All vegetables are pretty darn healthy, but eating a bowlful of corn or sweet potato is going to impact your blood sugar far more than a bowlful of broccoli or green beans.
In this article, we’ll look at the top 10 low-carb vegetables that won’t spike your blood sugar and the ones that will raise your blood sugar the most (but again, I’ve gotta say: there’s no such thing as a bad vegetable!)
“Total” carbohydrates vs. “Net” carbohydrates
When talking about the carb-quantities of different foods, it’s critical to understanding the difference between “total” carbohydrates and “net” carbohydrates.
Total carbohydrates are the absolute total number of carbohydrates in a food item. This will include added sugars (ex: in candy, soda, cake), naturally-occurring sugars (ex: in fruit) or starch (ex: in a potato, wheat, oats), sugar alcohols used in “sugar-free” candy, and all types of dietary fiber.
Net carbohydrates are the total number of carbohydrates after you subtract dietary fiber and some sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrates. Dietary fiber is not broken down into glucose like other types of carbohydrate, which means it doesn’t impact your blood sugar.
If you’re eating a meal containing 20 grams of total carbohydrate and 10 grams of fiber, the meal would have 10 grams of net carbs. If you’re counting carbs and dosing insulin based on carbs, it’s important to know how many actual impact carbohydrates you’re eating.
When it comes to low-carb vegetables, identifying carb-quantities by “net” carbohydrates is important when comparing one item to another because some vegetables contain far more dietary fiber than others. By subtracting that fiber amount from the total carbohydrates, it makes for a more accurate comparison.
Does the glycemic index still matter?
The glycemic index was created to rank every food based on the number of carbohydrates and the rate at which those carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels.
While it was very popular in the 80s after being introduced in 1981 as the decider of which carbohydrates are healthy and which are not, it can be a little misleading for those of us with diabetes.
For instance, while grapes are a wholesome source of nutrition, they also contain a lot of sucrose compared to other fruits. Grapes are notorious in the diabetes community for their rapid impact on blood sugar levels. A mere handful of grapes can raise your blood sugar 200 mg/dL if not matched well with an insulin dose.
And yet, based on the glycemic index, grapes are considered ideal for people with diabetes because they rank in the 40s. Anything under 50 is considered a good choice for your diabetes goals.
Another example is spaghetti. According to the glycemic index, white spaghetti ranks under 50, making it an ideal choice for people with diabetes. If you’ve ever eaten a bowl of spaghetti as a person with diabetes, you know it’s anything but kind to your blood sugar and insulin needs.
The glycemic index can also be difficult to work with because the glycemic value of vegetables change depending on how they are cooked. For example, roasted potatoes have a glycemic value around 69 while mashed potatoes are around 78.
In this article, we did not include the glycemic index on different vegetables, because when it comes to counting carbohydrates and measuring insulin, we don’t find it is a helpful tool.
10 low-carb vegetable choices for people with diabetes
A diet full of vegetables is a healthy diet. Are you stuck in a rut of only including vegetables at dinnertime? Getting vegetables into your diet as part of a snack, lunch, and dinner is a worthy goal. Here are 10 low-carb vegetable options that’ll be a great addition to your nutrition as a person with diabetes.
Leafy Greens (spinach, romaine, swiss chard, kale, iceberg, etc.)
You can’t eat too many leafy greens. Loaded with vitamins and minerals (and a surprisingly great source of calcium for bone health), these should inarguably be a part of any healthy diet — especially for people with diabetes. The darker the green in those leaves, the more nutrition. 1 cup of raw spinach, for example, contains 1.7 grams of total carbohydrate and less than 1 gram of net carbs!
Broccoli is a great way to fill your belly without many carbs or calories. 1 cup of raw broccoli contains a mere 6 grams of total carbohydrate and 2 grams of net carbs. A great replacement for pasta, you can fill your plate with broccoli, meat, and other low-carb veggies and you’ll be pretty satisfied!
There’s a reason everybody keeps substituting rice for “riced cauliflower” — it’s extremely low-carb and very filling. 1 cup of raw cauliflower contains 6 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of net carbs. Whether you eat it steamed, sauteed, or “riced,” it can be pretty tasty with herbs, spices, salt, and pepper!
Cabbage — red or green — is a great way to fill up your plate with a lot of nutrition but without many carbs. Sauteed with onions and chopped up green beans, you’ll find that what looks just like lettuce actually has a great deal of flavor — it’s great with a little meat, too! 1 cup of chopped cabbage contains 5 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of net carbs. Mix it up between red and green for variety!
My favorite way to eat eggplant is by slicing it up, brushing it with a little oil, sprinkled with paprika and salt, and then set it in an air-fryer for 24 hours! Eggplant chips are extremely low-carb. You can also just cube it and bake it with a little salt and pepper! 1 cup of cubed eggplant contains about 5 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of net carbs.
A little starchier than other veggies on this list, green beans are still worth their place in your diet. 1 cup of green beans contains about 10 grams of total carbohydrate and 6 grams of net carbs, but you’ll likely find the impact on your blood sugar to be far less than what the carb-count implies.
It’s hard to report the number of carbs in an onion because you generally only eat a few slices at a time in your sandwich or in a stir-fry. Sure, 1 cup contains “16 grams of carbs” but who eats 1 cup of onions in a sitting? Nobody! A few slices of onion, on the other hand, contain fewer than 2 or 3 grams of carbohydrate.
Celery is light, crunchy, flavorful, and a really delicious boat for peanut butter. You can use it soups, veggie salads, and more as a low-carb, whole-food filler! 1 medium-stalk of celery contains 1.7 grams of total carbohydrates and fewer than 1 gram of net carbs.
There are a variety of tasty bell pepper colors, but the lowest in carbs are the green ones. That being said, don’t shy away from red, orange and yellow — their carb count is still relatively low and they offer a great variety of vitamins and minerals. 1 cup of chopped green bell pepper contains 7 grams of total carbohydrate and 4.5 grams of net carbs.
These delicious sprouts are so nutritious but do require a bit of chopping. They have a pretty strong scent and flavor when cooked, too, which can steer some folks from trying them. I recommend chopping each sprout in half, drizzling with olive oil and salt, and roasting them in the oven! 1 cup of cooked Brussel’s sprouts contains 11 grams of total carbohydrate and 4 grams of net carbs.
What about all of the other veggies we didn’t include on this list? You should feel free to eat those, too! Aside from keeping an eye on how much of the starchy ones you eat, you can’t go wrong with vegetables. Look-up the carb-count before trying something new, and check your blood sugar within 2 hours after eating to see the impact on your blood sugar.
And remember, learning how to cook and season veggies with herbs, spices, and sea salt can make any veggie remarkably delicious! Embrace your kitchen!
6 vegetables that will raise your blood sugar
Just because a vegetable is on this list does not mean you can’t eat it. However, when choosing the foods on this list, it’s important to keep an eye on just how much you’re eating. If we’re going to eat carbs, certainly choosing whole-food carbs like starchy vegetables is better for our overall health than a cupcake.
But whether you’re on insulin or not, you’ll want to make sure you account for those extra carbs, check your blood sugar two hours after eating to see how your body is handling it and reduce your carb-intake at other meals to stay within your goal carbohydrate range.
Potatoes are nearly pure starch, and while they’re certainly delicious covered in butter and salt, they can raise your blood sugar significantly. According to CalorieKing, 1 medium-sized potato (or 6 oz) packs in about 37 grams of total carbohydrate and 33 grams of net carbs.
Corn on the cob is delicious, but you may find it spikes your blood sugar as quickly as a glass of juice! Very high in starch, 1 medium-sized ear of corn can pack 46 grams of total carbohydrate and 42 grams of net carbs.
Sweet Potatoes / Yams
While sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and minerals compared to white potatoes, their carb-content is nearly identical. 1 large-sized sweet potato (or 6 oz) contains about 37 grams of total carbohydrate and 31 grams of net carbs.
Probably not an option you encounter as often, parsnips are very similar to white potatoes in texture and appearance when cooked. 1 cup of boiled parsnip contains 26 grams of total carbohydrate and 21 grams of net carbs.
Often considered a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes, it’s important to note that butternut squash still contains a decent amount of starch that’ll easily raise your blood sugar. 1 cup of boiled butternut squash contains 21.5 grams of total carbohydrate and 19 grams of net carbs.
There are so many delicious beans out there but they are rather starchy. Fortunately, beans do have a lot of dietary fiber to offset some of the carb-content, but they should still be eaten carefully. 1 cup of cooked black beans, for example, contains 40 grams of total carbohydrate and 25 grams of net carbs.
Remember, you can enjoy any of these vegetables but the starch quantity in them will impact your blood sugar even though they are healthy overall! If you choose to include these options in your diet, do so with moderation and careful attention to your medications and blood sugar levels.
Read more from DiabetesStrong on carbohydrates:
- No-Carb, Low-Carb…Which is the Best Diet for Diabetes?
- 5 low-carb rice alternatives
- Total vs. Net Carbohydrates
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Eggplant in the airfryer for 24 hours sounds dangerous!
Christel Oerum says
They become very crisp
Shabbir Khan says
I was surprised to find legumes in list that raise Sugar levels. What about pulses? Can they be considered as low carbs?
Christel Oerum says
Pulses (include all beans, peas, and lentils) are a great nutritious food choice, but they will impact blood sugars. You should consider your servings and make choices that are align with how you manage your blood sugars
Hi, I’m not diabetic, but my wife is, she is going on 65 years type 1. I check my blood on occasion with my own meter this evening I checked my blood one hour after eating 2 1/2 cups of raw kale and 6 oz of boneless skinless chicken breast, and I was surprised that it was 95. I know that’s not high but I normally read 69-85 post meal. 1hr, 2hr. Just salt, pepper on boiled chicken, is it possible the kale was a “sweet one”?
Christel Oerum says
Many other things, besides food, can impact your blood sugar levels or it could be an inaccurate measurement. I would just continue to do spot-checks if you feel like it and always remember to wash your hands with soap and dry them before doing a blood sugar measurement for the most accurate result
I have insulin resistance. I cannot find any diets for people like me. I do keto and fasting but things on my keto diet, this says not to eat. What do you recommend for me?
Christel Oerum says
If you’re very insulin resistant you might want to consider eating a diet lower in fats. Your doctor might be able to refer you to a Registered Dietitian who can help you develop a diet that works for you
Wyman Poe says
I am type 1 diagnosed @ 55 and try to avoid most all carbs, and honestly taste has never been a big driver in my life. I grew up hating brussel sprouts, which my mom made us eat. But through an of the wall eatery, my wife and I discovered deep fried brussel sprouts, no batter of any kind. Just drop into a fry daddy (outside for the splatter) and take out when outside is brown. Really satisfies the fried craving. We also broil okra, from our garden, in the oven. Awesome!
Stacy Gomes says
Important and helpful thing to remember. Low carb food helps you to avoid medical disorders if you are diabetic especially.
Thanks for such article it was really good it helps me a lot for the diet of diabetes. And zucchini is a good option as you said in a comment I am also used to it.
Selena Valentine says
Useful information….Thank you so much.
Michelle Quigley says
I am very glad I found this site. My financee is diabetic and he is way out of control on his sugar. I am starting to make him some of these recipes to try and get him back to normal levels. Any suggestions on how to quit his binge eating and also portion sizes, etc?
Christel Oerum says
There can be many reasons why he’s struggling. Maybe he is going through diabetes burnout, or don’t know enough about the condition to manage it optimally or maybe something else is going on.
As for occasional binge eating, that’s usually a reaction to being overly restrictive. I can’t give advice based on the information here but generally when I discuss nutrition with clients focus is always on finding a plan that works for the individual. I don’t believe carby treats should be demonized, but if desired it can be included moderations. As for portion sizes, if food is measured out and tracked it’s easier to keep track of consumptions
Great article but what about courgette(zucchini)? Have I missed where you’ve listed them?
Ginger Vieira says
Hi Joce! There’s no doubt that zucchini is a great option — we didn’t include EVERY veggie option on here! That would be a long list! Thanks for adding it here in the comments!
CH Burton says
My diabetic teacher told me I CAN have zucchini but NOT yellow squash. Interesting isn;t it! I have learned to like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, all the greens you listed. i eat them. Delicious fave meal is one onion & 2 zucchini cooked, topped with 1/2 cup cottage cheese. Yumm!
Naveen Sohail says
Such a great post and so many choices for healthy eat. Thanks for sharing with us.