Did you grow up with the constant refrain of “eat your vegetables” always in your ears? Most of us learn to equate veggies with health from a young age, and whether or not we like the taste, we’re told we must eat them. And for good reason! Vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients our bodies need for optimal health. But veggies can also be loaded with carbohydrates.
If you’ve adopted the keto diet, you know you need to keep your carb intake low to stay in ketosis, and it can be tricky figuring out how to maintain a healthy veggie intake while also following the keto rules. To help simplify things, we’ve put together a list of the 31 best low-carb vegetables, as well as 10 high-carb vegetables you’re better off avoiding, the truth about fruit on keto, and 5 tips for finding low-carb veggies and keto food on the go.
The USDA guidelines for a healthy diet include at least three to five servings of vegetables daily. To plan your vegetable intake, first you need to work out your keto macros (and remember, our keto calculator makes it quick and easy to determine or tweak your ratios!). Generally speaking, your carb intake should be at or below 5% of your total calories for the day. The upper limit for carbs tends to be a pretty firm 50 grams.
Some experts get into total carbs versus net carbs, which can make things complicated and involve a lot more math. The reason some people find this worthwhile is that 50 grams of carbs from a soda will have a way more damaging impact than 50 grams from a mango. That’s because in addition to sugary carbs, mangoes contain fiber, which doesn’t cause your glucose levels to spike, possibly sending you out of ketosis.
To determine the net carbs for a food, you subtract its fiber content from its total carbohydrate content. So while the mango contains 50 grams of total carbs, when you subtract the fiber it contains, you’re left with around 35 net carbs. As a rule of thumb, if your total carb limit is 50 grams per day, you should aim for between 25-30 grams of net carbs.
Let’s say you’ve set your macro ratios with a goal of 25 grams of net carbs per day, and you’ve also decided to shoot for five servings of vegetables daily. That means you should seek out vegetables that contain 5 grams of net carbs or less per serving.
To get you started, we compiled a list of 31 veggies—from leafy greens to lesser-known members of the cruciferous family to salad bar favorites like olives and artichoke hearts—that fulfill that criteria. The grams of carbohydrates listed below are all based on a 100-gram serving size.
Don’t overlook this less common leafy green! Watercress has petite, round leaves on edible stems and a peppery flavor. It’s extremely rich in a number of important nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium, and manganese, earning it the top spot on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables list. All that, with only 0.79 grams of carbohydrates in a serving!
As the name indicates, this lettuce has a slightly buttery flavor. Its super soft leaves form a tightly folded head, often sold with roots attached to keep it fresh as long as possible. It’s a good source of vitamin A, and contains small amounts of iron and calcium, with 1.10 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Also known as pak choi or Chinese white cabbage, this cruciferous vegetable has been cultivated in China for centuries. It’s filled with folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium, a mineral not found in most other fruits and vegetables. Bok choy has 1.18 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
This popular salad green has long leaves and a crunchy texture. It’s rich in folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin K, and has 1.19 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
The low-calorie content of crunchy celery stalks makes them a favorite snack of many people trying to lose weight. Research indicates eating celery can benefit your digestive tract and cardiovascular system; plus it has only 1.37 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Collard greens are a staple of Southern cuisine and another very low-carb option, with 1.4 grams per serving. They are rich in folate, calcium, fiber, and vitamins E, A, K, and C. Studies associate eating collard greens with health benefits like decreased cancer risk, lower inflammation levels, and improved heart health.
Popeye’s BFF may not be able to give you instant muscles IRL, but it is one of the most nutritious greens. It’s packed with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron, fiber, and folic acid, which helps maximize the energy output of the foods you eat. And it’s great option if you’re doing keto, since it has only 1.43 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Dark and flavorful mustard greens contain 1.6 grams of carbohydrates per serving. And, especially when steamed, they can significantly lower your cholesterol levels. The greens have the ability to bind the bile acids which make up cholesterol molecules and encourage your body to excrete them.
A wonderful source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K, plus chromium—a trace mineral that boosts insulin’s capacity for transporting glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. It also contains valuable quantities of potassium and asparaptine, which can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure levels. It’ll cost a mere 1.78 grams of your total carbs for the day.
These undervalued root vegetables have just 1.8 grams of carbohydrates per serving and contain troves of vitamin C, which keeps free radicals in check and protects skin health.
This spicy green offers up vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, in return for 2.05 grams of your total carbohydrates for the day. It’s a wonderful way to punch up the flavor of salad that might be skewing toward blandness.
The nutrient content of Swiss chard makes a strong case for a starting spot in your keto vegetable lineup. Its flavor is close to that of spinach, and it contains impressive quantities of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as some iron and calcium. It has 2.14 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Zucchini scores super low on the glycemic index. It’s low not only in sugars, but also in calories and carbohydrates—2.11 grams per serving. It’s high in essential nutrients, however, including potassium, manganese, and vitamins C and A.
Also called yellow squash, this low-carb vegetable (2.25 grams per serving) gives you a bounty of vitamin A, B6, and C, as well as folate, magnesium, fiber, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.
Mushrooms, like humans, produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, making them the only plant-based source of this vital nutrient. Studies show that white button mushrooms can boost immune health by elevating levels of antiviral compounds and proteins your cells release when they’re repairing your body’s tissues. They contain 2.26 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Olives contain a wealth of antioxidants, healthy, unsaturated fats and several essential vitamins and minerals. Studies indicate they can improve the health of your heart as well as reduce your risk of osteoporosis and cancer. A serving of olives nets 2.8 grams of carbohydrates.
This vibrant, purple vegetable boasts high concentrations of antioxidants, in particular, anthocyanins, the source of eggplant’s distinctive hue. Researchers have connected an anthocyanin called nasunin with particularly impressive benefits. There are 2.88 grams of carbohydrates in a serving.
Crisp, sweet bell peppers (2.9 grams of carbohydrates per serving) contain sizeable amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C. Red peppers can actually contain more than 200% of your daily vitamin C intake, which not only has potent antioxidant properties but also helps you absorb iron.
This mild-flavored cruciferous vegetable has 2.97 grams of carbohydrates per serving, and offers you antioxidants and phytonutrients that can lower your risk of cancer, fiber that can support healthy digestion and weight-loss efforts, choline that enhances memory, as well as other vital nutrients.
Cabbage is especially rich in vitamins B6 and folate, crucial for energy metabolism and nervous system function. It has 3.00 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Crisp, tender bamboo shoots offer up 533 milligrams of potassium per serving, which balances fluid levels in your body. A serving has 3.00 grams of carbohydrates.
This low-calorie vegetable contains a compound called fisetin that has anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests fisetin can reduce the impact of age-related neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, on cognitive function. It’s got 3.13 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Just 3.5 ounces of alfalfa sprouts provides 38% of the vitamin K you need each day, plus you’ll get 9% of your daily recommended intake for copper, folate, and manganese. You can eat up to 100 grams while taking in only 3.78 grams of carbohydrates.
Artichokes contain inulin, a type of fiber that’s one of the most promising and bioavailable prebiotics found in any food. A serving of artichokes will set you back 3.88 grams of carbohydrates.
A common ingredient in dishes from the Caribbean to China to Canoochee, Georgia, okra brims over with vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and a special substance called mucilaginous fiber, or colloquially, “okra slime.” It contains 4.25 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Tasty, crunchy green beans have 4.27 grams of carbohydrates per serving, and significant quantities of protein, iron, zinc, fiber, potassium, folate, and a kind of antioxidants called catechins.
Eating cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, may help to lower your risk of cancer, particularly lung and colon cancer. Researchers believe this effect has to do with a compound called sulforaphane, which also gives these vegetables a hint of bitterness. Broccoli has 4.40 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Typically thought of as a root vegetable, the turnip actually belongs to the cruciferous family and has only 4.63 grams of carbohydrates per serving. According to one study, foods containing dietary nitrates, like turnips, can benefit your heart health on multiple levels.
Snow peas are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, fiber, magnesium, folic acid, and even small amounts of healthy fats. They contain 4.9 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
This incredibly trendy green actually lives up to the hype. A 1-cup serving fulfills your daily needs for vitamins A, C, and E. Plus, kale contains iron, calcium, potassium, and phytonutrients that lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. A 100-gram serving of this health-promoting superstar contains 5.15 grams of carbohydrates.
When overcooked, Brussels sprouts can be quite unpleasant. But if you treat them right, their nutty, sweet flavor shines. Glucosinolates, the compounds responsible for the off-putting odor of badly prepared brussels sprouts, also have potent anti-cancer effects. There are 5.15 grams of carbohydrates in a serving.
Generally speaking, if a vegetable can be described as dense, sweet, or both, that’s a good indication that it contains too many carbs to be a smart choice while on the keto diet.
These three vegetables fall into the “enjoy in moderation” category:
Some vegetables are so starchy, however, that you should pretty much just stay away from them. That means cutting out:
Since fruit contains high concentrations of sugar, eating it tends to sabotage the intended outcome of your keto diet. When you eat foods that contain significant amounts of sugar, your blood sugar levels spike, causing your body to release insulin. Insulin tells your body to hold onto fat, so ketone production halts and your body’s fat-burning mechanisms shut off.
Eating foods, like most fruits, that cause your blood sugar levels to spike and drop, or to remain elevated, prevents you from reaching ketosis. Popular fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, watermelon, and especially mangos, score way too high on the glycemic index—which measures how different foods impact your blood sugar levels—to be compatible with keto success. Dried fruit and fruit juices, which have even higher concentrations of sugar and little to no fiber to mitigate its effects, should definitely be cut out.
There is one friendly keto fruit you can eat in abundance: avocado. It is, technically, a fruit, and it’s the lowest carb one out there. It’s loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Eating more avocados makes it more, not less, likely that you’ll hit your keto macros. Don’t miss out on this valuable keto food, especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Berries are another fruit you can work into your keto diet, although they do contain more sugar, so you’ll need to be mindful of your portion sizes. If you have a sweet tooth, our Berry & Chia Pudding is the perfect way to get your fix without going off-plan.
Pomegranates, which contain significant amounts of fiber, can be another option to satisfy fruit cravings while on the keto diet.
It can be tough to find keto food options when you’re eating out, and even tougher if you want to work in a serving of low-carb vegetables. But with a little creativity, you can make it happen. Here are five tips for ordering keto options.