A ketogenic diet requires you to pay close attention to the food choices you make each day. The goal of following a very low carb diet is to get your body into and maintain a state of ketosis where your body uses fat instead of glucose for energy.
To get your body into the correct metabolic state to support ketosis, carbohydrate intake must make up less than 10% of your total daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this means a limit of 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
This may be challenging because many foods that are considered healthy are high-carb foods. Some of these foods should only be eaten in small amounts while others need to be avoided completely.
Many popular low carb foods that are associated with a keto lifestyle seem like easy and convenient choices but are full of preservatives and excessive amounts of sodium, ingredients that do not support long term health.
This is important because following a ketogenic diet and maintaining a state of ketosis has been linked with a wide range of other potential health benefits. Those include weight loss, better blood sugar control, and lower insulin needs, improved markers of heart health, reduced inflammation, and more.
To help you avoid the guesswork, build the best and healthiest keto diet, here is a list of 15 foods to avoid and suggestions for what you should be eating instead.
1. Starchy Vegetables
You have probably heard that vegetables are an important part of a healthy eating pattern. While this is true, not all vegetables are created equal.
Some vegetables, commonly referred to as starchy vegetables, have a high carb content and keto dieters would be wise to avoid these.
Most vegetables, even those with a lot of carbs also contain fiber. Fiber is not digestible and does not provide energy for our bodies.
Because of this, some people subtract the amount of fiber from a food’s total carbohydrate content and only include the net carb count when tracking their daily limit of 20 to 50 grams per day.
This works for some people and not for others. The only way to know for sure is to monitor your ketone body levels to see what works best for you.
Vegetables to Avoid on Keto
The starchy vegetables you want to avoid on keto include corn, tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and parsnips.
|Sweet Potatoes||1/2 cup||14g||1g||0g|
|Potatoes||1 medium baked||28g||3g||0.3g|
Vegetables to Limit on Keto
There are a few non-starchy vegetables including some root vegetables that are higher in carbohydrates and should be limited. This list includes onions, peas, and the root veggies carrots, turnips, and beets.
Their high fiber content means these foods have fewer grams of net carb and do not need to be eliminated from a keto meal plan but they need to be consumed in moderation.
Vegetables to Eat on Keto
Non-starchy vegetables are a better option for your meal plan. The following vegetables are keto-friendly options because they are low in calories, high in fiber, and full of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Aim to include two to three one-cup servings of the following foods in your diet each day.
- Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, collards)
- Green Beans
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
Here’s a full list of keto vegetables
Pasta and rice are staples of many diet patterns around the world. Because of their high carb content all grains even whole grains are some of the top foods to avoid on a keto diet.
Foods in the grain category to avoid include whole grains, pasta, rice, granola, and corn. Even healthier grains such as millet, rye, buckwheat, amaranth, and oats are too high in starch to fit into a keto diet.
|Sprouted Grains||1 slice||15g||4g||0.5g|
Some people mistakenly believe that gluten-free crops like quinoa are ok. However, even gluten-free grains are off-limits because they are too high in carbohydrates.
Grain Substitutes on Keto
Cauliflower rice is a great substitute for white or brown rice because it has significantly fewer carbs and far fewer grams of net carb per one-cup serving. It is produced by shredding or grating fresh cauliflower.
For baking try using almond flour or coconut flour instead of wheat flour. Not only will this reduce your carb intake, but grain-based flours also tend to rapidly raise blood sugar and insulin levels after you eat them (1) while grain-free flours do not.
Most breads and bread products are too high in total and net carbs to be considered keto foods. Bread products contain an average of 15 grams of carbohydrates per slice.
While bread is a source of folate and many b vitamins, these nutrients are found in many other healthy keto foods. Avoid all traditional breads and bread products including whole wheat bread, rye bread, sourdough, English muffins, pita bread, and multigrain bread.
Keto Bread Options
Some people like to replace bread with lettuce wraps for their burgers or sandwiches. There are also keto breads available at the grocery store that are made with nut flours or other low carb flours. A lot of people like to bake their own keto diet foods. Making your own homemade keto bread is a great place to start.
Sugar and other sweeteners are a significant source of calories for many people. You may not realize that other natural sweeteners have just as much and in some cases more sugar than traditional white sugar. All calorie-containing sweeteners need to be avoided on keto.
Studies have found that when people reduce their carb intake they generally see reduced cravings for sugary foods (2). You may find that after a couple of weeks on a keto diet you do not even miss sweeteners in your diet.
Here are the products to remove from your pantry and to watch for on ingredient labels at the store.
|Agave Nectar||1 tbsp||14g||0g||0g|
|Maple Syrup||1 tbsp||14g||0g||0g|
|Raw Sugar||1 tbsp||12g||0g||0g|
|Turbinado Sugar||1 tbsp||12g||0g||0g|
|High-Fructose Corn Syrup||1 tbsp||14g||0g||0g|
|Cane Sugar||1 tbsp||12g||0g||0g|
Keto and Artificial Sweeteners
Be careful about including artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Sweet’n’low, and Equal in your keto food list. Some of these products have added fillers that may be a source of hidden carbohydrates in your diet.
Research is mixed on the overall health effects of artificial sweeteners like aspartame on a keto diet.
One small study placed individuals on a ketogenic diet and specifically allowed the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar. After 12 weeks researchers found that participants lost a significant amount of weight even when including artificial sweeteners in their diet (3) and did not report any unwanted side effects.
On the other hand, there is limited evidence suggesting that the intake of artificial sweeteners can negatively affect our gut microbiome (4). More research is needed in this area.
At this time it’s probably best to limit your intake of artificial sweeteners when following a keto diet. There are better alternatives to choose for keto baking or if you are craving something sweet.
Sugar-Free Sweeteners Allowed on Keto
At the store look for natural zero-calorie sweeteners including Stevia and monk fruit. Stevia may help blood sugar levels after a meal and is a great supplement to add sweetness to meals (5). Do use caution as many low carb foods use sugar alcohols as a low-calorie alternative.
These include erythritol, xylitol, and maltitol. Eating too much of them can cause stomach aches and digestive problems.
5. Some Fruits
Fruits are considered an essential part of a healthy meal pattern. However many fruits are high in total and net carbs and need to be limited or avoided altogether.
The good news is there are keto-friendly alternatives that are nutritious and help reduce inflammation in our bodies (6). Avoid bananas, apples, mango, oranges, and grapes. All of these fruits have a net carb count that is too high to be a regular part of a keto diet.
|All Fruit Juices||1 cup orange juice||26g||2g||0g|
|Dried Fruits||1 cup||57g||3g||0g|
Berries are lower in sugar than other fruits. One-half cup of berries has a low enough carb content that it may be part of very low carb diets. Some good choices include fresh cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Fresh olives are technically considered fruits. One cup of olives contains 5 grams of total carbs with 4 grams of fiber. With just one gram of net carbs per serving, olives are a great snack to include in a high-fat diet.
6. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are very nutritious foods that are excellent sources of nutrients including fiber and protein. Unfortunately despite being high in fiber a one-cup serving of most beans and legumes contains a lot of net carbs.
You will need to avoid foods including kidney beans, black beans, lentils, and peas. You may be able to include small amounts of these types of foods in your keto diet if you are able to tolerate them. Try small servings of chickpeas, hummus, peanuts, whole soybeans, or fermented soy products like tofu or tempeh.
|Beans and Legumes||Serving||Carbs||Protein||Fat|
|Kidney Beans||1/2 cup||18.5g||7g||0.75g|
|Black Beans||1/2 cup||23g||7g||0.5g|
|Green Peas||1/2 cup||14g||4g||0g|
|Lima Beans||1/2 cup||19g||6g||0g|
|Pinto Beans||1/2 cup||20g||7g||0g|
|White Beans||1/2 cup||18g||6g||0.5g|
|Fava Beans||1/2 cup||17g||6g||0g|
|Black Eyed Peas||1/2 cup||14g||2g||0g|
What to Eat Instead
For dishes like chili, try replacing beans with extra ground beef or non-starchy veggies like zucchini and cauliflower. Chilis and soups are great places to mix a small amount of onion into your meals as well. Instead of eating crackers with hummus, eat a small amount of peanut butter with chopped bell peppers.
Another idea is to combine low-carb foods like cucumbers and full-fat cottage cheese or sour cream.
7. Sugar-Filled Condiments
Condiments may add a lot of flavor to your food but many contain lots of sugar. When eaten in large quantities they will kick you out of ketosis.
Condiments to limit or avoid include ketchup, honey mustard dipping sauce, barbecue sauce, and jelly or jams. Many commercial low-fat and fat-free salad dressings contain a lot more carbs than you might expect and should be limited too.
Check nutrition labels and avoid any dressings that contain 10 or more grams of carbs per serving.
Try using condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard, guacamole, or salsa to add flavor to your food. You might also try using virgin olive oil and butter to add flavor.
The best way to add taste to keto foods without adding extra calories is to use sodium-free spices like black pepper, basil, oregano, and ginger.
8. Conventional Desserts
Everyone loves a sweet treat once in a while. However, most conventional desserts are so loaded with sugar that even a small serving will wreak havoc on your keto diet. Foods to avoid include ice cream, cake, cupcakes, candy bars, donuts, and smoothies.
Low Carbohydrate Sweets
Dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidants. A small square is a great way to treat yourself after a meal.
Be careful to limit yourself to just one small piece of dark chocolate and choose a brand with a minimum of 75% cocoa content. Check the ingredient label to make sure it is not packed full of added sugar.
Berries may also help satisfy a craving for sweets after a meal. One-half cup of naturally sweet blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries easily fit in any keto diet food list.
9. Unhealthy Fats
While it is important to focus on limiting carbs when following a keto diet some people forget to make sure they are also choosing high-quality fats. Most people following a keto diet not only want to lose weight they also want to improve their health.
Be sure to avoid any foods containing trans fats, margarine, vegetable oil, lard, and processed mayo products loaded with sugar and other additives.
|Soybean Oil||Peanut Oil|
|Canola Oil||Sesame Oil|
|Corn Oil||Sunflower Oil|
|Grape Seed Oil||Safflower Oil|
Good Fats to Include in Your Keto Diet
Fats are the basis of a keto diet. The majority of your calories, generally 70% or more need to come from fat in order to maintain the production of ketone bodies and keep you in ketosis.
Use these good fats and oils to add flavor to foods in place of condiments. Cook with them and use them on salads.
- Coconut oil MCT oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
- Grass-fed butter
- GheeHeavy cream
- Canola oil
More Keto fats …
10. Processed Meats
Processed meats are often marketed as being keto-friendly. While technically low in carbs and high in protein and fat, they are also full of additives and preservatives that negatively affect our long term health.
In fact, a high intake of processed red meat is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer (7).
Avoid foods such as hot dogs, frozen processed meat patties, sausages, and lunch meats. Stick with the healthier alternatives below.
High-Protein Foods for Keto
Fresh, whole-food proteins should account for the majority of your protein intake on a keto diet. Remember that too much protein can cause your body to stop producing ketones. Be sure to eat a moderate amount of protein, generally, less than 20% of your total calories should come from protein.
Here are some ideas:
- Grass-fed meat including red meat and lean meat Pasture-raised poultry
- Organ meats
- Fatty fish (trout, mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna)
- Low-carb, sugar-free protein powder
- Pasture-raised eggs
Fatty fish are particularly important to include in a healthy keto diet. They contain lots of omega 3 fatty acids and are one of the few food sources of vitamin D.Try to include fatty fish at least twice per week in your keto meal plan.
11. Low-Fat Dairy Products
Like many other healthy foods on this like, milk is full of beneficial nutrients including calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. The downside is that milk is high in a naturally occurring sugar known as lactose so it is best avoided on a keto diet.
It’s important to note that the lactose content in milk is the same between low-fat dairy and whole milk so it is best to avoid all liquid milks entirely.
Also, avoid low fat and fat-free yogurts. Many are full of added sugar meant to replace the flavor lost when fat is removed. Focus instead on keto-friendly alternatives.
|Milk||1 cup 2% milk||12g||8g||5g|
|Shredded Cheese||1/2 cup||2g||14g||18g|
|Fat-Free Butter Substitutes||1 tbsp||0.63g||0g||0.4g|
|Low-Fat Cream Cheese||1 cup||1g||2g||2.6g|
|Evaporated Skim Milk||1 cup||14g||10g||0.2g|
|Low-Fat Whipped Topping||2 tbsp||3g||0g||0g|
|Fat-Free / Low-Fat Yogurts||1 container||16g||0g||0g|
Keto-Friendly Dairy Products
If you want a spoonful or two of milk in your coffee that should be fine. Any more than that might disrupt your metabolic state and push you out of ketosis. Here is a list of foods that are keto-friendly.
- Unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk
- Full-fat plain Greek yogurt
- Heavy cream
- Cottage cheese
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
12. High-Carb Nuts and Seeds
Most nuts and seeds are low carb high-fat choices that are fit perfectly on a keto diet. There are a few that are higher in net carbs you need to watch out for.
Nuts to Limit
Chestnuts, cashews, peanuts, and pistachios These three nuts have more grams of net carb per serving and should be limited or avoided completely.
Best Nuts and Seeds for Keto
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
13. Juices and Sodas
Fruit juice and soda are some of the worst things to drink when following a keto diet. Fruit juice does contain a small amount of nutrients but has the same or even more sugar than a similar-sized serving of regular soda.
Many juices and soda contain 40 or more grams of sugar per 12 ounce serving, enough to push most people out of ketosis.
Avoid these and choose keto compatible drinks instead.
Black coffee and tea are healthier drink choices that when unsweetened are carb-free. Water is another beverage choice with zero sugar.
Diet drinks like diet soda are more of a grey area. As mentioned earlier there is not conclusive proof that artificial sweeteners like those used in diet soda are good or bad for us.
However, it’s best to limit their intake and choose zero-calorie beverages instead.
Many people suggest drinking bone broth on a keto diet. Bone broth is full of electrolytes and has been shown to help shorten the keto flu many beginners people experience when they try keto for the first time. It’s best to make your own bone broth as many store-bought varieties contain high amounts of sodium.
14. Traditional Snacks
Many traditional snacks and comfort foods are high in carbs. Most of these foods also have a very low serving size meaning if you are not careful the carbs add up very quickly when you eat them. Avoid snack foods like potato chips, pretzels, crackers, rice cakes, and kettle popcorn.
- Cheese crisp
- Veggie chips
- Pork rinds
- Nut and dark chocolate trail mix
- Cheese slices
- One ounce of nuts or peanuts
Here are some more keto snack ideas to check out
15. Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol can be enjoyed in small amounts on a ketogenic diet. Use caution however as some alcoholic beverages are high in carbs and need to be avoided.
For example, a 12 ounce can of beer generally contains between 6 and 12 grams of carbs. Champagne and many mixed cocktails are also high in carbs and should be avoided.
Low-Carb Hard Liquor Options
Wine is much lower in carbs than beer. Pure spirits like whiskey, brandy, cognac, vodka, and tequila also contain zero carbs. Alcohol is not a necessary part of a healthy eating plan. If you do enjoy a drink once in a while, stick to the zero carb options on this list.
A healthy keto diet does not have to feel restrictive. Your keto meal plan should include lots of healthy vegetables, animal proteins, and fats that add variety to your day. Track your daily carbohydrate intake to ensure you are eating between 20 and 50 grams per day.
Keep your macros around 10% carb, 20% protein, and 70% fat. You may find you need to adjust this ratio and add more fat and less protein to stay in ketosis.
Beginners would be wise to select fresh, whole protein sources, and avoid the temptation to choose unhealthy convenience foods like processed meats and sausages. These foods are loaded with sodium and a high sodium intake is a known risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.
Liberally use healthy fats, oils, and spices like black pepper when cooking to add flavor.
Whether keto is a new diet or you have been following it for a long time, come back and check this ultimate guide for inspiration often to help keep your carb count and your macros in check. Before you know it you will start to see how much the keto diet can help your body
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- Joseph, Shama V., et al. “Berries: Anti-Inflammatory Effects in Humans.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 62, no. 18, 2014, pp. 3886–903. Crossref, doi:10.1021/jf4044056.
- Turesky, Robert J. “Mechanistic Evidence for Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Risk: A Follow-up on the International Agency for Research on Cancer Evaluation of 2015.” CHIMIA International Journal for Chemistry, vol. 72, no. 10, 2018, pp. 718–24. Crossref, doi:10.2533/chimia.2018.718.