If you find yourself in a conversation about weight loss diets, chances are you’ll hear about the keto diet or the keto diet. The keto diet has become one of the most popular methods around the world among people who want to lose weight and improve their health.
Some studies suggest that a low-carb, high-fat diet may promote fat loss and improve glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes. (1) (2)
The keto diet may also have neuroprotective effects and help improve cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease, although more research is needed. (3) (4)
Although the keto diet seems to have some benefits, it is generally high in saturated fat. This can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in some individuals, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. (5) (6)
Because of this, the keto diet may not be a good choice for everyone.
In addition, the keto diet is not recommended for pregnant and lactating mothers and those with kidney disease, liver disease, respiratory failure, cardiac arrhythmia, or type 1 diabetes. (7) (8)
If you’ve been thinking about trying the keto diet and have been cleared by your doctor, use this article to learn more about what to eat and what to limit while on the keto diet.
Keto Diet Basics
The keto diet is generally very low in carbohydrates, high in fat, and moderate in protein.
In the keto diet, carbohydrates make up between 5-10% of the calories consumed, although there are lighter versions of the diet.
Fats should replace most of the reduced carbohydrates and provide about 60-80% of total caloric intake.
Protein should cover about 10-30% of energy needs, while carbohydrates are usually limited to 5%.
This reduction in carbohydrates forces your body to rely on fat as its primary energy source instead of glucose, a process known as ketosis.
While in ketosis, your body uses ketones—molecules made in the liver from fat when glucose is restricted—as an alternative fuel source. Additionally, keto diets reduce hunger and increase satiety, which can be especially helpful when you’re trying to lose weight. (9)
Research shows that keto diets are effective at promoting weight loss—although they may not be more effective than other weight loss diets.
Ketogenic diet meal plan
Following a keto diet may seem like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Focus on reducing carbohydrates while increasing the fat and protein content of your meals.
In order to reach and stay in a state of ketosis, carbohydrates must be restricted. While some people can achieve ketosis by consuming as little as 20 grams of carbs per day, others can find success with higher carb intake.
In general, the lower your carb intake, the easier it is to reach and stay in ketosis.
Therefore, sticking to ketogenic foods and avoiding foods high in carbohydrates is the best way to successfully lose weight on a ketogenic diet.
Suitable for keto foods
On a ketogenic diet, meals should focus on the following foods:
- Domestic birds: chicken and turkey
- Fatty fish: salmon, herring and mackerel
- Meat: beef, game, pork, organic meat
- Full-fat dairy products: unsweetened yogurt, butter and cream
- Full-fat cheese: cheddar, mozzarella, brie, goat cheese and cream cheese
- Nuts and seeds: macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and flax seeds
- Nut oils: peanut, almond and cashew butter with no added sugar
- Oils rich in healthy fats: olive oil, avocado oil and sesame oil
- Avocado: You can add a whole avocado to almost any meal or snack
- Non-starchy vegetables: vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers
- Spices: salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices
Foods to limit
Whenever possible, it is best to avoid or limit carbohydrate-rich foods during the keto diet.
The following foods should be limited:
- Bread and pasta: white bread, whole wheat bread, crackers, cookies, donuts and rolls
- Sweets and sweet foods: sugar, ice cream, candy, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup and coconut sugar
- Sweetened drinks: carbonated drinks, juices, sweetened teas and sports drinks
- Pasta: spaghetti and others
- Cereals and cereal products: wheat, rice, oats, breakfast cereals and tortillas
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, corn, peas
- Beans and legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils and broad beans
- fruit: citrus fruits, grapes, bananas and pineapples
- High Carb Sauces: barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, sweet salad dressings
- Certain alcoholic beverages: beer and sweet drinks
Although carbs should be limited, you can eat low-glycemic fruits like berries in limited amounts as long as you maintain a keto-friendly range of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat).
Be sure to choose plenty of whole grains and avoid processed foods and trans fats whenever possible.
Keto friendly drinks
Sugar can be found in a wide variety of beverages, including juices, sodas, iced tea, and coffee drinks. While on the ketogenic diet, you should limit or avoid high-carb drinks as well as high-carb foods.
Just as importantly, sugary drinks are also linked to a variety of health problems, from obesity to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. (10) (11)
There are plenty of delicious sugar-free options for those on keto. A selection of keto-friendly drinks include:
- water. Water is the best choice for hydration and should be consumed throughout the day.
- Soda. Carbonated water can be a great substitute for carbonated sweetened beverages.
- Unsweetened coffee. You add flavor to your cup of coffee with cream.
- Unsweetened green tea. Green tea is delicious and can have many health benefits.
If you want to add some extra flavor to your water, try experimenting with different keto-friendly flavor combinations. For example, tossing some fresh mint and lemon peel into your water bottle can make hydration feel good.
Although alcohol should be limited, consuming a low-carb drink such as vodka or tequila mixed with sparkling water is acceptable on the keto diet.
A well-rounded ketogenic diet should include plenty of fresh produce, healthy fats and protein.
By choosing a mix of fresh and frozen produce, you’ll ensure you have a supply of ketone-friendly vegetables and fruits to add to recipes.
Here’s a simple ketogenic shopping list to guide you while shopping at the grocery store:
- Meat and poultry: beef, chicken, turkey and pork
- fish: fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, canned tuna and herring
- shells: oysters, shrimp and clams
- Full-fat dairy products: unsweetened yogurt, butter, cream and sour cream
- Oils: olive, sesame and avocado oil
- Avocado: a mixture of ripe and unripe avocados (to keep your supply sufficient)
- cheese: Brie, cream cheese, cheddar and goat cheese
- Frozen or fresh strawberries: blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
- Walnuts: macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds
- Nut oils: almond oil, sunflower oil and peanut oil
- Fresh or frozen low-carb vegetables: mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, peppers, onions and tomatoes
- Spices: sea salt, pepper, salsa, herbs, garlic, vinegar, mustard, olives and spices
It always pays to plan your meals in advance and fill your cart with the ingredients needed for several days of healthy meals.
Sticking to a shopping list can also help you avoid foods that don’t fit into your meal plan.
A ketogenic diet should be about 60-80% fat, 10-30% protein, and no more than 5-10% – or 20-50 grams – of carbohydrates per day.
Focus on high-fat, low-carb foods such as eggs, meat, dairy products, and low-carb vegetables, as well as sugar-free beverages. Definitely limit highly processed foods and trans fats.
The popularity of the ketogenic diet has made it easy to find a wide variety of interesting and healthy keto diet ideas.
By using this article as a guide to getting started on a keto diet, you can set yourself up for an easy transition to a high-fat, low-carb diet.
Because the keto diet may not be recommended for some people with high cholesterol or heart disease, check with a registered dietitian, doctor, or other qualified health care professional before starting a keto diet to make sure it’s safe for you.