Food & Nutrition

Keto Foods: What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet

Keto Foods: What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is based on a few simple rules: you cut down on carbs, you eat more fat, and stay moderate with protein. This is simple in theory, but how do you actually put these rules into practice? Well, by researching which foods are keto and which ones are not.
Β 
The best keto foods are those that are high in fat and low in carbs. However, even some low-fat options are keto-approved. Knowing which foods you can and cannot eat on a keto diet is essential for you to reach ketosis.
Β 
To help you make the best keto foods choices, we made this simple and comprehensive guide. Here, we lay out the general rules of keto eating and list keto foods that you will want to consider. Keep reading to start your keto journey today.
Β 
Contents:
  • Some General Rules
  • Choosing the Right Macros
  • Keto Food Groups
  • Non-Keto Foods: Don't Eat This
  • Keto Foods - Substitutes
  • Condiments & Spices
  • Sweeteners
  • Drinks & Alcohol
  • Conclusion

    Some General Rules

    The ketogenic diet is by definition a very low-carb, high-fat diet. The diet is almost entirely composed of fats and protein [1]. With that being said, it becomes apparent that macronutrient ratios are the most important on a keto diet. These ratios should look something like this:
    • 5-10% carbohydrates
    • 20-25% protein
    • 70-80% fat
    However, ideal macronutrient ratios vary from person to person. Your weight, activity levels, and body composition all determine how much of each macro you'll need to eat. To calculate your personal keto macros, we suggest using our Keto Calculator. It will give your daily macros in grams and percentages.
    Β 
    Besides sticking to keto macro ratios, you'll also need to follow a few more basic rules to be successful at keto:
    Β 

    Eat Clean

    Choose real foods over processed products whenever possible. Real foods don't contain hidden ingredients that could kick you out of ketos. Eating wholesome foods also makes it easier to track your macros.
    Β 

    Don't Cheat

    Occasional cheat meals are OK on most other diets. But on keto, just one carb-laden, cheat meal will instantly kick you out of ketosis. It’s simply not worth it.
    Β 

    Plan Ahead

    To meet your daily macros, you absolutely must plan most of your meals. This is especially true when it comes to your daily carb intake.
    Β 

    Prepare Meals

    The keto diet is fairly new in the wellness world, so you won't find that many keto meals in restaurants. Making your own meals is the best way to eat clean while meeting your macros. Have a look at our Recipes Directory to get inspired.

    Choosing the Right Macros

    On a ketogenic diet, the type and quality of your macros makes a huge difference in your success and your health. Below, we explain what types of macros you should go for on a keto diet and how you benefit from them.
    Β 

    Fats

    Β 
    There are different types of fat. Some are essential for normal health and functioning while others are harmful and need to be avoided.

    Β 

    1. Essentia Fats

    Β Only two fats are essential for human health [2]:
    • Alpha-linolenic acid(omega-3 fatty acids)

    • Linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acids)

    Β 
    These fats are called essential because your body can't make them on its own. Your body also needs them to support normal functioning. The best sources of omega-3s are seafood, fish oil, and chia seeds while omega-6s are abundant in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.

    Β 

    2. Non-essential

    All other fats are non-essential as your body can make them from the two essential fatty acids. Nonetheless, research shows that eating foods containing some non-essential fatty acids is also good for you [3]. Non-essential fatty acids and their food sources include:
    • Saturated Fats – These are solid at room temperature and are abundant in butter, coconut oil, and lard. These are good for you and you can eat them freely on a keto diet.
    • Monounsaturated Fats – These are liquid at room temperature and considered one of the best fats for heart health [4]. One of the best sources of monounsaturated fats is olive oil.
    • Trans Fats - These are rare in nature but found in excess in highly-processed, artificial, and deep-fried foods. Partially-hydrogenated oils contain large amounts of trans fats. These you need to avoid as they're damaging to heart health

    Β 

    Proteins

    Β 
    Proteins are your body's building blocks. You need a small amount on a keto diet for your body to build and repair tissue. Your body also needs protein to make antibodies, digestive enzymes, hormones, and blood cells [5].
    Β 
    We suggest going for high-quality sources of protein on a keto diet so your body can use the little amount of protein you eat efficiently. Quality proteins are those that are easy to digest and that contain all essential amino acids. Based on this criteria, some of the best sources of protein include:
    • Whey – Whey protein is popular among bodybuilders because it's easy to digest, contains all 9 essential amino acids, and studies show that it promotes muscle building [6].

    • Eggs– Most of the high-quality proteins in eggs are located in egg whites. However, don't throw away the yolks because they contain valuable fats and vitamins.

    • Soy– Research shows that soy proteins have the same digestibility as animal sources of protein [7]. It's a great vegan alternative or if you have animal protein allergies.

    • Meat– Red meat, poultry, and fish are also sources of quality protein. Meat is also rich in important vitamins, mineral, and essential fats that you need on a keto diet.

    Another protein you should definitely consider is hydrolyzed collagen, which is the supplement form of collage. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, often called "the glue that holds everything together" because it provides structure to your skin, joints, and connective tissue. Taking it in supplement form as hydrolyzed collagen protects joint health on a keto diet.

    Carbohydrates

    Carbs are a nutrient you also need on a keto diet but only in tiny amounts. Keto dieters divide carbs into two groups:

    • Total Carbs – These are all the carbs a food item has. They include sugars, starches, and fiber. When choosing keto foods, go for those lowest in total carbs like leafy greens and nuts.

    • Net Carbs – Net carbs are total carbs minus fiber. They're important for keto because they determine your daily carb load and they're also the ones affecting blood glucose levels. Fiber does not affect blood glucose and you can eat it freely. Fiber is also good for your gut health and blood lipids.

    Most people need to keep their intake of total carbs below 50 grams and net carbs below 30 grams per day to get into ketosis. However, athletes and highly-active people can take more before workouts to get energy and protect muscles. Keto foods containing high-quality carbs are leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Most fruit and below-ground vegetables you need to avoid so you don't overload on the carbs.

    Keto Food Groups

    Although keto is a restrictive diet, it's not a diet of deprivation. You can freely eat a wide range of delicious keto foods from almost every food group. Below, we tell you which foods from which food group you should eat on a keto diet.

    1 Meat

    • Seafood– Fish, shellfish, squid, crab, shrimp, and other seafood is the healthiest type of meat you can eat. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that research shows is lacking in the typical Western diet [8]. Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect and are essential for normal brain functioning.

    • Poultry – Chicken is affordable and easy to find at any store. But duck, quail, and turkey are also good. Research shows that poultry meat is safe to eat when compared to some other meats [9]. It's also a good source of micronutrients and has easily-digestible proteins.

    • Pork – Pork meat is high in fat which is why it is such a keto favorite. This is especially true when it comes to bacon. However, we suggest being moderate with bacon. Bacon and other cured meat is high in sodium and health-damaging preservatives. Instead, always go for ground pork, pork chops, pork loin, tenderloin, and ham.

    • Beef– Beef and other red meats are great but only if eaten in moderation. Studies show that diets high in red meat increase the risk of bowel cancer. This is why medical experts recommend eating a maximum of 70 grams of red meat a day to reduce your risk of bowel cancer [10].

    • Organ Meats – Liver, lungs, tongue, and brain are examples of organ meats, also called offal. They're richer in vitamins, minerals, and fat than other cuts of meat. Most are also high in fat so do add them to your keto foods shopping list.

    Note: When buying meat for your keto meals, always opt for fattier cuts like chicken thighs, T-bone steak, and ribs. Also, choose fatty fish varieties when it comes to seafood to get more omega-3 fatty acids.

    2 Dairy

    Many dairy products are high in fat and moderate in protein, just like you would want it on keto. When buying dairy products, always keep in mind that the higher the fat content the better. Here are some options to add to your keto foods list.

    • Butter– Being 80% fat, butter is obviously a top keto food. It's low in milk proteins and also lactose-free. You can cook with it, bake with it, or use it as a spread.

    • Cream– Cream has a fat percentage of 12 to 60%. You can also find partially fermented cream (sour cream) which contains less lactose than unfermented cream. Go for a range of unsweetened products to enrich your keto diet.

    • Cheese – Go for fattier, hard varieties like swiss cheese, parmesan, gouda, or cheddar. These contain around 30% fat along with 25% protein, vitamin A, calcium, and B vitamins. Other great options are feta and brie.

    • Yogurt– Yogurt is lower in fat than many other dairy products (around 3% fat). Still, some brands of yogurt contain probiotics that improve digestion. Full-fat yogurt is a good source of quality protein and is low in lactose.

    Milk, but especially evaporated and dry milk are not good keto foods. This is because they're high in lactose. Milk is around 5% lactose, evaporated milk 10%, and dry milk is 50% lactose. Lactose is a milk sugar that does affect blood glucose levels the same way regular sugar does. Most people are also unable to digest lactose, i.e. they're lactose intolerant [11], so you'd be better off not eating dairy containing high amounts of this sugar.

    3 Vegetables

    You can eat vegetables indiscriminately on any standard diet, but you can't do the same on keto. The keto diet has strict rules when it comes to vegetables. This is because most vegetable foods are high in carbohydrates. However, some contain valuable nutrients and fiber that you need for normal health and functioning. Here is how to choose veggies when going keto:

    • Above-Ground Greens – Vegetables that are leafy, green, and grow above ground are almost always keto-approved. They're low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, and contain valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

    • Non-Starchy Vegetables – Cauliflower, zucchini, and broccoli are examples of low-starch vegetables. They won't cause blood sugar spikes and help bring fiber to your keto meals.

    But to make choosing veggies easier for you, here is a list of top keto vegetables to shop for:

    • Cauliflowerβ€” One cup of chopped cauliflower contains just 3 grams of net carbs. But its low-carb content isn't the only reason cauliflower is a popular keto veggie. Keto dieters use it as a rice substitute.

    • Broccoliβ€” One cup of broccoli contains only 3 grams of net carbs. Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous group of vegetables known for their antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties [12].

    • Spinach β€” Spinach contains barely any net carbs (1 grams per 100 grams of spinach) and lots of fiber. It's rich in vitamins C, A, K, and B Vitamins. Spinach is particularly high in magnesium which keto dieters struggle getting enough of, so you should definitely add it to your keto foods shopping list.

    • Zucchini β€” Another low-carb, keto food, zucchini is a veggie that definitely won't kick you out of ketosis. Keto dieters love to use zucchini to make zucchini noodles, also known as zoodles.

    • Mushroomsβ€” Portobello, cremini, button, or shiitake - doesn't matter – mushrooms are low in carbs and high in fiber. Their meaty texture makes for a great vegan meat substitute. They also add loads of flavor to any dish.

    Other keto veggies include snow peas, romaine lettuce, asparagus, olives, peppers, and eggplant among others. If you want more keto vegetables to include in your list, read our article covering 15 low-carb vegetables to include to your keto diet.

    4 Fruit

    Most fruit is high in sugar, so you want to avoid fruit on a keto diet. We know, this isn't something you want to hear but it is essential for getting into ketosis. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule:

    • Avocado– Avocado is 15% fat and 30% fiber, making it a perfect keto fruit. It's also an excellent source of vitamins E, C, and B6. It may not be sweet, but it is versatile, pairing well with both sweet and savory foods.

    • Berries– Strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries, blackberries, and raspberries are allowed as a snack on a keto diet. Most berries are lower in carbs than other fruit and they're also loaded in brain-boosting antioxidants [13].

    • Lemon– Lemon is low in sugar as evident by its sour taste. You can safely add it to your keto diet to make stevia-sweetened lemonade. It's a great source of vitamin C and you can also sprinkle it over avocado to prevent oxidation.

    However, if you like to add more variety when it comes to keto fruit intake, read our list of the 7 best low-carb keto fruit. Included are recipe ideas and health and nutrition info.

    5 Nuts & Seeds

    Most nuts and seeds are low in carbs but high in fat and protein. This makes them a popular keto food that you definitely need more of. Nuts and seeds are usually highest in unsaturated fatty acids which studies show protect against cardiovascular disease [14].

    • Coconut– The fat in coconut meat is mostly saturated which is unique among nuts. This gives coconut-derived products like coconut oil and cream their solid texture. However, the saturated fat in coconut oil is completely different from that found in animal foods [15] and provide unique health benefits like weight loss and antimicrobial action.

    • Almonds – Almonds are 50% fat, most of which is monounsaturated. They're an excellent source of a range of micronutrients, notably vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, and calcium. In fact, many call them nutritional powerhouses due to their exceptional nutrient density.

    • Walnuts– Walnuts are 65% fat. They're higher in omega-3s than other nuts so definitely add them to your keto dishes. Make sure to eat them within a couple weeks' time as their omega-3s content makes them prone to rancidity.

    • Peanuts– Tasty peanuts are also almost 50% fat and a great source or iron and magnesium. The most popular way to eat them is as peanut butter. By law in most countries, peanut butter needs to contain 90% peanuts to be labeled as such. Make sure to go for the unsweetened kind when going keto.

    • Chia Seeds – Chia seeds contain more omega-3s than any other plant food. Around 65% of the fat in chia are omega-3s. A diet high in omega-3s prevents neurological conditions, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

    • Sesame Seeds – Sesame seeds have a perfect balance of both poly and monounsaturated fats. They're rich in valuable minerals like iron and magnesium. Sprinkle them over salads or stir-fries to add more fat to your diet. You can also consume them in the form of sesame paste known as tahini.

    You can freely enjoy almost all nuts and seeds on a keto diet without worrying about carb intake. However, cashews and pistachios are higher in carbohydrates than other nuts, so be careful with those. Chestnuts you need to avoid completely as these are made mostly of starch and contain little to no fat. Another nut you need to eat moderately is the Brazil nut as these are very high in selenium and you may risk selenium poisoning if you eat too many.

    Non-Keto Foods: Don't Eat These

    The keto diet allows you to eat more fat than you usually should and helps you feel full and satisfied with a bit of protein and fiber. However, some foods are simply off limits. Here are foods you need to steer clear of on keto.
    • Grains– Wheat, rye, oats, and all other grains are not allowed on keto. Many find excluding them completely difficult because we're so used to eating grains on a daily level and in large amounts. Nonetheless, cutting out grains is the first and most important step of going keto.
    • Legumes– Legumes are high in protein but also in carbs which is why they're not allowed on keto. Legumes include beans, soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas.
    • Starchy Vegetables – You'll recognize starchy vegetables by their sweet taste. Starches are types of complex carbohydrates and that serve as energy storage for plants during dormancy and in seeds. Examples of starch veggies are potatoes, parsnips, peas, corn, and plantains.
    • Most Fruit – The sweet taste of most fruit is telling that's is loaded with sugar. That's why you need to steer clear of "nature's candy" when on a keto diet.
    • Nutritive Sweeteners – Any sweetener that contains calories gets a big no on a keto diet. This includes sugar, honey, agave nectar, fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.
    However, as a rule of thumb, you simply need to avoid any foods that contain more carbs than other macronutrients. Also, always choose plant foods that contain less than 10 grams of carbs per serving.

    Keto Foods - Substitutes

    Vegan Substitutes

    If you're a vegan going keto, you may find meeting your macros a bit tricky. Luckily, there are many vegan meat, eggs, and dairy substitutes that will give you the nutrients you need to stay keto and stay healthy.
    • Tofu – Tofu is high in protein and low in carbs. Buy different types of tofu to add variety to your dishes (firm, silken, and smoked).
    • Coconut Milk – Soy milk is too high in carbohydrates to be keto-approved. That's why most dieters go for coconut milk which is really high in fat (25%) and low in net carbs. Alternatively, you can go for almond milk for a milder flavor and less fat.
    • Eggplants & Mushrooms – If you need a dense, meaty texture to satisfy your palate, these two keto foods are your best bet.
    • Seaweed– To get plenty of omega-3s, go for nori, kombu, and other seaweed. Seaweed is also rich in iodine which is a mineral you need for normal thyroid functioning.
    • Sauerkraut– To get plenty of gut-friendly probiotics, include sauerkraut in your daily diet.
    • Miso- Another source of probiotics, miso is something you can add to your keto diet to replace bone broth. Don't add it to steaming-hot soup, though as this kills Miso’s friendly bacteria.

    Flour Substitutes

    Just because you can't eat grains on a keto diet doesn't mean you should go without bread, muffins, and pancakes. There are plenty fiber-rich, low-carb flour substitutes to satisfy your love of pastry but without the carbs.
    Β 

    Coconut Flour

    Low in carbs and having more fiber than any other flour, coconut flour is perfect for keto. You can go for the full fat or defatted variety depending on what you want to bake. Defatted flour is great for making bread while the full-fat variety is better for muffins.
    Β 
    Coconut flour is also gluten-free. In case you're worried about weight gain, studies show that coconut flour has a place within weight loss diets and that it even lowers blood triglycerides and glucose [16]. When making anything with coconut flour, keep in mind that it's a thirsty type of flour as its fiber can soak up a lot of water.
    Β 

    Almond Flour

    This flour is best when used together with coconut flour. Almond flour is higher in fat than defatted coconut flour and is also dense and moist. The two flours pair perfectly to make the lightest, moistest, and fluffiest bread. However, it is much more expensive than coconut flour. But luckily, you can use it sparingly in most recipes. Almond flour is also a great replacement for breadcrumbs.
    Β 
    Almond is also gluten-free making it safe for people with celiac disease. Studies show that almond products like almond flour lower blood glucose and help you feel fuller for longer [17]. If your aim is to lose weight, however, make sure to watch the calories in almond flour and adjust your portions so they meet your daily calorie limits.
    Β 
    Notes:
    Keep in mind that these wheat flour substitutes behave differently in baking. Lack of gluten means they don't form sticky, elastic doughs or rise when yeast is added. You'll need to use eggs, protein powder, xanthan gum, or psyllium husks to make a consistent dough that holds together during baking. You can also use baking powder as a leavening agent.

    Condiments & Spices

    You want your keto foods to taste good, so you'll be using plenty of oils, spices, and condiments. You want to make sure these flavorings don’t' contain any unwanted carbs. Here are condiments that you can safely add to keto foods:
    • Oils & Butter – Olive oil, coconut oil, lard, butter, ghee, and avocado oil are all safe and great on a keto diet not just because they add healthy fat to your meals but also because they add flavor.
    • Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise is 75% fat and contains almost no carbs or protein.
    • Soy Sauce – Soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans. It's salty, low in carbs and gives dishes a rich taste.
    • Mustard– Mustard is a low-carb and low-calorie condiment you can safely use on keto. Mustard seeds contain powerful antioxidants that studies show reduce the formation of colon polyps by 50% [18].
    • Ranch Dressing – If you're a fan of ranch dressing, you'll be happy to learn that it's keto-approved. Ranch dressing is 50% fat and low in carbohydrates.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar (AVC) – True apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apples with yeast and sugar. This forms acetic acid which gives this vinegar its sour taste. Studies on ACV show that it lowers blood glucose levels after a carb-rich meal [19].
    You can also safely use most herbs and spices on a keto diet. Black pepper, basil, oregano, turmeric powder, garlic powder, and powdered ginger are all safe on keto because you'll be using them in small amounts.

    Sweeteners

    You don't have to skip dessert and cut out snacks on a keto diet. There are healthy and keto-friendly ways to add a touch of sweetness to any dish and still meet your macros.
    • Stevia– A sweetener and sugar substitute made from the leaves of the plant of the same name. Stevia is 150 times sweeter than sugar, so you have to use it sparingly. Oh, and it has zero calories and is scientifically-proven to be safe for human consumption [20].
    • Erythritol – A sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruit and fermented foods. Manufacturers make it from glucose by fermenting it with yeast. It is much sweeter than sugar but has no calories and does not affect blood sugar.
    • Inulin– Inulin is a soluble fiber usually extracted from chicory. It belongs to a group of fibers called fructans. Inulin has a subtle sweet flavor and often used as a replacement for sugar but also fat and flour. It is much lower in calories than carbohydrates. Our bodies cannot digest and process fructans so inulin has almost no impact on blood sugar [21].
    • Monk fruit sugar – This unusual fruit contains compounds called mogrosides that give it a sweet taste. Powders containing 80% mogrosides are used as calorie-free and natural sweeteners.

    Drinks & Alcohol

    To stay hydrated on keto, it's best to stick to water. Maybe even add a bit of salt to replenish your electrolytes in the first week of a keto diet. However, there are many keto-approved flavorful drinks that you can still drink on keto.
    • Lemonode – When life gives you lemons, make some keto-friendly lemonade sweetened with stevia or erythritol.
    • Tea – Green and black tea both contain antioxidants that can protect your health and boost weight loss. Tea is also low in carbs when sweetened with keto sugar substitutes.
    • Green Smoothies – Mix a smoothie with spinach, avocados, spirulina, and maybe even mix in some berries. There's no reason not to drink smoothies when going keto.
    • Coffee– Let's face it, mornings are much easier with a nice cup of hot coffee. If you add butter to your coffee, you also get to skip breakfast and go about your day thanks to a steady release of energy this combination provides.
    • Coconut Water – Coconut water contains electrolytes like sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium along with some carbohydrates. This makes it nature's sports drink. Drink it in the first week of a keto diet since that's when most people lose electrolytes.
    • Spirits– Vodka, cognac, whiskey, and other spirits are free of carbs and are safe on keto. Keep your intake to one drink per day to stay healthy.
    • Wine– Wine is relatively low in carbs, so you can safely have a glass now and then. One serving (150ml) provides around 4 grams of carbs. Make sure to keep that in mind when you plan to wine and dine.

    Conclusion

    The keto diet may seem hard to wrap your head around given that it's completely different from what you're used to eating. But it's actually quite simple. Once you fill your pantry with keto-friendly foods, you'll see that the keto diet is quite simple.
    Β 
    The aim of this guide is to give you an idea of how your keto diet should look like. We've listed a wide range of keto foods from different categories to help you out. But keep in mind that there are far more keto foods that you can include then could fit into this guide.
    Β 
    Still, we suggest using our simple guide as a starting point for your keto journey. Take our bits of advice when making your keto foods shopping list and give keto a try today.
    Β 
    References:
    Β 

    Join Over 200,000 Fans

    Sign up for the Kiss My Keto mailing list to get free keto resources, recipes, and strategies from the largest keto brand in the world.