What are the Best Vegetables to Eat on a Keto Diet?

Olena ISLAMKINA and Rakhilya IMANZADE have dug up a heap of vegetables to prepare you a detailed instruction on what kinds of vegetables you can and cannot eat if you are on a keto diet.

Those who only heard something about the keto diet or LCHF and those who just started to follow it are often misguided in completely opposite ways. LCHF vegetables are a real bone of contention. Let’s figure out which vegetables you can and which ones you really cannot eat when you are on a keto diet.

IS NO-CARB DIET HARMFUL TO HEALTH? HOW TO LIVE WITHOUT VEGETABLES?

The press intimidates us with fears of low-carb diets: keto diet is often equated with the Dukan diet (which is certainly low-carb but also low-fat) and “dry outs” and popular dieticians like to scare susceptive people with COMPLETELY no-carb diets.

However, a low amount of carbs is nowhere near zero. Even the strictest keto diet suggests taking 10 g of carbs a day which is almost a kilo of spinach. Do you think fit fams eat a kilo of greens every day? In turn, most of those who are on a keto diet eat 20-30 and up to 50 g of carbs. The thing is it is not only spinach usually.

HOW CAN YOU EAT (SUBSTITUTE  A VEGETABLE) IF IT CONTAINS SO MANY CARBS?

A simple LCHF-rule regarding vegetables says the following: we can eat what grows above ground surface.

But let’s start with the main thing. What are you and why do you follow a keto diet?

ОК, you are a healthy middle aged person who wants to lose several or even 20 kilograms. You realize that doing it in a fast way – as suggested by many diets – represents a bad approach. But at the same time you don’t want to spend as many years on losing weight as you’ve spent on gaining it, which is 10 years. In that case you need to pay attention to the amount of carbs you eat, exclude any “sweet” vegetables like beetroot and starchy ones like potatoes and focus on greens.

Let’s assume that you are a pregnant woman (our congratulations!). Your LCHF-diet can (and must be!) modified. No, no cakes allowed. However, Andreas Eenfeldt, the founder of the most popular LCHF-resource dietdoctor.com states that when you are pregnant you should withdraw from a strict LCHF-diet and rather choose a moderate one with 50 g of carbs a day whereas the nutritionist Sally-Anne Perks, one of South African banting specialists believes that more starchy vegetables such as sweet potato must be added to a pregnant woman’s diet. The carb component, whether it is a vegetable or even a tuber crop, must also be part of every meal you take. Thus, dear future LCHF-moms a cup of “bullet-proof” coffee instead of breakfast is no good for you. Instead, you can have some beetroot!

Perhaps, thank goodness, you are a healthy person who lost and stabilized your weight with keto diet and you feel great. Another keto specialist Doctor Eric Berg provides an example.

Let’s take beetroot again. It is a hypogean vegetable which is not suitable for us, lowcarbers. A cup of beetroot contains 9 g of sugar and nearly 4 (3.8) g of fiber, plenty of sugar and a perfect level of dietary fibers. “If you are trying to stick to keto then eating beetroot is not a very good idea. But if you are satisfied with your weight, like myself, for instance, you should eat beetroot as it contains many healthy substances for your liver and, besides, has many cleansing functions”.

It is simple to live in a scheduled world where everything is regulated such as oatmeal is good, lard is bad, skim cheese is food and lamb is not. Simple but not tasty or healthy.

LCHF is a healthy diet which assumes that you have given up on stereotypes and understand how your body functions meaning that it is a challenge to create a commonly used list of vegetables allowed by a keto diet.

Now let’s look into particular vegetables – we shall discuss them in general and you will apply them to your body and draw conclusions.

ARE NIGHTSHADES BAD FOR HEALTH?

A universal formula used to distinguish between the allowed low-carb vegetable from a high-carb one is that the former “grows above ground surface”. Most nightshade vegetables fall into this category. They include the following:

  • eggplants
  • white potatoes (but not sweet potatoes)
  • paprika
  • bell pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • chili (but not black pepper)
  • tomatoes

Their non-edible relative – belladonna – is a poisonous plant and another one is what many people consciously every day poison themselves with, which is nicotine.

Nightshades contain alkaloids (lecithin, saponin and capsaicin) which are produced by plants to protect themselves against insects. Alas, some people are unlucky: they get sick from an eggplant, just like a worm.

Alkaloids may affect the functions of neuromuscular and digestive systems among animals and human beings and have an adverse impact on the condition of joints. Nightshade vegetables contain a low amount of alkaloids compared to nightshade herbs and the cooking process reduces the content of doubtful substances by 40-50%.

Some researchers assume that the alkaloids contained in nightshades contribute to an excessive loss of bone calcium and its deposition in soft tissues. For this reason, it is recommended to exclude nightshades from the diet of those who suffer from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. However, there is no exact and evidential research proving the effect of nightshades on joint diseases.

A known fact is that nightshades cause serious joint diseases among horses and cows. On the other hand, avocado is toxicant for horses, birds and cattle stock but we can eat it as much as we like. No matter how much we are in sympathy with horses and how much we humanize them, it does not necessarily mean that their intolerance towards nightshades automatically implies that we should also give up eating these vegetables.

SUMMARY:

Nightshades can cause problems among those who are fighting against autoimmune disease. Some people are just sensitive to them. An easy way to determine if such products are harmful to you is to withdraw from eating them for a period of several weeks to three months, then add them to your diet one by one and observe your general condition.

The overwhelming majority of people have no problems with nightshades. All these vegetables contain little sugar and a lot of fiber and provide vast expanse for the imagination of those who like to develop LCHF-recipes. The only exception is potato but we shall discuss it separately under the “tuber crops” group.

TUBER CROPS GROW BELOW GROUND SURFACE. ARE THEY FORBIDDEN FOR THOSE WHO ARE ON THE KETO DIET?

One of the largest groups of vegetables today in terms of its scope of production. It includes the following:

  • sweet potato
  • potatoes
  • jerusalem artichoke
  • yacon
  • yam

These are the guys that grow below ground surface meaning they are not friends to most of those following the keto diet. They all contain starch i.e. polysaccharide which breaks down into glucose.

Having said that, we should not lump them all under a general umbrella either. Here is an example with potatoes and sweet potatoes:

Medium-sized (raw) potatoes Medium-sized (raw) sweet potatoes
Calories 168 112
Proteins 5 g 2 g
Fats 0 g 0 g
Starches 38 g 26 g
Fiber 3 g 4 g

Close relatives. And now let’s take a look at carbs.

Medium-sized (raw) potatoes Medium-sized (raw) sweet potatoes
Starch 33.8 g 16.4 g
Sugar, including: 1.3 g 5.4 g
   Sucrose 277 mg 3276 mg
   Glucose 532 mg 1248 mg
   Fructose 490 mg 910 mg

One kind of potatoes is actually sweet and the other one contains twice as much starch. We already discussed about resistant starch – a product that is healthy for microbiota and cannot be digested by us. It can be produced in both kinds of potatoes if you first boil the tubers and then chill them. However, its amount will be low whereas the amount of normal starch will remain quite high.

SUMMARY:

If you don’t want to give up on keto, aim to lose weight or suffer from insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes or obesity this group of vegetables is no good for you.

If you have stable weight, high insulin resistance and are keto-adapted or you are healthy and pregnant/lactating and badly crave for potatoes then a bit of sweet potato cooked in a special way and placed in a fridge overnight won’t kill you.

Although you should cook some kohlrabi fries instead of fried potatoes.

IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ROOT CROPS AND TUBER CROPS? ARE THEY ALSO BLACK-LISTED?

With this kind of vegetables you can eat the part of the root system where nutrients are accumulated for the plant itself. Such vegetables include the following:

  • carrots
  • onion
  • parsnip
  • small radish
  • turnip
  • radish
  • beetroot
  • garlic

Most root crops contain quite a lot of carbs. Therefore, their intake must be restricted. Heated carrot and beetroot slightly modify nutritional qualities and the amount of sugar contained therein is increased. The average content of carbs per 100 grams of root crops is 8-15 grams. Radish is an exception. It contains a lot of fiber but little sugar.

SUMMARY:

You can eat them but in limited quantities keeping an eye on the serving size and, for example, use them during cooking. If you follow the moderate version of LCHF (up to 50 grams of carbs a day) or are actively involved in sports you can include root crop-based meals in your diet.

SO WHAT KIND OF VEGETABLES CAN YOU DEFINITELY EAT WHEN YOU ARE ON THE KETO DIET?

The majority of lowcarbers eat much more vegetables compared to the followers of conventional diet. We select the ones that contain a lot of fiber and few carbs.

You can memorize the names and make lists but everything is much simpler: the greener the vegetable the better and green salads can be eaten in large quantities (e.g. with oil, sour cream or homemade mayonnaise). Most of them contain 5-6 grams of carbs per 100 grams of the product, on average, of which the amount of fiber constitutes 3 grams. In other words, if you eat 500 grams of green leaf vegetables you will take only 15 grams of carbs. This is perfectly suitable for the strict version of keto-diet.

The following can be eaten to your heart’s content:

  • basil
  • bok choi
  • broccoli
  • mushrooms (not a vegetable but let’s not cavil)
  • kale
  • marrows
  • cabbage
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • kale turnip (kohlrabi)
  • cucumbers
  • olives
  • ruccola
  • lettuce (cos, frisee, iceberg, cress, etc.)
  • celery
  • asparagus
  • pumpkin
  • zucchini
  • spinach

Pumpkin raises many questions and is suspected of starchiness. We have further examined this issue.

Ripened hard rind pumpkin for table use is not starchy but if you pick it before its time then it can indeed contain some polysaccharide. Forage crops contain a lot of starch but if you store them for a long time (more than 1.5 months) it will break down into sugars. The only thing we still need to understand is whether it is possible to tell a pumpkin for table use from a forage pumpkin, ripe from unripe and stale from fresh. Pumpkin experts, share your knowledge in the comments!

SUMMARY:

Vegetables represent a critical component of the keto diet. You must include leafy greens and green vegetables in your everyday menu and avoid bothering with counting carbs contained there too much. If you eat them with heavy dressings such as oils, homemade mayonnaise, high-fat sour cream and béarnaise sauce, bake or stew them with oil then it is unlikely that you will overeat and your microbiota will thank you.

Photo: Cilantro, Pixbay

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