, cooked 2.16
Brussels sprouts, cooked 4.5
Cabbage, cooked 2.16
Cauliflower, cooked 1.41
Celeriac (celery root), cooked 4.7
Celery 1.95
Chard, swiss, cooked 2.04
Collards, cooked 2.1
Cucumber 1.8
Dandelion greens, cooked 3.5
Eggplant, cooked 4.14
Endive 0.25
Fennel, bulb 4.19
Green onions, young, tops only 3.94
Hearts of palm, canned 2.22
Jicama 3.92
Kale, cooked 3.63
Lettuce, butterhead 1.32
Lettuce, cos or romaine 0.67
Lettuce, iceberg 0.69
Mustard greens, cooked 0.1
Mushrooms 2.94-3.57 (except shitake)
Nopales, cooked 1.27
Okra, cooked 4.71
Olives, canned ripe 3.06
Parsley 3.03
Peppers, serano 3.00
Peppers, jalapeno 3.11
Peppers, sweet green 4.63
Peppers, sweet red 4.43
Pumpkin, cooked 3.80
Purslane 3.43
Radicchio 3.58
Radishes 1.99
Rhubarb 2.74
Sauerkraut 1.78
Scallions (green onions) 4.74
Spinach, cooked 1.35
Squash, summer, cooked 2.91
Squash, zucchini, cooked 2.53
Tomatillos 3.93
Tomatoes 3.54
Tomato juice 3.83
Turnips, cooked 2.9
Turnip greens, cooked 0.86
Watercress 0.79
Avocados 2.39
Chayote (christophene) 2.20
Raspberries 4.77
Strawberries 4.72
Macademia Nuts 4.83
Pecans 4.26
All meat and fin fish 0.00
Caviar 4.00
Crab 0.95
Lobster 1.28
Shrimp 0.00
Butter 0.06
Buttermilk, lowfat 4.79
Cheese, cheddar 1.28
Cheese, Edam 1.43
Cheese, Gouda 2.22
Cheese, Gruyere 0.00
Cheese, Swiss 3.38
Cream cheese, 2.66
Cottage cheese, 2% milkfat 3.63
Eggs 1.22
Half and Half 4.30
Heavy Cream 2.79
Goat milk 4.45
Mayonnaise 2.70
Milk, 1% milkfat, added solids 4.97
Milk, 3.25% milkfat 4.66
Ricotta cheese, whole milk 3.04
Soy milk, 0.51
Yogurt, plain, whole milk 4.66
Soluble and insoluble fiber (a part of other foods) 0.00
Coffee (without cream or sugar) 0.00
Diet Soda 0.00
Tea (without milk or sugar) 0.00
Vinegar (except balsamic): 0.00
Water 0.00
Aspartame (NutraSweet) 0.001
Saccharin (Sweet'N Low) 0.001
Stevia 0.00
Sucralose (Splenda) 0.001

1 Both aspartame and sucralose are usually bulked up with maltodextrin, but it is usually in such a small amount that it can be ignored. Likewise, Sweet'N Low is bulked up with a small amount of dextrose (glucose).

This article originally appeared on this Web site September 12, 2002.

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