Not sure what to eat on a ketogenic (“keto”) plan? Here’s a helpful reference.
Below you’ll find a brief overview of what you can eat on a keto diet. The main principles are as follows:
- Higher in fat than in carbohydrate (“carbs”) and protein
- Low in simple sugars
- Relatively fresh and whole, minimally processed foods, without artificial additives
- Nutrient-rich foods that meet essential nutritional needs
The following food major groups are represented in a keto plan:
- Fats & Oils.Try to get your fat from natural sources like meat, nuts, seeds, and high-fat fruits like avocado, olives, and coconut. Supplement with saturated and monounsaturated fats like coconut oil, butter, and olive oil.
- Meat/Fish/Poultry/Game. Try to stick with organic, pasture-raised and grass-fed meat where possible. Most meats don’t have added sugar, so they can be consumed in moderate quantities – but remember that too much protein on a keto diet is not a good thing.
- Vegan Proteins. Traditional soy foods like tofu and tempeh, as well as gluten-based seitan, have ratios of fat to carb+protein that are similar to meats.
- Vegetables and Fruits. Fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Stick low-carbohydrate options, including leafy/green items.
- Dairy and Similar. Most dairy and similar products made from goat, sheep, or vegetal milks (especially coconut) are fine, but make sure to buy full-fat dairy items. Harder cheeses typically have fewer carbs.
- Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds can be used for snacks, seasonings, and in flour form to mimic starchy staples like breads. Try to use fattier nuts like macadamias and almonds.
- Beverages: Stay simple and stick to mostly water, either still or carbonated. You can flavor it if needed with Stevia-based flavorings or lemon/lime juice, and teas and coffees count.
Fats and Oils
Fats will be the majority of your daily calorie intake when you are on a ketogenic diet, so choices should be made with your likes and dislikes in mind. They can be combined in many different ways to add to your meals – sauces, dressings, or just simply topping off a piece of meat with butter.
Fats are vital to our bodies, but they can also be dangerous if you are consuming too much of the wrong types of fats. There are a few different types of fat that are involved in a ketogenic diet. Different foods usually have various combinations of fats, but the unhealthy fats are easy to avoid. Here’s a brief overview:
- Saturated Fats.Eat these, but check with your healthcare provider if you need to limit them in favor of other fats. Some examples of saturated fat sources are butter, ghee, tallow, lard, and coconut and its creams and oil.
- Monounsaturated Fats.Eat these. Some examples of these are olive, avocado, macadamia nut, and hazelnut and their oils.
- Polyunsaturated Fats.Eat these, and pay attention to proper balance. The two main types are omega-6 and omega-3, and should be consumed in a ratio of 6-to-1 or lower (omega-6-to-omega-3).
- Artificial Trans Fats.Completely avoid. These are processed fats that are chemically altered (hydrogenated) to improve shelf life. Avoid all hydrogenated fats, such as margarine, as they’re linked to heart disease.
Saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter, macadamia nuts, avocado, egg yolks, and coconut oil are more chemically stable and less inflammatory to most people, with monounsaturated fats generally considered to be less risky to overall heart health . Below, you can see some common ways to increase the amounts of fat you eat on a ketogenic diet.
You also want to have a balance between your omega-3s and omega-6s, so eating things like wild salmon, swordfish, tuna, trout, and shellfish can help provide a balanced diet of omega-3s. If you don’t like fish, or just prefer not to eat it, we suggest taking a small fish oil supplement. You can also take krill or algal oil for omega-3s if you are allergic.
Keep an eye on your intake for nut- or seed-based foods, as they can be quite high in inflammatory omega-6s. These include items like sunflower seeds and oil, sesame seeds and oil, soybean and oil, and corn, rice bran, and grapeseed oils. Eating fatty fish and animal meat, keeping snacking to a minimum, and not over-indulging in dessert items that are dense in almond flour is usually enough to keep your omegas at normal ranges and ratios with omega-3.
Essential fatty acids (the omegas) provide core functions to the human body, but they are often times out of balance when on a standard diet. On keto, with a little bit of preparation, your omega fatty acids are easily manageable.
Some ketogenic diet foods that are ideal for fats and oils (organic and grass-fed sources are preferred):
- Fatty fish* (salmon, swordfish, trout, tuna, mackerel, sardine, herring)
- Animal fat, including tallow and lard
- Egg yolks (omega-3 fortified are also a good choice)
- Mayonnaise, especially that made with olive oil and/or flaxseed
- Dairy cream
- Coconut cream
- Coconut milk for cooking (canned or in a small carton)
- Coconut, fresh or dried/unsweetened
- Avocado, fresh
- Hazelnuts, almonds, and macadamia and Brazil nuts
- Chia and flaxseeds
- Pine nuts (these have a special type of omega-7 fatty acid considered beneficial)
- Nut and seed butters, including tahini
- Cocoa butter (believed to have the least advantageous fatty acid mix, so go easy)
- Coconut butter and oil
- Hazelnut, almond, and macadamia and Brazil nut oils
- Flaxseed oil (for cold use only)
- Sesame seed oil (for seasoning)
- MCT oil (for adding to food, rather than cooking or baking)
* Canned fish should be in water or tomato sauce if drained, or in olive or canola oil if the oil is used. This is because the omega-3s are fat-soluble, and so drain out into the oil – if you throw out that oil, you lose the omega-3s; canned in regular oil meals more omega-6s are absorbed into the fish than is natural.
If you’re using vegetable oils (olive, canola/rapeseed, or flaxseed) choose the “cold pressed” options if they are available. If you’re using sunflower or safflower, choose the “high-oleic” options.
If you tend to fry things up, try to go after non-hydrogenated lards, beef tallow, ghee, or coconut oil since they have higher smoke points than other oils. This allows less oxidization of the oils, which means you get more of the essential fatty acids, and less of a disease-causing risk.
For light cooking, olive and canola oils are the most recommended, followed by hazelnut, almond, and macadamia and Brazil nut oils.
For seasoning raw foods or after cooking, avocado and sesame seed oils can add flavor, and flaxseed oil can add omega-3s.
Below, you’ll find a visual list of proteins that are commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet. Note that the higher the amount of protein, the less you will want to consume.
Too much protein on a ketogenic diet can lead to lower levels of ketone production and increased production of glucose. You want to aim for nutritional ketosis, so you must not over-consume on protein. Try to balance out the protein in your meals with fattier side dishes and sauces. If you choose to eat lean beef, you have to be especially careful with the portioning of protein.
Your best bet when it comes to animal protein is choosing pasture-raised and grass-fed. This will minimize your bacteria and steroid hormone intake. Try to choose the darker meat where possible with poultry, as it is much fattier than white meat. Eating fatty fish is a great way to get omega-3s in as well.
When it comes to red meat, cured meats and sausages, as well as jerky and other snacks are less recommended, as they tend to be highly processed and have added sugars and added artificial ingredients. If you eat steak, try to choose fattier cuts like ribeye. If you like hamburger meat (ground beef), try to choose fattier ratios like 85/15 or 80/20 in some cases. If you don’t eat pork or beef, you can always substitute lamb, which is fatty.
Some examples of how to get your protein in on a keto plan are below:
- Fish. Preferably eating anything that is caught wild like catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, snapper, swordfish, trout, and tuna. Fattier fish is better: herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, swordfish, trout, and tuna.
- Shellfish. Mussels tend to be the fattiest, but other good choices include clams, oysters, lobster, crab, scallops, mussels, and squid.
- Whole Eggs. Try to get them free-range or pastured from the local market if possible; fortified with omega-3 is a great choice as well.
- Ground beef, steak, roasts, and stew meat. Stick with fattier cuts where possible, which tend to be those farthest from the loins, such as ribeye, ribs, and shoulder.
- Pork. Ground pork, pork loin, pork chops, tenderloin, and ham. Watch out for added sugars and try to stick with fattier cuts, which tend to be those farthest from the loins, such as ribs.
- Poultry. Chicken, turkey, and duck, as well as quail, pheasant and other wild game. Be sure to keep the skin on to maximize the fat.
- Offal/Organ.Heart, liver, kidney, and tongue. Offal is one of the best sources of vitamins/nutrients.
- Other Meat. Lamb tends to be the fattiest, followed by goat, then other wild game. Stick with fattier cuts where possible.
- Bacon and sausage. Check labels for anything cured in sugar, or if it contains extra fillers. Uncured and fresh are best
- Nut butter. Go for natural, unsweetened nuts and try to stick with fattier versions like almond butter and macadamia nut butter.
- Legume products. Soy foods such as tofu and tempeh can be options when on a keto plan, but regular legumes like beans, peas, and pulses are too high in carbs and low in fats to be considered. Highly processed soy-based meat substitutes are not recommended.
- Seitan. Wheat gluten, also known as seitan, is another vegan option for the keto plan, though it is not appropriate for those with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances. Highly processed seitan-based meat substitutes are not recommended.
Vegetables and Fruit
Vegetables and fruits are a part of a healthy keto diet, but some are too high in sugar to be used often. Below, you’ll find a list of those commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet. The best type of vegetables for a ketogenic diet are high in nutrients and low in carbohydrates, which tend to be those that are leafy. The best type of fruit are those that are low in sugar, which rarely means sweet fruits – with a few happy exceptions.
- Completely avoidstarchy vegetables like corn, parsnips, peas, potatoes (regular and sweet), and yams; and starchy fruits like apples, bananas, and pears
- Especially try to limit your intake of higher-carb vegetables like beets, carrots, white/red onion, and winter squashes; and higher-carb fruitslike most berries (other than raspberries and strawberries), citrus fruits other than lemon and lime, honeydew melon, persimmon, pineapple, pomegranate, watermelon, and stone fruits like apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums.
Examples of vegetables for a keto plan – either fresh or frozen:
- Bok Choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chicory greens
- Green Beans
- Onion (green “scallions”)
- Peppers (sweet bell)
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
Examples of fruits for a keto plan – fresh, canned in juice, or frozen/unsweetened:
- Bitter melon (used as a vegetable)
- Casava melon
- Jackfruit, green (used as a vegetable)
- Tomato (used as a vegetable)
- Winter melon (used as a vegetable)
- Zucchini (used as a vegetable)
Below, you’ll find a visual list of dairy that is commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet. Note that the higher the amount of carbs, the less you will want to consume.
Dairy is commonly consumed in keto meals, and can easily be substituted with coconut products and nut and seed butters.
Raw and organic dairy products are preferred here, if available, as highly processed dairy normally has 2-5 times the amount of carbohydrates. Make sure to choose full fat products over fat-free or low-fat, as they will have significantly more carbs and less “filling” effects.
If you have lactose sensitivities, stick with very hard and long-aged dairy products as they contain much less lactose. Some examples of dairy favored on a keto plan are:
- Greek yogurt
- Heavy and light whipping creams, as well as half-and-half
- Spreadables, including cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, mascarpone, creme fraiche, etc.
- Semi-soft cheese including brie, camembert, blue, feta, mozzarella, etc.
- Hard cheese including cheddar, Colby, gouda, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, provolone, Swiss, etc.
- Mayonnaise alternatives that include dairy
Dairy is a great way to add extra fats into meals by creating sauces or fatty side dishes like creamed spinach, but watch out for too much added protein.
Some people experience slower weight loss when over-consuming cheese. If you notice that you have hit a plateau or slowed down in weight loss, you may want to consider reducing the amount of dairy you eat.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are naturally high in fats, and so are commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet. Note that the higher the amount of carbs, the less you will want to consume.
It’s also particularly important to note that they do contain protein as well. Nut flours especially can add up in protein rather fast – so be wary of the amount you use.
Some nuts and seeds can be high in omega-6 fatty acids, so be sure to look for those that are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, and balanced out by omega-9 – these are the same fats as are in olives and avocados.
Typically raw nuts can be used to add flavorings or texture to meals. Some people choose to consume them as snacks. Roasting can remove any anti-nutrients, if you are particularly sensitive to them.
Next time you’re thinking about opening a new bag of nuts to eat, consider what’s better for you on keto from the following:
- Fatty, low carbohydrate nuts. Macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans can be consumed with meals to supplement fat.
- Fatty, moderate carbohydrate nuts. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and pine nuts can be used in moderation to supplement for texture or flavor.
- Higher carbohydrate nuts. Pistachios and cashews should be minimized, as they’re relatively high in carbohydrates.
Note: If you have a nut allergy, a common substitution for almond flour is sunflower or pumpkin seed flour. Just keep in mind that these have higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids.
Nut and seed flours are great to substitute for regular flour. Commonly consumed on keto, seeds and nuts are frequently seen in baked recipes and dessert recipes. You can usually use a mix of multiple flours to get a realistic texture in baking recipes. Combining flours and experimenting with your baking can lead to much lower net carb counts in recipes. We often see the use of nuts (in almond flour) with seeds (in flaxseed meal).
Remember that different flours act in different ways as well. For example, you would only need about half the amount of coconut flour as you would almond flour. Coconut flour is much more absorptive and generally, requires more liquid.
Besides baking, you can also use these flours as a breading when frying foods or even as a pizza base. When you get creative enough, there’s always a way to make a low-carb version of just about any old favorites.
Below, you’ll find a visual list of beverages that are commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet. Note that the more restricted they are, the less you will want to consume.
The ketogenic diet has a natural diuretic effect, so dehydration is common for most people starting out. If you’re prone to urinary tract infections or bladder pain, you have to be especially prepared.
The eight glasses of water we’re recommended to drink? Drink those, and then some more. Considering we’re made up of about two-thirds water, hydration plays a substantial role in our everyday life. We recommend that you try to drink as close to a gallon of water a day as possible.
Many people choose coffee or tea in the morning to ramp up energy, with added fats such as cream or butter. Note that too much caffeine can lead to weight loss stalls, so try to limit yourself to a maximum of 2 cups of caffeinated beverages a day.
Note: Many people experience the “keto flu” when transitioning to keto due to dehydration and lack of electrolytes. Make sure that you replenish your electrolytes and drink plenty of fluids. An easy way to do this is by drinking bone broth or sports drinks sweetened with Stevia and/or erythritol.
Some examples of commonly consumed beverages in a keto plan:
- This will be your staple, go-to source for hydration. You can drink still or sparkling water.
- Loaded with vitamins and nutrients if made from a rich source like miso or fruits, vegetables, and animal foods.
- Improves mental focus and has some added weight loss benefits. If you don’t drink it black, use a recommended natural no- or low-carbohydrate sweetener, and a high-fat natural whitener – but keep track of added calories.
- Has the same effects as coffee, but many don’t enjoy tea. Try to stick with black or green.
- Almond milk.You can use the unsweetened, fortified version in the carton from the store to replace your favorite dairy beverage.
- Coconut milk.You can use the unsweetened, fortified version in the carton from the store to replace your favorite dairy beverage.
- Diet soda.Try to reduce or stop consumption. It can lead to sugar cravings and sometimes insulin spikes in the long run.
- You can add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or orange to your water, or steep it with bruised or cut fruits or fresh herbs for flavor. You can also experiment with natural flavor extracts that are alcohol-based.
- Choose hard liquor over beer and wine, as the latter are much higher in carbohydrates. Try to avoid any carbohydrate-containing mixers. Note that frequent consumption of alcohol will slow weight loss down, so try not to overdo.
Spices and Cooking
Below, you’ll find a visual idea of spices that are commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet. Even small ingredients can add up in carbs; make sure to monitor spices and condiments that you add to your meals.
Seasonings and sauces are a tricky part of ketogenic diet foods, but people use them on a regular basis to add flavor to their meals. The easiest way to remain strict here is to avoid processed foods. There are many low carb condiments and products on the market, and there’s no way to list them all. A handful of them are great, but the majority use high glycemic index sweeteners – which you want to avoid.
Spices have carbs in them, so make sure you are adding them to your counts. Sea salt is preferred over table salt, as it is usually mixed with powdered dextrose. Most pre-made spice mixes will have sugars added to them, so make sure you read the nutrition label beforehand to make sure you know what’s inside. If you have the choice, never include added sugar into your spice blends or food.
Below you’ll find some common herbs and spices that people use on a ketogenic diet. Always remember that spices do have carbs in them, so you should make sure to adjust your nutrition based on this.
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili powder
Both salt and pepper can be used for seasoning without worrying about the nutritional information.
Typically, the amount of carbohydrate in spices is minimal, but when using a lot of spices in a recipe, it can add up quickly. In general, they are a more keto-supportive choice than condiments.
Condiments and Sauces
Sauces, gravies, and condiments yield a wide range of nutritional values. Generally, if you want to be strict, you should avoid all pre-made sauces and condiments unless listed below. They can have added sugars or use sweeteners that aren’t keto-supportive; double check nutrition labels to make sure it fits into your macros..
If you choose to make your sauces and gravies, you should consider investing in guar or xanthan gum. It’s a thickener that’s well known in modern cooking techniques and lends a hand to low carb by thickening otherwise watery sauces. Luckily, there are many sauces to choose from that are high fat and low carb. If you’re in need of a sauce then consider making a beurre blanc, hollandaise or simply brown butter to top meats.
Although great in health and theory, you may be like many others and not have the schedule to be able to make everything from scratch. Although it varies from brand to brand (make sure to read the ingredients), standard pre-made condiments for keto include:
- Ketchup (choose low, or no sugar added)
- Hot Sauce
- Mayonnaise (choose cage-free and avocado oil where possible)
- Sauerkraut (choose low, or no sugar added)
- Relish (choose low, or no sugar added)
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Salad Dressings (choose fattier dressings like ranch, caesar, and unsweetened vinaigrettes)
- Flavored Syrups (choose acceptable sweeteners)
Try to err on the side of caution when it comes to keto condiments that are pre-made. Make your sauces and gravies using thickeners, and try to make your own condiments where applicable. Always double check the nutrition and ingredient list on your food to make sure that it fits in with your dietary requirements.
Below, you’ll find a list of sweeteners that are commonly consumed on a ketogenic diet in place of sugar, which is to be avoided. Note that the less natural they are, the less you will want to consume.
Staying away from anything sweet tasting is the best bet – it will help curb your cravings to a minimal level, which essentially promotes success on the ketogenic diet. If you have to have something sweet, though, there are some options available to choose from.
When searching for sweeteners, try to go after liquid versions as they don’t have added binders (such as maltodextrin and dextrose) or certain sugar alcohols that are processed in the body similarly to sugar, such as maltitol. These are commonly found in blends and sugar-free foods, and can add up very, very quickly. For keto, you want to try to stick with lower glycemic index (GI) sweeteners. The GI is a scale that reflects how much a food will raise blood glucose and insulin, and can indicate how keto-supportive it is.
Below is a list of recommended low-GI sweeteners:
- One of the most common sugar substitutions used on the market today. Very sweet with no calories or glycemic impact. Available in powder and liquid form.
- Slightly less sweet than sugar, but with no calories or glycemic impact. It is gentler on the intestines than other “sugar alcohols.”
- Monk fruit.Also known as lo han guo, this is a less common sweetener and usually used in combination with others. While somewhat rare, if you can find it, it makes a great balanced sweetener.
- This is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) that is absorbed by the body but not metabolized, so it is yields only 1/10 the calories of sugar, but with the same clean, sweet taste you expect. It is naturally present in small quantities in a variety of sweet foods like maple syrup, brown sugar, and certain fruits including jackfruit, figs ,and raisins.
- Various blends. There are numerous brands on the market that combine these sweeteners in their ratios. Be careful and read the ingredients.
“Free” foods and beverages are those that can be added in moderate amounts without worrying about calories or major nutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates). These often are rich in vitamins and minerals. They include the following:
|Food or Beverage||Maximum Portion Size|
|Alfalfa and similar light sprouts||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Celery||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Coffee||4 cups (1 liter) if caffeinated|
|Cooking greens (kale, spinach)||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Cucumber||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Dill pickled cucumber||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Kohlrabi||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Lemon or lime juice||¼ cup (60 ml)|
|Radish||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Salad greens (arugula/rocket, baby greens, cabbage, chicory, endive, green onions/scallions, lettuce, radicchio)||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Tea and similar infusions||4 cups (1 liter) if caffeinated|
|Turnip||1 cup (240 ml)|
|Vinegar||¼ cup (60 ml)|
|No-carbohydrate sweeteners as noted above||2 tablespoons (30 ml)|
|No-carbohydrate syrups as noted above||2 tablespoons (30 ml)|
|Seasonings as noted above||2 tablespoons (30 ml)|
Cravings and Sugar Addiction
When trying to shift from a high carb diet to a ketogenic diet, cravings can definitely get strong. It’s always best to try to clean house before you start so that you don’t have food around you that can lead to cravings. We recommend that when switching to keto, you restrict using sweeteners completely for the first 30 days. It normally leads to breaking sugar addiction and ultimately not having cravings.
Besides sugar, sometimes our bodies crave food because of lack of nutrients. The craving usually goes away if you fulfill your nutrient intake needs in a different way.
Hidden Carbs and Nutrition Labels
Going on a ketogenic diet can be very difficult in the very beginning. Knowing what to eat and what not to eat takes some time to get used to, so if you make some mistakes in the beginning don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s better to make a mistake and learn from it than to make a mistake and not realize it was in error.
There are always going to be foods that are bad for us when it comes to eating. Some foods are particularly sneaky at hiding carbohydrates from us. Here’s a small list of common items that sometimes have hidden carbs:
- Low-carb products.There are a lot of choices when it comes to bars, snacks, and foods. It’s better to stay away from these, but if you have no choice make sure to read the label and select one based on whole foods and with minimal added sugar or artificial additives.
- As mentioned above, spices do have some carbs. Though the amounts used tend to be very small, it can be helpful to limit spices that are higher in carbs. These include onion powder, cinnamon, garlic powder, allspice, and ginger. Always read labels and make sure no added sugars are in your spice blends.
- Most sweet fruits are not allowed to be consumed due to their high sugar content. Some that are relatively low in carbohydrates can be enjoyed on a keto plan, but you have to be cautious with portions. Try to limit dried fruits in particular – and of course avoid any with added sugar – as they tend to add up particularly fast.
- Tomato-based products.Pure tomato sauces and canned diced tomatoes can be keto-supportive. Make sure to read the nutrition labels for additives and portion sizes – make sure that there are no added sugars.
- It’s a given that you will add sauce to a meal – but be careful about your favorites. Sometimes condiments and sauces can show minuscule serving sizes which skew the actual carbs that are inside. Make sure you read the nutrition and ingredient lists well.
- Peppers and chiles. Be very careful when you use small peppers as sometimes they can be incredibly sweet inside. There can sometimes be 3-4 g carbs in a tiny chili pepper. When using bell peppers, try to opt for green as red/yellow bell peppers will have slightly more carbs.
- Diet soda.You can drink diet soda, but it’s recommended to cut it out completely. Some people report being knocked out of ketosis after a large consumption of artificial sweeteners. Studies also show a link between sugar cravings and artificial sweeteners – cutting the soda out will help curb your cravings.
- Chocolate. You can eat chocolate on keto, but be cautious with portion sizes. You want to stick to very dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao), as this will have much fewer carbs.
- Cold medications, cough syrups, and flu remedies often contain lots of sugar. Some of the generic over the counter cough medicines contain 20 g of carbs per serving, so be very careful when sick. There are usually sugar-free or diabetic alternatives.
There are so many food items out there that contain hidden sugars and carbs. Always be careful about what you’re purchasing and try to make as much from scratch as you can from home.