Low-carb vegetables – the best and the worst
What vegetables are low carb?1 There’s a very simple rule:
- Vegetables growing above ground are usually low carb and can be eaten freely.
- Vegetables growing below ground contain more carbs, so you’ll have to be more careful with them (especially potatoes).
Like any rule it is not perfect, so have a look below.
All numbers are net carbs per 100 grams (3½ ounces).2
E.g. an average tomato has about 3 grams of carbs. A large cauliflower head weighs a lot more though, potentially ten times more, and may thus contain about ten times 3 grams, i.e. 30 grams of carbs.
Please note the difference between above-ground and below-ground vegetables.
Vegetables with less than 5 percent carbs may be eaten relatively freely.4 If you’re on a not-too-strict low-carb diet (more than 20 grams per day), you can probably eat all you want of all these low-carb vegetables.
If you’re on a keto low-carb diet (below 20 grams a day), you may need to be a bit careful with some of the vegetables. You should probably be especially careful with bell peppers or tomatoes – these carbs quickly add up towards the 20 grams-a-day limit. Just one medium-sized bell pepper may contain 4-7 grams of digestible carbs.
Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor. Full disclaimer
Top 10 low-carb vegetables
All numbers are net carbs per 100 grams (3½ ounces).7
- Cauliflower – 3 g. Perhaps the most classic and iconic of all low-carb vegetables. The base of cauliflower rice and cauliflower mash. Check out our top cauliflower recipes
- Cabbage – 3 g. Another great low-carb vegetable. Who doesn’t love butter-fried green cabbage or the simply amazing Asian cabbage stir-fry?8 For more, here are our top cabbage recipes
- Avocado – 2 g. Not just low carb, but also full of nutritious fat.9 Technically a fruit, but most people likely think of it as a vegetable. Avocado can be eaten in all kinds of ways, including on its own, in salads, or it can be used to make guacamole. But that’s just the start, here are other awesome avocado recipes
- Broccoli – 4 g. Another great option that can replace pasta, rice or potatoes. Just fry it in butter or add some cheese for great-tasting side dishes. More recipes
- Zucchini – 3 g. Try our zucchini fries or zucchini chips. Zucchini can also be used to make low-carb pasta, like in this low-carbonara. More recipes
- Spinach – 1 g. An extremely low-carb vegetable, spinach is full of vitamins and minerals and can be used many ways.10 It pairs beautifully with eggs, such as in our popular frittata.11 Check out that spinach recipe, and and many more
- Asparagus – 2 g. Revered as both a food and medicine – and aphrodisiac – by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans up to medieval times, asparagus is one of the world’s oldest cultivated vegetables.12 Nutritious and delicious!13 Try it wrapped with prosciutto and grilled, or in other tasty recipes
- Kale – 3 g. Hardier than spinach, less watery, but just as nutrient-rich, kale can stand up to mincing, sautéing, baking, and much more.14 Cut into ribbons, it makes a great noodle substitute for zesty sauces. Recipes
- Green beans – 4 g. Frenched, diced and tossed in a salad, fricasseed and more, green beans taste great especially with added fats like butter, an olive-oil vinaigrette, or bacon.15 Recipes
- Brussels sprouts – 5 g. Nutty, filling and nutritious, they are especially good roasted with olive oil and garlic, or with bacon.16 Or steam and serve with a cheese cream sauce. Recipes
Vegetable sticks and dip
Vegetable sticks are relatively low carb, except for carrots that have slightly more carbs.
Dip: Add cream cheese or any really low-carb and high-fat dip sauce. Here are our top recipes:
Peas, corn, beans, etc.
Peas, corn, beans, lentils and quinoa are relatively high in carbs, and so are not good options on a keto low-carb diet. On a more moderate or liberal low-carb diet, you may be able to include some peas and lentils.
On a side note, grains like corns and quinoa are usually not considered vegetables.17
Refined grains and sugar
Wheat is not considered a vegetable, it is a grain.18 And anything made with wheat flour contains lots of rapidly digested carbs.19 Avoid this when on a low-carb diet. When it comes to their effect on blood sugar, whole-grain products have a slightly slower impact than refined grains, but the difference is surprisingly small.20
Bread, pasta, rice, cookies etc. are not vegetables, and they are full of carbohydrates.
High-fructose corn syrup – the sweet ingredient in many sodas – comes from plants (corn), but it is not a vegetable and it is certainly not low carb.
Low-carb vegetable recipes
Top cauliflower recipes
Cauliflower may be the most popular low-carb vegetable of all. Here are our top cauliflower recipes:
Top cabbage recipes
Cabbage is another very versatile low-carb vegetable. Here are our top cabbage recipes:
Food for thought
Here are a few common questions about low-carb vegetables. For all kinds of questions, have a look at our full low-carb FAQ.
Can you eat tomatoes on a low-carb diet?
Yes. Tomatoes contain about 3 grams of net carbs per 100 grams (about 5 grams per cup). But if you’re eating a strict keto low-carb diet (below 20 grams per day) it’s worth keeping in mind that the carbs do add up, and you can only eat a moderate amount of tomatoes to stay under that limit.
Are cucumbers low in carbs?
Cucumbers have about 3 grams of net carbs per 100 grams, so they are fairly low carb – as you can see in the visual guide above. You can absolutely eat cucumber on a low-carb diet.
Are carrots OK on low carb?
Carrots contain about 7 grams of net carbs per 100 grams. On a keto low-carb diet (below 20 grams per day) you may want to avoid carrots completely. But they can be OK on a moderate or liberal low-carb diet (if you’re aiming to stay below 50 or 100 grams of carbs per day).
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Visual low-carb guides
Does it matter if vegetables are low carb? Well, to limit carbohydrate intake it may. And scientific studies now prove that compared to other diets, low carb is generally more effective, for weight loss and certain health markers:
Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fiber.
The numbers are for uncooked vegetables. The carb content per 100 grams is generally slightly lower in cooked form.
For example, while raw broccoli has about 4 grams of net carbs per 100 grams, cooked broccoli has about 3 grams. The main reason for this difference is an increase in water content in cooked vegetables.
The numbers are taken from online databases, like the USDA database. Note that there are minor differences between these databases. The reason could be that different breeds of vegetables can differ in carb content, and there can be seasonal variation etc. In cases where there are significant differences between databases we have attempted to choose a median value. ↩
Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fiber. ↩
I.e. vegetables with a number of 5 or lower in the pictures above. ↩
Vegetables are generally considered very healthy, possibly because of the vitamins and minerals they contain. However, the belief in the potential healthiness of eating vegetables is mainly based on weak observational data, so it’s hard to know for sure.
British Medical Journal 2014: Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies [weak evidence for a modest positive effect of eating vegetables on heart health and longevity]
The ranking is rather subjective, and open for debate. ↩
Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fiber. ↩
The fear of saturated fats, including from dairy, appears to have been completely misguided:
Nutrition Journal 2017: The effect of replacing saturated fat with mostly n-6 polyunsaturated fat on coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials [strong evidence] (analysis)
Here’s a study investigating if eating eggs for breakfast every day has any negative effects on cholesterol levels. They found none, but the egg-eating group reported greater satiety:
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015: The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study-a 3-mo randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]
Eating eggs daily on a low-carb diet might improve HDL cholesterol:
The evidence against eating red meat, including bacon, appears to be very weak. Learn more
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017: Total red meat intake of ≥0.5 servings/d does not negatively influence cardiovascular disease risk factors: a systemically searched meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [strong evidence]
They are the seeds of grasses:
Even foods made from wholemeal flour is relatively rapidly digested and raises blood glucose quickly, though slightly less fast than foods made from white flour:
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018: The effects of whole-grain compared with refined wheat, rice, and rye on the postprandial blood glucose response: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [strong evidence]
Unlike whole-grain wheat and rye, whole-grain rice may produce a smaller blood glucose response compared to white rice, however, in relation to low-carb foods it is still very big.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018: The effects of whole-grain compared with refined wheat, rice, and rye on the postprandial blood glucose response: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [strong evidence] ↩