There’s no question that vegetables are good for you. But if you’re trying out the ketogenic diet, you will need to be strategic about which vegetables you eat. It’s all about seeking out low-carb vegetables and staying away from sneaky carb saboteurs (sweet potatoes, we’re looking at you!). Here’s everything you need to know about maintaining an ideal veggie intake while on keto.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet, called the keto diet or just plain keto for short, is a way of eating that strictly limits carbs and encourages a high consumption of healthy fats. This way of eating shifts your metabolism so that your body begins to burn fat, not sugar, as its primary energy source. Once you’ve entered this state—known as ketosis—you’ll begin to experience a slew of health benefits, such as weight loss and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The ketogenic diet has a long history. It was actually developed in the 1920s as a way to treat seizures in children for whom no other treatments worked. Today, people use the keto diet to manage many health conditions, as well as to simply feel their best.
To enter (and stay in) ketosis, you need to cut your carbohydrate intake to around 5% of your total caloric intake. To give you an idea of how dramatically that may change your eating habits, know that most Americans get at least 50% of their daily calories from carbs.
This is the part where balancing your veggie intake and your keto goals can become challenging.
Balancing Your Veggie Intake and Carb Ratios
Before we get into which low-carb vegetables pair best with the keto diet, you need to determine your keto macros so you know how many grams of carbohydrates you can eat each day while remaining in ketosis. As we mentioned above, your carb intake should most likely be at or below 5% of your total calories for the day. To work out the keto macros best suited for you and your goals, you may find it helpful to use a keto calculator.
Something you’ll see come up a lot in reference to carbs on keto is the concept of total carbs versus net carbs. To calculate how many net carbs a food contains, subtract the food’s fiber content from its total carbohydrate content. Take a mango, for example. A typical mango contains 50 grams of total carbs and 15 grams of fiber. That means a mango contains 35 net carbs. If your total carb limit is 50 grams per day—and it will almost never be more than that—you should shoot for a net carb intake of around 25-30 grams.
Because vegetables can be quite high in carbohydrates, you have to be strategic about which ones you eat if you’re trying to reach or maintain ketosis. There’s good evidence showing we should all strive to eat at least five servings of vegetables each day. If you’re capping your net carbs at 20 grams daily, then you’ll need to eat veggies that contain 4 grams of net carbs or less per serving.
25 Low-Carb Vegetables Perfect for Keto Eaters
The best low-carb veggies to eat while on the keto diet are the ones that are also loaded with nutrients. As you might be able to guess, many of these are dark, leafy, and green. Another good indication that you’ve found a keto-friendly vegetable is that it grows above the ground, as bell peppers and mushrooms do. High-carb vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, often grow below ground and tend to contain lots of starch and sugar.
It’s also important to have a good understanding of what a serving size of different low-carb veggies looks like. On the list below, we’ve provided the net carb count per 100-gram serving, but 100 grams of cauliflower looks quite different from 100 grams of arugula. Here are a few examples of what 100 grams of different low-carb veggies looks like:
- Several large florets of broccoli
- Practically a whole bag of salad greens like spinach or butter lettuce
- Slightly over half a kohlrabi
- About six radishes
- Approximately a stalk and a half of celery
To get a visual reference for 100-gram portions of many of the other vegetables on our list, check out this fantastic resource.
1. Broccoli Rabe (0.15 grams of net carbs)
Despite what the name, and petite florets, might lead you to believe, this deeply ruffled leafy green is not related to broccoli. Once you taste it, you’ll find its flavor is a dead give away: bold, sharp broccoli rabe belongs to the Brassica family along with its close cousin, mustard greens.
Like all Brassicas, broccoli rabe (in case you’re wondering, “rabe” is pronounced like “rob”) contains rich stores of glucosinolates, compounds shown to fight cancer. Studies show these compounds are particularly effective against stomach, lung, and colon cancers, and they appear to protect against breast and prostate cancers, too.
Plus, broccoli rabe offers up tons of vitamin A and C, potent antioxidants that work to prevent free radical damage to your cells, as well as folate, potassium, fiber, and calcium.
2. Watercress (0.79 grams of net carbs)
Also a member of the Brassica family, these tender greens have a more mild, but still slightly peppery, flavor than some of their relatives. Watercress has seen a surge in popularity recently thanks to its high Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) score. ANDI scores measure the vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content of a food in relation to its caloric content. High-ranking foods pack an impressive amount of nutrients into every calorie. And watercress? It got the highest rank possible.
One reason for its high score is the rich concentration of dietary nitrates it contains. A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology linked foods loaded with dietary nitrates, like watercress, to lowered blood pressure, inhibited platelet aggregation, and other heart health benefits.
3. Butter Lettuce (1.10 grams of net carbs)
Delightfully tender butter lettuce has smooth, loosely-coiled leaves. They’re often sold with the roots still attached to preserve maximum freshness. Butter lettuce’s slightly sweet flavor amps up your salads, and the leaves are the ideal size and shape for making chicken or tuna wraps. Score! Oh, and it’s a wonderful source of vitamin A and also offers up some iron and calcium.
4. Nopales (1.13 grams of net carbs)
Nopales, also known as prickly pear cacti, has been a mealtime mainstay in Latin American countries for centuries. Thanks to exciting new investigations into its health benefits, it’s becoming more and more popular in the United States too.
Studies show that eating nopales can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, among other compelling benefits. It’s high in fiber, antioxidants, and carotenoids.
The leaves, flowers, stems, and fruit can all be eaten. Unless otherwise specified, nopales typically refers to the stems. You can find nopales in Mexican grocery stores as well as at some produce and farmers markets.
5. Bok Choy (1.18 grams of net carbs)
Bok choy, a kind of Chinese cabbage, has dark green leaves and crunchy white stalks. This nutrient-dense vegetable offers up significant quantities of protein and dietary fiber, as well as practically all the vitamins and minerals you need for good health. You’ll get plenty of vitamin A and vitamin C, both powerful antioxidants. You’ll also magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K, which help to build and maintain your bones. Plus, you get folate and vitamin B6, which flush homocysteine from your bloodstream. Preventing your homocysteine levels from climbing too high lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.
6. Celery (1.37 grams of net carbs)
This crunchy, mild-tasting veggie is rich in fiber, as well as vitamin K. Celery makes an excellent snack when paired with a dip and it’s also a versatile, health-promoting smoothie ingredient.
Celery is a wonderful source of luteolin, a flavonoid that researchers believe shows promise as a way of both preventing and treating cancer. Based on preclinical studies, it appears that luteolin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer activities. Regarding the last item on that last, luteolin has been shown to induce apoptosis (cancer cell death) as well as to reduce tumor growth.
7. Collard Greens (1.4 grams of net carbs)
Collard greens, yet another member of the Brassica family, contain troves of folate, calcium, dietary fiber, and vitamins E, A, K, and C. The wealth of nutrients they possess have been shown to promote health benefits such as a lowered risk of cancer, full-body detoxification, decreased inflammation, improved heart health, and better digestion.
8. Spinach (1.43 grams of net carbs)
This dark, leafy green may not actually give you instant muscles like Popeye, but the major health benefits spinach provides are very real. The nutrients found in spinach, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, have benefits like reducing your risk of common eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach also contains high concentrations of nitrates, which support the health of your heart. And perhaps most impressive of all, eating spinach has been shown to reduce damage to your very DNA.
9. Mustard Greens (1.47 grams of net carbs)
Mustard greens have a distinctive peppery flavor and a fresh, tender texture. They’re a delightful addition to salads or green juices, and can also be steamed, stewed, or mixed into stir-frys.
Mustard greens are high in fiber, folate, copper, calcium, iron, manganese, and vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K. Research shows that mustard greens lower cholesterol levels by binding to bile acid in your intestines, then flushing it from your body. Bile acid is composed primarily of cholesterol, so eliminating it from your system causes your overall cholesterol levels to drop.
10. Asparagus (1.78 grams of net carbs)
This versatile and delicious vegetable contains generous amounts of vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains several kinds of compounds that have been linked to a plethora of health benefits. Studies have shown that asparagus can have neuroprotective effects and may help to prevent cognitive impairment. Asparagus has also been found to decrease anxiety. And it appears that it can help to prevent the growth of several kinds of cancer, including hepatocellular carcinoma and renal cell carcinoma.
11. Radishes (1.8 grams of net carbs)
Though radishes are a root vegetable, they’re also quite low-carb. These sharp, peppery treats belong to the Brassica family and carry on the tradition of fighting cancer. Research indicates that, by modifying the way the body metabolizes estrogen, they can be particularly beneficial when it comes to lowering the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. They’re also high in vitamin C.
12. Arugula (2.05 grams of net carbs)
This aromatic, peppery green adds beautiful contrast to salads and other dishes. As is true of all members of the Brassica family, it contains glucosinolates that can reduce your risk of developing several kinds of cancer. It also contains chlorophyll, which helps protect against liver and DNA damage caused by aflatoxins. Oh, and it’s got tons of vitamin K (essential for bone health), calcium, fiber, indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates (lower inflammation levels), and cleansing phytochemicals, antioxidants, and minerals.
13. Zucchini (2.11)
The most popular of all the summer squashes, zucchini is also quite rich in nutrients. It contains vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as potassium and manganese.
And it’s chock-full of bioactive compounds linked to serious health benefits. Zucchini boasts high concentrations of lutein, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and dehydroascorbic acid. According to a series of studies, zucchini can safely and effectively lower oxidative stress levels, which in turn reduces your risk of cancer.
14. Swiss Chard (2.14 grams of net carbs)
A distant relative of spinach, swiss chard is a dark, leafy green loaded with beneficial dietary nitrates. Once ingested, your body converts dietary nitrates to nitric oxide, which helps your blood vessels relax and lowers blood pressure. Dietary nitrates can also boost athletic endurance and performance.
Swiss chard contains other essential nutrients, too, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E. Plus it’s a superb source of vitamin K, which we need to maintain the health of our bones. Vitamin K modifies bone matrix proteins and improves calcium absorption, making your bones denser, stronger, and less likely to break.
15. Mushrooms (2.26 grams of net carbs)
Delicious, nutritious mushrooms are a phenomenal source of proteins, amino acids, and minerals. Testing has shown that they also have formidable anti-inflammatory properties.
One study conducted with adults with metabolic syndrome found that eating 100 grams of mushrooms daily for 16 weeks significantly lowered diabetic risk factors related to inflammation.
The exact nutrient content will vary depending on the mushroom you choose, of course. So, why not experiment with different varieties to avail yourself of a whole range of health benefits?
16. Kohlrabi (2.6 grams of net carbs)
Sometimes called German turnip or turnip cabbage, this often-overlooked vegetable has a sweeter and milder flavor than the other members of the Brassica family. Though it’s often described as a root vegetable, kohlrabi—which can be green or purple—is actually the stem of the plant, not the root.
This low-carb veggie is loaded with vitamin C, which helps keep your immune system running at full speed. Vitamin C also stimulates collagen production, which helps maintain the health of your bones and skin.
17. Eggplant (2.88 grams of net carbs)
Vibrantly-colored eggplant contains a wealth of nutrients, many of which have an especially beneficial impact on the health of your heart. Eggplant is loaded with fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and phytonutrients that keep your heart healthy and strong.
A flavonoid called anthocyanin has a particularly impressive effect. According to a 2008 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming more than three servings of anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables weekly can lower your risk of heart disease by 34% compared to individuals who consume less!
18. Bell Peppers (2.9 grams of net carbs)
Crisp, sweet bell peppers provide plenty of nutrients along with a welcome burst of freshness. They contain vitamin C, which boosts your immunity and improves your absorption of iron, as well as vitamin B6 and folate, which can help to prevent anemia. And they give you a super-concentrated dose of lycopene, which can help to prevent several kinds of cancer, including prostate and lung.
19. Cauliflower (2.97 grams of net carbs)
This mild, nutrient dense-vegetable is the darling of low-carb dieters everywhere, since it makes a fantastic substitute for rice, potatoes, and other high-carb foods. A 100-gram serving of cauliflower gets you tons of vitamin K, as well as 77% of your daily recommended vitamin C intake.
Though cauliflower has perhaps the most mellow flavor of any member of the Brassica family, that doesn’t mean its disease-preventing credentials are lacking. It’s strongly associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, thanks to the sulforaphane it contains. It also provides choline, which supports healthy brain function, and indole-3-carbinol, which minimizes inflammation and decreases your odds of developing several chronic diseases.
20. Green Cabbage (3 grams of net carbs)
Green cabbage, another Brassica cousin, has a multitude of health-promoting nutrients, such as vitamin C and vitamin K. Green cabbage has the lowest carb count of all the varieties, which include white, purple, and red.
Green cabbage provides especially potent doses of vitamin B6 and folate, essential for energy metabolism and nervous system function. It also offers you loads of powerful antioxidants, including polyphenols and sulfur compounds. These antioxidants prevent unstable free radicals from damaging your cells and can decrease your risk of diseases including cancer.
21. Bamboo Shoots (3 grams of net carbs)
Young bamboo shoots have become a trendy functional food, as they are not only quite tasty, but also packed with nutrients like phytosterols and phenolic compounds. They can be consumed raw or fermented.
Research indicates that adding bamboo shoots to your diet can improve digestion, spur healthy weight loss, and help to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases. Testing indicates the shoots have anti-cancer, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.
22. Cucumbers (3.13 grams of net carbs)
Though we commonly treat refreshing cucumbers as a vegetable, they’re actually fruits! Meaning cucumber just might be the most keto fruit there is.
Since they’re composed of about 96% water, they don’t contain particularly high concentrations of vitamins or minerals. They are an excellent source of a compound called cucurbitacin E, however, which studies indicate could be highly beneficial to human health.
Cucurbitacin E appears to have formidable antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties. A slew of research has linked it to promising outcomes, such as lowering your risk of cancer, relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and protecting against neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
23. Alfalfa Sprouts (3.78 grams of net carbs)
Alfalfa sprouts are a charming way to add color, texture, and flavor to salads and other dishes. This nutrient-dense food provides you with plenty of vitamin C, which scours free radicals from your system and decreases your chance of developing chronic diseases, as well as vitamin K, which your body needs to keep your teeth and bones healthy. Plus, the sprouts give you plenty of fiber, folate, copper, and manganese.
24. Artichoke Hearts (3.88 grams of net carbs)
Buttery artichoke hearts have a subtle, earthy flavor and pack a serious nutritional punch. They’re especially rich in cynarin and silymarin, two phytochemicals researchers believe play a role in the increased bile release that accompanies artichoke consumption. As we discussed earlier, flushing out bile lowers your blood cholesterol levels and safeguards the health of your heart. Artichokes are also a wonderful source of potassium, another nutrient essential for heart health.
If you’re daunted by the idea of preparing artichokes, remember that it’s possible to buy jars or cans of marinated artichoke hearts—but be sure to check for unwanted additives!
25. Broccoli (4.04 grams of net carbs)
One of the superstars of the superfood Brassica family, broccoli benefits your health in numerous ways. A 100-gram serving gets you over your daily recommended intake of vitamin C and vitamin K.
Broccoli is also one of the top-cancer fighting foods out there. Eating broccoli has been shown to increase cell protection against DNA damage, which lowers oxidative stress levels. Studies have found an especially clear connection between eating broccoli and a decreased risk of prostate cancer.
Plus, it appears that eating broccoli can lower insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics.
How to Eat Keto Vegetables on the Go
Even if you’ve got your fridge stocked with healthy low-carb veggies, you’ll still have those hectic days when the easiest, most convenient option is to have someone else prepare a meal for you. Whether you’re sitting down for a meal in a restaurant, picking up takeout, or ordering delivery, it can be tricky locating keto food options, let alone ones that feature keto vegetables. As long as you’re willing to be flexible in your thinking about what makes a meal, it’s totally doable! Here are five tips to keep in mind for filling up on low-carb veggies on the go.
- See if you can get a salad, or just extra veggies, as a side, instead of french fries.
- Ask if it’s possible to get a sandwich or burger served as a lettuce wrap.
- Order your burrito as a bowl (no rice, though!) or a salad—that’s right, we’re talking keto Chipotle.
- Round out a meat or fish entrée with a side of vegetables with extra butter or olive oil.
- Pick a few low carb, veggie- and protein-loaded appetizers and combine them to make a meal.