For those who adhere to a low-carb lifestyle, cutting carbohydrates is viewed as an alternate, and possibly smarter, dietary approach to weight management, compared to simply cutting calories. Although restricting carbs can boost your weight-loss efforts, it does mean you have to limit your intake of otherwise nutritious carbohydrate-containing foods, including many fruits and vegetables. Knowing which fruits and veggies are lowest in carbs can help you stick to your diet plan without sacrificing too many essential nutrients.
Net Carbs vs. Total Carbs
A food’s total carbohydrate content includes both the carbs your body can digest -- such as starches and sugars -- as well as dietary fiber, an indigestible form of carbohydrate that helps slow the rate at which your body absorbs glucose. Because dietary fiber isn't completely digested, it doesn’t count toward your daily intake of carbohydrates. That's why low-carb dieters typically keep track of a food’s net carbs, or its digestible carbs, rather than its total carbs. Net carbs are total carbs minus the fiber. For example, a 1/2-cup serving of fresh blackberries has 7 grams of total carbohydrates but only about 3 grams of net carbs, because it contains nearly 4 grams of dietary fiber.
Very Low-Carb Vegetables
All vegetables contain carbohydrates, but some contain only trace or very low amounts. Many of the raw leafy vegetables that are traditionally used as salad greens fall into this category. Romaine and iceberg lettuce, endive, escarole, watercress, arugula, spinach, chicory greens and radicchio contain less than 1 net carb gram per 1/2-cup serving. Some of these, including spinach, arugula and endive, contain just trace amounts, or closer to 0 net carbs per serving.
One-half cup of cooked collard greens or cooked spinach has about 1 gram of net carbohydrate, as does a single stalk of celery. One-half cup of cooked broccoli, cooked beet greens, cooked Swiss chard or raw fennel supplies about 2 grams of net carbs, as do 6 stalks of cooked asparagus.
Other low-carb vegetables containing less than 3 grams of net carbohydrates per serving include cucumbers, zucchini, raw cabbage, okra, kale, turnips, eggplant, jicama, green beans and green and red bell peppers.
Moderately Low-Carb Vegetables
Many of the vegetables that are very low in carbohydrates are also low in calories, so it makes sense that starchier vegetables that are higher in calories also tend to be richer in carbohydrates. Even among these types of vegetables, however, there are several that still qualify as moderately low in carbohydrates. Per 1/2-cup serving, cooked pumpkin and cooked snow peas each contain roughly 5 net carbs, while cubed, cooked rutabaga has about 6 net carbs.
Although beans, peas and lentils tend to be rich in complex carbohydrates, there are a few relatively low-carb options. Edamame, or fresh soybeans, contain just 3 grams net carbs per 1/2-cup serving. If you use smaller serving sizes, you can still enjoy other legumes. A 1/4-cup serving of black or brown lentils contains 4 grams net carbs, and red split peas provide about 5 grams net carbs per 1/4-cup serving. Legumes that contain more than 5 but less than 8 grams per 1/4-cup serving include black beans, refried beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, lima beans, butter beans and green split peas.
By their very nature, fruits tend to be higher in carbohydrates compared to vegetables. Notable exceptions include those fruits that are often traditionally used as vegetables in the kitchen, largely because they’re not sweet. You’ll get just over 1 gram of net carbohydrate from half of a California Hass avocado, while the same serving of a Florida avocado has almost 4 grams. Black olives -- another high-fat, savory fruit -- are very low in carbohydrates. You’d have to eat about seven of them to get 1 gram net carbohydrate, and green olives have even fewer carbs. Tomatoes, which also qualify as fruit, are slightly higher in carbohydrates -- one small, fresh tomato has almost 3 grams of net carbs, while 10 fresh cherry or grape tomatoes contain just under 5 grams.
Low-carb fruits on the sweeter side are harder to come by, but berries are a good choice. Fresh blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries each contain roughly 3 grams net carbs per 1/2-cup serving. Fresh, sliced strawberries are higher in carbohydrates, with closer to 5 grams net carbs per 1/2-cup serving, while fresh blueberries contain 9 grams in the same serving. Watermelon and cantaloupe are also moderately low in carbohydrates, providing roughly 6 grams net carbs per 1/2-cup serving of cubed or balled fruit.