There’s plenty of room for veggies on the keto eating regimen.
If you think that following the keto diet — which is heavy on dietary fats and low on carbs — means you won’t be eating many vegetables, think again.
“You can have your kale and keto too,” says Jenna Bell, a registered dietitian based in St. Petersburg, Florida. “A keto lifestyle does not have to be free from the benefits of a plant-based diet.”
A typical keto regimen calls for consuming these percentages of macronutrients:
— Fat, 60% to 75%.
— Protein, 15% to 30%.
— Carbohydrates, 5% to 10%.
Proponents say the keto diet can help you achieve weight loss through fat-burning. By eating fewer carbs and more fats, your body enters a state of ketosis. This is when your body breaks down both dietary and stored body fats into substances known as ketones. At that point, your body relies primarily on fat, rather than sugar or carbohydrates, for energy.
Many nonstarchy vegetables have a negligible amount of carbohydrates and provide an array of health benefits, Bell says. It’s also important to remember that a keto diet isn’t carb-free. “A very low-carb keto diet still has at least 20 grams of carbohydrates per day,” Bell says. “In general, keto regimens go up to 100 grams of carbs per day.”
Here are the top keto-friendly vegetables with serving ideas:
Low in calories and carbs, asparagus is an excellent vegetable choice if you’re on the keto diet, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. One cup of asparagus has just 27 calories and about 5 grams of carbs. Plus, the vegetable goes well with high-fat, keto-friendly sauces like hollandaise or béarnaise.
Asparagus is rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as folate. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy vision and supports the normal function of your immune system. Vitamin C helps protect your body from free radicals, molecules that can damage your cells. The vitamin is also important for eye, skin, hair, bone and joint health. According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin E may also help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin K may help strengthen bones, according to the NIH.
Folate is essential for the formation of red blood cells and the healthy growth and function of cells. Asparagus also contains quercetin, a compound with antioxidant properties that may help fight inflammation.
Research also suggests that asparagus can help lower blood pressure and it’s a good source of fiber.
A small study published in 2013 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine suggests that consuming asparagus “resulted in significant reduction in the subjects’ diastolic blood pressure.” Asparagus contains potassium, which helps relax blood vessel walls and boosts the excretion of excess salt through urine, both of which help lower blood pressure, Jones says.
Technically a fruit, avocados are extremely nutritious — and to many people, they’re delicious, says Lolita Carrico, a certified nutritionist based in Los Angeles. She’s the chief executive officer of Ketology, a website where one can find keto-friendly meal ideas, information about cookbooks and keto hacks.
A typical avocado weighs about 3.5 ounces, contains 160 calories and has 2 grams of protein. Avocados are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat linked to good heart health.
There are many ways to enjoy avocados, including:
— Sliced, on toast.
— As an ingredient in salads.
— Mixed with eggs.
— As an ingredient in soups.
If you’re looking for a keto-friendly vegetable that provides an array of health benefits, try broccoli, Jones says.
Broccoli is high in fiber and is a rich source of vitamins and essential minerals. For example, broccoli contains vitamin C and potassium, an essential mineral.
Research suggests the vegetable may promote heart health, support your immune system and reduce inflammation. For example, research published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that eating more vegetables, particularly cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) “may have benefits for the prevention of subclinical atherosclerosis in older adult women.” Subclinical atherosclerosis is a chronic, progressive inflammatory disease. Early detection can slow or prevent its progression to cardiovascular disease, according to research published in 2018 in the journal BMC Public Health.
Regarding the immune system, research published in 2018 in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition suggests that the impact of sulforaphane, a natural food compound with antioxidant properties, “on the interaction between immune and colon cancer cells underscores its capacity for cancer prevention and development.” And research published in 2014 in the journal Preventive Nutrition and Food Science concluded that “broccoli florets exerted potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.”
“Broccoli can be steamed, drizzled in cheese sauce, baked au gratin and roasted with bacon,” Jones says. Use it as a side dish instead of pasta, potatoes or rice for a low-carb meal.
Like broccoli, cauliflower is versatile and contains plenty of vitamins and minerals, says Stephanie Laska, co-author of “The Dirty, Lazy Keto Cookbook.” She’s based in Turlock, California.
“It’s an inexpensive, versatile vegetable that can take on the flavor of a dish it’s part of or stand tall on its own,” Laska says.
There are a number of ways to prepare and serve cauliflower, including:
“One of my favorite ways to prepare cauliflower is also one of the easiest,” Laska says. Toss cauliflower florets with melted, unsalted butter, olive oil and salt and pepper onto a pan and roast for 25 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Pull the florets out of the oven and dust them with Parmesan cheese and parsley flakes, then roast for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
If you like spicy foods, coat the roasted cauliflower with Buffalo sauce or Cajun seasonings or toss it with store-bought pesto sauce.
Cauliflower tater tots
“Sometimes we have to fool ourselves into eating healthy,” Laska says. “I like to call my keto vegetables by clever names to trick myself into eating them more often. Even my picky-eater kids will ask for seconds of tater tots made from riced cauliflower.”
They’re easy to make: Form balls made of riced cauliflower, egg, shredded mozzarella and garlic. Fry in avocado oil until they’re browned on all sides, and sprinkle with some salt. Avocado oil, which is made by pressing the avocado fruit, is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat. This type of fat is associated with lowering LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad cholesterol.” Consuming monounsaturated fats rather than saturated fats (which come primarily from animal sources of food, like meat, poultry and full-fat dairy) is associated with improved heart health.
Radish hash browns
Radishes are very low in carbs and can be prepared in a variety of tasty ways. This root vegetable contains just 2 grams of net carbs per cup.
To make radish hash browns, shred 2 pounds of radishes, squeeze out the extra moisture they contain and then sauté the vegetable in oil over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Combine the cooked radishes with a whisked egg, salt and pepper and form into small patties. Cook the patties in the hot skillet for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until they’re solid and brown.
“The hash browns are delicious served with a Western omelet or on their own with a sprinkle of shredded cheese or a dollop of sour cream,” Laska says.
Popeye the sailor man — the popular cartoon mariner who was on the air in the early 1960s — loved spinach because munching on the green leafy vegetable made his muscles bulge whenever he faced off against his adversaries. Spinach provides iron, which supports muscle metabolism.
However, besides providing iron, spinach is great for people on the keto regimen because it contains alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that research suggests may be associated with blood sugar management and insulin sensitivity, Bell says. It may be especially beneficial for people with diabetes because it reduces oxidative damage associated with the disease.
“Spinach fits in many meals, raw or cooked,” Bell says. “When it’s raw, it gives a mild, almost sweet flavor; cooked from fresh or frozen tends to be a bit more acidic. Hence, raw works well for keto-eaters in a salad or smoothie. Cooked, it can be as simple as a butter and garlic sauté or in an omelet or soup.”
Many people consider it to be a vegetable, but technically, tomato is a fruit. Tomatoes can help you enjoy some of the flavors of high-carb comfort foods — like pasta or pizza — that you can’t consume on the keto regimen.
One cup of tomatoes has about 7 grams of carbohydrates and 2.2 grams of fiber. Tomatoes are also a good source of potassium, which helps the body regulate the body’s fluid balance and heart and muscle contractions.
To use tomatoes as an Italian-keto fix, sauté them and add Parmesan cheese. Or, serve them raw with basil and mozzarella. You could also poach eggs in a pan of chopped tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil and garlic, topped with Parmesan cheese.
Like the tomato, zucchini is technically a fruit, though it’s widely considered a vegetable for culinary purposes, Jones says. Zucchini is a great low-carb alternative to traditional wheat-based pasta and potatoes.
The vegetable contains just 3 grams of digestible carbs per 1 cup serving. Zucchini contains an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Eating zucchini provides a raft of health benefits, including:
— Healthy digestion.
— Lower blood pressure.
— Stabilized blood sugar.
Zucchini is also very versatile. You can use zucchini in:
— Baked goods.
More from U.S. News
Update 10/27/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.