Are sausages allowed on a low carb diet?

Sausages are a popular food that are often enjoyed as part of a tasty breakfast or cooked up on the barbecue. However, when following a low carb diet, you may be wondering if sausages should be avoided or if you can still enjoy them in moderation. In this article, we’ll take a close look at sausages and see if and how they can fit into a low carb lifestyle.

What are sausages?

Sausages are meat products usually made from ground or minced meat along with salt, spices, and other flavorings. The most common types of sausages are:

  • Pork sausages – Most sausages are made from pork. This includes breakfast sausages, Italian sausage, chorizo, bratwurst, and more.
  • Beef sausages – Sausage made from beef include hot dogs and beef kielbasa.
  • Turkey sausages – As a leaner alternative, turkey sausages are growing in popularity.
  • Chicken sausages – Made from ground chicken and ideal for those avoiding red meat.
  • Vegetarian sausages – For vegetarians and vegans, there are meatless sausages made from soy protein, legumes, vegetables, etc.

The meat and seasoning are ground up and stuffed into a tubular casing. Common casings are made from pork, lamb, or collagen. After stuffing, sausages are cooked by grilling, pan-frying, baking, or boiling.

Are sausages considered processed meat?

Yes, sausages are considered a processed meat product. This means they have been manipulated to prolong shelf life or enhance flavor and texture. Processed meats like sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats are often cured, smoked, or contain preservatives.

Eating large amounts of processed meats has been associated with increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The World Health Organization has classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen which means there is strong evidence that processed meats can cause cancer in humans.

However, enjoying these foods in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet is considered acceptable by most nutrition professionals. Those looking to lower intake of processed meats are advised to limit consumption to no more than 1-2 servings per week.

Carb and calorie content of sausages

Calories in sausages

In general, sausages tend to be high in calories with about:

  • Pork sausage (3 links) – 230 calories
  • Beef hot dog (1) – 150 calories
  • Brats (1) – 230 calories
  • Turkey kielbasa (2 oz) – 180 calories
  • Veggie sausage (1) – 130 calories

This can vary based on size, ingredients, fat content, and preparation method. Those watching their calorie intake may want to practice portion control when eating sausages.

Carbohydrates in sausages

Most sausages contain only a minimal amount of digestible carbs:

  • Pork sausage – 1-3g net carbs per link
  • Beef hot dog – 2-4g net carbs each
  • Bratwurst – 1-2g net carbs per sausage
  • Turkey kielbasa – around 1g net carb per ounce
  • Veggie sausages – 5-10g net carbs each

The higher carb count in veggie sausages is due to fillers like soy protein, wheat gluten, and added sugars. When buying, check labels and aim for those lowest in carbs.

Any carbs in meat-based sausages come from small amounts of sugars and starch-based binders and fillers. So while not completely zero carb, most sausages can be considered very low carb.

Is a sausage keto?

On a very strict keto diet aiming for under 20g net carbs per day, most types of sausages can fit into this allowance. A few sausages could be enjoyed while staying in ketosis. Those following more relaxed versions of keto or low carb diets have even more flexibility for including sausages.

However, calories still need to be kept in mind. It would be easy to overdo it on the high fat and sodium content of multiple sausages at a meal.

Health impact of eating sausages

Fat and cholesterol

Along with the calories, one nutritional downside of sausages is that they tend to be high in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol:

  • Total fat – 10-15g per sausage
  • Saturated fat – 4-6g per sausage
  • Cholesterol – Around 30-50mg per sausage

Higher intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol can negatively impact blood cholesterol levels. For heart health, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5-6% of total calories which is about 13g based on a 2000 calorie diet. Dietary guidelines also advise consuming less than 300mg per day of cholesterol.

Just one or two sausages can provide a full day’s worth of these nutrients of concern. Those with risk factors for cardiovascular disease may need to be extra cautious with intake of high fat meats like sausages.

Sodium

Sausage products are another source of potentially high sodium levels:

  • Pork sausage – 300-500mg per link
  • Beef hot dog – around 500-800mg each
  • Kielbasa – around 600-800mg per 2oz
  • Bratwurst – 500-600mg per sausage

Health authorities provide a recommended limit of 2300mg of sodium daily and ideally limiting even further to 1500mg per day. Individuals with high blood pressure or heart failure require additional restrictions of 2000mg or lower when following a low sodium diet.

It’s important to account for the sodium content when making menu choices. Just one or two sausages could provide over a third of the recommended sodium limits for the day.

Nitrates and nitrites

Processed meats like sausages often contain sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. These compounds help preserve the shelf life and are responsible for the reddish-pink color of the meat.

However, during digestion nitrites can combine with amino acids to form compounds called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are potentially carcinogenic substances. This is thought to contribute to the increased cancer risk associated with frequent processed meat consumption.

When shopping, look for sausages labeled “no nitrates or nitrites added” or “uncured”. These alternative products use natural sources like celery powder for the curing process instead.

Weight control

Given the high fat and calorie density of sausages, these foods often need to be carefully managed for weight loss or maintenance. Just one 3-ounce pork sausage can provide around 15g fat and nearly 200 calories.

To prevent excessive intake, portion sizes should be monitored. For example, sticking to just 1-2 sausages a few times per week. Those struggling with losing weight may find limiting sausages helps reduce overall calories.

Tips for fitting sausages into a low carb diet

Here are some helpful suggestions for keeping sausages low carb:

  • Read labels and counts carbs – Look for lowest carb options with less than 3-4g net carbs per sausage
  • Measure portions – Weigh or measure to stick to 1-2 sausages at a meal
  • Avoid additional high carb fillers – Skip the bun and nix baked beans, fries, or sugary condiments as sides
  • Bulk up with veggies – Fill your plate with low carb vegetables instead of excess sausages
  • Watch sodium levels – Be mindful of total daily sodium intake from all foods
  • Try turkey or chicken sausages – Opt for leaner versions if weight is a concern
  • Grill or bake instead of fry – Healthier cooking methods to decrease total fat and calories

Focusing more on whole food low carb options can also help minimize processed meats like sausages.

Healthier sausage recipes

To lighten up sausage dishes, try these tasty recipes:

Turkey sausage stuffed peppers

Ingredients:
– 4 large bell peppers
– 1 lb lean turkey sausage
– 1 cup cauliflower rice
– 1/2 cup low-sodium marinara sauce
– 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions:
1. Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds. Bake at 400F for 10 minutes.
2. In a skillet, cook sausage and cauliflower rice until sausage is no longer pink.
3. Stir in marinara sauce and spoon mixture into peppers.
4. Top with cheese and bake 15-20 minutes more.

Zoodle sausage skillet

Ingredients:
– 2 zucchinis, spiralized
– 1 lb Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings
– 2 cups kale, chopped
– 28 oz can diced tomatoes
– 1/4 cup basil pesto
– Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Cook sausage in a skillet over medium heat, crumbling it into pieces.
2. Add zucchini noodles and continue cooking 5 minutes.
3. Stir in kale and tomatoes until heated through.
4. Remove from heat and mix in pesto. Season with salt and pepper.

Conclusion

Sausage can be part of low carb and ketogenic eating plans in moderation. While not completely zero carb, most sausages are relatively low in digestible carbs. However, the high fat, sodium, and calories need to be accounted for and limited. Choosing healthier cooking methods and avoiding excessive intake should allow even those restricting carbs to still enjoy the occasional sausage. Focusing on more whole foods and getting carbs from nutritious vegetables can promote better health on a reduced carb diet.

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