Low carbohydrate and keto lifestyles are popular — and for good reason. While carbs can be part of a healthy diet, limiting them can be a smart choice for certain people and focusing on quality carbs is a smart move for everyone.
Limiting carbohydrates, especially those coming from foods with empty calories like white, refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages, can make significant improvements to your health.
Moderate- and lower-carbohydrate lifestyles have been shown to help with chronic conditions related to blood sugar management, helping to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. The dietary pattern has also been shown to aid in cancer prevention. Low-carb diets may even help to increase metabolism and assist with weight loss and maintenance.
Following the keto diet, or a lower-carb diet, also encourages people to eat more vegetables. Few foods provide more bang for your nutritional buck than vegetables. Veggies not only provide vitamins and minerals, but can replace the fiber from foods that tend to be limited in a low-carb or keto diet such as whole grains, beans and legumes.
Aim to get at least five low-carb veggies of different colors on to your plate each day to maintain adequate fiber and nutrient status. Working with a registered dietitian to get a nutrient dense, low-carb meal plan can also you stick with this lifestyle long term.
Celery (0.2 carbs per small stalk)
Celery is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse with many benefits, from reducing lipids and blood pressure to helping manage weight. The stalk can be chopped and used in soups, salads or grain dishes. The stalk also makes for a great delivery system or dipper for nut butter. Don’t forget the leaves of the celery! Studies have found that celery leaves may benefit liver and cardiovascular health.
Asparagus (2.4 carbs per cup)
Asparagus may be the perfect choice if you are looking for more vitamins and minerals in your diet. This antioxidant-rich vegetable comes in green and purple colors, with one cup of asparagus providing an impressive amount of potassium, calcium and folate. Asparagus is an excellent side to main dishes, but you may wonder why it causes urine to smell after consumption. This occurs due to the presence of aspargusic acid in asparagus. Once consumed, this acid is broken down into sulfur-containing compounds. The byproducts of which create the unique smell that occurs during urination.
Fennel (3.65 carbs per cup)
While you may have fennel seeds in your spice rack, fewer people utilize the fennel bulb in everyday recipes. Fennel can be used in fresh or raw recipes as a sweet addition to salads, soups and sauces. Add it to your grocery list — especially if you are a post-menopausal woman, since adding fennel to your meals and snacks may benefit menopausal symptoms. A 2017 randomized controlled trial found fennel consumption to have significant reductions in hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anxiety and sleeplessness. An increase in belly fat is often typical in post-menopausal women and a low-carb diet may help in the reduction of belly fat as well.
Eggplant (2.36 carbs per cup)
A 2019 randomized controlled trial found that eggplant consumption could benefit physical and mental health. Eggplant is rich in choline esters, which the study found benefit blood pressure and reduced psychological stress. Eggplant is also high in fiber, which helps reduce carbohydrates’ overall digestibility. Enjoy eggplant as a savory side by turning it into a nutrient-packed baba ganoush and serving it with low-carb crackers or vegetables.
Spinach (.34 carbs per cup)
Having more spinach today could mean a sharper brain tomorrow. The leafy green is packed with magnesium, a mineral that a 2023 study found could lower the risk of dementia in healthy individuals. The study found that individuals consuming at least 550 milligrams of magnesium daily (considered a higher intake) earlier in life could have a reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease later in life. Add spinach to sauces, make a spinach salad with nuts, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or add spinach to scrambled eggs in the morning.
Kohlrabi (3.5g net carbs per cup)
Kohlrabi is colorful, versatile in recipes, fiber-rich, and nutrient-dense. It is also a vegetable you may need to utilize more in your dietary pattern. Kohlrabi is a member of the brassica family (along with cabbage, kale and broccoli) and has similar benefits to other cruciferous vegetables, like prevention against certain cancers, better gut health, and improved blood vessel function. You can use the greens of Kohlrabi in salads, and the bulb makes for an excellent dipper for hummus — just peel and slice!
Brussel Sprouts (4.54 carbs per cup)
Brussels sprouts have become a superstar in the cruciferous vegetables world, finding their way onto restaurant menus and family tables. They are great roasted, sautéed or shaved onto a protein bowl. They also have impressive health benefits, playing a role in improving blood vessel health, preventing certain cancers and promoting gut health.
Tomatoes (4.84 carbs per cup)
Though technically a fruit, tomatoes are 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 multiple 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 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 assist in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. Julienne radishes and add to slaw mixes or top salads.
Arugula (0.41 carbs per cup)
Arugula stands out in the leafy green world for its peppery flavor. Flavor isn't the only thing it has going for it, though. It’s also high in plant-based nitrates, which have been shown in studies to help contribute to improvements in blood pressure and overall heart health. Coat arugula greens in high quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice and top with grilled wild salmon.
Collard greens (2.02 carbs per cup)
Collard greens boast one of the highest sources of plant-based calcium. In fact, one serving provides over 20% of your daily needs for the mineral. That makes this plant a must 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 between 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 individuals don’t get enough of. Folate has been found to help reduce the risk of certain cancers and reduce the risk for neural tube defects in infants. Sauté broccoli rabe with garlic and mix with chicken sausage for a delicious and filling meal.
Shallots (1.4g net carbs per 1 tablespoon)
If you love utilizing onions and garlic to flavor your meals and snacks, then shallots may offer the best of both worlds. Shallots are part of the same family as onions and garlic — the allium family. Allium-rich foods release a chemical called allicin when crushed or chopped. This chemical has also been associated with the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and prevention of certain cancers.
Kale (0.067 carbs per cup)
This keto-friendly cruciferous vegetable boasts several varieties and is a nutritional powerhouse. Studies show that lutein is one standout component; the powerful carotenoid may help to protect and preserve brain function and improve eye health. Make kale your go-to snack by replacing carb-heavy snacks (think: chips and pretzels) with homemade kale chips.
Spaghetti squash (7.53 carbs per cup)
No spaghetti on a low-carb plan? No problem! Spaghetti squash not only makes a great low-carb alternative to spaghetti, but this super squash may also help with overall weight loss and digestive health due to its high fiber status. To keep the carb content of your spaghetti squash even lower, choose pesto or Alfredo sauce over tomato sauce.
Portobello mushrooms (2.16 carbs per mushroom)
Want to go low carb while eating less meat? Portobello mushrooms are a perfect choice. No matter how you use fungi, studies show that the benefits to your health will be abundant. That’s because mushrooms contain large varieties of antioxidants shown to improve health markers. Stuff portobello mushrooms with cheese, herbs and keto-friendly breadcrumbs and roast 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 impacting almost 30% of all Americans and a leading cause of liver cancer.
Green beans (4.27 carbs per cup)
There’s nothing boring about green beans and they will be your best companion when it comes to keeping your hunger satisfied on a low-carb diet. That’s because green beans are low in calories, but high in filling fiber. Steam green beans and pair them with shaved parmesan, salt and pepper and slivered almonds.
Zucchini (2.62 carbs per cup)
Zucchini is a low-carb wonder for meals and snacks. It’s a high-water vegetable, meaning that it not only fuels your health, but keeps you hydrated as well. Try air frying zucchini sticks for a satisfying side dish or snack.
Bell peppers (4.38 carbs per cup)
Bell peppers contain one of the most important signs of high nutrient density — abundant color. Whether you use green, orange, yellow or red, these slightly sweet additions can improve 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 you limit more carb-heavy citrus fruits. Pair chopped bell peppers with mushrooms and onions and toss with scrambled eggs for a nutrient dense and protein-packed omelet.