Eat your vegetables. It’s a command most have heard since they were old enough to hold a fork, and if you’re a parent, you probably say it to your own kids all the time. Even if we to know eating vegetables is important, it’s not something most of us know how to do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventiononly 10% of adults meet the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
While all vegetables are packed with beneficial nutrients, low-carb vegetables in particular are a great way to make a meal more filling without dramatically increasing the calorie content. “Vegetables are packed with health-boosting vitamins and minerals, as well as filling fiber. They’re the perfect addition to help build a healthy plate, without adding a lot of extra calories,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDNdietitian, author The small change diet and podcast host The Keri Report.
“Vegetables are generally divided into two groups, starchy and non-starchy,” explains Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian and associate director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab. Sassos explains that starchy vegetables are generally higher in carbs and lower in fiber than their non-starchy counterparts. She also points out that starchy foods tend to affect blood sugar more.
It bears repeating that all vegetables are nutritious. “We know that a diet rich in produce can help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, from heart disease to certain types of cancers,” Sassos says. “Vegetables in general are packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and more, making them an essential part of a healthy diet.” If you’re looking to increase your intake of low-carb vegetables in particular, there’s plenty to choose from. Need ideas? How about 15.
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“Leafy greens, such as spinach, romaine, kale, and collard greens, are a good source of antioxidants that help protect the body against free radicals,” says Gans. Free radicals are atoms that damage cells and from which it is impossible to escape; they’re in air pollution, chemicals, and even the sun’s UV rays. Over time, exposure to free radicals can damage cells in the body, which can negatively impact health. Think of foods high in antioxidants, like leafy greens, as a protective shield. “Dark leafy greens in particular provide bone-promoting calcium and heart-healthy folate,” adds Gans, citing two other health benefits of this low-carb food.
There’s a reason spiralized zucchini has become a popular way to cut carbs in place of traditional pasta; a medium zucchini contains only six grams of carbohydrates. “Zucchini noodles make a great swap for spaghetti and lasagna in many recipes, helping to keep blood sugar at bay,” says Sassos. Gans adds that squash is a good source of fiber, which promotes digestive health, and also contains vitamin C, which supports the immune system.
Broccoli is another low carb vegetable that supports the immune system. “A cup of broccoli contains even more vitamin C than an orange,” says Sassos. Pretty impressive, right? She also says that broccoli contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are essential for eye health. That’s not all either. Gans adds that broccoli contains vitamins E and Kboth of which help protect against chronic disease and illness.
A cousin of broccoli, cauliflower offers just as many nutritional benefits without dramatically increasing the carb content of your meal. Like broccoli, Gans says cauliflower contains vitamins C, E, and K. In fact, one serving of cauliflower contains the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Mushrooms are truly magical – even though they are only of the shiitake, button and portobello variety. “Many mushrooms contain vitamin D, which sets them apart from other vegetables,” says Gans, adding that vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption.
Whether you enjoy stuffed peppers, Marine Where mixed in a dipyou’ll be doing your immune system a big favor – they’re full of vitamin C.” They’re also high in carotenoids, another antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, so bell peppers may additionally help reduce the risk of heart disease .and some cancers,” says Gans.
Asparagus is another low carb vegetable that is particularly good for cardiovascular health, also linked to lower LDL cholesterol. Sassos offers a pro tip for keeping your asparagus fresh: wrap the edges of the stalks in a damp paper towel, then place them in a plastic bag before transferring them to the fridge. This will help them last even longer. This way you will have more time to do roasted asparagus with creamy feta or enjoy vegetables in other delicious ways.
Celery isn’t just a vehicle for peanut butter or a Bloody Mary topping; it’s a very low carb and calorie way to boost your fiber content. “Celery also contains apigenina flavonoid that research suggests may play a role in preventing breast cancer cells from inhibiting their own death by turning them into normal cells that die as expected,” says Sassos.
With a water content of around 96%, cucumbers are one of the most hydrating vegetables you’ll find in the produce section. The benefits of hydration combined with its antioxidant content make it a real beauty food it’s good for your skin. “Look for firm cucumbers that are dark green in color and heavy in size,” says Sassos. This indicates that the vegetable is the ripest and richest in nutrients.
“Certain nutrients found in cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables may help prevent certain cancers,” Sassos says. That much, a scientific study found a lower rate of breast cancer among people in the United States of Poland who ate cabbage and sauerkraut regularly growing up compared to Americans who did not eat these foods regularly when they were younger.
Although avocados are filling, they are not high in carbs; half an avocado has about 8.5 grams. “Avocados themselves do not contain cholesterol and the unsaturated fats they do having can help get’bad cholesterol failing,” says Sassos. “According to Hass avocado board, avocados are also the richest known fruit source of phytosterols, important cholesterol-lowering compounds. That means it’s another low-carb vegetable (well, technically a fruit) that you can add to your list of heart-healthy foods.
Brussels sprouts have become a staple menu item at trendy restaurants and adding them to your meal can be a great way to get a healthy helping of fiber before your entree even arrives. One serving contains just eight grams of carbs, and eating them regularly supports the digestive system, immune health, and heart health. If you’re buying Brussels sprouts to cook at home, look for ones that are firm, compact, and bright green. “Remember that the leaves cook faster than the core, so cut them in half or quarters when roasting or cut an ‘X’ off the bottom of the stem if you’re blanching them whole,” says Sassos.
beets are another low-carb vegetable that Sassos says is worth incorporating into your meals. Beets are especially a good source of potassium, an essential nutrient for heart health and the nervous system. It’s also a good source of folate, which is important for cellular health. Not sure what to do with your beets? Try to integrate them into a fettuccine dish with hazelnuts and goat cheese.
“All vegetables, regardless of carbohydrate content, should be part of a healthy diet,” says Gans. If you don’t like steamed vegetables, she encourages you to cook them in different ways, such as grilling, roasting or lightly sautéing them. Then, stir them into the foods you love, like pasta sauces, stews, soups, or omelettes.
Bookmark the list of 15 low carb vegetables highlighted here and make it your goal to cook with a new choice every week. Not only will your meals be tastier, but you’ll also increase your intake of fiber and other nutrients.
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Emily Laurence is a freelance writer and certified health coach. She specializes in writing about mental health, fitness, healthy eating, and social justice issues. Emily spent six years as a writer and editor at Well + Good, covering everything from food trends to serious issues like America’s opioid crisis, gun violence, and women experiencing sexual abuse in hospitals. She has also worked for Seventeen, Elle and Twist magazines. Her work can regularly be seen online for publications such as Forbes, Parade, Shape and The Huffington Post. Emily lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her cat Evie.
As a dietitian, Stefani Sassos is dedicated to evidence-based nutrition reporting. She takes the pulse of the latest nutrition research and trends, telling readers which principles are science-backed and worth incorporating into a healthy lifestyle (and which fads are worth avoiding) . She believes in the power of a plant-based diet and is passionate about finding ways to incorporate nutritious products into everyday meals and recipes.
Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, is a Certified Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian. She is the author of The diet of a small change and podcast host The Keri Report. As a healthy eating expert, Gans regularly contributes to US News and World Report, Form and Forbes Health.
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