There’s no question that the ketogenic diet is generating lots of buzz (just search for #keto on Instagram; you’ll see nearly 4 million entries). Put simply, a well-designed keto diet is a sustainable eating plan that helps people free themselves from carbohydrate dependency. If you’re left wondering, “What about vegetables and fruit—aren’t they carbs?,” you’re not alone. I’m going to share with you how you can get the advantages of keto, plus have your vegetables and eat them, too.
Let’s back up for a second, for a quick explanation of what the keto diet is. It involves a significant reduction in the wildly excessive carbohydrate intake of the standard Western, grain-based diet and emphasizes healthy, nutritious fats as your predominant source of dietary calories. When you go keto, some two-thirds of your dietary calories come from healthy fats (65 to 75%). Protein intake is moderate—just enough to sustain lean muscle mass (generally 20 to 25% of calories)—and carb intake is comparatively minimal (5 to 10%).
One thing I see often is keto enthusiasts making the mistake of obsessing over macronutrient numbers and sacrificing nutrient density in their pursuit of keto. The fundamental goal of my new book, The Keto Reset Diet, is to help you become expert at burning stored energy in the form of fat and ketones, while enjoying your meals without having to precisely measure macros.
Vegetables—especially leafy greens, cruciferous and other high-fiber, above-ground veggies (e.g., onions, leeks, chard, celery, etc.)—are a healthy centerpiece for a keto diet. They provide important micronutrients and antioxidants, play a key role in supporting a thriving intestinal microbiome, and stimulate minimal insulin production.
A large salad with abundant and varied produce and satisfying natural fats from clean animal sources or high-fat plants (like avocado, olive, coconut, and their oils) is a healthy ketogenic meal. Vegetables have ample fiber and water content and minimal net carbohydrate count—so even hard-core keto enthusiasts can eat heaping quantities of vegetables (and a bit of fresh fruit, and incidental carbs from nuts, seeds, very dark chocolate, and other nutrient-dense foods).
If you are new to keto and carefully tracking your carbohydrate intake to adhere to the often-recommended 50 grams per day or below, it’s helpful to have a general idea of the carbohydrate contribution of vegetables.
Note: You may have heard the term “net carbs” bandied about among your nutrition-obsessed friends. This entails subtracting the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrate grams of any food. Food manufacturers have taken liberties with this concept to tout heavily processed bars and snack foods with low net-carb values. This calculation can be misleading, so much so that I recommend using the net-carb calculation for high fiber vegetables only, and counting gross values when it comes to other foods, especially stuff in a wrapper, box or bag.
So back to those vegetables. Here are some more of my favorite options and their gross carb content per 1 cup. You can see that even with abundant daily vegetable consumption, you will be safely under the 50 gram per day keto threshold, particularly when you take net carb adjustments into account.
- Broccoli (7 grams)
- Brussels sprouts (7 grams)
- Cabbage (5-8 grams)
- Chard (6 grams)
- Cucumber (3 grams)
- Kale (6 grams)
- Kohlrabi (8-11 grams)
- Lettuce (2 grams)
- Peppers (4-6 grams)
- Spinach (1 gram)
- Tomatoes (10 grams)
Notice that I haven’t listed any root veggies or tubers, like sweet potatoes, squash, rutabaga, carrots, and beets. That’s because root vegetables and tubers are more starchy. They contain fewer net carbs and higher gross carbs, and they stimulate a higher glycemic response and insulin production. I recommend temporary elimination or sincere moderation of these varieties during your keto efforts.
I also occasionally eat a small amount of berries, the most appropriate fruit choice for minimizing your carb intake but maintaining optimum nutrition. Berries are high in antioxidants and lower in glycemic value than other fruits. For reference, one-half cup of berries contributes 6 to 8 grams of carbs for a high dose of phytonutrients.
Though it cuts out certain foods, the keto diet is anything but limiting. Check out some recipes below from The Keto Reset Diet; I think you’ll find that these and the others in the book are tasty and satisfying. And as you get into it, you’ll see that a nutrient-dense ketogenic diet is a safe, sustainable approach that will offer you the best results for metabolic flexibility and overall health.