The ketogenic diet has gained notoriety over the past few years, and its popularity only seems to be growing.
The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a type of low carbohydrate diet. While on this diet, you heavily restrict your carb intake while consuming higher amounts of fat and moderate amounts of protein.
The standard ketogenic diet typically limits carbohydrate consumption to 5 to 10% of daily calories or around 25 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
When you limit carbohydrates in your diet, the body turns to fat as its primary fuel source. Fat is broken down into ketones, which can then be used by your body and brain for energy- a process referred to as ketosis.
Followers of the keto rave about how this diet helps them lose bodyweight and seemingly melt away fat, without the usual calorie counting that accompanies a traditional weight loss program.
Additionally, many people adopt a keto lifestyle for a myriad of health effects and benefits, including a reduced risk of epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer (1-4).
The keto diet seems daunting at first, and it may be challenging to decide what ketogenic foods to add to your eating plan. However, the good news is that many healthy, whole foods are also keto-friendly. Ready to try the keto diet?
Below is a list of nutritious, ketogenic diet foods that are approved by a registered dietitian.
Low-carb or non-starchy veggies are staples of any keto diet meal plans. These vegetables are low in carbs and calories while still delivering plenty of nutrients, including vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium.
Vegetables are also a good source of fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest or absorb. This means that non-starchy vegetables are lower in “digestible” (or net) carbohydrates. Since fiber cannot be absorbed by the body, it does not influence blood sugar and insulin levels in the same way as digestible carbohydrates.
You can calculate the digestible or net carbohydrates in food by subtracting the grams of fiber (aka the indigestible materials) from the total carbs. For example, one cup of zucchini has 4 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fiber, meaning that this vegetable has 3 grams per serving of digestible carbs (5).
Most types of veggies can be part of the keto diet, except for starchy vegetables and plants. Vegetables that you cannot eat on the keto diet include carrots, corn, sweet potatoes/ yams, beets, turnips, parsnips, legumes, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and regular potatoes.
Non-starchy vegetables to add to your keto meal plan are:
- Leafy greens including lettuce, spinach, bok choy, arugula, and kale
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Brussel sprouts
Cauliflower Rice and Zoodles
Removing high carb foods from the menu can seem impossible at first. Many people rely on carbohydrate-based foods and grain products, such as pasta, bread, oats, and rice, as vehicles for the fat and protein in a meal. However, low carb vegetables can serve as excellent replacements for these higher-carb foods.
For example, cauliflower can mimic rice or potatoes in a meal, and “zoodles” can act as a replacement for pasta.
Some creative ways to use vegetables as a carb replacement include cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, and cauliflower mash.
Seafood and Shellfish
Fish and seafood are not only keto-friendly, but they are also among some of the healthiest foods on this planet. Fish, especially fatty fish, is packed with essential nutrients and minerals that are generally lacking in the diet. This includes vitamin D, iodine, selenium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
In particular, omega-3 fatty acids act to reduce inflammation in the body and are associated with brain and heart health (6-8). Most health experts recommend aiming for two servings of fish per week, although more is better.
Seafood is also an excellent source of lean protein and is generally low or even free of carbohydrates, which is good news for keto enthusiasts.
Fish to include in your diet:
Low-Sugar Fruits and Berries
Fruits are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, many fruits also contain natural fruit sugars, which could put you over your daily carb goals.
This does not mean that you have to give up fruit entirely. Fruits that are considered keto foods include:
- Tomato sauce, with no added sugars
- Olives and olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Lemons and lemon juice
In particular, berries are among some of the healthiest foods that you can eat. They are an excellent source of antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and protect the body against damage from free radicals.
Berries are also a source of soluble fiber, which is a nutrient that is sometimes lacking in the keto diet. Research has shown that soluble fiber slows the transit of food in your digestive tract, leading to reductions in hunger and increased fullness (9).
However, you will want to be mindful of portion size to remain within the 50 grams of carbs per day limit. One 3.5 ounce serving of raspberries has about 6 grams of net carbs (10), while a serving of blueberries has 12 grams of net carbs (11).
Meat and Poultry
Meat and poultry make up a large portion of the menu when following a keto diet, and are a good source of high-quality animal protein and B vitamins.
Proponents of the keto diet recommend selecting organic, free-range poultry and grass-fed, organic beef whenever possible. This is because grass-fed red meats have a different composition of fats in comparison to conventional grain-fed red meat (12). Studies have shown that grass-fed beef contains higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is a type of fat that is associated with health benefits, including weight loss (12).
Meats to include on your keto diet foods list are:
- Chicken and chicken breast
- Beef and ground beef
- Pork and pork chops
- Organ meats
Similar to meat and poultry, eggs are also a great source of protein. In fact, eggs have all the essential amino acids needed to build structures in the body, including bones and muscle mass. Furthermore, one large egg has less than 1 gram of carbs, which makes them an excellent keto diet food.
For many years, eggs, especially egg yolks, had a bad reputation due to their high amounts of dietary cholesterol. However, this science has recently been debunked, with studies showing that cholesterol from the diet is not associated with increased levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol for most adults (13).
Eating eggs may actually help increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol in the body and has been shown to modify the shape of LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing your heart disease risk (14, 15).
Dairy and Cheese
Dairy products are a great source of fats, proteins, calcium, and phosphorus. Cheese and other full-fat dairy products, such as butter and whole milk, also contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Research has shown that CLA has potential health benefits and may protect against heart disease, obesity, and inflammation (16-18). CLA has also been linked to modest reductions in body fat and increased proportions of lean body mass (18).
The good news is that most dairy products are also low or moderate in carbohydrates so that they fit perfectly on your keto diet plan.
The carbohydrate breakdown of popular dairy products is as follows:
- Cheddar cheese (1 ounce): 1 gram of carbs (19)
- Cottage cheese (1/2 cup): 4 grams of carbs (20)
- Feta cheese (1 ounce): 1 gram of carbs (21)
- Plain Greek yogurt (1 cup or 227 grams): 10 grams of carbs (22)
However, you may want to limit milk intake while following a keto diet. One glass of milk contains about 12 grams of natural milk sugars. Other dairy products to eliminate while on a keto diet are ice cream and low-fat yogurts, as these are sources of added sugar and could push you over your carbs per day goal.
Items to include on your keto shopping list are most types of cheeses, ghee, cream cheese, sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, unsweetened Kefir, heavy cream, goat cheese, ricotta cheese, and butter.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds make excellent snack foods on the keto diet. They are packed with protein, heart-healthy fats, and fiber, which are nutrients that help increase feelings of satiety and reduce hunger. Nuts and seeds also contain essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, and copper.
Furthermore, nuts are extremely good for heart health. Research has shown that regular nut consumption may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by improving cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and increasing antioxidant levels in the body (23-26).
Eating nuts may also help you lose weight when combined with other dietary approaches, such as the keto diet.
Studies conducted on almonds and pistachios have consistently shown that these nuts may help to promote weight loss when compared to control foods or diets (27-29). Additionally, one study found that participants who consumed chia seeds daily while on a calorie-restricted diet lost more weight and had greater reductions in waist circumference after six months compared to the control group (30).
Furthermore, nuts are incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including raw, roasted, seasoned, and as seed and nut butter.
The carb content of different nuts is variable and can range from about 2 to 8 grams of net carbs per serving, so be mindful of serving sizes to remain within your carb count. For example, the amount of net carbs in a serving of macadamia nuts is 2 grams.
Nuts and seeds to add to your keto food list include:
- Almonds and almond butter
- Hemp seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Peanuts and peanut butter
Oils, including olive oil, coconut oil, and nut oils, consist mainly of heart-healthy fats. Due to their high-fat content, they make an excellent addition to keto diets.
Since different types of oils impart unique flavors and health benefits, it may be best to fill your pantry with multiple varieties. Examples include:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
Starting the keto diet does not mean that you need to sacrifice your morning cup of coffee.
Unsweetened tea and coffee are carb-free, and these beverages also offer a variety of health benefits.
The caffeine found in coffee and black teas may help boost your metabolism and promote weight loss. There is evidence that caffeine increases the resting metabolic rate by 3 to 11%, meaning that you burn more calories while at rest (31, 32). The caffeine in coffee can also promote weight loss by stimulating the brain to breakdown fat (33).
Additionally, unsweetened milk alternatives, such as almond milk and coconut milk, are permitted on this diet. Broth, club soda, diet soda, and zero-calorie seltzer are also great options to sip on throughout the day. Hydration is important while on the keto diet, so be sure to drink plenty of water and other low carb fluids.
However, pay attention to the ingredients label on beverages before indulging. Many drinks contain sugar sweeteners or fruit juice for flavoring and can be a source of hidden carbs.
The keto diet does not need to be devoid of dessert and treats. Dark chocolate makes an excellent addition to any keto plan.
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, including polyphenols, flavonols, and catechins, to name a few (34). These antioxidants are thought to play a crucial role in reducing your risk of certain chronic diseases and health problems.
Dark chocolates typically contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually less in darker chocolates. Be sure to choose dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. A one-ounce serving of 70 to 85% dark chocolate contains an average of 10 grams of net carbs.
Many people are turning to the ketogenic diet to help them with fat loss and to improve their health.
Getting started on the keto diet may seem challenging at first; however, the keto diet includes many nutritious and tasty keto-friendly foods. Consider including the foods discussed above to your weekly grocery shopping list to get started on the keto diet.
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