Let's make one thing very clear: Vegetables are carbohydrates—carbohydrates that are good for you.
Any diet that tells you that you shouldn't eat certain vegetables, or entire groups of certain vegetables, isn't healthy even if you're going to or already are losing weight on that diet. (Yes, losing weight and being healthy are not the same thing.)
So, before we continue, once more YOU SHOULD EAT VEGETABLES.
Now, the ultra-restrictive keto diet—which demands that you follow a high-fat, low-carb eating plan—tends to suggest that you might want to avoid certain higher-carbohydrate vegetables that could potentially knock you out of ketosis.
As Kayla Girgen, R.D., bariatric dietitian and mindset coach, explains, the ketogenic diet dates back to the early 1900s and was originally used as a nutritional treatment for children with epilepsy.
“With the rise of low-carb eating and the Atkins diet over the past several decades, the keto diet has reappeared on the scene but with less stringent guidelines and more generous carbohydrate allowances for people looking to lose weight,” Girgen says.
Reducing veggies from your diet can also be detrimental for your gut health thanks to vegetables being rich in fiber. “Vegetables consist primarily of carbohydrates, notably fiber, which is important for any dieter, but especially helpful for the keto crowd, as constipation can be an uncomfortable side effect of the keto diet,” says Girgen. “When considering keto-friendly carbohydrates, it's important to examine net carbohydrates which factor in the fiber content of a food. You can calculate net carbs by subtracting fiber from total carbs (total carbs - fiber = net carbs).”
Again, while vegetables are among the most nutritious foods you can eat, there are a few starchy and carbohydrate-dense ones that can definitely throw you out of fat-burning mode—even in small servings. These starchy foods include potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
In order to remain in ketosis and eat a healthful diet, consider the vegetables on the list that follows.
Many of them are rich in gut-filling fiber and they're all loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. Plus, most of these keto-friendly foods also have a high water content, which, in addition to helping you maintain good hydration, can also help you with your feelings of fullness (and thereby help you eat less at mealtime and avoid mindless snacking after mealtime.) All these vegetables incredibly flavorful on their own—no ranch dressing needed—and are easy to work into healthful meals.
Feast upon them and you can even go ahead and call yourself "plant-based," even though experts still aren't entirely sure what the heck that actually means.
Instead, fill up your plate with these keto-friendly vegetables, all of which have few net grams of carbs and bring some more of the good stuff to your meals.
That’s right, this orange-hued vegetable is allowed on ketosis in moderate amounts. “Don't put pumpkin in a fall-only category! Pumpkin puree is low in carbs and a good source of fiber,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. Plus, it’s a great ingredient for keto-compliant desserts when you want something sweet and satisfying, she says. There are 7 grams of net carbs per ½ cup serving.
“This super green is one of the few vegetables that is a good source of protein (3 grams per cup), and it's also low in carbs and high in other nutrients like vitamin A, C and K,” says Michalczyk. It’s really versatile—you can use it for omelets, keto air fryer kale chips, salads, soups, and more. It has just 3.4 grams of net carbs per cup.
“Another super green, spinach is packed with vitamin A, C, calcium and iron. It's very low in carbs and makes for an amazing addition to any meal,” says Michalczyk. It's a great vegetable to always have on hand in the fridge for easy weeknight meals when you’re pinched for time. A cup has a mere 2.5 grams of net carbs.
“Jicama is a hearty root vegetable low in calories and high in water content,” says Girgen, who likes the “crunch factor” of this root veggie, especially since it’s often missing from keto diets. Enjoy it raw to get that satisfying crunch, she says, or go out on a limb and make jicama fries. “This keto-friendly vegetable is high in vitamin C and antioxidants which help protect against free radicals and boost your immune response,” says Girgen, who says raw jicama contains five grams of net carbs per ½-cup serving.
Use these multi-colored peppers in a variety of ways, like in stir-fry, eggs, and fajitas, or as a dipper for keto spreads. Michalczyk notes they're "packed with vitamin C and potassium, which is great for active bodies." There are 5.9 net grams per half a cup chopped.
Don’t underestimate this power green and just reserve it for garnish. “This peppery green is a little different from kale and spinach, but like them, is low in carbs and high in nutrition. It's also a good source of folate, calcium, potassium and magnesium, which are great for your blood pressure,” says Michalczyk. There are 0.4 grams of net carbs in a full cup.
“This summer squash is a perfect substitute if you are wanting pasta but adhering to the keto diet,” says Michalczyk. Spiralize it, and you may not even know the difference—especially if you have a flavor-packed dressing and some meatballs on top. “It’s filled with vitamin C, A, and calcium, plus it's low in carbs,” she says. There are just 3 grams of net carbs per 1 medium-sized zucchini.
With just 2 grams of net carbs per ½ cup, broccoli is a major superfood that should be a staple on the keto diet, says Suzanne Dixon, RD. It’s high in fiber and protein to keep you full and you can use it in just about anything—stews, soups, and keto makeovers of your favorite foods like casserole.
Cauliflower has a similar nutrition profile to broccoli. It’s also a great cruciferous veggie to choose when you’re on keto, says Dixon, as it has 1.5 grams of net carbs per half a cup. It’s pretty bland in taste, but that’s the beauty of it, as you can adapt it to whatever you are making with the right spices and sauces.
Cabbage is delicious when stuffed into keto fajitas, used in soups, or made into coleslaw with a rich, creamy high-fat dressing that’s keto-friendly. It has 2 grams of net carbs per cup shredded, so you can eat a lot in one sitting without falling out of ketosis, says Dixon.
Asparagus has just 2 grams of net carbs per 1 cup chopped, and it is super versatile, Dixon says. This green veggie is high in fiber and folate. Add it to stir-fry, grill it, or use it in your slow cooker for hearty stews.
Like other dark-colored, leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula), Swiss Chard is keto-friendly and deeply satisfying. Credit its high fiber content. Tastes great sauteed in olive oil with a little salt too.
Okay, okay, so they're not technically a vegetable (they're a fungus), but work with us here. Mushrooms are a great source of immunity-aiding vitamin D, they're low in net carbs, and taste awesome—especially if you're branching out from the white button variety and into new worlds of flavor with oyster, shiitake, enoki, and so much more.
Hearts of Palm
A ½-cup serving of hearts of palm clocks in at about two net carbs. So remind us why we don’t put this vegetable in just about every salad or pasta dish we make?
“At the supermarket, you can find hearts of palm in many forms including fresh, jarred, and canned. For example, you can find hearts of palm ‘rice’ or ‘spaghetti,’ which helps satisfy cravings for pasta without a boatload of carbs,” says Girgen. “This versatile vegetable is also loaded with potassium, copper, and zinc—essential nutrients for optimal health.”
“Brussels sprouts pair nicely with keto staples like meats, eggs, and cheese, plus they pack a nutritional punch with their high fiber and nutrient content,” says Girgen.
This nutrient-dense vegetables which has four grams of net carbs per ½-cup cooked portion.”In addition, this cruciferous vegetable is packed with prebiotics, a favored food source among gut microbes, which helps foster a healthy microbiome within your digestive tract,” she adds, noting that Brussels sprouts are also high in vitamins C and K, so for individuals on blood thinning medications, consult with your physician.
“Pickles are an excellent vegetable option for individuals on a keto diet because of the added salt. Low carbohydrate diets such as the keto diet cause extra fluid loss, leading to the ‘keto flu,’ or the transition into ketosis marked by headaches, fatigue, and brain fog,” says Girgen.
“Extra salt can help alleviate these symptoms. In choosing a keto-friendly pickle, beware of added sugars, and check the ingredients list to ensure sugar wasn't added to the pickling brine.” Two dill pickle spears have less than one gram of net carbs.
Perri is a New York City-born and -based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men's Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She's probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she'll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.
Thinking of Trying Keto? Read This First.
The Reasons You're Not Losing Weight on Keto
Keto-Approved Air Fryer Recipes
What You Can and Can't Drink on Keto