When the keto diet first gained popularity in the late 2010s, it quickly gained a reputation as the “bacon and butter” diet. Vegetables can appear on the plate as a small side of spinach or, more likely, cauliflower masquerading as anything from rice to pizza crust to wings. Broadly speaking, the focus has been to limit consumption to “keto veggies” and focus primarily on increasing fat intake. (I’m talking mainstream keto, mind you, not the Primal Keto Reset approach.)
This, predictably, led to endless banter from mainstream medical practitioners and the popular media, who were quick to brand keto as a dangerous fad diet and an imminent heart attack. It was true that many first-time keto adopters were eating butter, cream, cheese, bacon, and other high-fat foods heavily, probably as an understandable backlash to the low-fat diet dogma that has dominated the last four decades. Some people still do, I’m sure.
However, I think most keto people now understand that they can’t (or shouldn’t) live on butter alone. At least in more forward-thinking health circles, the contemporary keto diet looks less like bacon and butter and more like a low-carb version of the Primal Blueprint diet, complete with rich salads and larger servings of protein.
Personally, I’m all for keto eaters who embrace a wide range of products (keto carnivore diet notwithstanding). At some point, however, the carbohydrate question comes into play. By definition, keto requires you to limit your carb intake to keep glucose and insulin low enough to facilitate ketogenesis. All vegetables contain carbohydrates, some more than others. You can’t eat unlimited vegetables, especially the higher-carb ones, if you want to stay in ketosis all the time.
So how do you decide which are the best?
Which Vegetables Are Best for Keto?
To achieve ketosis, most people need to limit carbohydrate intake to a maximum of 30 to 50 grams per day. Therefore, the best vegetables for a ketogenic diet are those that provide the most nutrients with the fewest carbohydrates. That sounds simple, but in practice it can be difficult to draw the line.
The internet is full of lists categorizing foods as “keto allowed” and “keto not allowed”. They mean well — and they help ease the often-confusing transition from SAD eating to keto — but they lack nuance. No food will knock you out of ketosis in a single bite. There is no “bad” vegetable. There are only serving sizes and carbohydrate content and fiber.
Why is fiber important? Because fiber is not absorbed into the bloodstream and converted to glucose. It’s counted as a carb, but doesn’t contribute to the glucose-induced insulin surge you want to minimize on keto. Fiber, especially the soluble ones, is mostly just food for your gut microbes. From a ketosis perspective, fiber is neutral.
And with veggies, especially the leafy and above-ground non-starchy varieties, much of their carb content is actually fiber, meaning their glucose/insulin effects are minimal. So much so, that I don’t even count these strains among the 50 grams (total) carbs I recommend as a keto reset limit. They’re not the only veggies allowed on keto, they’re just the easiest to enjoy in abundance.
My favorite veggies for keto
Without further ado, these are my top veggies to enjoy on keto. If your favorite isn’t listed here, don’t worry. You can always add it, I’m sure. This list is based half on personal preference, half on carbohydrate and nutrient content. Many veggies that don’t appear on this list would even be considered “keto-friendly” by the strict keto police; They’re just not the ones I’m attracted to at first.
1. Bitter Greens
Kale, arugula, mustard greens, endive, dandelion greens, kohlrabi, collards, broccoli, watercress. Science is increasingly finding that bitter foods have unique benefits for metabolism and gut health.
2. Other leafy greens
Spinach, lettuce (all kinds), for my big ass salads
So versatile it’s become a joke in the low-carb world, but that’s only because it’s great in so many dishes. Who am I to argue?
4. Broccoli and broccolini
Is there anything better than crispy roasted broccoli next to a big, juicy steak? And the sprouts contain sulforaphane, a compound with impressive properties that could make broccoli sprouts the next big superfood.
5. Bok Choy
One of the sulfur-rich vegetables that can help the body cushion oxidative stress. And it’s delicious sautéed or added to stir-fries.
6. Green beans
7. Mushrooms (all kinds)
Along with their pleasant texture and umami flavor, mushrooms contain prebiotics to help nourish your gut bacteria.
Rich in vitamin K, excellent grilled, fried or air fried, and you can wrap it in bacon. (Hey, I didn’t say you shouldn’t eat bacon on keto.)
Especially when fermented into sauerkraut or kimchi. Everyone should eat fermented vegetables.
10. Fiddlehead Ferns
My insider tip. I just think they deserve more publicity.
What about avocados?
Of course, avocados get a big yes from me, but they’re also a fruit. I’m not putting them on my list of favorite keto veggies lest the whole internet go to my head.
Why NOT Eat Vegetables on Keto?
You do not have to. But like I said earlier about the carnivore diet, I think most people are probably better off eating at least some veggies in the long run. Rather than cutting out plant-based foods entirely, I’d recommend something like “Carniflex,” a meat-centric diet with strategic plant-based supplements.
Regardless, most Primal people are omnivores, so they want and need strategies for incorporating veggies into their keto macros. In this case, you should note the following:
Any vegetable can work on a keto diet. Some simply have relatively more carbohydrates than others (e.g. beets, parsnips, celeriac). If you prefer above-ground leafy greens and non-starchy veggies, you can fill your plate with colorful dishes without having to meticulously count carbs. Because these foods are high in fiber (low net carbs), their impact on glucose and insulin (and therefore their likelihood of disrupting ketosis) is minimal. They also provide a wide range of nutrients, making for varied and interesting meals. Adjust serving sizes as needed. For higher-carb veggies—think veggies that grow underground or taste sweeter—check the carb content of a typical serving on a tool like Cronometer. Make sure you’re not wasting a large chunk of your daily allotment on a small serving of a single food.
Ok, that’s my top 10. What would you have included?
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather of the primal food and lifestyle movement, and New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, in which he explains how he combines the keto diet with a primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which in 2009 is credited with accelerating the growth of the Primal/Paleo movement and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark founded Primal Kitchen, a real food company that sells Primal/ Paleo, Keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen clips.
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