A successful keto diet plan requires more than healthy fats and proteins. We explain what keto vegetables are, where they fit in the keto lifestyle, and some simple methods of preparing them.
What makes following a keto diet different from following a high-protein, low-carb diet? When keto diets force our bodies to produce ketones, we stop burning carbohydrates for energy and become fat-burning furnaces.
A keto diet gets most of its calories from healthy fats, with just enough quality protein to maintain muscle mass. But the secret to producing ketones -- a state called ketosis -- comes from consuming only 20 to 50 net carbohydrates per day. What are net carbs?
A carb is a sugar, starch or fiber. A keto diet, however, lumps sugars and starches together. Starches are simply long sugar molecule chains that break down into glucose during digestion. They aren't sugary sweet, but they still raise blood sugar levels.
Fiber, on the other hand, doesn't raise blood sugar because our digestive tracts don't make the enzymes needed to break it down. So a keto dieter doesn't count fiber content when tallying daily carb consumption, or net carbs. To determine net carb intake, keto dieters subtract the fiber we eat from our foods’ carbohydrate counts.
Fats and proteins contain few to no carbs and inadequate amounts of all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients we need. That's where keto vegetables come in.
What Are Keto Vegetables?
Keto vegetables are also low in carbs. But they're high in nutrients and essential for feeding the billions of gut flora that help digest our food, support our immune systems and otherwise keep us alive.
Luckily, telling keto-friendly vegetables from keto-sabotaging ones doesn’t require a degree in nutrition. Putting it simply, most vegetables in the low net carbs category grow with their edible parts above the soil line.
Like all generalizations, however, this one has exceptions. They include peas, beans, and other legumes, pumpkins, butternut squash, and sweet corn. But the bulk of veggies off limits on a keto diet are starch-heavy root crops such as potatoes, yams, turnips, and carrots.
The Keto Vegetables Shopping List
The good news? So many vegetables are low in net carbs that the chances of becoming bored with a keto diet are slim. Especially when the pounds keep dropping off!
Here's our list of readily available and versatile favorites, with total and net carbs based on the USDA's National Nutrient Database carbohydrate and fiber amounts for each 100-gram, 3.5-ounce serving:
Of all keto vegetables, the dark-green leafy ones pack the most nutrient-dense punch per serving. Loaded with fiber, they're also very low in the net carbs department.
- Kale (4.4g total, 0.3g net): Absolutely full of Vitamins A, C and K, kale pairs best with other strong flavors. Think a breakfast of Eggs Benedict served on a bed of kale sautéed with bacon and garlic. Or how about blending kale, pine nuts, grated parmesan, and olive oil pesto to dress up roasted zucchini?
- Spinach (3.6g total, 1.4g net): Try Popeye's favorite leafy green creamed with a touch of nutmeg, sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice or baked in Eggs Florentine. For a full-meal salad, toss baby spinach leaves, crumbled bacon, sliced mushrooms and hard-boiled eggs in a dressing of spicy mustard, warm bacon grease, and red wine vinegar.
- Swiss chard (3.7g total, 2.1g net): The keto diet's answer to sandwich bread and taco shells, Swiss chard leaves are big enough to hold all your favorite Asian-, Latino- or Middle Eastern-inspired fillings. With its net carbs registering so low, one bunch of Swiss chard can make a week's worth of wraps!
Keto Vegetables as Comfort Food
Thanks to creatively prepared low-carb vegetables, keto dieters can indulge in the flavors and textures of mashed potatoes, pasta, and other favorite comfort foods:
- Cauliflower (5g total, 3g net): is the go-to solution for keto followers with starchy side dish cravings. Boiled lightly and pureed with butter and grated cheese, it does a terrific impersonation of mashed potatoes with only 20 percent of the net carbs!
- Zucchini squash (3.1g total, 2.1g net): Grain-based noodles are definite keto diet no-nos. Instead, try low-carb zucchini squash "zoodles." Run through a spiralizer and paired with your favorite red or white sauce, they make a more than passable pasta.
- Spaghetti squash (6.9g total, 5.4g net): Don't have a spiralizer? Bake a spaghetti squash and shred it with a fork to create instant low-carb pasta. Go with an Italian, Mexican or Asian sauce -- this squash works with them all! Just remember that it has more than twice the net carbs of zucchini.
- Cucumbers (3.6 g total, 3.1g net): Worried about giving up crunchy, salty chips and the dips they were made for? Toss sliced cukes in olive oil, sprinkle them with our favorite seasonings and grated cheese and pop them in a home dehydrator overnight. Voila! The perfect receptacle for low-carb sour cream and onion dip.
Keto Vegetables as Finger Food
Prepared in advance, these keto veggies make terrific low-carb finger foods. Use them for get-togethers or as grab-and-go snacks.
- Celery stalks (3g total, 1.4g net) cut into 4-inch lengths and stuffed with:
Grass-fed cream cheese spiked with fresh herbs and garlic or
Softened goat cheese topped with olive tapenade, chopped walnuts and sprinkled with chopped, fresh rosemary and thyme leaves, or
Natural, sugar-free peanut or almond butter.
- Sweet red mini-peppers (6.3 g total, 4.2g net) cut in half lengthwise, with their stems and seeds removed, make great "scoops" for mayo, sour cream, and taco-flavored seasoning dip.
- Guacamole and cucumber crisps (8.6g total and 1.6g net for the avocado; 3.6g total and 3.1 g net for the crisps): Although technically a fruit, avocado is loaded with fiber and heart-healthy, mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Lime juice, minced onion and garlic, cilantro and a bit of chopped tomato for color make this a flavorful and festive snack!
Why Keto Vegetables Are the Key to Keto Success
Face it. No diet becomes a lifestyle unless we feel good while we follow it. During the early stages of eating keto, potassium-rich leafy greens and avocados help ward off the aches, fatigue and brain fog that accompany the keto flu. These carb withdrawal symptoms have been the downfall of many a keto newcomer.
The bottom line? Healthy keto diets require more than loading fats to achieve ketosis and eating enough protein to maintain muscle mass. They also need a foundation of the vitamins, minerals and hundreds of micronutrients only keto veggies can supply!