Are there carbs in vegetables?

Vegetables are some of the most nutrient dense foods that you can eat. They are very low in calories (thanks to their high water content) and are a rich source of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium and potassium. Including plenty of vegetables in your diet is highly recommended by experts because of the numerous health benefits that eating them brings.

Vegetables do have carbs, but in differing amounts. Starchy vegetables generally have far more carbs than non-starchy ones. The table below provides the carbohydrate content of various vegetables per 100 g.

VegetableCarbohydrateDietary fiberSugars
Corn74.267.30.64
Sweet Potato20.1234.18
Parsnips17.994.94.8
Leeks14.151.83.9
Potatoes12.442.50.8
Horseradish11.293.37.99
Artichokes10.515.40.99
Carrots9.582.84.74
Beetroot9.562.86.76
Chilli Peppers9.461.55.1
Onions9.341.74.24
Dandelion Greens9.23.50.71
Brussels Sprouts8.953.82.2
Jicama8.824.91.8
Kale8.753.62.26
Rutabaga8.622.34.46
Squash8.591.52.2
Okra7.453.21.48
Scallions7.342.62.33
Fennel7.33.13.93
Green Beans6.972.73.26
Mushrooms6.792.52.38
Broccoli6.642.61.7
Pumpkin6.50.52.76
Turnips6.431.83.8
Kohlrabi6.23.62.6
Cabbage5.82.53.2
Collard Greens5.4240.46
Cauliflower4.9721.91
Mustard Greens4.673.21.32
Bell Peppers4.641.72.4
Radicchio4.480.90.6
Asparagus3.882.11.88
Swiss chard3.741.61.1
Arugula3.651.62.05
Cucumber3.630.51.67
Spinach3.632.20.42
Radishes3.41.61.86
Purslane3.39
Endive3.353.10.25
Zucchini3.1112.5
Celery2.971.61.34
Lettuce2.871.30.78
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini)2.852.70.38
Bok Choy2.1811.18
Watercress1.290.50.2

As you can see, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes have many more carbs than non starchy ones like celery.

Carbohydrates are one of the three macro-nutrients (the other two being protein and fat) and are primarily used by the body as a source of energy. When carbs are eaten, they are broken down into smaller units of sugar (glucose) and absorbed into the bloodstream. Cells in your body then utilize this sugar as fuel.

Any unused glucose is stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen, a backup energy source. However the body can only store a limited amount of glycogen, so when these reserves are full, excess glucose is stored as fat.

The carbs that you obtain from food can be split into 3 categories:

  • Starches – these are made up of many glucose molecules that have been bonded together and are converted back into glucose by the digestive system.
  • Sugars – usually in the form of fructose, sucrose and lactose.
  • Fiber – also known as roughage, it is mainly obtained from plant based foods.

It is important to keep in mind that not all carbohydrate rich foods are the same. There are carbs that are good for you and carbs that are not so good for you.

The ones that are beneficial are complex carbs. These are usually obtained from foods that are close to their natural state as possible. Complex carbs are digested at a slow pace and provide a steady release of energy. This is thanks to their high fiber content.

The carbs that are not so good for you are simple (refined) carbs. These are usually obtained from foods that have been heavily processed. They tend to contain very high amounts of sugar but very little dietary fiber. For example, 100 g of chocolate chip cookies has 64 g of carbohydrate, 35 g of sugar and only 2 g of dietary fiber. When you eat refined carbs, they provide large bursts of energy and cause blood sugar & insulin levels to rise and fall dramatically.

The net carbohydrate content of a food is calculated by subtracting fiber content from total carbohydrate content. This is because fiber cannot be digested by the body and therefore does not raise your blood sugar levels. The net carbohydrate content of 100 g of green beans would be 6.97 – 2.7 = 4.27 g. On the other hand, the net carbohydrate content of 100 g of chocolate chip cookies would be 64 – 2 = 62 g.

Vegetables are sources of complex carbs. When you eat them, they provide a slow and steady release of energy (this is especially true for non starchy vegetables). For this reason, they should be one of your main dietary sources of carbohydrate. Include large amounts of non starchy vegetables and small amounts of starchy vegetables in your diet. If you are going to be following a very low carb diet, you may want to only eat non starchy vegetables.

Below are the benefits of eating various vegetables. Many of the other vegetables in the table above have similar health benefits.

Spinach

1.43 g net carbohydrate per 100 g

Spinach is very low in calories; a one cup serving only has 7 calories. Despite this, it is extremely nutritious and is one of the best dietary sources of vitamin K that there is. Because of its powerful nutritional profile, it is often considered to be a superfood.

Eating spinach can help to boost your immune system, enhance muscle performance, strengthen your bones, fight cancer and slow down cognitive decline.

Because of its mellow flavour, spinach can be used in salads, smoothies, stir fries and soups.

Mushrooms

4.29 g net carbohydrate per 100 g

Mushrooms are unlike most other vegetables; they are actually a type of fungi. They come in different forms including white mushrooms, portobello, crimini, enoki and oyster.

Because of their texture, they make a great replacement for meat. Studies have shown that mushrooms can be highly beneficial for weight loss, thanks to their low calorie content.

Mushrooms are also a dietary source of vitamin D, they improve immunity and are rich in antioxidants.

Carrots

6.78 g net carbohydrate per 100 g

Carrots are extremely high in vitamin A; a medium sized carrot will provide you with more than double your daily requirement. This vitamin is required for eye, skin and hair health.

Eating carrots can help to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol levels, protect your liver and maintain oral health. The beta-carotene they contain is a powerful antioxidant.

Carrots are well known for being orange in colour, however red, purple and yellow carrots are available as well.

Broccoli

4.04 g net carbohydrate per 100 g

Broccoli is a food that is often associated with good health. It is a cruciferous vegetable, similar to cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

Eating fiber rich foods such as broccoli helps to improve digestive health and keep you regular, thereby reducing incidences of constipation.

Broccoli consumption can fight aging, improve heart health and reduce inflammation.

Kale

5.15 g net carbohydrate per 100 g

Kale has often been considered to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and for good reason. A cup of kale provides you with 684% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K, 206% DV vitamin A and 134% DV vitamin C.

It also contains the antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol which have been shown to lower blood pressure and may also protect against a number of diseases.

Kale can be used in similar ways to spinach.

Conclusion

Starchy vegetables are fairly high in carbs whereas non starchy vegetables are low in carbs. Vegetables are sources of complex carbs and provide a steady release of energy. Including them in your diet brings many health benefits.