July 03 2019

7 Foods Keto Eaters Shouldn’t Fear

By Mark Sisson
52 Comments

I don’t like being told what to do. That’s why I’m not a fan of hard and fast food rules, as I’ve written before. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I believe all foods are created equal. There are foods that aren’t health-promoting in any context. (I’m looking at you, processed chemical nacho cheese-like sauce.) Nevertheless, I’m incredulous when people suggest that they’re not “allowed” to eat certain foods on a Primal or keto diet.

Sure, we Primal folks choose to center our diets around the foods in the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid. And once you go keto, higher-carb foods—even nutrient-dense ones—are harder to fit into your daily macros if staying in ketosis is important to you. However, I’ve found that keto people are overly prone to policing one another’s food choices based on their notions of keto.

Context is important. As a metabolically healthy person, I recognize that I have the luxury of eating more carbs than someone who’s insulin resistant and who struggles to regulate blood glucose. I also have the freedom to move in and out of ketosis in a way that someone doing a therapeutic keto diet might not. 

Depending on your circumstances, the “rules” of keto might be different for you than they are for me. My beef is with people who insist that everyone adhere to the strictest possible version of keto no matter the context or who villainize “carbs” as if that’s a discrete food group. Different foods provide different benefits, so I prefer to incorporate as many types of food as I can within reason. Plus, variety helps me enjoy my diet more. 

I don’t want to exclude foods just because they don’t work for someone else—or because of some arbitrary notion that they “aren’t keto.” In fact, here’s a list of foods that people have genuinely told me I’m not allowed to eat on keto, presumably because they’re too high-carb. (And, yes, I eat all these foods even when I’m keto.)

Disclaimer: Of course, I’m not suggesting that you have to eat these just because I do. This is simply a reminder that you don’t have to listen to the keto police. You can and should find a way of eating that suits you personally.

(Note: the carb counts are from Cron-o-meter and reflect the servings I’m used to eating while keto.) 

1) Beets

I love beets, so the blame and shame around beets while keto makes me shake my head. Sure, as a root they’re higher in carbs than above-ground veggies. The ½ cup of cubed cooked beets I add to my Big-Ass Salad comes in at 8 grams of carbs. 

To me, that’s not bad, especially weighed against the health benefits of beets. They happen to be a fantastic source of folate, manganese, potassium, and other nutrients. The betalain found in beets has been studied extensively as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound with a variety of potential medical applications. Beets are also rich in nitrates, which can be cardioprotective, improve blood flow to the brain, and—of particular interest to me—improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. (Although research focuses mostly on beetroot juice or concentrate, eating whole beets appears to work, too.)

I’ll keeping my beets, along with the greens.

2) Berries

You’ll see a lot of soapbox rants on keto boards decrying berries, which is surprising because berries are GRAOKFK (generally regarded as O.K. for keto). Nonetheless, there are plenty of people out there proclaiming that blueberries are too high-carb for keto. I’ve also seen people argue that only blueberries are allowed (presumably because they’re a “superfood”—more on that in a moment). 

Take a look at the carbohydrates in these common berries:

  • Blueberries (1/3 cup ): 7 grams 
  • Blackberries (1/3 cup): 5 grams
  • Raspberries (1/3 cup): 5 grams
  • Strawberries (1/3 cup): 4 grams

As you can see, blueberries actually deliver the most carbs among these options, but their carb count is still pretty modest. Anyway, berries are healthy and delicious. All berries score well on the antioxidant charts, but blackberries and raspberries actually have slightly higher ORAC values than “superfood” blueberries (the blueberry industry must have a better marketing team). Berries also score low on glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL), although blueberries push the middle range of GI. 

The bottom line is: if your carb budget is tight, sure, go for strawberries instead of blueberries, but blueberries are hardly a “non-keto” food.

3) Carrots

There’s a running joke in our Keto Reset Facebook group about carrots. Along with beets, carrots tend to be metaphorically slapped out of your hand if you admit to eating them in some of the other online keto groups. 

I’ve known keto folks who’ll pick the shredded carrot out of packaged broccoli slaw or restaurant salad mix. The thing is, if you manage to painstakingly pick ¼ cup of shredded carrot from your salad, all the painstaking effort saves you less than 3 grams of carbs. (Not worth it if you ask me.) Even a large whole carrot contains only 7 grams of carbs—and low-GL carbs, at that.

I don’t know where this fear-mongering came from. Perhaps it’s because carrots are a root vegetable, and one of the keto police rules is that root veggies are not keto. While it makes sense that most of your vegetable intake should be in the form of above-ground vegetables, that doesn’t necessitate avoiding every shred (literally) of healthy root vegetables. 

4) Cashews

Truth be told, I don’t eat cashews all that often. At 10 grams of carbs in ¼ cup, they are higher carb than any other nuts I eat regularly, and for no special health benefits. Check out my Definitive Guide to Nuts for the lowdown on how different varieties compare. 

One application I do appreciate is cashew cream for dairy-free and egg-free recipes such as this one. Personally, I have no problem with dairy, but for people with food sensitivities, this can be a nice option. 

5) Grapefruit

I used to have a grapefruit tree in my backyard, and I’ve enjoyed incorporating fresh grapefruit into summer salads now and then. Arugula, shaved fennel, avocado, and grapefruit is a tasty combo.

Caveat: this one is probably the biggest stretch for people who are still struggling with insulin and glucose regulation. Half a small grapefruit—enough for two servings of the aforementioned arugula salad—packs 11 grams of carbs. That said, grapefruit are among the lowest GI and GL fruits, on par with raspberries. If you’re at a place with keto where you’re ready to test your metabolic flexibility and see how you respond to introducing some fruits in moderate quantities, grapefruit might be one to try. 

6) Pumpkin

One-quarter cup of homemade cooked pumpkin has 3 grams of carbs (canned unsweetened pumpkin has 5 grams). 

So, go ahead and whip up a homemade PSL sweetened with stevia. There’s a recipe in The Keto Reset Diet Cookbook. In fact, you’ll find several pumpkin recipes in thereincluding directions for making your own puree.

7) Tomatoes

Tomatoes are another one of those “they taste kind of sweet, so they must be bad for keto” foods. Nah. It’s tomato season right now, and I’m enjoying a Caprese salad with cherry tomatoes every single day. The ten cherry tomatoes in my salad have fewer than 7 grams of carbs. A thick slice of tomato on your lettuce-wrapped burger comes in at a whopping 1 gram of carbs. 

Keto folks do need to be mindful of the carbs in sugary store-bought ketchup (which is why I created Primal Kitchen® Unsweetened Ketchup). The carbs in a huge plate of zoodles with marinara can definitely add up. As with all the foods on this list, the quantity matters.

Finally, Did I Mention That Context Is Important?

If you’re looking at this list, going, “There’s no way I could allot XX grams of carbs to ____!”, is it because you’re limiting yourself to 20 or 30 grams of carbs per day? If yes, is there a specific reason? The Keto Reset Diet recommends that most people aim for 50 grams of carbs per day, not counting non-starchy vegetables and avocados. (If you’re doing a therapeutic keto diet, or if you’re highly insulin resistant, you might do better starting at 30 grams per day.) 

With any of these foods, if you aren’t sure if they work for you, consider experimenting. I’m not a huge proponent of measuring and assessing everything, but in this case it might offer helpful info. Eat the food you want to include, then test your blood glucose and ketones two hours later. For example, if you want to add a handful of blueberries to your Big-Ass Salad, try it and see how your body responds. Of course, this only works if you know your baseline blood glucose and ketones—and if you also know how your body responds to the salad without the blueberries. 

Or you don’t have to be that systematic about it. Barring a medical need to be in ketosis all the time, you can go by subjective evaluations of how you feel when you include certain foods. 

Finally, if you are working with a limited carb budget and want to expand your vegetable (and even fruit) repertoire, considering targeting your intake of these foods around exercise to blunt the effect. 

There you go, folks. Surprises? Additions? Responses? Share your thoughts below, and have a great rest of the week.

TAGS:  Keto

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52 thoughts on “7 Foods Keto Eaters Shouldn’t Fear”

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    1. Bingo. I’m cutting back on my keto information gurus. I know what makes me feel awesome. . Except for Mark. He’s staying. Reason and no judgment. Mark led me to paleo then keto thru his book. Thanks Mark.

  1. Beets are awesome. I steam them for 20 minutes and them finish them in a smoker with Alder wood.

  2. Absolutely LOVE this post because of Mark’s logic and keep-it-simple approach to eating naturally. Thank you!

  3. To the metabolically healthy. Most who find themselves on these WOE carnivores included aren’t metabolically health. Blueberries are problematic to those with AI issues and also high in oxalates. And aren’t beets GMO glyphosate-resistant unless you buy organic? They are also high in oxalates which bind with calcium to form kidney stones; their crystals also mimic uric acid and cause joint issues. I can go down the list but I think that this will suffice

    1. Blueberries only have 2 mg of oxalate in 1 /2 cup, and I have never seen anything in an AIP guideline that prohibits eating blueberries. Didn’t bother reading past that inaccurate assertion.

      1. Hashimoto ! True but you ignored the fact that 1/2 a cup has 15 grams of sugar. Beets have 78 MG of oxalates.

    2. I’m metabolically healthy now. I eat keto to keep it that way. A few beets or berries are nothing to worry about. I am in more danger getting in my car today and driving to Walmart frankly. Perspective and reason makes life easier. Honestly most people don’t want to hear health lectures. I tried. Nobody listens so I just eat for myself now. Try it. You’ll like it.

  4. I love beets. Thanks for permission to have them every now and then. Keto police are horribly judgmental people.
    I also eat a small bowl of berries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries with 1/4 cup of whip cream that I make with liquid stevia. That takes care of my craving for something desert like. I do miss corn during the summer months. I love black bean, corn confetti salad, but boy is that a carb overload.
    I enjoy your posts. Keep’em coming

  5. I am doing okay! I eat blueberries and strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkin and like beets! I cannot have grapefruit for it does not do well with meds! No more nuts, until I get false teeth and they are too high in fat for digestive system. Cut the nuts to a bit of walnuts, okay? Greens that are uncooked will go flying thru this gut system! Must have low grease (or fat) in my intake for digestion. I love Lean Cuisine made by Nestle’s productions! Meat is not heavy in my diet! Not skinny or slim, for loosing muscles, not enough exercise, anymore! I like me, but younger find me fat!!

  6. Talk about your timely posts. There are so many
    self-appointed keto experts ranting out there right now, the whole topic is beginning to feel very played out. Then our friend Mark comes along and helps put it all into the proper perspective.

  7. I love this post and couldn’t agree more. Berries are a big favorite of mine, as is pumpkin! I think we’d all be eating better if we focused on quality nutrition real veggies and fruits. I will be making some pumpkin lattes this fall!

  8. Thank you Mark! I had a “food police” GP that was so vitriolic I had to switch GPs. (I was risking my life by not eating wheat bread, LOL) I truly appreciate the effort and research and logic you use and share with us. P.S. even my 5 year old nephew likes PK Ketchup 🙂

  9. I’d just like to say that I’ve been eating beets and carrots since I started Keto! In the beginning I was really anal about weighing everything and entering into Cronometer. I never had a problem staying under 50 grams and even worked my way down to 30 still including carrots. I have never measured myself to see it I was actually in ketosis. I go by how I feel. I lost 20 lbs over the course of about 10 months. I now eat fruit including grapefruit, blueberries and apples. If it’s nutritious and clean I don’t worry about having a small amount. I never have cravings anymore even when I do eat them and I never go much over 50!grams of carbs even on those days.

  10. Regarding berries and cashews…

    Well, sure if you a tiny serving (1/3 cup) you’ll be fine. Unfortunately, most people don’t eat such tiny servings. When I succumb to temptation I often eat an entire container and end up far exceeding the tiny serving sizes you describe.

    By the same logic I could say pizza is fine…just stop after a single bite.

    Many years ago Pizza Hut sold a lower carb pizza. I’m almost certain it was made with regular dough…it was a just tiny pizza (about the size of a dessert plate).

    1. Yeah I have the same issue with cashews, when I buy a 100g bag – smallest I can find in the store here – you can be pretty damn sure I’ll eat 100g of cashews and hope the Keto police doesn’t arrest me.

      When you get a pizza you obviously know what you’re doing beforehand, there is no accidental overeating with Pizza.

    2. That’s not the same logic at all. Keto puts an emphasis on clean, anti-inflammatory foods. Berries and cashews fall into that category, but are higher on the carb spectrum. That is not the case with most types of pizza.

      It doesn’t have to be so black and white. There can be shades of gray. The more (reasonable) flexibility there is, and the more people can experiment with what works for them, the more people can benefit from this way of eating. Being so militant just turns people away and serves to make the “hardcore” keto-ers feel superior. So in other words, that’s pointless..

  11. Wow, interesting. I started Keto due to Mark’s original postings about it in previous years, but didn’t follow the Keto Reset to do it. Just kind of jumped in about a year ago. I’ve lost 85 pounds so far, and have about 20-30 to go. I’m currently at less than 10 carbs per day total, not net. I’ve been mostly carnivore and would love to add back in some variety, but it seems like the moment I increase veggies (always green) the water retention starts and I put some weight back on. Any suggestions? Things I should be considering? I currently track all macros and calories, and it can be exhausting, lol.

    1. Hi, Jake! Are you gaining *fat* or are you gaining pounds on the scale from water? Obviously those are really different. In my experience, it’s not unusual for the scale to jump and then level out when you add back some carbs. I always tell people if they want to experiment with adding some more carbs back, put away the scale for a couple weeks while the body adjusts. Adding back ~20g of carbs (or more) isn’t going to cause rapid, *sustained* weight gain–that’s only 80 kcal–but that (temporary) upward blip can feel really disheartening! Best not to have it staring you in the face 😉

      Also, are you already doing some sort of resistance exercise? Remember that exercise (especially resistance and brief high-intensity work like sprints) has a lot of the same physiological effects as carb restriction. If you’re not already doing that, you could try adding that while you also increase your carbs.

      At the end of the day, my personal opinion is that it’s important to find a balance where your way of eating doesn’t feel unsustainable. If the tracking is starting to suck you dry, it might be time for a break, even if that also means the scale doesn’t move for a while. Sometimes, though, the body responds positively to mixing it up and loosening the reins a little, especially if the tracking is causing stress.

      1. Hey Jake a lot of good and wise things in Lindsay’s advice. I’d like to add my approach to the scale.is no matter what it reads, I see it as a learning experience and adjust as necessary to meet my long-term goal, one day does not make or break my goal…

    2. Jake,

      When you change your diet up your body needs time to process what it happening in order to reestablish homeostasis—a state of metabolic equilibrium. As long as you aren’t feeling any ill effects from the vegetables you add, I’d keep at it without worrying too much about weight fluctuations for a few weeks at least (maybe a month. Working on a 30 day timescale seems to be a thing), and see how you go from there.

      Could be you still go back to your mostly carnivore diet, or you might find veggies back on the menu long term. But you must give your body time to remember what to do with foods it hasn’t processed recently: it tends to forget things outside it’s current focus.

    3. Agree with others on this. I originally came to Primal by way of a few other approaches including a proprietary keto protocol called Ideal Protein. In IP they tell you very explicitly that when you add back carbs, you will pick up a couple of pounds. (They suggest that you stay on the keto protocol long enough to lose a tiny bit more weight than your ultimate goal to address this.) IP also asserts that their protocol is an “intentionally unbalanced diet”, and should be a temporary, not a permanent way of eating — but keep in mind here that IP is both extremely low carb AND quite low fat, and is going to be difficult to sustain, marginal for long-term health, and if you’ll starve to death if you don’t up your food intake when you hit your goal! Long way of saying don’t sweat it when the scale creeps up as you add some carbs. It’s just a number, and one that means very little in comparison to how you FEEL, how your clothes fit, your muscle mass, bone density, waist circumference, how your blood work comes back, and other meaningful markers of health.

  12. Can’t imagine not eating those lovely berries! Along with everything else mentioned.
    Here in the Pacific Northwest we’d be fools not to eat the berries that thrive here.
    Major locavore food!

  13. Regarding beets, another great addition to the diet is beet kvass. All the benefits, plus extra with anything you ferment with, without any extra carbs. That being said, pickled beets with a salad is also a pleasure.

  14. The greatest teacher is mindfulness. As someone who followed a very strict keto diet for many years, and now I am more flexible, there are many factors. I now seek to respond appropriately to my metabolic condition, the season, and the knowledge that I have a medical need at certain times of the year to prevent infections and another round of antibiotics. I consider green leaves to be their own food group now, and I include them daily if at all possible. That includes fresh green herbs. I often grate a large carrot into my greens saute, it looks nice and roasts nicely. I end up eating about 1/3 of it at a time.

    There was a time when I couldn’t eat FODMAPs, the most painful thing to give up was onions. I embarked on a gut improvement protocol and it worked. Onions are also high in carbs. And so tasty! I happen to enjoy beans like lentils and I can’t live the rest of my life without them. There’s another reason, my gut is slow to move and certain beans and grains (amaranth for instance) fix that problem so I don’t have to be downing industrial plastic to get my gut functioning again (ie. Miralax).

    I stick to the ideas presented by Weston A. Price Foundation about traditional preparation of beans and grains, to deactivate the phytates and lectins. That in itself has helped me. A month ago, I started a gluten free sourdough starter and it’s been successfully used in pancakes (GF ones). I’m still learning about the preferments and the breads. This is going to sound weird, but my body smells different, more like the sourdough jar on my counter. And my bloating is way down, and I seem less allergic in the morning when I wake up. This is really important to me.

    If I was like, ooooh, sourdough… grains…. bad! I wouldn’t have had that benefit.

    If a person calculates it out, they can fit what their body needs into the diet. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get strict again. The important thing, is to know that strictness can lead to more neurological benefit, and that has to be weighed against the summer tomatoes and the positive nutritional impact of fresh local vegetables (especially with Celiac, and other illnesses that destroy your ability to absorb nutrition). But keeping to a high percentage of vegetables and greens has helped me a lot. It opened the way to more flexibility. I feel better and willing to loosen my strict keto without too many bad effects.

    Articles like this remind me why I read this blog. Thanks, Mark!

    1. Right on — preach it sister! The diet that works is the diet that works for YOU, and all the “police” — the fat police, the keto police, the paleo police, the “OMG YOU’RE EATING FARMED SALMON?!” police — all of them can go jump in the lake. My choices aren’t perfect by anybody’s set of hard and fast rules, but my “lazy primal” protocol has me maintaining my ideal weight easily, running 10Ks, and loving life at 50 in a way I didn’t at 25! You have to find and follow YOUR rules, not everybody else’s.

    1. Hi, Bill ~ Check out Mark’s thoughts about that here: https://www.marksdailyapple.com/keto/diabetes/

      The short answer is yes! It’s important, though, if you are on insulin that you talk to your doctor before you start. It’s very common that insulin dosing needs to be adjusted, and soon after starting keto (like in the first week or two–it can happen that fast). Your doctor should want to see you and monitor you during that transition.

    2. Yes, it’s perfect. My cardiologist wants me on it and I love it. The keto diet makes it easy to get control of blood sugar. I am type II but my A1C has been in the non-diabetic range for several years since I have been on keto. I still test my blood though.

  15. Thanks for being a voice of reason Mark. I’m not a Keto dieter, it’s just too unnecessarily restrictive for me and I’m very healthy and happy following a more primal style diet. That said I respect those doing Keto for their own reasons. I just find that some folks have a tendency to take things too far; I have friends who do Keto and they look at me eating a sweet potato like I’m eating a Big Mac with extra fries. In my opinion, if you’re healthy, any natural food from the earth isn’t going to hurt you when eaten in reasonable quantities, whether that’s ethically raised meats, fish, roots, fruits, nuts or greens, etc. Doesn’t make sense to stress over such trivial stuff!

  16. Love this article. Mark I wish you’d do small videos covering this from time to time : )

  17. I remember when my sister was doing a keto diet to lose weight, she said to me that she couldn’t have onions, and I was so confused. Since when are onions a high carb food? I ended up googling it and a whole medium onion has 10g carbs including fiber, and I am highly doubting most would even eat a whole onion at once (though I have before :). Obviously sweet onions have more carbs though.

  18. Beets in a red cabbage cole slaw. Beets with butter and a sprinkle of orange juice. Beet sticks mixed in with the carrot and celery sticks for a hiking snack. Beets and greens cooked together. Yum, beets. Thanks for letting us know about all the great healthy things in all that beautiful red color.

  19. (Still waiting on a response to this)

    “It generally takes more glucose to digest the glucose in leafy greens, broccoli, and other non-starchy vegetables than they actually contain. The result is a net loss or a wash in terms of useable glucose.”

    I guess I thought this had pretty much been refuted..

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524030/

  20. Wonderful information! I’m sensitive to oxalates in beets, but fermented beets, like Bubby’s, are lower in oxalates. They still taste somewhat sweet, and are really good on burgers and with feta cheese.

  21. Some important details are missing here for diabetics on keto.

    Cooked carrots are carbier than raw carrots.

    I’ve tried the beets (cooked) and they are a no go for me in terms of blood sugar.

    The type of pumpkin is important – there is a big difference between regular pumpkins and the denser, starchier ones like sugar pumpkins or kabocha.

    This is me, YMMV.

  22. My only problem with carrots is when they are over-consumed . They are an easy vegetable to carry and prepare. Carrot fingers are an obvious primal/vegetarian snack for people who are just starting out. I know more than one person, myself included, who has eaten way too many carrots while trying to clean up my diet. It can cause problems, the most frequent being loose stools.

    For people who are well established in Primal/Keto with a good diversity of food choices carrots in normal quantities are not a problem at all.

  23. AMEN and HALLELUJAH!
    Mark, you and your team at MDA are one of the few remaining oases in the sea of total madness that keto/low carb has become. Thank you for always being sane, reasonable, and context-driven.

    (I love beets…)

    1. Can I put in a word for the large majority of people who AREN’T metabolically healthy? Most Americans are overweight and most have diabetes, that is to say, severe insulin resistance. I weigh 250 pounds, severe insulin resistance, bad metabolic syndrome. Not on insulin thank god. Yes, I am low carb, trying hard to be Keto. EVERY SINGLE GRAM of carbs matters to people like me. The fat comes off so slow and so hard. Don’t encourage us to eat beets and carrots and such things. We might as well give up. One apple puts me out of ketosis for days. WE ARE THE MAJORITY NOW. You healthy people are very lucky, yeah. But there ain’t too many of you. If anything Mark should be pushing the Carnivore diet for the rest of us.

  24. Ha! Ate blueberries, cashews and a carrot today. All good. And have to admit I’ve been avoiding beets…even though I love them. So thanks for this post Mark!

  25. Nice to read this, and totally in line with what I’ve been doing recently. I make mostly keto meals, but probably eat about 30 net carbs per day. As a gardener, I’m going to eat the squash, berries and root vegetables that come out of my back yard. When I don’t have homegrown, I’ll choose the lower-carb options. However, I don’t like to see people restrict things like cabbage and broccoli because of carb count.

  26. I eat all of these besides cashews because they give me GI problems. I dont consider any of them to be scary carbs though. I eat them freely without worry. They are so nutrient dense.

  27. People are confused about carrots because they are looking at glycemic index instead of glycemic load. Carrots have a high glycemic index, but aren’t very carb dense so their glycemic load is low.

  28. I’ve been in ketosis daily for at least 6 months following chemotherapy. I eat 1/3 c blueberries and 6 red grapes in my protein shake every day. Still have good ketone readings. I have found that carrots and tomatoes for me will lower ketone production.

  29. Thank you for your outlook and suggestions. I did not puck out the carrots in my coleslaw and was worried lol. Thank you again.