Choosing Fruits And Vegetables On A Low-Carb Diet

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Although proteins and fats form the basis of a carbohydrate-restricted diet, vegetables should also be included. They provide fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals, literally “plant chemicals” that may play a role in reducing cancer and heart disease risk. In addition, a high intake of acidic foods (primarily animal proteins) can result in loss of calcium in the urine and an increased risk of bone loss. Increasing intake of alkaline foods like vegetables and fruits has been shown to improve acid-base balance and significantly decrease urinary calcium losses. But can all fruits and vegetables be included on a low-carb diet? Unfortunately, most fruits and some vegetables are high in carbohydrates, while others are very low. The key is knowing which types to select.

Do: Choose leafy greens

Spinach and most greens (collard, mustard, turnip) are very low in carbohydrates, averaging 2 grams per cup when raw and slightly more if steamed. Kale is slightly higher at 6 grams per cup. These vegetables are high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Try sautéing greens in coconut oil or olive oil, adding a bit of sea salt, and serving alongside eggs for a delicious and sustaining breakfast.

vegetables

Do: Eat cruciferous vegetables and most green vegetables

Broccoli

Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables, and research suggests they may have anti-cancer properties. A cup of these vegetables contains an average of 2 grams of carbohydrate when raw. All types of lettuce, green beans, asparagus, cucumbers, and most other green vegetables are very low in carbohydrates as well. Cauliflower can be cooked and pureed to create “mock” mashed potatoes, yet provides only a fraction of the calories.

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Do: Eat ratatouille

ratatouille

Eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, and tomatoes are low in carbohydrates yet bursting with flavor, particularly when grilled with olive oil in this traditional French side dish. Although traditionally mushrooms are not used, they provide additional texture and flavor at a cost of less than 2 grams per cup, so try this twist on the classic recipe.

Do: Consume berries as your primary source of sweet fruit

Like all sweet fruit, berries contain some sugar. However, it’s considerably less than the amount found in most other fruit. Berries are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals like anthocyanins, which may decrease cancer risk and assist with healthy aging. Due in large part to their high fiber content, raspberries and blackberries contain the lowest net carbohydrate value of all berries at 6 net grams per cup.

berries

Don’t eat starchy vegetables

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are generally known as being high in carbohydrates, averaging 30 grams per cup. However, peas and corn contain about the same amount of carbohydrates due to their high starch content. Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are generally known as being high in carbohydrates, averaging 30 grams per cup. However, peas and corn contain about the same amount of carbohydrates due to their high starch content. And while summer squash like zucchini and Italian squash are low in carbs, winter squash contains a fair amount, particularly acorn and butternut, which contain 20 and 15 net grams per cup, respectively.

Don’t eat many root vegetables

beets

Carrots and beets are not as high in carbohydrates as the starchy vegetables, but they contain considerably more than the nonstarchy types. Eating them occasionally is fine, but make sure to watch portion sizes. A half-cup serving of shredded carrots has 4 net grams of carbohydrate, and the same amount of steamed beets contains 6 net grams.

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Don’t forget to add high-fat fruits

Although we don’t often think of them as fruits, olives and avocados are botanically classified as part of the fruit family. Avocado is high in healthy monounsaturated fat and contains a fair amount of carbohydrate (about 17 grams, depending on the size and type), but nearly all of this comes from fiber, which is largely unabsorbed, so the net carb total is only 4 grams for an entire avocado. Olives are low in carbs (1 grams per 5 olives) and protein but also high in monounsaturated fat.

It may be tempting to skimp on vegetables to save a few carbohydrates, but it’s not a good strategy. For a truly healthy low-carb diet, consume a wide variety of nonstarchy vegetables in order to obtain all the benefits they provide.

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