Now and then I’ll read comments on keto discussion forums that gloat about being able to eat anything if they’re just sure to stick below 50 grams of carbs a day. I’ll be direct here and say this is the wrong way to do keto. Unfortunately, many people get overzealous about macro counts and lose sight of the bigger picture. Reject any source that condones sacrificing essential nutrition to “reach” ketosis. Going keto shouldn’t ever compromise your health. (See the irony?)
It’s true that the ketogenic diet uses a macronutrient framework that looks roughly like this: 65-75% caloric intake from fat, 15-25% caloric intake from protein, 5-10% caloric intake from carbohydrates. Within that framework, there is generous room to fulfill your body’s nutrient requirements for adequate protein and ample vegetable—and even some fruit—intake.
My hope is that this guide will leave you feeling you have an incredibly vast array of appetizing, nutritious options. The truth is you CAN create an effective keto diet from an expansive range of whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Because we want to increase our healthy fat intake on a ketogenic plan, I’m starting with fats. Choosing the right fats to keep your fatty acids in balance is important, but it’s not something to get overly stressed about.
First and foremost, avoid industrial seed oils. Steer clear of anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Use fats appropriately at temperatures and in storage conditions that maintain their stability and nutrient value.
Here are some healthy fat options:
Saturated and Monounsaturated Fats: Great for higher temp cooking and for making fat bombs.
Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs): Best for low temp sauteeing and cold use.
Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs): Know the difference. Some should be completely off the menu, like over processed vegetable oils (corn and canola), but others can have a regular place at the ketogenic table. Most seed based oils are high in polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately, seed oils are typically extracted in ways that can destroy the nutrients. Be sure to look for cold-pressed versions, and don’t heat these oils.
Many people falsely assume they have to forgo the benefits of vegetables and especially fruit with a keto diet. The best source of vegetables are “above-ground” varieties, which are nutrient dense, yet low in carbohydrates. Dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and berries are excellent options. Take time to learn how many carbs are in each kind of vegetable.
I recommend avoiding root vegetables and tubers as well as other fruits during keto phases. If you’re an endurance athlete or part of a physically demanding sport or activity, you can incorporate more starchy vegetables around the window of your workout to refuel as truly needed.
Here are the lower carb vegetable/fruit options:
Remember, keep your protein intake moderate on a ketogenic diet. Try to eat smaller portions of the higher protein, leaner cuts of meat, as too much protein can affect ketosis. Opt for fattier cuts when you can. Choose dark sections for chicken and duck (e.g. thigh meat), choose pasture-raised beef for best fatty acid profile (higher in omega-3s), and stick with the higher percentages of fat when picking out a ground beef. Limit cured meats to those that don’t contain sugar or nitrates.
Here are some great meat/protein options:
For the best nutrition, look for full-fat, pastured dairy. Low-fat and fat-free dairy have no place in a ketogenic plan. (Personally, I don’t eat them when I’m not doing keto either.) Dairy has natural sugars, even if there are no added sweeteners, so be mindful about your intake. Here are some of the best options for those who choose to include dairy within a ketogenic eating plan.
Herbs and spices can add new levels of flavor to vegetables, meats, and sauces. Use them generously.
Nuts and seeds make for great snacking options in moderation. They offer healthy fats and essential minerals, but they also offer varying amounts of carbohydrates as well.
The best low-carb/high fat nut options are:
Some of the higher carb nut options (to be more mindful of consuming) are:
Your best bet is to make your own sauces and condiments, or purchase them from a Primal source that does not use sugar in the ingredients. (PRIMAL KITCHEN® mayos, dressings and oils fit the bill perfectly.) This is the best way to avoid hidden sugars and sweeteners, yet still get the creaminess you crave! Here are some sauces and condiments that can complement a ketogenic plan (again, keep in mind the carb content of each):
Sometimes we want a little added sweetness. When choosing a sweetener, avoid anything that will spike insulin or knock you out of ketosis. Some artificial sweeteners may not affect insulin but can compromise gut biome health. Stevia and monk fruit are two natural sweeteners that have no or low glycemic impact. Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol may be good options as well for this purpose and are usually well tolerated by most people.
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