The keto diet is one of the more restrictive diets out there and, if you’re new to the diet, you may find some of the restrictions confusing. After all, aren’t vegetables healthy? Why am I not supposed to eat certain vegetables on the keto diet? Well, it all comes down to science.
Here are the vegetables you shouldn’t eat on the keto diet and why, as well as the vegetables you should eat and how you can incorporate them into your daily diet.
Why are Certain Vegetables Restricted on the Keto Diet?
The keto diet is a high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet that asks followers to obtain 75% of their calories from fat, 20% from protein and 5% from carbs. This process is intended to urge your body to burn fat more efficiently.
Because you have to stick to these ratios of fat, protein and carbs while on the keto diet, you have to limit your intake of quite a few different food items and food content. Among these are, of course, carbs (since they can only account for 5 percent of your calories) and starches.
Nutritionist Lisa Richard at The Candida Diet, shares “If you're in a pinch and aren't able to get the carbohydrate content on a vegetable there are two rules you can go by. First, vegetables with leaves, like spinach and lettuce are low in carbs. Second, green vegetables can generally be trusted to be low in carbs.”
So, while vegetables are healthy in general, many contain too much starch or carbs to fit easily into a keto diet. This is especially true when it comes to root vegetables. In fact, while it’s not a hard and fast rule, some keto diet followers just make a generalization across the board that anything that grows below ground is off-limits.
Thankfully, there are still a lot of keto-friendly vegetables you can enjoy. Low-carb veggies are plentiful.
In the squash family, you can enjoy options like pumpkin, butternut squash and zucchini.
Pretty much all leafy greens are an option, including lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage and arugula.
Flavorful vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, celery, asparagus and onions are permitted.
Dr. Anna Cabeca, Physician and Author of Keto-Green 16 shares, one of her favorite ways to incorporate keto-friendly vegetables into her keto routine.
Cabeca says, “Beet greens - are a vegetable that I highly recommend because they are alkalinizing and are extremely low in carbohydrates, sugar, cholesterol, and fat.”
Cabeca continues, “They are also high in vitamins A, B, and C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper. However, the actual beet itself is not conducive to a keto diet-friendly veggie due to its high carb presence.”
There are additionally lots of keto-friendly vegetables that you can form entire meals around, such as broccoli, cauliflower and eggplant. All of these are great for casseroles or recreating your favorite rice- or pasta-based meals.
High-fat veggies are also okay, such as olives and avocado. (Yes, avocados are technically a fruit, but the keto diet limits all fruit, so avocados end up in the keto-friendly veggie pile.)
Trista Best, a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements also adds, “As a general rule vegetables grown above ground are lower in carbs than those grown below ground, like potatoes.”
Keto-Friendly Vegetable Recipes
Want to get an idea for the kind of recipes you can cook up using these keto-friendly vegetables?
How about a light and lunch-worthy Vegetarian Keto Club Salad? (Yes, believe it or not, you can do the keto diet as a vegetarian!). This easy-to-make recipe incorporates lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, cheddar cheese and hard-boiled eggs, and is tossed in a fat-heavy dressing made with sour cream, mayo and mustard.
For an easy side dish to go along your fat-heavy protein at dinnertime, you might want to opt for this Keto Oven-Roasted Vegetables recipe. It only takes 10 minutes to prep, making it perfect for a busy weeknight, and the result is a scrumptious mix of roasted veggies. While this recipe shows a mix of broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peppers and onion, you can mix and match your keto-friendly veggies to create a combination of your favorite flavors.
For something on the cheesy side, try this Keto Zucchini Gratin, a take on a classic side dish that usually contains potatoes (a big keto diet no-no). The recipe requires minimal ingredients and most are probably already in your pantry right now.
On a similar cheesy-goodness note, this Keto Loaded Cauliflower Casserole is comparable to a loaded baked potato casserole, but with none of the problematic starch. Bacon, cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing — what’s not to love?
Veggies to Avoid on the Keto Diet
While there are lots of veggies you can easily enjoy while on the keto diet, there are just as many that you’ll want to avoid.
Collin Morgan, Founder of Hip2Keto, reminds us, “When it comes to the keto diet, not all veggies are created equal. It's important to do the research ahead of time, as some veggies you would not expect, are full of carbs.”
Any version of potatoes — sweet potatoes, yams, golden potatoes, red potatoes, etc. — are off the table. Luckily, you can make most of your favorite potato-centric dishes using broccoli, cauliflower and other keto-friendly vegetables. Potato casseroles can easily be made with broccoli or cauliflower, and mashed cauliflower is an easy swap for mashed potatoes. You can even find cauliflower fries in your local freezer aisle!
Rutabagas, celeriac and parsnips are much lower in carb content than potatoes, so while they are a feasible keto option, many die-hard keto diet followers choose to avoid these, as the carbs can still add up fast, and you’re working with a very small amount of permitted carbs per day. Sometimes, you’ll see keto recipes include these vegetables in small quantities in soups, stews and other dishes.
Other root vegetables should be restricted as well, including carrots and beets.
Legumes — beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, etc. — should be avoided on the keto diet, as they’re high in carbs. The only two legume alternatives that are recommended on the keto diet are lima beans and black soybeans. So, if you intend to make a legume-heavy dish like chili, for example, you’ll want to either omit or replace the beans.
Another sneaky veggie to avoid on the keto diet is corn. Sometimes considered a vegetable, sometimes considered a grain, corn is high in carbs. So, corn, including all corn products, such as cornmeal and popcorn, is restricted on the keto diet.
Along the same lines, typically-considered healthy grains such as quinoa and rice are also not permitted on the diet, and, as you probably expect, grains like traditional flour are definitely prohibited.
Ready to Turn Your Favorite Vegetable Dish Keto-Friendly?
If you think the keto diet is a good fit for your weight loss goals and lifestyle, then don’t let the restriction of some of the more common vegetables scare you off. There are loads of resources out there to help you not only stick to keto-friendly vegetable dishes but to do so in a tasty, enjoyable way.
You might also be interested in: The Beginner’s Guide to Keto