Keto vegetables – the best and the worst
What vegetables are good on a keto diet? There’s a simple rule:
- Above ground vegetables are generally lower carb and therefore the best keto options.
- Below ground vegetables, a.k.a. root vegetables, contain more carbs and should be consumed with care, especially potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Exceptions to that rule do exist. Read on for more details.
Carb counts are provided as net carbs per 100 grams (3½ ounces) serving.1
Note that while the below ground vegetables range from 7 to 17 carbs per 100 grams, the above ground carbs pictures are all under 5 carbs per 100 gram serving. Quite a difference!
A word about onions: while they grow below ground, and are higher carb, onions as a seasoning can be added to foods because generally people do not eat too many onions at once. Be careful of caramelized onions, or sautéed onions, as these are easier to consume in larger amounts. Green onions, or scallions, as a topping for salads and dishes are fine in modest amounts.
Vegetables on keto
All foods are comprised of macronutrients – carbs, protein, and fat. While meat and most dairy are primarily made up of protein or fat, vegetables contain primarily carbs. On a strict ketogenic diet, with fewer than 5% of calories from carbs, it’s important to know which veggies are the lowest in carbs, particularly if your goal is to consume fewer than 20 grams of carbs per day.
On a keto diet, vegetables with less than 5 net carbs may be eaten relatively freely —have them with butter and other sauces! It is hard to over-eat spinach, zucchini, lettuce, asparagus and kale on a keto diet.
You will have to be a bit more careful with slightly higher carb vegetables like bell peppers (especially red and yellow ones), Brussels sprouts, and beans to keep below 20 grams of carbs a day on a keto diet. Their carbs can add up. One medium sized red pepper can have 6-8 grams of carbs.
While tomatoes are technically a fruit, you can have them on a keto diet, but again be careful as their carbs are a bit higher and, combined with other foods, may take you up over 20 grams net carbs a day if you consume too much.
If you are doing a more moderate or liberal low-carb diet, with more than 20 grams of carbs a day, you can eat as many above ground vegetables as you desire.
More helpful guidelines
Here are two more general rules that can help you choose lower-carb vegetables:
- In general, keto friendly veggies are those with leaves — all types of lettuces, spinaches, etc. are good ketogenic options.
- Green vegetables tend to be lower in carbs than veggies with a lot of color. For example, green cabbage is lower in carbs than purple cabbage. Green bell peppers are also somewhat lower in carbs than red or yellow peppers.
Vegetables and fat
Use vegetables as a vehicle for fat by seasoning cooked vegetables with butter or ghee. Better yet, sauté or roast them in lard, coconut oil, avocado oil, or ghee. If you eat dairy, you can make a cream sauce with heavy cream, cheese, and/or cream cheese. Another excellent way to add fat to vegetables is by dipping them in salad dressings or other dipping sauces.
Top 10 keto vegetables
Carb counts are provided as net carbs per 100 gram (3½ ounce) serving.
- Cauliflower – 4 g. The darling of many keto recipes, cauliflower has a mild flavor and is very versatile. It’s used as the base of staples such as cauliflower rice and cauliflower mash. Have a look at our top 18 cauliflower recipes
- Cabbage – 3 g. The humble cabbage becomes a standout when sautéed in butter or used as the base of our popular Asian cabbage stir fry. See more of our top cabbage recipes
- Avocado – 2 g. Technically a fruit, but let’s not get fussy when it is chock full of nutrients, healthy fat, and delicious to boot! Whether eaten plain in slices, with aioli or another dip, mashed as guacamole, or even baked, avocado is a keto go-to, with so many ways to be enjoyed. Here’s some great avocado recipes
- Broccoli – 4 g. A versatile, tasty, and simple replacement for pasta, rice or potatoes. It can be steamed, fried in butter, drizzled in cheese sauce, baked au gratin, roasted with bacon….with so many ways to prepare it you’ll be saying ‘more trees, please!’. Check out these recipes
- Zucchini – 3 g. Missing potatoes? Try our zucchini fries or zucchini chips. Zucchini can also be spiralized to make keto pasta, like in this keto carbonara. More recipes
- Spinach – 1 g. Extremely low-carb, spinach is one of the most keto-friendly vegetables. It can be used raw in salads, baked into chips, sautéed, or creamed. Check out our very popular keto frittata with fresh spinach or any of our many other spinach recipes
- Asparagus – 2 g. Very filling, highly nutritious, and very low carb, asparagus was made for a high fat sauce such as hollandaise or béarnaise. Top recipes
- Kale – 4 g. Although higher carb than spinach, use kale raw in salads or bake into chips, sauté in lard, or use as a base instead of pasta. Recipes
- Green beans – 4 g. Green beans can be roasted, steamed, or stewed, but always tastes better cooked in some type of fat such as bacon fat or butter. Recipes
- Brussels sprouts – 5 g. These baby cabbages pack a lot of flavor and are excellent roasted until crispy or served in a creamy sauce. Recipes
Veggie sticks, or crudités, with a high fat dipping sauce are good keto choices for snacks and before dinner appetizers. Be careful, however, with carrots as their carbs do add up.
Dip: Dipping vegetables in a savoury dip, cream cheese, or herbed sour cream is a great way to eat higher fat. Top recipes:
Peas, beans, lentils, corn, quinoa
Although they all grow above ground, peas, beans and lentils are legumes, and corn and quinoa are considered grains. And they are all fairly high in carbs so are not good keto options. If you are keeping below the recommended 20 grams of carbs a day, avoid eating them.
Grains and sugar
Even though wheat grows above ground, it’s not a vegetable. It’s a grain and it’s full of carbs. Anything made from wheat flour – breads, cereals, pastas, baked goods etc. – contains carbs that are rapidly digested into glucose and will raise blood sugar. Whole grain products (brown bread) are just as bad and raise blood glucose just as high. Do not eat.
Most sugar comes from plants, too — either sugar cane, beets, or frequently, corn, in the case of high fructose corn syrup. These are not healthy and should not be eaten on keto. High fructose corn syrup, which is added to many products such as sodas, candies, sweets, cookies, is perhaps the very worst for health. It is very high carb and is not keto-friendly at all.
Keto vegetable recipes
Top cauliflower recipes
Cauliflower may be the most popular keto vegetable of all. Here are our top cauliflower recipes:
Top cabbage recipes
Cabbage is another very versatile keto vegetable. Here are our top cabbage recipes: