Every once in a while I read comments on keto discussion forums that gloat about being able to eat anything if they’re just sure to stay 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 accounts and lose sight of the big picture. Achieving ketosis is never the end goal. You want health, energy, vitality. How you get there matters.
It’s true that the ketogenic diet uses a macronutrient framework that looks something like this:
- Carbohydrates less than 50 grams per day (about 5-10% of total calorie intake)
- Sufficient protein to meet physiological needs and goals (usually 15-25% caloric intake)
- The rest from healthy fats
Within this, there is a generous margin to meet your body’s nutritional needs and include enough vegetables – and even some fruit-admission.
I hope this guide will leave you feeling like you have an incredibly wide range of appetizing and nutritious options. The truth is, you CAN create an effective keto diet from a wide range of whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Because we want to increase our health fat intake on a ketogenic plan, I start with fats.
Above all, avoid industrial seed oils. Avoid anything that is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Choose the good fats Maintaining your fatty acid balance is important, but it’s not something that should stress you out too much.
Use fats appropriately at temperatures and under storage conditions that maintain their stability and nutritional value.
Here are some healthy fat options:
Saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids: Ideal for high temperature cooking and for making fat bombs.
- Cheese (see dairy products)
- coconut oil
- Sustainably Sourced Red Palm Oil
- Avocado oil
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA): Ideal for low temperature stir fry and cold use.
- extra virgin olive oil
- Extra virgin avocado oil
- Bacon fat – actually a mix of saturated and monounsaturated fats, but surprisingly high in monounsaturated fats; ideal for sautéed vegetables
- Duck fat – also a mix of saturated and monounsaturated fats, but surprisingly high in monounsaturated fats)
- Macadamia nut oil – very low in PUFA
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): Know the difference. Some should be completely off the menu, like processed vegetable oils (corn and canola), but others may have a regular place on the ketogenic table.
Most seed oils are high in polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately, seed oils are usually extracted in a way that destroys nutrients. Be sure to look for cold pressed versions and do not heat these oils.
- hemp oil
- Linseed oil
- chia oil
Vegetables and fruits
Many people mistakenly assume that they have to give up the benefits of vegetables and especially fruit on a keto diet. THE best source of vegetables are soilless varieties, high in nutrients but low in carbohydrates. Dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are great options.
Take the time to learn how many carbohydrates are in each type of product. I recommend carefully limiting root and tuber vegetables, as well as most fruits, during keto phases. These don’t offer the best value for money in terms of getting the most nutrient dense foods for the fewest carbs. If you are an endurance athlete or participate in a physically demanding sport or other activity, you can incorporate more starches around your training window to refuel as needed.
Here are some low carb vegetable and fruit options:
- Leafy greens: spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, various lettuces like romaine and iceberg, purslane, dandelion greens, watercress, mustard plant, beet greens, and endive
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage
- Green beans
- bok choy
- Mushrooms (all varieties)
- summer squash
- Fiddlehead Ferns
- Berries (in moderation)
Protein provides a high satiety factor and is needed to build and maintain lean body mass. Enjoy a variety of meats, poultry, seafood and eggs. Organs are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, so be sure to include them in your diet! Limit deli meats to those that don’t contain sugar or nitrates.
Here are some great meat/protein options:
- Small oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring)
- Other wild fish and other seafood (some breeding I am fine too)
- Bivalves (oysters, mussels, clams, scallops)
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, goose, Cornish hen
- Forage-fed beef
- Pasture eggs (chicken and duck)
- Offal: liver, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads
- Bacon (look for brands with no added sugar)
- grazing pig
For better nutrition, look for whole and pastured dairy products. (I don’t eat low-fat or fat-free dairy, whether I’m on keto or not.) Dairy contains natural sugars, even though there are no added sweeteners, so be careful to your consumption. Here are some of the best options for those who choose to include dairy products on a ketogenic diet.
- Raw hard cheeses (best bet: high in K2, low in carbs, high in nutrients)
- Raw soft cheeses
- Full-fat plain Greek yogurt
- Whole milk and cream
- Fermented drinks like kefir (plain and full of fat, but still watch the carb content!)
Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices can add new levels of flavor to vegetables, meats and sauces. Use them generously. These are some of my staple foods, but all herbs and spices are on the menu.
- Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt
- Black pepper
- chili powder
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds make great snack options in moderation. They offer healthy fats and essential minerals, but they also contain varying amounts of carbohydrates.
The best low carb/high fat nut options are:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nut
- pecan nuts
Some of the high carb nut options (to be more mindful of consumption) are:
- Cashew nut
Sauces and seasonings
Your best bet is to make your own sauces and condiments, or buy them from a Primal source that doesn’t use sugar in the ingredients. (PRIMAL KITCHEN® Mayonnaise, Dressings and Oils fits the bill perfectly.) It’s the best way to avoid hidden sugars and sweeteners, while still getting the creaminess you crave! Here are some sauces and condiments that can complement a ketogenic plan (again, keep the carb content of each in mind):
Sometimes we want a little extra sweetness. When choosing a sweetener, avoid anything that can raise insulin or knock you out of ketosis. Some artificial sweeteners may not affect insulin, but may compromising the health of the gut biome. Stevia And monk fruit are two natural sweeteners that have little or no glycemic impact.
Of course there is no need for sweeteners on keto, so if you feel like you can go without, by all means!
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