Fruits and vegetables. We’ve all been there, suffering another lecture at the feet of our parents on why we should always have our greens and then being force-fed a plate full of broccoli. Funny thing is, if you’ve got kids now, you probably recycle the lecture for them now as well. It’s a thing.
By and large, this mentality is correct. Fruits and vegetables do indeed provide us with key nutrients and should be a part of a well-thought-out nutrition plan. However, being on a keto diet requires us to look at them a bit differently.
Since the key goal of a keto diet to create a carb deficit, it requires us to limit ourselves to fruits and vegetables that are low on carbs so that our macro ratio is not overly disturbed. In this article, we‘ll discuss how you can make fruits and vegetables a part of the keto diet without compromising your macro balance.
The importance of vegetables on keto?
Can vegetables impact ketosis negatively? This is a question that often pops up for many keto followers. With a few exceptions that we’ll cover later, the answer is no. In fact, vegetables should absolutely be a part of your keto diet, no matter how low you intend to go with your carbs.
First, vegetables provide us with key nutrients and antioxidants that help keep oxidative stress at bay and help keep us safe from free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage our health and have nothing to do with macro levels.
Here’s another important aspect that must not be ignored. We know that the bulk of our calories will come from fat while on keto. This may lead to a liver that’s overloaded with fat. Undue fat accumulation in the liver, or other internal organs for that matter, can lead to functional damage. Vegetables help prevent that by maintaining a good nutrient balance.
Can vegetables bring ketosis to a grinding halt?
Again, the answer typically is no. Mainly, this reluctance toward vegetable consumption stems from our lack of understanding. Here’s what we mean. It’s widely believed that vegetables can spike your blood sugar, throwing a wrench into the ketogenic process. We know that vegetables have carbs. But they also have fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
As the name implies, insoluble fiber passes through our system without adding to our carb count and thus glucose levels (blood sugar) remain unaffected. However, soluble fiber is what causes people to be apprehensive.
The reality is quite different. Soluble fiber actually helps in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which facilitate insulin production within our intestines. Through this process, SCFAs have been known to help decrease our blood glucose levels.
A 2004 study looked specifically at the impact of soluble fiber on our glucose and cholesterol levels. The trial lasted for 3 months, and by the study’s end, it was observed that both blood glucose and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels dropped by 12.3% and 12.8%, respectively.
Vegetables to include in your keto diet
Your goal should be to find vegetables that don’t drastically increase your carb intake while still giving you a satisfying meal and providing you with all the required nutrients. Keto-friendly vegetables are mainly dark and leafy. Here are a few options:
Kale: it would be fair to call kale a treasure trove of nutrients. Gram for gram, kale is known to provide one of the highest volume-to-nutrient ratios. A single cup, no more than 70 grams of raw kale, can provide up to 700% of your daily requirement for vitamin K, 206% for vitamin A, and 134% for vitamin C.
Also, kale is super rich in antioxidants that assist in keeping oxidative stress at bay. Oxidative stress is the accumulation of oxidants that are known to accelerate aging and other diseases. Also, your heart will thank you for taking a daily serving of kale, as it can facilitate a reduction in bad cholesterol and a substantial increase in good cholesterol (HDL) levels.
A 2008 study of 32 men over a 3-month time period looked at the impact of kale on cholesterol. They were given 150 ml of kale juice every day, and it was observed that good cholesterol increased by a whopping 27%. To derive the most benefit out of kale, it’s a good idea to consume it uncooked (e.g. in salads) because cooking reduces its volume quite a bit and can affect its nutrient content negatively.
Spinach: We’re quite sure many of you remember Popeye cracking open a can of spinach. Don’t be surprised, as it comes from the same family as kale. It also comes with a boatload of healthy nutrients. About half a cup or about 30 grams of raw spinach can provide up to 180% of your daily requirement for vitamin K, 56% for vitamin A, and 13% for manganese.
Spinach also plays a key role in the production of red blood cells, as it is quite dense in folate (a B vitamin). There are many easy ways to make it a part of our daily routine, such as tossing a handful in the blender for your morning smoothie or making a salad for a quick fuss-free lunch. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with it! Think about replacing your lettuce use with spinach. Even kids will go for that.
Cabbage: Cabbage is another keto-friendly vegetable that delivers a rich nutrient payload and is quite a carb efficient. Our digestive system only stands to benefit if we make cabbage a part of our diet. Also, cabbage provides a healthy dose of a substance called glucosinolate. Studies have shown that glucosinolate can play a positive role in battling certain types of cancers. You can use cabbage as a tasty side dish with red meats such as beef and ham.
Broccoli: It may not be Instagram worthy or even great tasting for that matter (re: President Bush), but broccoli is a home run when it comes to its health benefits and nutrient density. In addition, a 90 gram serving has only 4 grams of net carbs. It's believed that broccoli consumption can facilitate a decrease in insulin resistance for type 2 diabetes patients. Also, a study conducted in 2008 shows that regular broccoli consumption can reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Asparagus: From grilling it to using it to give your scrambled eggs a tasty twist, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy some tasty asparagus. A large cup of cooked asparagus contains about 4 grams of net carbs. However, asparagus has a short freshness window, so it’s best to consume it immediately. Not only is asparagus nutrient dense (rich in vitamin A, C, and K), it can also improve our mental health. Animal studies have shown that asparagus can play a role in anxiety disorder management.
Zucchini: This is a great option to try during the summer months. A 120 gram serving of zucchini only has 3g of net carbs. Moreover, it is quite rich in vitamin C, and each serving can provide up to 35% of our daily vitamin C requirements. It’s also rich in potassium, which helps improve blood circulation.
Also, the high fiber content makes zucchini quite good for our digestive system. Plus, it’s quite dense in B-vitamins, especially folate, riboflavin, and B6. This makes zucchini an effective fatigue buster that helps to keep our energy levels high. You can cut raw zucchini into sticks and have them as a quick snack or serve them mashed as a nutritious appetizer.
Cauliflower: If you love potatoes, then here’s your answer! Cauliflower is a great replacement that can decently replicate the taste and texture of potatoes and/or rice. Even better, it has among the lowest carb content with only 2 grams of net carbs per 100 grams. It’s also quite rich in vitamin C, and each serving can provide more than 75% of our needs.
It also plays a role in maintaining a healthy heart and keeps certain cancers at bay. A population-based study conducted in 2011 clearly found that increasing the consumption of cruciferous vegetables (such as zucchini) helps improve our heart health.
Lettuce: From adding a crunchy layer to your burgers to whipping up a quick salad, it’s hard to beat lettuce in convenience, taste, and keto friendliness. It virtually has zero net carbs – less than 1g per 100 grams! Lettuce also delivers a good dose of vitamins A, C, and K. Lettuce also helps our heart health by facilitating a steady reduction in the production of homocysteine, a compound that’s known to increase the risk of heart disease.
Cucumber: Not only is cucumber super tasty, but it also offers a host of health benefits. Cucumbers have less than 4 grams of net carbs per 100 grams. Cucumbers are also rich in a compound called cucurbitacin E, which according to a recent study can inhibit the growth of cells responsible for lung cancer. Cucumbers are great for infusing your water, adding crunch to your salads, or just for snacking.
Brussels sprouts: A small cup of Brussels sprouts has no more than 4 grams of net carbs. They are packed with vitamins C and K and can provide 80% and 137% of daily needs for these vitamins, respectively. Deficiency in vitamin K in particular can leave our bones brittle and susceptible to fracture. Brussels sprouts are also known to fight obesity. You can steam them, roast them, or add them to a mixed vegetable pot.
Vegetables to push away while on Keto
An easy way to remember which vegetables aren’t keto friendly is to weed out vegetables that grow under the ground such as potatoes, carrots, and other such vegetables because they are carb dense and can cause our blood sugar to spike. For example, a small potato (100g) will deliver about 15g of carbs and a similar amount of yams will have about 17g carbs. Beetroots and carrots are also quite high in sugar content.
Try to cut these vegetables out of your diet: carrots, beetroot, yams, potatoes, rutabaga, parsnip, and cooked onions. You can, however, use raw onions to add a bit of crunch and a sharp kick to your appetizers and salads because raw onion is not something that is consumed by the handful.
It’s a bit tricky to tackle fruits while on keto. Usually, most fruits aren’t keto friendly, as they are quite high in carbs and fructose (natural sugar). For instance, a medium banana can give you almost all of your daily carbohydrate allowance while on keto.
Although limited, you still have options when it comes to adding fruits to your daily keto diet. In this section, we will discuss the key aspects of fruit consumption while on keto.
Can fruit consumption hamper weight loss?
We’re not going to put fruits into the same category as pizza and fries but there are certain factors that make unimpeded fruit consumption less than optimal for weight loss.
Fruits may lead to hunger cravings: Sugar-rich fruits such as mangoes or apples can make your blood sugar levels behave like a pendulum, facilitating a sharp rise and fall. Fruits might make you feel satisfied temporarily, but since the protein and fat content in fruits is almost negligible, you start to feel hungry pretty soon after you have that bowl of colorful fruit salad.
You may eat more than you need: Don’t be surprised if you end up gobbling half a can of peaches in a single sitting. Here’s why it happens. Fruits are rich in fructose (natural sugar). If our fructose intake is more than what we need, then the excess fructose can actually make our body leptin resistant. This can lead to overeating and eventual weight gain. Leptin is a hormone that is responsible for regulating our hunger. A 2008 animal study found a connection between fructose and increased leptin resistance.
It can make you bloat: Our small intestine is not very efficient at breaking down fruit. This can at times lead to an uncomfortable stomach and bloating. Not a pretty sight or feeling!
What type of fruits can you eat?
So you must be wondering if all fruits should be banished from your daily routine while on keto. No, they don’t. You do actually have a few options to satisfy those fruit cravings. Here’s what to keep in mind while choosing fruits on keto:
Avoid fruits that are overly sweet: Fruits such as grapefruit and coconut that are tart or savory are usually quite low on fructose. This also minimizes the carb content.
Consume high-fiber fruits: Apart from reducing the overall carb count of the fruit, fiber has a few very important health benefits. It keeps our digestive system running like a well-oiled machine and keeps our heart super healthy by increasing good cholesterol and decreasing bad cholesterol. It also keeps our cravings at bay by helping to regulate our hunger.
Here are a few keto-friendly fruits:
Avocado: Although some people list it as a vegetable, avocado is a fruit. They are very carb-lean, offering less than 2 grams of net carbs for every 100g. You’ll also find about 7g of fiber per 100g. Great for your tummy! It also delivers a good helping of B-vitamins, potassium, and folate. Plus, they provide a healthy serving of good fats that are good for our cardiovascular health. You can have avocado slices just the way they are or add them to your salad.
Coconut: Well, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a person that doesn’t like coconuts. Every 50g of freshly-grated coconut will give you about 3g of net carbs and 15g of fat. If you buy packaged coconut, make sure to buy the unsweetened variety, as pre-packed coconut can often have added sugar. Coconut offers several handy benefits. It’s good for our immune system, as coconuts are known to be antiviral and antibacterial. It also helps with better digestion and acts as a quick boost to our energy.
Olives: Another fan favorite; there’s plenty one can do with olives such as making savory toppings or enjoying as a quick snack. 10 small olives only bring about 1.5g of net carbs. Olives have a compound known as oleocanthal, which acts as an effective painkiller. Olives are also quite rich in iron which can improve our body’s oxygen uptake by facilitating the production of hemoglobin.
Lemons are very low in sugar and perfect for adding a bit of citrus zing to salads or making a glass of plain water not so boring. Also, having lemon water first thing in the morning gets your metabolism buzzing about, and it improves your skin. Moreover, lemons are super dense in vitamin C, which has countless benefits for our health. Lemons also assist in preventing certain renal conditions such as kidney stones. Just make sure to brush your teeth often if you up your lemon intake as the added acid can have a negative impact on tooth enamel.
Raspberries: Raspberries are rich in antioxidants that help our bodies flush out toxins. They are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Raspberries are quite dense in polyphenol, a compound that facilitates a reduction in blood pressure and helps keep our arteries free of excess platelets. You will get about 3.5g net carbs for every 50g. Raspberries are great for desserts.
Blackberries: Not only do blackberries taste great, but they also deliver a decent amount of fiber (7g per 100g), which helps to ward off untimely hunger pangs. You’d be surprised to know the long list of health benefits they provide. They are quite dense in vitamin C, K, and manganese, and they keep our skin clear and improve mental health. Studies have also shown blackberries to have anti-cancer properties because of their density in ellagic acid and anthocyanin.
Strawberries: A summer favorite, strawberries are on everyone’s menu, keto or not. Although strawberries are a keto-friendly option, comparatively, they have more carbs than do blackberries and raspberries. So make sure not to overindulge. Strawberries are quite rich in manganese and potassium and loaded with antioxidants that help keep free radical impact at bay, have anti-inflammatory properties, and help to prevent the formation of stroke-causing blood clots.
Blueberries: Although blueberries are quite dense in antioxidants, they come along with a risk of upending your keto macro ratio. Of all the berries, blueberries deliver the highest amount of net carbs at over 11g net grams per 100g. So make sure to use these in moderation, if you try them.
Tomatoes: Like avocados, tomatoes by definition are fruits, though they are often mistaken as vegetables. From salads to sandwiches and soups to curries, tomatoes are a culinary staple in almost every cuisine across the globe. It is almost impossible to go wrong with this incredibly versatile ingredient. Tomatoes are quite dense in an antioxidant known as lycopene, which has been known to mitigate the risk of heart disease and cancer. Tomatoes also deliver a good dose of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. It’s best, though, to make your own sauces, as the store-bought tomato ketchup and sauces often have a very high sugar content.
What to avoid?
Here are a few pointers that will help you decide what fruits to leave out from your keto diet.
Juices: The biggest disadvantage of squeezing fruit for juices is that most of the fiber gets lost in the process and all you’re left with is fructose. This also means the net carbs will be a lot higher than that of solid whole fruit because it’ll take more than a single unit to squeeze out a single glass. Juice concentrates also fall in the same category, and you should avoid them as well, plus they’re loaded with additives that aren’t good for your health. You can, however, add lemon juice because its fructose density is quite low.
Dry fruit: Well, you might think that grabbing a fistful of raisins is a good idea, but that’s not really true when it comes to keto. The dehydration process, as the name implies, rids the fruit of its natural moisture. This shoots the net carb count through the roof. There are about 9g net carbs in 100g fresh apricot but 100g of dried apricots has about 50g of net carbs, more than five times as much.
Although you do have your options limited in keto, with a bit of care and knowledge, you should be able to convert your keto diet into something that you actually look forward to every day rather than force feeding yourself. And keto-friendly fruits and vegetables help add some variety and important vitamins to your diet.
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