January 17, 2020
What You Can (and Can’t) Eat on the Keto Diet
While various forms of low-carb dieting have been used for many decades to treat a range of diseases, this article does not recommend that anyone undertake self-treatment or avoidance of prescribed drugs without consulting a physician or qualified healthcare practitioner first.
Low-carb diets have been around since the 19th century, mainly to help treat the effects of diabetes and encourage weight loss. Before there were anticonvulsant drugs, eliminating starchy and sugary carbs from diet was a key recommendation for managing epilepsy.
Since the 1970s, many forms of low-carb diets have soared in popularity, like the Atkins diet (low-carb, high-protein), with the ketogenic—or keto—diet gaining lots of attention in recent years.
The keto diet is based on the science of ketosis, the process of your body using fat for fuel in the absence of carbohydrates. This sends your body into a state of ketosis, causing your liver to release ketones, rather than blood sugar, into your bloodstream.
The difference between the modern keto diet and other low-carb diets is the high-fat intake involved in keto—between 70 and 80 percent. Its popularity lies in its potential to expedite weight loss, while potentially decreasing the negative effects of cancer, diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) too.
But with so many low-carb diets on the market, it can be confusing to know what to eat on a keto diet. Fear not though—we’ve got all the tips you’ll need to jumpstart your keto diet, including what keto foods to eat and what not to eat, so you can look and feel your best.
The Science Behind the Keto Diet
You may be wondering, “Why choose the keto diet?” That’s a great question. The benefits of a keto diet may include:
- Weight loss
- Lower glucose and cholesterol levels
- Appetite control
- Effective in controlling diabetes
The science behind these benefits, particularly weight loss, lies in the way your body processes triglycerides, more commonly known as fat. Triglycerides circulate in the blood and are stored in our cells, but when there are fewer carbs to burn, our bodies turn to triglycerides into ketones for fuel. This means you begin to burn fat at a higher rate. You also lower your blood glucose levels, which can get dangerously high on a Standard American Diet (SAD) that’s high in processed foods and sugars.
The irony is that it’s not fat that makes you gain fat (triglycerides), but sugars and starches, which are high-glycemic carbs. The more high-glycemic carbs you consume, the more likely you are to gain weight and have high glucose levels, which can be dangerous for your health.
In fact, the CDC found that over 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes, with rates increasing every year. As diabetes rates rise, efforts to educate people, especially those seen as higher risk, is increasing too.
Part of that education lies in helping Americans understand the dramatic effect that diet has on various health conditions. In addition to the rise in chronic disease, there’s also a rise in the use of pharmaceuticals to treat those diseases. The cost of those drugs is not cheap. A shift in diet can be incredibly beneficial, not only for overall health but in preventing the extensive use of prescribed medications, which have side effects of their own.
With all this in mind, there’s no better time to gain awareness around diet and exercise and learn about what keto foods to eat for optimal health. Let’s dive in.
What to Eat on a Keto Diet
Defining “low-carb” varies depending on the type of diet. All low-carb diets fall into the category of those that affect your glycemic index, but some are more dramatic than others. In general, glycemic values are defined as:
- Low: 1 to 55
- Medium: 56 to 69
- High: 70+
Each food you eat falls into one of those categories and the more foods you eat on the high end, the more risk factors you may have for nutrition-related diseases. That doesn’t mean that all high-glycemic foods are bad, but awareness of what falls into these categories can help you keep a healthy balance that serves your body.
In order to be appropriate for a keto diet, most foods need to fall in the lower glycemic range, with very few in the medium range. The lower glycemic index prevents your body’s blood sugar levels from spiking, meaning that food is being digested at a slower, healthy rate.
Common Keto-Friendly Foods
To help you begin, think of foods belonging to the following categories:
- Legumes, nuts, and seeds
Within each category, there are beneficial foods, and foods to avoid on keto. This section will focus on what to eat on the keto diet based on the glycemic index.
When choosing a keto diet, you want to keep fruits that are high in sugars or starches to a minimum. Organic berries and avocados (yes, they’re fruit!) are great on a keto diet, although, you’ll want to keep your intake of berries low to avoid eating excess sugars.
Typically, we don’t think of vegetables as high-glycemic foods, but there are some that fall into that category, and some that are low-glycemic. Here are some great low-glycemic foods to eat on the keto diet:
- Summer squash
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens, like arugula, kale, and spinach
- Olives (not overly processed)
The longer vegetables are cooked, the higher their glycemic rating because carbohydrates break down during the cooking process. That’s why vegetables like onions or beets get sweeter when cooked.
Even though keto foods can be high in fat, not all fats are created equal. It helps to read labels to ensure that fats are high-quality, like the following:
- Grass-fed ghee or butter
- Avocado oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides)
- Virgin coconut oil
- Bacon fat (no-sugar-added bacon)
- Pasture-raised egg yolk
One of the hallmarks of modern keto dieting is high fat consumption, not necessarily high-protein—so protein does not need to make up most of your diet. Around 20 percent protein is a good benchmark for the keto diet but this may fluctuate depending on your personal goals.
Consider eating cuts of meat with natural fat levels instead of those that have been trimmed or processed to remove the fat. And make sure your meats are from grass-fed animals, including organ meats, eggs, dark meat chicken, and beef. High-quality salmon and other fatty fish are great sources of protein too, but be mindful of portion size.
Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds
For the most part, legumes, nuts, and seeds are foods to avoid on a keto diet. You may include small amounts of raw nuts, like almonds, cashews, walnuts, and their associated flours, but be mindful of your intake. Coconut is a great keto food that can be enjoyed often in its many forms (coconut flour pancakes, anyone?).
One of the most challenging aspects of shifting to a keto diet, and knowing what to eat on a keto diet, is avoiding processed condiments. Everything from ketchup to salad dressing is full of filler ingredients and sugars that will not put your body into ketosis.
Thankfully, there are lots of great options to garnish keto foods. Here are some options that are available at your local grocery store:
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV): Great for salad dressings and beyond.
- Coconut aminos: A great replacement for soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or salad dressings. It’s lightly sweet and pairs wonderfully with foods like cauliflower rice that benefit from extra seasoning.
- Spices: Most fresh herbs and spices can be enjoyed often. As with any healthy diet, use salt sparingly.
There are several great keto books and websites that offer delicious, creative keto food recipes. Try something like a salad for lunch that includes bitter arugula greens, hard-boiled egg, avocado, olives, free-range grilled chicken or grass-fed steak, and a delicious homemade dressing.
Keto Diet Foods to Avoid
It can feel overwhelming when considering what to eat, and what not to eat, on a keto diet. Knowing what you can eat is important, but it’s also good to know what to avoid, especially some of the common foods you may not think of.
Many fruits should be avoided, or kept to a minimum, due to their high-carb, high-glycemic-index. Common fruits to avoid include:
Knowing what vegetables to eat on the keto diet can be tricky. Many people assume that because a food is a vegetable, it’s cleared for keto. Yet, even vegetables have drastically different glycemic indexes. Vegetables to avoid are corn, potatoes, and many canned vegetables.
In general, root vegetables like carrots and beets have a higher glycemic index, so eat them sparingly.
More than which proteins to avoid, be mindful that you’re not loading up on proteins too much. Avoid meats that contain additives like soy or chemicals and aren’t grass-fed or grass-finished. Grass-finished beef comes from cows that ate a grass-fed diet from birth to slaughter.
Consuming quality fats is the cornerstone of the keto diet. Be sure to avoid soybean, safflower, canola, and peanut oil. Avoid margarine too, as it’s made of vegetable oils and chemicals that hinder ketosis.
Legumes, Dairy, and Grain
Legumes, dairy (except for grass-fed butter or ghee), and all grains should be avoided on the keto diet.
Supplements Can Enhance Keto Foods
Anyone who has tried keto knows that keeping your body in ketosis can be tough. It takes a sincere commitment to meal prepping and education but it’s worth the investment to see your health and wellbeing improve!
With the help of supplements and high-quality multivitamins, staying in a state of ketosis can be easier. In conjunction with eating keto foods, supplements can help support the overall success of the keto diet.
KetoLiving products are a great way to aid ketosis with a series of shakes, keto multivitamins, and supplements, making the keto lifestyle more sustainable (and delicious). The KetoLiving system includes four parts:
- LCHF (low-carb, high-fat) Shake that contains a combination of fat and proteins to prevent cravings and encourage a sense of fullness
- Daily multivitamin that includes vitamins, minerals, ketogenic whole foods, and ketosis-promoting products to support nutritional needs while on a keto diet
- Sugar control supplement that promotes healthy blood sugar levels to minimize or help prevent cravings
- BHB Berry Lemonade powder full of exogenous ketones to promote ketosis
As with any diet, it’s important to consult your physician before starting. Partnering with your doctor will ensure that the keto diet and any accompanying supplements are a good fit for your body and goals.
KetoLiving is committed to helping you live your best life with our trusted line of supplements. Our products are safe, innovative, and rigorously tested to ensure quality, for the best results and satisfaction. Check out KetoLiving to learn more about how we can help you on a path towards total health and wellness.