Low-carb and keto lifestyles are popular, and for good reason. While carbs can be part of a healthy diet, limiting them may be a smart choice for some people, and focusing on quality carbs is a smart move for everyone.
Limiting carbohydrates, especially those from empty calorie foods such as white and refined grains and sugary drinks, can make significant improvements to your health.
Moderate and low-carb lifestyles have been shown to help with chronic conditions related to blood sugar management, helping prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Dietary patterning has also been shown to aid in cancer prevention. Low-carb diets can also help boost your metabolism and aid in weight loss and maintenance.
Following the keto diet, or low-carb diet, also encourages people to eat more vegetables. Few foods provide more bang for your nutritional buck than vegetables. Not only do vegetables provide vitamins and minerals, but they can replace the fiber in foods that tend to be limited on a low-carb or keto diet such as whole grains, beans, and legumes.
Here are 16 low-carb, keto-friendly veggies for you to try. (Note: The total carbs for one serving of each vegetable are the net carbs, which is total carbs minus fiber).
Fennel (3.65 carbs per cup)
While you may have fennel seeds in your spice rack, fewer people use the fennel bulb in everyday recipes. Fennel can be used in recipes fresh or raw as a sweet addition to salads, soups and sauces. Add it to your shopping list especially if you are a post-menopausal woman, as adding fennel to your meals and snacks may benefit menopausal symptoms. A 2017 randomized controlled trial found that fennel consumption had significant reductions in hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anxiety and insomnia. An increase in belly fat is often typical in post-menopausal women and a low-carb diet can aid in belly fat reduction as well.
Eggplant (2.36 carbs per cup)
A 2019 randomized controlled trial found that consuming eggplant could benefit physical and mental health. Eggplant is rich in choline esters, which study found benefits blood pressure and reducing psychological stress. Eggplant is also high in fiber, which helps reduce the overall digestibility of carbohydrates. Enjoy eggplant as a savory side dish by making it into a nutrient-rich baba ganoush and serving it with crackers or low-carb veggies.
Spinach (0.34 carbs per cup)
More spinach today could mean a sharper brain tomorrow. The green leaf is rich in magnesium, a mineral that a 2023 study found could reduce the risk of dementia in healthy individuals. The study found that individuals who consumed at least 550 milligrams of magnesium per day (considered a higher intake) early in life could have a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases later in life. Add spinach to sauces, make a spinach salad with walnuts, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or add spinach to scrambled eggs in the morning.
Brussels Sprouts (4.54 carbs per cup)
Brussels sprouts have become a superstar in the cruciferous vegetable world, finding their way onto restaurant menus and family tables. They’re great roasted, sautéed, or chopped over a protein bowl. They also have impressive health benefits, playing a role in improving blood vessel health, preventing certain types of cancer, and promoting gut health.
Tomatoes (4.84 carbs per cup)
While technically a fruit, tomatoes are as often used in meals and snacks as a vegetable would be. The easiest way to consume tomatoes is through tomato sauce. Tomato sauce and tomato paste are abundant in a carotenoid called lycopene, which has been shown in numerous studies to play a role in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Add tomato sauce to zucchini spirals and chicken meatballs for a low-carb version of the Italian favorite.
Radishes (1 carb per 1/2 cup)
Radishes may not be used as often as other vegetables, but their flavor lends itself to many uses. A 2023 study found that foods high in anthocyanins (pigments found in red, blue, and purple plants) may help reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Cut julienne radishes and add them to slaw mixes or top salads.
Arugula (0.41 carbs per cup)
Arugula stands out in the leafy world for its peppery flavor. Flavor isn’t the only thing it has going for it, though. It’s also high in plant-derived nitrates, which have been shown in studies to help improve blood pressure and overall heart health. Coat the rocket with high quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice and top with grilled wild salmon.
Cabbage (2.02 carbs per cup)
Collard greens boast one of the highest plant-based sources of calcium. In fact, one serving provides over 20% of your daily mineral requirement. This makes this herb a must-have for anyone interested in maintaining good bone health. Collard greens are the perfect keto-friendly lettuce wrap for chicken or steak tacos.
Broccoli Rabe (0.06 carbs per cup)
Broccoli rabe is a mix of traditional broccoli stalks paired with leafy greens the best of both worlds! The combination also makes it a great way to get more folate; a B vitamin that many people just can’t get enough of. Folate has been found to help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and reduce the risk of neural tube defects in newborns. Saute broccoli with garlic and mix with chicken sausage for a delicious and filling meal.
Cabbage (0.067 carbs per cup)
This keto-friendly cruciferous vegetable boasts several varieties and is a nutritional powerhouse. Studies show that lutein is an amazing component; the powerful carotenoid may help protect and preserve brain function and improve eye health. Make kale your go-to snack by swapping out high-carb snacks (think: potato chips and pretzels) for homemade kale chips.
Spaghetti Squash (7.53 carbs per cup)
No spaghetti on a low-carb plan? No problem! Not only is spaghetti squash a great low-carb alternative to spaghetti, but this super squash can also help with overall weight loss and digestive health due to its high fiber content. To keep the carbohydrate content of your spaghetti squash even lower, choose pesto or alfredo sauce over tomato sauce.
Portobello mushrooms (2.16 carbs per mushroom)
Want to cut back on carbs by eating less meat? Portobello mushrooms are a perfect choice. No matter how you use mushrooms, studies show the benefits to your health will be plentiful. This is because mushrooms contain a large variety of antioxidants that have been shown to improve health markers. Stuff portobello mushrooms with cheese, herbs and keto-friendly breadcrumbs and roast them in the oven for a decadent meal or snack.
Cauliflower (3.27 carbs per cup)
Another cruciferous superstar in the keto world, cauliflower can be used as rice or even eaten as a freeze-dried snack. A study in the journal Hepatology found that cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower can help reduce the severity of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that affects nearly 30 percent of all Americans and a leading cause of liver cancer.
Green beans (4.27 carbs per cup)
There is nothing boring about green beans and they will be your best companion when it comes to satisfying your hunger on a low-carb diet. That’s because green beans are low in calories, but high in filling fiber. Steam the green beans and combine them with flaked Parmesan, salt and pepper and flaked almonds.
Zucchini (2.62 carbs per cup)
Zucchini is a low-carb wonder for meals and snacks. It is a water-rich vegetable, which means that it not only fuels your health but also keeps you hydrated. Try air-fried zucchini sticks for a satisfying side dish or snack.
Peppers (4.38 carbs per cup)
Peppers contain one of the most important signs of abundant color with high nutrient density. Whether you use green, orange, yellow or red, these slightly sweet additions can enhance your meals while supporting a healthy immune system. That’s because bell peppers are a great way to get adequate vitamin C (an immune system essential) while limiting more carb-heavy citrus fruits. Pair chopped bell peppers with mushrooms and onions and mix with scrambled eggs for a nutrient-dense, protein-packed frittata.
Aim to have at least five low-carb vegetables of different colors on your plate each day to maintain adequate fiber and nutrient status. Working with a registered dietitian to come up with a nutrient-dense, low-carb eating plan can also maintain this lifestyle long-term.
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