The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. But you already knew that. What you really want to know is what you can eat on a keto diet and what you need to exclude. This way, you'll be able to stick to keto eating and reap all those benefits keto enthusiasts are talking about.
To help you get started on your keto journey, we made this food guide. It lists all the foods you need to add to your shopping list as well as those you need to remove from your pantry right away. We also go over macronutrient ratios, tell you how to meet them, and talk a bit about keto supplements.
The keto diet is easy with the right guidance. We're here to help you reach any goal you've set for your keto journey. With all that said, keep reading to see what's allowed on keto. But first, let's start with the basics of the ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet is a diet invented in the 1920s as an epilepsy treatment . It fell out of use with the introduction of novel antiepileptic drugs. Later on, it went through a resurgence as a weight-loss diet. But its popularity has grown over the past 20 years along with other low-carb diets such as Atkins.
However, unlike other low-carb diets, keto does more than limit your carb intake. This diet leads to a metabolic shift from sugar burning to fat burning. In other words, it causes your body to switch from glucose metabolism to ketosis.
Ketosis is the goal of the ketogenic diet. It's marked by increased fat oxidation and ketone body production from the oxidized fatty acids. Ketone bodies are acidic molecules that replace glucose. They also provide a range of health benefits science is just beginning to unravel .
In order to reach ketosis, carb intake needs to be very low, around 50 grams per day. But you also need to keep an eye on your protein intake and eat enough fat to stay healthy. The diet is fairly strict with nutrient ratios and can seem a bit tricky at first.
What Can You Eat on a Keto Diet
Put simply, on a keto diet you can eat lots of fat. You can also eat moderate amounts of protein. The exact amounts vary from person to person depending on their age, sex, activity levels. That's why we have this Keto Calculator to help you determine your exact nutrient ratios.
Other than using that calculator, you can also follow this simple formula:
- 5-10% Carbs
- 20-25% Protein
- 70-80% Fat
These percentages have to do with your daily calorie intake. They work for almost anyone. However, a bit of tweaking is needed if you're highly athletic. Highly active keto dieters will often do carb cycling for better workouts and to prevent muscle damage. Otherwise, moderate exercise and those who just want to lose some extra weight can stick to these ratios without giving them a second thought.
Now that you know how keto macros look like, you want to know which foods will help you meet these ratios. Lucky for you, with the keto diet growing in popularity, there are plenty of online resources offering keto food lists. You can also follow our keto-approved list below:
- Butter, lard, & tallow – Great animal sources of fat that you can use to cook, fry, bake, and as a spread. They contain mostly saturated fat which newer studies show provide distinctive health benefits .
- Olive, macadamia nut, and high-oleic sunflower oil– In case you are worried about saturated fats, then go for these oils high in heart-benefiting monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). All are cold-pressed, rich in essential fats, and fight inflammation.
- Coconut Oil – Coconut oil is a popular keto oil because its made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are saturated fats your body digests quickly and prefers using for energy and ketone production. Some MCTs in coconut oil also have antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits.
- Nuts & seeds – Most nuts and seeds are high in healthy fats while being low in carbs. Some are up to 70% fat (macadamia nuts and walnuts). Skip chestnuts and cashews as these are starchy.
- Fatty meats– Bacon, ground beef, chicken thighs, and ribs contain lots of fat along with protein. Always go for fattier cuts over lean ones on a keto diet.
- Fatty fish– Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids that studies show we're not eating enough . These fatty acids lower inflammation, prevent heart disease, and are essential for brain health.
- Dairy – Yogurt, sour cream, and full-fat cheese are excellent sources of milk protein. These also tend to be low in milk sugar (lactose). The same can't be said to be true for milk so you'll want to avoid dairy milk on a keto diet.
- Eggs– Eggs contain high-quality proteins and are notably high in leucine, a branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) making up one-third of muscle protein . In fact, eggs contain 20% more leucine than other protein sources. No wonder eggs are so popular among bodybuilders, and keto-ers appreciate them as well.
- Meats & fish – Beef, pork, turkey, chicken, salmon, and sardines are all good on a keto diet. As already explained, go for fattier cuts to meet both protein and fat requirements.
- Low-carb vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, celery, spinach, mushrooms, eggplants, and green peppers are all low-carb vegetables. They help keep your carb intake low while providing essential vitamins and minerals. They're also an important source of dietary fiber which you need for gut health and immunity.
- Low-carb fruit – Berries are allowed on keto because most are low in carbs. However, there are many other low-carb fruits you can include on your keto diet. Here, you'll find a list of top 7 low-carb fruits for a touch of sweetness on keto.
Besides the above keto staples, you'll also want to add keto-approved alternatives for convenience and flavor. Here are some popular keto ingredients:
The two most popular ones are coconut and almond flours. You can also go for hazelnut flour and use chickpea flour sparingly. These are high in fat and very low in carbs allowing you to make keto-friendly pastry.
Because nuts are low-carb, all products made from nuts are keto-friendly, including nut milks. Coconut and almond milk are popular choices. Almond milk is lower in fat than coconut milk which can contain up to 25% fat.
Shredded cauliflower is a great replacement for rice and couscous. You can steam it or eat it raw. The texture and mild flavor work wonderfully in all your favorite Asian and other dishes requiring rice as a side dish.
Avocados area central keto ingredient. That's because it's one of the few fruits that's high in both fat and fiber while being low in net carbs. One whole avocado provides 30 grams of fat and only 4 grams of net carbs. It's also an excellent source of vitamins C, E, folate, niacin, and potassium.
Supplements are not necessary on a keto diet, but they do help. Supplements can help you reach your macros, tackle nutrient deficiencies, keep you full, and even help you reach ketosis faster. Some of these supplements are specifically designed for the keto diet while others contribute to the diet. Here are some supplements to consider:
Made from coconut and palm-kernel oils, MCT oils is the concentrated form of MCTs. Keto dieters use it to suppress appetite while fasting and to boost ketone production. MCT oil is virtually flavorless, so it goes well with any kind of dish. However, it's not suitable for cooking due to its low smoking point at 320 degrees F (160 C).
But what makes MCT oil better than the oils it's extracted from? Well, studies show that coconut oil is not as satiating as MCT oil . MCT oil also elevates leptin levels. Leptin is a hunger-suppressing hormone important for energy balance.
A supplement providing instant ketones? That's what exogenous ketones are all about. Exogenous ketones are ketones made in the laboratory. In contrast, endogenous ketones or those made in your body. They share the same chemical formula, but exogenous ketones are linked to salts and esters for easier absorption. Studies show that taking them increases blood ketone concentrations for up to 8 hours .
Besides that, exogenous lower blood glucose, free fatty acids, and triglycerides. Most ketone supplements contain β-hydroxybutyrate as the main ingredient. This ketone bodies is the most important of the three, accounting for much of the energy produced when you are in ketosis.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It comprises 35% of your body's protein content and is found in your skin, joints, and connective tissue. Collagen peptides are the hydrolyzed form of collagen sold as a dietary supplement.
Many label collagen peptides as protein supplements. However, they're different from other popular protein powders in that they don't contain all essential amino acids. Nevertheless, when combined with a well-planned keto diet, collagen peptides contribute to your total protein intake.
They're a keto favorite mainly because they're anti-inflammatory. They're also fairly easy to digest and protect your joints during workouts. Other benefits of collagen peptides include youthful skin, stronger hair, increased bone density, improved blood glucose, and reduced joint pain .
When well planned, the keto diet can provide all the fiber you need to stay healthy. Great keto-approved sources of fiber include avocado, spinach, kale, nuts, seeds, coconut flour, and berries. However, adding fiber supplements to your meals can also help.
Popular fiber supplements for keto include psyllium, methylcellulose, fenugreek, and inulin. Clinically proven health benefits of fiber supplements include blood glucose control, cholesterol lowering, weight loss, and reducing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) severity .
Most importantly, fiber is essential for gut health. It gives stool bulk and stimulates bowel movements. Fiber also feeds friendly gut bacteria. You also need to drink plenty of water to help dissolve soluble fiber in your digestive system.
The best low-carb drink out there is definitely water. But you probably like your daily beverages to have more flavor. Besides water, there are other keto-approved ways to meet your fluid needs.
One mug of black coffee, unsweetened and without cream, contains 15 calories. It also comes with only 3 grams of total carbs. If you prefer your coffee sweet, use non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia and erythritol. You can also add cream to make your cup of coffee more keto.
Some keto dieters like to make keto coffee, also called bulletproof coffee. It's plain, black coffee mixed with butter, MCT oil, or cream in a blender. It's gives you a steady flow of energy along with greater ketone production. To learn how to make keto coffee, click here.
Tea is another low-carb drink you can enjoy on a keto diet. It's rich in antioxidants, most notably epicatechins and catechins. The antioxidant composition of black, white, and green tea differs but all contain the same amounts of antioxidants.
Studies show that tea is particularly powerful in preventing atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease . In addition, drinking tea daily provides anti-aging, antidiabetic, and cancer-fighting properties.
Milkshakes and smoothies
There are countless keto-friendly milkshake and smoothie recipes out there. You can find plenty in our Recipes section. The best thing about these drinks is that they provide lots of hydration along with nutrition.
We suggest adding protein powders to your favorite keto smoothies and flavoring them with keto sweeteners. Making green smoothies once in a while also helps boost your calcium intake on a keto diet and gives you plenty of fiber and antioxidants.
While fruit juices and fizzy drinks are not allowed on keto, you can drink flavored water freely. Homemade flavored water is easy to make. All you have to do is chop up your favorite fruit, vegetable, or herb, add them to water, and leave on the counter for a couple of hours.
Lemon slices, cucumbers, basil leaves, raspberries, and mango are popular ingredients. You can also sweeten flavored water with stevia. Keep it in the freezer if you plan to drink it the next day.
Alcohol is a controversial topic on keto. While not all alcoholic beverages contain carbs, your favorite social lubricant may not be the best thing for reaching keto goals. You see, when your liver is processing alcohol (ethanol), it puts all other processes to a halt, including ketone production.
Nonetheless, moderate consumption of several alcoholic beverages is allowed on keto. Keto-approved beverages include:
- Dry wine
- Hard liquor
- Light beer
Beverages you want to avoid include dessert wines, liqueurs, malt beers, dark beer, and cocktails. These are pretty high in carbs, so even small amounts can kick you out of ketosis.
And in case you are wondering if alcohol has any effect on ketosis – not if you're drinking one drink here and there. Alcohol does contain calories and can contribute to weight gain. But it does not raise blood glucose all by itself. In fact, it leads to hypoglycemia in certain cases.
Keto Flavorings and Condiments
Fat adds flavor to any dish, so you won't have to worry about your keto meals not tasting good. Still, you want variety in your meals and that's where condiments, spices, herbs, and sweeteners come in handy. But which ones are keto-approved? Read the list below to find out.
- Hot sauce
- Soy sauce
Lots of sweet-tasting food is high in carbs. That's because that sweet taste comes from sugar molecules like fructose, glucose, and sucrose. Examples include fruits, honey, maple syrup, and table sugar. These products also tend to be high in carb and cause blood sugar spikes.
Luckily, keto dieters came up with ways to add sweetness to their favorite desserts without the carbs. These include:
Stevia is sugar substitute made from the leaves of the stevia plant. Instead of sugar, stevia contains compounds called steviol glycosides which are up to 150 times sweeter than sugar. The sweetness of stevia also comes on gradually and lasts longer. Many also notice a bitter, licorice aftertaste.
Another great thing about stevia is that it does not contain any calories. It leaves your body through the kidneys after your liver processes it. Research is now considering stevia for treating obesity and metabolic disorders .
Second on the list of keto sweeteners is erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruit and fermented foods. However, commercially available erythritol is made from glucose fermented by yeast.
Like stevia, erythritol is also sweeter than sugar, up to 70% more. It's also noncaloric, has no impact on blood glucose, and won't affect ketosis. Your body removes erythritol through urine and stool. It's labeled as safe in most countries worldwide.
Monk fruit sweetener
Monk fruit is native to Asia where it was used as a herbal remedy and low-calorie sweetener. Sweeteners made from monk fruit are on the more expensive side because a lot of fruit is needed to extract its sweet-tasting compounds. The compounds we're referring to are called mogrosides, which are a type of glycosides.
Monk fruit is also much sweeter than sugar, up to 200 times even. It has absolutely no impact on blood sugar levels, is low in calories, and won't affect ketosis. Studies also show that mongrosides also have antioxidant activities, protecting against colorectal and throat cancer [12,13].
Other keto sweeteners include inulin, aspartame, xylitol, and tagatose. Many brands sell products containing a combination of two or more sweeteners. Make sure to read the label to avoid products containing fructose or glucose.
The keto diet also demands that you exclude some foods completely. These include mostly high-carb foods that impact blood glucose levels and ketosis even in small amounts. Many keto experts also advise against processed foods and low-quality oils to help you maintain optimal health on a keto diet. With all that in mind, here's what should not be a part of your keto diet:
Wheat, oats, rice, barley, and millet are examples of grains. Grains are largely made of carbs. Whole grains also contain fiber. Nonetheless, you need to avoid them on a keto diet in order to reach ketosis.
Although legumes are healthy, they're also carb laden. Peas, soybeans, and beans are all examples of legumes.
Potatoes, corn, peas, pumpkins, parsnips, and yams are vegetables high in starch. Starch consists of large sugar molecules and functions as an energy reservoir in plants. It can cause significant blood sugar spikes and is quite caloric.
High-carb fruits and vegetables
Onions, carrots, bananas, and apples are too high in sugar to be keto-approved. Go for low-carb plant foods whenever possible.
Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar
These are simply liquid sugars. Go for keto sweeteners or even sugar-free maple syrup. The later is a great keto substitute made with maple extract.
Margarine and refined oils
These fats are highly processed. Keto experts frequently advise against them. That's because studies show that they cause inflammation [14, 15]. Novel margarines are less damaging to health than margarines from the past which used to be high in trans fats. Trans fats are the worst offenders when it comes to cardiovascular health. They're rarely found in nature but abundant in some man-made fats.
We hope this guide answers your question of what you can eat on a keto diet. As you can see, there are plenty of foods that are allowed in high amounts on keto. Keto is not a diet of deprivation, but of abundance in those nutrients that support ketosis and overall good health.
Follow the tips in this guide and you'll be in ketosis in no time. You can also take our Ketocademy course and visit our Keto FAQs section to learn more. Going keto is easy with the right guidance. And with that being said, we guarantee you're in good hands with us.