Vegetables are probably the most difficult part of being on a low carb or slow carb diet in modern times. We just aren’t used to cooking with fresh vegetables any more.
On a low carb/keto diet, the protein and fat can keep you full and productive, but it is the vegetables that offer the micronutrients that can boost your health markers. A low carb breakfast of eggs, asparagus and artichokes is one of the tastiest ways to up your vegetable intake in my opinion.
Which Vegetables are Best for Low Carb Diets?
All vegetables are not created equal in the low carb world however. It is primarily the non-starchy vegetables that are considered “compliant” or desirable for low carb diets. That means potatoes, yams, and most root vegetables are not compliant.
The best options, in terms of nutrient value per amount of carbs are going to be the leafy greens and the cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, etc.).
Tomatoes, peppers, onions and many other veggies are allowed, but they do tend to have more sugar so you just need to be aware of that aspect.
The low carb breakfast below uses fresh asparagus spears and frozen artichoke hearts, both of which are high fiber low carb vegetables.
Comparison of Best to Worst Low Carb Vegetables
This list is roughly arranged from lowest to highest carbohydrate per serving, but most are non-starchy and generally low in carbohydrates. Remember when counting carbs in vegetables that the fiber is not counted, and can be subtracted from the total.
Lowest Carb Vegetables
- Leafy Greens –spinach, chard, etc.
- Bok Choy
- Bamboo Shoots
- Sea Vegetables (Nori, etc)
- Cabbage (or sauerkraut)
- Cucumbers (or pickles without added sugars)
- Green Beans and Wax Beans
- Bell Peppers
- Chili Peppers
- Summer Squash
- Brussels Sprouts
- Scallions or green onions
- Snow Peas/Snap Peas/Pea Pods
- Spaghetti Squash
- Celery Root
Higher Carb Vegetables (still healthy)
The main vegetables to be avoided when reducing carbohydrates are the starchier and sweeter vegetables:
- Carrots (some diets flag carrots as a problem, though they are lower in carbs than others in this group)
- Winter Squashes, such as acorn and butternut
- Water Chestnuts
- Potatoes in all forms
- Sweet Potatoes
Basic Categories of Low Carb Vegetables
Grouping vegetables into their botanical characteristics is another, perhaps simpler, way of determining which vegetables are most compliant with a low carb, slow carb, or keto lifestyle. Here are the basic categories:
Leaves have the least amount of carbohydrate, and what little there is is wrapped in so much fiber that there is little, if any, impact on blood sugar (this could be helped by the fact that they all contain enormous amounts of vitamin K).
They are also rich in phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Examples: lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, herbs. Also, alfalfa and other fresh sprouts (but once you grind up sprouts and pack them together, as in some types of bread, all bets are off, blood-sugar wise).
Stems and Flowers:
This category would be next in line for low carb veggies. This would include asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, and maybe mushrooms.
Vegetables considered “Fruits”:
The fruit category refers to the part of the plant that contains seeds. This is botanically the fruit of the plant, although we tend to call it “fruit” only if it’s sweet.
This category includes peppers, squashes of all types, green beans, tomatoes, okra, and eggplant. Avocado is also a fruit, though lower in carbs than the others.
Many roots are very high in carbs, such as parsnips, water chestnuts, , potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams. The roots that would be considered low carb vegetables would be things like jicama and radishes. Celery root (celeriac) and carrots are also “lowish”.
A Low Carb Breakfast with Asparagus and Artichokes
Asparagus is perfect when it is in season, and in this recipe I used artichoke hearts as a vegetable bed for the asparagus and eggs, instead of grains.
I’ve made something similar to this with quinoa as a bed and with romano cheese grated over the top. It was great, but grains are not allowed on most low carb diets, unless it is a cheat day of course.
This mash-up of vegetables, spices and eggs turned out to be just as delightful to the taste buds as the cheese and grains version. If you follow a more Mediterranean style of diet however, just substitute red quinoa in as the bed, or add it to the artichoke hearts for more texture.
*Note on frozen artichokes: they do contain 5 grams of carbs per 3/4 cup, but most of it is dietary fiber. Watch out for canned artichoke hearts if you are counting carbs…some brands are pretty high in carbs and some add sugar. Learn to read and compare labels and you will be an expert in no time!