Remember the health classes in grade school where they drilled in the concept of “an apple a day will keep the doctor away”? We were quizzed on the different sections of the Food Pyramid and were taught that the majority of our food intake should be from the breads, rice and pasta category, with sparing amounts of fats and oils (1). WHAT?!
Luckily, the benefits of Keto eating have forced us to think outside the box (or pyramid in this case) and shift our traditional views about a well, balanced diet. The focus of the Keto Diet is to make sure the body stays in ketosis, which is achieved when carbohydrates remain very low. Unfortunately, many of the nutritional fruits and vegetables we were taught to eat as kids do contain carbs. Some vegetables even contain a very high amount of these carbs, which can be equivalent to the carb count in foods you would typically eliminate from your Keto diet (like rice, quinoa, and bread).
While vegetables do contain a number of carbs, they provide nutritional benefits and can still fit within your Keto plan. The fiber, potassium, and folate in vegetables contribute to maintaining a healthy blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol levels, helping the body form healthy red blood cells, and lower the risk of heart disease (2).
Now that you understand the “sneaky” carbs in vegetables, it’s important to understand a few rules of thumb to follow when selecting your vegetables at the grocery store each week. In general, most “safe” (low carb) vegetables are leafy, green, and grow above ground. These should be fairly easy to add to your regular meals; you can sauté your favorite veggies with coconut or olive oil and eat as a side, or roast a batch in the oven for a crispy snack to eat throughout the week (YES, we’re talking about you, kale chips).
You should limit or avoid vegetables with brighter colors and sweeter tastes, as these are starchier and contain more carbs. These vegetables still can be eaten on the Keto Diet, but should be consumed in moderation (3). Think of these as part of your “Treat Yo’ Self” foods. A great way to incorporate vegetables in this category is to use them in desserts. Many of these veggies are naturally high in sugar and have good consistencies for treats (hello decadent mouthfeel!).
You can transform some of your favorite vegetable meals by trading out traditional vegetables for their low-carb counterpart. Try revamping stir fries by replacing lots of broccoli with more leafy greens like bok choy and spinach and keep the crunch by adding in celery. Broccoli rabe is very low in net carbs, and is a nice change-up to meals like chicken, broccoli alfredo. You’ve heard of cauliflower rice as a sub for actual rice, but mashed cauliflower (loaded with cheese and bacon) is a mouth-watering take on the original.
Here you will find some great visual charts that break down the carb count of popular vegetables. Take a look at the list below to compare carbs as well (these include net carbs).