Getting enough fruits and vegetables each day can be a challenge for some, but we all know it’s important.
Not only do fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that support our bodies’ daily functions, but research has shown that these foods can help reduce the risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases.
In addition to conveying these health benefits, fresh fruits and vegetables are generally low in fat and calories, which may make them an appealing choice for people watching their weight. However, some dieters may be wary of them if they’re trying to cut carbs. After all, don’t fruits and veggies contain a lot of sugar and carbs?
It’s true, fruits and vegetables do contain carbohydrates, but that’s no reason to leave them off your plate. Fruits and veggies contain varying amounts of carbs, so choosing the right ones, in the right amounts, means you can enjoy the health benefits of these delicious and versatile foods while you cut carbs.
Read on for our lists of the best low-carb fruits and vegetables to incorporate into your healthy low-carb eating plan.
Some low-carb diets specifically say to avoid fruit, at least for a certain part of the diet. This is because fruit tends to have a higher carbohydrate content than most vegetables, due to its higher amount of naturally occurring sugars.
But these sugars aren’t all bad — for most people, in appropriate amounts, they can all serve a healthy purpose without going overboard on carbs.
The three types of sugars found in fruits are glucose, fructose, and sucrose.
Glucose is the body’s preferred and default energy source for the brain and muscles, as well all other cells in the body.
Fructose is metabolized exclusively by the liver, which is different from how the body metabolizes glucose. While some research has cautioned against regularly consuming high levels of fructose, this advice applies to added fructose, such as high fructose corn syrup or agave nectar, not whole fruit.
Sucrose may be more familiar to you as “table sugar,” but it also occurs naturally in some fruits. Our bodies are equipped with an enzyme to break it down into glucose and fructose, and then metabolize it as each of those individual sugars.
If your doctor has recommended that you avoid sugar, or fructose in particular, you should follow your doctor’s instructions. But if not, you can likely find a way to fit fruit into your low-carb diet.
Some types of fruit have fewer carbs per standard serving, mostly due to their higher water, or have fewer absorbable carbohydrates due to their high fiber content. These absorbable carbs are often referred to as net carbs.
Fiber is a carbohydrate, but it’s one that your body can’t absorb, so it doesn’t affect your blood sugar like other carbohydrates do. So some people consider net carbs more important than total carbs.
To obtain a food’s net carb value, simply subtract the grams (g) of fiber it contains from its total carbohydrates.
Here’s our list of the best low-carb fruits.
This quintessential fruit of summer scores lowest in carbohydrate content, packing only 7.55 g per 100 g of fruit. It’s low in fiber, so most of this carbohydrate is absorbed. Watermelon is also high in vitamin A and has a high water content, which will fill you up while providing fewer calories. Even the rind has health benefits!
Berries are a popular choice for people watching their carb intake. Strawberries have the fewest carbs of all types of berries, while blackberries have the fewest net carbs.
For each 100 g of strawberries, you’ll get 7.68 g of carbohydrates and 2 g of fiber, yielding a net of 5.68 g of carbohydrates.
For each 100 g of blackberries, you’ll get 9.61 g of carbohydrates, but 5.3 g of fiber, netting only 4.31 g.
Raspberries are also an excellent choice, as they net only 5.44 g of carbohydrates per 100 g serving. They’re also an excellent source of antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin C among many other nutrients. And they contain phytochemicals, which are compounds that may prevent certain chronic diseases.
This popular orange melon is great on a hot summer day and contains only 8.16 g of carbohydrates and 0.9 g of fiber per 100 g of fruit, netting only 7.26 g of carbohydrates.
Melons are also considered to be low-fructose fruits. Some people like to eat cantaloupe or honeydew with tuna salad. Try blending cantaloupe with lime, mint, and water to make a refreshing agua fresca.
Yes, avocados are a fruit, and they have relatively low carbohydrate content to boot. For each 100 g of avocado, you’ll get an estimated 8.53 g of carbohydrate and 6.7 g of fiber, netting only 1.83 g of carbohydrates!
In addition, that serving of avocado will give you healthy monounsaturated fats, which are known to be good for heart health. Slice avocado on top of a salad or wrap, make an avocado tomato salad, or serve it with boiled eggs. Learn 16 more reasons why you don’t want to miss out on avocados.
Honeydew, another melon, comes in at 9.09 g of carbohydrates and 0.8 g of fiber for every 100 g, netting 8.29 g of carbohydrates. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C as well as potassium, an electrolyte you need to maintain good blood pressure, pH balance, and a healthy metabolism.
Try prosciutto-wrapped honeydew melon balls for a sweet-and-salty appetizer.
A sweet and juicy treat, peaches surprisingly don’t have too many carbohydrates. For every 100 g of fruit, you’ll get 9.54 g of carbs and 1.5 g of fiber, netting only 8.04 g of carbohydrates. For a low-carb snack, serve them up with some cottage cheese.
Vegetables get less of a bad rap than fruits do when it comes to carbs. They generally contain less sugar, and thus fewer carbs than fruits.
Even when you’re limiting carbs, vegetables should be an important source of nutrition in your diet. They’re high in fiber and lower in overall calories per serving than any other food group. Also, they contain an array of healthy compounds, including phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals.
In general, the higher the water content in a vegetable, the lower the carb content per standard serving.
These are the best low-carb choices.
Cucumbers are a refreshing and nutritious addition to any salad — Greek or otherwise! Peeled, they contain just 2.16 g of carbs for every 100 g. If you prefer them with peel, that’s 3.63 g, which is still pretty low.
2. Iceberg lettuce
Perhaps one of the most popular — though least nutritious — vegetables, iceberg lettuce has only 2.97 g of carbohydrate per 100 g. Pair it with several other veggies on this list to get a low-carb salad with plenty of nutrients.
Celery has the same number of carbs as iceberg lettuce (2.97 g per 100 g). Enjoy this versatile veggie with salads or in casseroles, or filled with an unsweetened nut butter.
4. White mushrooms
Mushrooms contain only 3.26 g of carbs per 100 g. Add them to an egg white omelet for a healthy, low-carb breakfast.
For every 100 g of spinach, you’ll get 3.63 g of carbohydrate. To put that in perspective, that’s only about 1 g per cup. So you can load up on spinach salads and top with lean chicken breasts and fresh strawberries.
6. Swiss chard
Another nutrient-dense leafy vegetable, Swiss chard packs only 3.74 g of carbs per 100 g. Swiss chard is great in soups and sautéed with garlic.
A nutrient-dense cruciferous vegetable, raw broccoli contains 6.64 g of carbs and 2.6 g of fiber, netting only 4.04 g of carbs per 100 g. Try it raw in a salad, lightly steamed, or in a stir-fry tossed with garlic, ginger, and a touch of olive oil.
8. Bell peppers
A light, crunchy snack when raw, or excellent sautéed with your other favorite vegetables, bell peppers have just 5.88 g of carbs per 100 g.
Zucchini can be “zoodled,” or turned into noodles with the help of a spiralizer or serrated peeler. This makes for a delicious and lower-carb alternative to pasta, at just 3.11 g of carbs per 100 g.
Or, try zucchini thinly sliced and grilled or roasted, and then layered with other vegetables and sauce for a low-carb “lasagna.”
Cauliflower has just 4.97 g of carbs and 2.0 g of fiber, netting only 2.97 g of carbs per 100 g serving! In addition to enjoying its florets, you can turn it into a tasty and low-carb alternative to rice or other grains.
Just grate it using a food processor and then serve it, cooked or raw, either as a side dish or mixed in with other vegetables and protein, and topped with a dressing of your choice.
Asparagus has 3.88 g of carbs per 100 g. Try it steamed or brushed with a little olive oil and roasted in the oven or grill. Top it off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
12. Alfalfa sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts, which are the sprouted seeds of alfalfa, have 2.1 g of carbs per 100 g. This nutritious veggie is a perfect salad topper.
Radishes have just 3.4 g of carbs per 100 g, and are an often overlooked, but tasty and nutritious vegetable.
Sliced radishes make a great addition to salads, or enjoy whole radishes with a pinch of sea salt or dipped into your favorite spread or dressing.
Arugula is a versatile leafy green that has just 3.65 g of carbs per 100 g. It’s flavorful, with a bit of a peppery-spicy quality, and is a particularly good source of vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, and calcium.
Try it in salads mixed in with other greens, or cooked into sauces, soups, or stews.
Radicchio has just 4.48 g of carbs per 100 g, and its sturdy leaves can be used as lettuce wraps to fill with your choice of ingredients.
Radicchio can be enjoyed raw or cooked in a number of ways. It even holds up to grilling.
Tomatoes have just 3.89 g of carbs and 1.2 g of fiber, netting only 2.69 g of carbs per 100 g serving!
Enjoy them raw as an easy, healthy snack with salt and pepper, as toppings on salads or sandwiches, or cooked into soups or used to make sauces.
Pickled or fermented vegetables, from cucumber pickles to cabbage sauerkraut or kimchi, can be another low-carb option to vary your vegetable intake. Opt for fermented, not just pickled, vegetables, which contain gut healthy probiotics. Check the list of ingredients to make sure no sugar was added.
Vegetable nutrition chart
Below is a quick-and-easy guide of the nutritional value of low-carb vegetables — feel free to bring it with you on your next food shopping trip! Remember, these values are for raw vegetables (carbohydrate content can shift slightly during cooking).
For those interested in net carbs, those in this chart.
* Nutritional values as determined by the USDA for raw, uncooked vegetables.
So now you’ve got your lists of low-carb fruits and vegetables. How much of these foods you’ll want to include in your meals depends on the type of low-carb diet you’re following. The main types of low-carb diets include:
General low-carb. According to the American Diabetes Association, the recommended daily allowance of carbohydrate intake is 130 g per day. Therefore, a daily intake of less than 130 g of carbs per day would be considered a “low-carb” diet.
Caveman diets. Some diets, such as the paleolithic or “paleo” approach, or the “primal” diet, call for reducing carbohydrate intake. However, specific numbers may vary from person to person, depending on individual needs and goals. For example, within these diets, you might consume between 100–150 g of carbs per day, to as low as 50 g per day.
Ultra-low-carb. Some people on a very restrictive low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet, are usually limited to 20 g or less of carbohydrates per day.
No matter which diet you follow, you should be able to add a few servings of low-carb fruits and vegetables to your meals every day.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before making any extreme dietary changes, including severely changing your carbohydrate intake.
Low-carb dieting doesn’t have to mean only protein and fat all the time. Fruits and vegetables can play an important nutritional role in your low-carb eating plan.
Keep these lists of low-carb fruit and vegetable options handy to help make your plate more interesting and your nutrition more complete as you adhere to your low-carb plan.