Is Pepper OK on keto?

As a low-carb, high-fat diet, the ketogenic (keto) diet restricts carbohydrate intake to encourage the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. With carb counts limited to around 50 grams per day, keto dieters need to carefully select low-carb foods. Peppers contain carbs, so you may wonder if you can eat them on keto. This article examines whether peppers are keto-friendly.

Pepper Nutrition Facts

The carb content of peppers can vary greatly by variety. Bell peppers and sweet peppers contain the most carbs, while hot peppers like jalapeños and serranos have fewer carbs.

Here are the carb counts in 1 cup (149 grams) of raw, chopped red bell pepper and jalapeño peppers (1):

Pepper Total carbs Net carbs
Red bell pepper 8.7 grams 7.8 grams
Jalapeño pepper 3.8 grams 3.3 grams

As you can see, bell peppers contain nearly 3 times as many digestible carbs as jalapeños. This difference is important on keto.

Fiber Content

Some of the carbs in peppers come from fiber, which your body doesn’t digest. Fiber passes through your digestive tract undigested, so most keto dieters don’t count fiber toward their daily carb limit.

Bell peppers have around 1 gram of fiber per cup (149 grams), while jalapeños provide about 0.5 grams (1).

Net Carbs

To calculate net carbs, you subtract grams of fiber from total grams of carbs. As a result, the net carb counts are:

  • Red bell pepper: 7.8 grams of net carbs per cup (149 grams)
  • Jalapeño: 3.3 grams of net carbs per cup (149 grams)

This shows that bell peppers provide over twice as many net carbs as spicy jalapeño peppers.

Daily Net Carb Limit on Keto

On keto, net carbs are limited to 20–50 grams per day. The specific amount varies based on factors like your metabolic health, activity levels, and personal carb tolerance.

Eating 20–30 grams of net carbs allows your body to enter ketosis quickly. This level works well for most people starting a keto diet.

More active keto dieters or those in ketosis for several months may be able to consume up to 50 grams of net carbs without disrupting ketosis. However, going over 50 grams makes it tough for most people to maintain ketosis (2).

Keto Carb Calculator

Here’s an easy keto macro calculator to estimate your daily net carb target:

  1. Set carbs at 5% of total daily calories
  2. Subtract fiber grams
  3. This gives you your net carb limit

For example, on a 2,000 calorie keto diet:

5% of 2,000 calories = 100 calories from carbs
Since 1 gram of carbs contains 4 calories, 100 carb calories = 25 grams of total carbs

Subtract 5 grams of fiber
This provides around 20 grams of net carbs as a daily limit

Are Peppers Keto-Friendly?

Bell peppers contain too many net carbs to fit into a typical keto diet. One cup (149 grams) provides close to 8 grams net carbs.

That’s nearly half of a typical 20-gram keto limit for the entire day.

In contrast, the same amount of jalapeño peppers offers only around 3 grams of net carbs. That makes them a better option on keto.

Low Carb Pepper Options

These lower carb peppers clock in at under 5 grams net carbs per raw cup (149 grams) (1):

  • Poblano: 3.5 grams
  • Anaheim: 4 grams
  • Jalapeño: 3.3 grams
  • Serrano: 1.2 grams
  • Habanero: 2.6 grams

You can enjoy these spicy peppers raw with dips, add them to recipes, or stuff them with low carb fillings like cheese, meat, or cauliflower rice.

Portion Control

Another option is to use a small amount of the higher carb sweet bell peppers as an ingredient or garnish. A couple of slices or 1/4 cup (37 grams) contains only around 2 grams net carbs.

This small portion can liven up a salad, omelet, taco, or stir-fry without significantly impacting your carb intake.

Health Benefits of Peppers

All types of peppers provide an impressive array of nutrients and health-promoting compounds, including:

  • Vitamin C: One cup of red bell pepper (149 grams) provides over 300% of the RDI for vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. Spicy peppers also contain this immune-boosting vitamin, although in smaller amounts (1).
  • Vitamin A: Bell peppers are an excellent source of antioxidant carotenoids like beta carotene, which your body converts into active vitamin A. Chili peppers also contain some vitamin A (1).
  • Vitamin B6: Peppers are a good source of B6, necessary for over 100 enzyme reactions in your body. B6 plays key roles in metabolism, brain function, and immunity (1).
  • Vitamin K1: This important nutrient is necessary for proper blood clotting and bone health. One cup (149 grams) of chopped, raw bell pepper provides around 10% of the RDI for vitamin K1 (1).
  • Potassium: An essential mineral and electrolyte, potassium is important for heart health, fluid balance, muscle function, and nerve signalling. Bell peppers particularly provide lots of potassium, with over 250 mg per cup (149 grams) (1).
  • Antioxidants: In addition to vitamins A and C, peppers are high in antioxidants like carotenoids, capsanthin, and quercetin, which help fight free radicals that can damage your cells (3).
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: The antioxidants in hot peppers have been shown to reduce inflammation, which plays a role in many chronic diseases (3).
  • Improved blood sugar control: Human and animal studies suggest the capsaicin in chili peppers has anti-diabetic properties and may reduce blood sugar spikes after meals (4).

In short, incorporating peppers into your low carb diet provides nutrients and health benefits, as long as you watch your portions and net carb intake.

Are Nightshade Vegetables Safe on Keto?

Peppers belong to the nightshade family of plants, along with tomatoes, white potatoes, and eggplant. Some people claim nightshades trigger inflammation, worsening conditions like arthritis.

However, current research shows no evidence that nightshades increase inflammation in healthy adults. In fact, they provide protective antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties (5, 6).

Unless you have a medically diagnosed nightshade allergy or sensitivity, there’s no reason to completely avoid this family of nutritious veggies.

That said, nightshades contain lectins, which may irritate your gut. If you experience digestive issues after eating them, limit your intake and cook nightshades thoroughly to reduce lectin content.

Healthy, Low Carb Pepper Recipe Ideas

Here are some nutritious, keto-friendly ways to enjoy peppers:

Stuffed Peppers

Remove seeds and membranes from bell or jalapeño peppers and stuff with cooked cauliflower rice, ground meat, cheese, and seasonings. Bake until the peppers soften.

Pepper Poppers

Fill jalapeños with cream cheese, wrap in bacon, and bake or grill until the bacon crisps.

Taco Peppers

Slice bell peppers and stuff with taco-seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, avocado, sour cream, and cheese for a low carb taco in a pepper boat.

Red Pepper Dip

Blend roasted red peppers with cream cheese, garlic, olive oil, and herbs for a quick keto veggie dip.

Pepper Salad

Toss sliced bell peppers, avocado, red onion, cucumber, olives, herbs, olive oil, and red wine vinegar for a refreshing low carb side salad.

Fajita Veggie Stir-Fry

Cook sliced peppers and onions in olive oil and fajita spices, then stir in pre-cooked chicken or shrimp.

Chili Pepper Omelet

Add sliced jalapeños, poblanos, or other chili peppers to your morning omelet for a spicy kick.

Precautions with Nightshade Allergy

A small percentage of people have an allergy or sensitivity to nightshade vegetables like peppers. Reactions vary but may include:

  • Digestive issues like stomach pain, cramping, and IBS
  • Hives, itching, or skin rash
  • Sinus congestion, runny nose, sneezing
  • Joint pain or arthritis symptoms

In sensitive people, nightshades may trigger inflammation, autoimmune reactions, and gut permeability or leaky gut syndrome. Avoiding nightshades may relieve these symptoms.

If you suspect nightshade vegetables trigger symptoms, remove them from your diet for 3–4 weeks. Then, reintroduce them one at a time and look for reactions. This elimination diet can help identify problematic foods.

Keep in mind that autoimmune diseases and chronic gut disorders involve many factors. While limiting nightshades may help some people, it’s no cure-all.

Top Tips for Low Carb Peppers on Keto

Here are some tips for keeping peppers keto-friendly:

  1. Choose low carb pepper varieties like jalapeños, poblanos, serranos, and habaneros.
  2. Use just a small amount of higher carb bell peppers as a garnish or ingredient.
  3. Count net carbs rather than total carbs.
  4. Weigh or measure pepper portions to fit your daily carb limit.
  5. Consume peppers raw or roast them without oil to avoid added calories.
  6. If you react to nightshades, eliminate peppers from your diet.

The Bottom Line

Bell peppers contain too many net carbs to fit into most keto diets. However, you can incorporate lower carb pepper varieties like jalapeños by carefully watching portions.

Avoiding all peppers due to the nightshade family is unnecessary for most people. Nonetheless, eliminate them if they give you negative reactions.

Ultimately, spicy peppers add flavor, nutrition, and variety to keto as long as you moderate your intake and account for net carbs.

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