Vegetables You Can Enjoy Guilt-Free on a Low-Carb Diet

Green vegetables forming heart-shape
Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Vegetables are encouraged when you are on a low-carb diet. But as with most food groups, some vegetables are a better choice than others. Most non-starchy vegetables are very low in carbohydrate, with less than 5 grams in a half-cup serving.

How Can You Tell if a Vegetable Is Low-Carb?

To determine whether a vegetable isn't starchy and would be good for a low-carb diet, you can look up the nutrition data.

In 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw, it would have no more than 5-6 grams carbohydrate, as well as 3 grams fiber, 0.5-2 grams protein, and 0 grams fat. To find the effective (net) carbs, subtract the fiber grams from the total carbohydrates.

You may find it easier to remember which vegetables are more likely to be low in carbohydrates by thinking of them in four groups based on the part of the plant they come from. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, this works pretty well.

Leafy Vegetables: Lowest in Carbs

Leaves have the least amount of carbohydrate, and what little is in them is wrapped in so much fiber that there is minimal impact on blood sugar. This could be helped by the fact that they are good sources of vitamin K. They are also rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Examples of leafy vegetables include:

  • Alfalfa sprouts and other sprouts from small seeds have 0.1 grams effective (net) carbohydrates and only 8 calories per cup. But bean sprouts are not as low in carbs. They would end up on the high end of this list.
  • Lettuce and salad greens such as endive, escarole, radicchio, romaine, and baby spinach that you usually eat fresh are the next lowest in carbs, although they have less fiber than heartier greens.
  • Spinach and Swiss chard may be eaten fresh or cooked. They are very low in net carbs, with 0.2  and 0.4 grams in a 1/2 cup serving, respectively.
  • Hearty greens such as collard greens, mustard greens, and kale have many vitamins and nutrients and are low in carbs.
  • Herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, and thyme are low in carbs.
  • Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) is very low in carbs at 0.5 grams per 1/2 cup raw, chopped bok choy.

Stems and Flowers

Stems and flowers are usually a little higher in carbohydrates than the leaves, but still low enough for most low-carb diets. Examples of stems and flowers, from lowest in carbs to higher:

  • Bamboo shoots: Canned bamboo shoots are high in fiber, so a 1/2 cup serving has 1.2 grams net carbs.
  • Celery: It's a staple as a low-carb and low-calorie crunchy vegetable. Due to the high fiber content, there are 0.7 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup chopped raw celery.
  • Seaweed, such as nori, is very low in carbs, although it varies by type of seaweed.
  • Mushrooms: They are very low in carbohydrate, and you can use them in many dishes, even grilling them and substituting a portobello mushroom for a hamburger.
  • Cabbage: It's high in nutrition and fiber, and you can make your dish colorful with red or purple varieties. You can enjoy cabbage cooked, raw, or fermented into sauerkraut.
  • Asparagus: This versatile and elegant spring vegetable is high in fiber, bringing down its net carbs.
  • Fennel: It has 2 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup, and you can use it in salads or as an onion substitute in cooked dishes, with fewer carbs than onions.
  • Cauliflower: With 2.5 grams of carbs in 1/2 cup of cooked cauliflower, it's a great substitute for root vegetables such as potatoes and starches such as rice.
  • Broccoli: While broccoli has a few more carbs, it balances them with lots of fiber.
  • Brussels Sprouts: These are on the higher side for carbs compared with the other "stems" at 5.5 grams per half cup, cooked.
  • Artichoke: These are high in fiber, but rank higher in carbs than the other "flowers" and are lower in carbs than all of the "fruits" in the next grouping.

    Fruits (Vegetables That Contain the Seeds of the Plant)

    The part of the plant that contains seeds is, botanically, the fruit of the plant, although we tend to only call things a fruit if they are sweet. You can identify these if you note the seeds when you cut them open. This group includes peppers, squashes of all types, green beans, tomatoes, okra, and eggplant. Avocado is also a fruit, though lower in carbs than the others. Plantains have the most carbs in this category, which makes sense, as bananas are among the highest-carb fruits.

    • Avocado: A 1/2 cup of California avocado has 1 gram effective (net) carbohydrate, plus 5 grams fiber and 120 calories.
    • Okra: A 1/2 cup serving has 2 grams of net carbs, 2 of grams fiber, and 16 calories.
    • Cucumbers and pickles with no added sugar: While they have only 1.9 grams of carbohydrates per 1/2 cup, they also are very low in fiber.
    • Green beans and wax beans: A 1/2 cup serving has 2 grams of effective (net) carbohydrate plus 2 grams of fiber and 17 calories.
    • Peppers, like green bell peppersred bell peppersjalapeno peppers. These vary as the red peppers are indeed sweeter and higher in carbohydrates, but still low enough in net carbs to place in this position on the list.
    • Summer squash and zucchini: These are very low in net carbs and versatile to use in recipes, including making "zoodles" with a spiralizer to substitute for or extend high-carb pasta.
    • Snow peas, snap peas, and pea pods: These often taste sweet and can be enjoyed as a snack or added to a salad or stir-fry. In a 1/2 cup serving, they have 5.25 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fiber.
    • Tomatoes: A small tomato has 3.5 grams of carbs and 1.1 grams of fiber.
    • Eggplant: This vegetable can take the place of starchier choices, and has only 2.4 grams of carbs in 1/2 cup of cubes.
    • Tomatillos: These can be used in many south-of-the-border recipes and salsas.

    In this group, those with higher carbs are pumpkins and winter squash and spaghetti squash.

    Roots and Seeds

    This category has the most variation, although in general, root vegetables will be higher in carbs. First, these are the roots that are actually low in carbs and would be a good choice for a low-carb diet.

    • Radishes: These darlings of the spring garden are very easy to grow. They have 1 gram net carbs, 1 gram fiber, and 9 calories in a 1/2 cup serving.
    • Jicama: 1/2 cup of raw jicama slices has 2.25 grams of effective (net) carb plus 3 grams of fiber and 23 calories

    Root vegetables that aren't low, but also aren't especially high in carbs include:

    • Green onions (scallions): These combine the leaf/stem with the root and so they are lower in carbs, with 3 grams of net carb and 1.5 grams fiber in 1/2 cup chopped raw scallions. That gives green onions the edge over white or red onions, which are only the "root" portion and therefore higher in carbs.
    • Turnips: 1/2 cup raw turnip has 3 grams of effective (net) carbohydrate plus 1 gram of fiber and 18 calories
    • Rutabagas: These have 4 grams of net carbs in a 1/2 cup serving.
    • Celery root (celeriac): 1/2 cup raw celeriac has 4 grams net carbs and 1 gram fiber.
    • Carrots: There are 4 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup chopped, raw carrot. But often carrots are moved to the "higher carb" list for low-carb diets.
    • Onions: In a 1/2 cup serving, there are 5 grams of carbohydrate, but only about 1 gram of fiber.
    • Leeks: In a 1/2 cup serving, there are 6.5 grams of net carbs.
    • Water chestnuts (canned): Canned water chestnuts have 7 grams of net carbs in a 1/2 cup serving, while chopped fresh water chestnuts have 13 grams.

    Meanwhile, many root vegetables end up on the high-carb list, including carrots, beets, winter squash, fresh water chestnuts, parsnips, and potatoes.

    Higher-Carb Vegetables

    The most problematic vegetables that should generally be avoided when reducing carbohydrates are the starchier and sweeter vegetables.

    • Carrots: Some low-carb diets say to avoid carrots, although they have fewer carbs than the others below
    • Beets: In 1/2 cup raw, there are 5.6 grams of net carbs.
    • Peas: In 1/2 cup frozen, cooked peas there is a little less than 5 grams of net carbs.
    • Winter squashes, such as acorn and butternut:  In 1/2 cup cooked squash, there are 10 grams of net carbohydrate plus 2 grams of fiber. It's lower for raw squash.
    • Water chestnuts (fresh, chopped): These are higher in carbs than the canned water chestnuts, moving them into the high category.
    • Parsnips: A 1/2 cup raw serving has 9 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 3 grams fiber and 50 calories.
    • Potatoes:. Raw potato has 12 grams of net carbs and 2 grams of fiber in 1/2 cup. Cooked, plain potato it has over 14 grams of net carbs for 1/2 cup.
    • Sweet potatoes: A half cup of mashed, baked sweet potato has over 17 grams of net carbs.
    • Corn: A 1/2 cup serving of cooked corn has 12 grams of net carbs.
    • Plantains: A 1/2 cup serving of boiled plantain has over 27 grams of net carbs.

    How to Add Low-Carb Vegetables to Your Diet

    Most people double or triple the number of vegetables they eat when they change to a low-carb diet. If you are not used to eating a lot of veggies, be mindful of starch traps and try low-substitutes for starchy foods, such as mashed cauliflowercauliflower "rice," spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, and cauliflower "potato" salad.

    People on low-carb diets also tend to eat more salads. For example, instead of a chicken sandwich, you can have the chicken on top of a salad, taco salad, Thai-style chicken salad, and other low-carb salads and salad dressings.

    If you are considering using organic or non-organic vegetables, keep in mind that some vegetables are more likely to have been cultivated with more pesticides than others.

    The vegetable world is plentiful and feeling comfortable handling and preparing vegetables goes a long way to a successful low-carb diet plan. There is a multitude of low-carb vegetable recipes, such as this easy spinach casserole, and fantastic low-carb side dishes such as a low-carb cole slaw.

    What About Fruits?

    Fruits are generally handled in a different food group because of the natural sugars in fruits that normally increase the carbohydrate load. But, like vegetables, there is are some low-carb fruit options. Fruits do not have to be written off in a low-carb diet. Moderation is key.

    A Word From Verywell

    Enjoying a low-carb diet can introduce you to new ways to use leafy vegetables and stem vegetables to substitute for starchy vegetables. Make one-third to one-half of your plate from low-carb vegetables, and you'll be excited by the colors, textures, and flavor.

    Sources

    Continue Reading