It is important to “eat your vegetables every day” to get your daily dose of vitamins, minerals, and fiber for optimal metabolic functioning. When it comes to eating vegetables in the context of a low-carbohydrate lifestyle, there are several things to keep in mind. First off, we are not talking about “fruits and vegetables,” like other nutrition folks, we really are talking just about vegetables. Because the nutritional content and metabolic effects of fruit (a.k.a. ‘nature’s candy’) are so different than vegetables, we must think of them differently, and when you are trying to maximize ‘fat-burning’ in a low-carbohydrate lifestyle, it is the non-starchy vegetables that are the healthiest. (Forget the fruit!) The next consideration is how to count the carbs in the veggies–do you count “Net Carbs” or “Total Carbs.”
In The New Atkins for a New You, during the first phase, induction phase, it is recommended that you eat 12-15 Net Carb grams of “foundation vegetables.” The amount of vegetables is increased slowly depending upon your progress. The harsh reality is that some people can eat lots of vegetables and continue to lose weight – and others cannot! Other factors like your heredity, your activity level, and other medical conditions can affect how many vegetables you can eat and still lost weight.
Most people do quite well with using the Net Carb calculation as described in The New Atkins for a New You: take the Total Carbohydrate Grams and subtract out the Fiber Grams and Sugar Alcohol Grams to obtain the Net Carb Grams. For example, a cup of Romaine lettuce has 1.4 grams of carbs, but more than half of the carbs are from fiber (about 1 gram). Subtracting 1 from 1.4 leaves 0.4 grams, so the Net Carb count is 0.4 grams per cup.
In the clinical setting, I find that some people need to use the Total Carb method of counting carbs – not the Net Carb method of counting carbs. This is because many of my patients have pre-diabetes or diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome – which means they are more sensitive to the effects of carbs than other people. What it means in terms of vegetables is fewer servings of vegetables are allowed for the day. Some people find it easier to count Total Carbs because there is no subtraction involved.
Here is an excerpt from our clinic handout (now available as The Low Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet Manual):
Veggies That Must Be Eaten Every Day
- Leafy greens. Includes: arugula, celery, Chinese cabbage, chives, cucumber, endive, lettuce (all varieties), parsley, spinach, radicchio, radishes, scallions, sprouts (bean & alfalfa), and watercress. (If it is a leaf—you can eat it.)
- Non-starchy vegetables. Includes: artichokes, asparagus, beet greens, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, eggplant, green beans, jicama, kale, leeks, mushrooms, turnip and mustard greens, okra, onions, peppers, pumpkin, shallots, snow peas, spinach, string beans, sugar-snap peas, summer squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, wax beans, zucchini.
Tips from the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic
If your progress stalls, you might consider lowering the amount of vegetables that you are eating using the Total Carb method of counting the carb grams. This typically means going from 3 cups of foundation vegetables to one cup of vegetables for the day. Using the total carb method will also reduce the amount of sugar alcohols and other sweeteners. We have had some people who are sensitive to these non-caloric sweeteners, and the elimination of them helped them through periods of no weight loss.
Compare the size of your fist to a measuring cup. The fist size of most people is about the size of a measuring cup. So I teach in terms of “fist-fuls” of leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables to approximate the size of a “cup-ful.” You have to be mindful of the amount of these foods because they do contain carbohydrate (which then raises the blood sugar which then raises insulin, etc.). But, remember that we don’t worry about the portion sizes of foods that do not contain carbohydrate.