Keto 101: What Do I Eat on a Keto Diet?
Generally speaking, here’s what you’ll be eating on the keto diet
High Quality Fats
When we’re talking fats, not all fats are created equal.
There are good fats and bad fats.
Generally speaking, the good fats are the ones that are stable and have a high amount of omega 3 fatty acids.
The bad fats are ones that are unstable and have a high amount of omega 6 fatty acids.
Why is this important?
Two factors here
Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, while Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory
Unstable fats will spoil quickly, creating bitter and nasty tasting tastes as well as increasing its ability to be pro-inflammatory.
We want to be choosing stable, omega 3 fatty acid rich fats as the ones that we eat.
Bad fats are generally the cheaper and more readily available ones, and usually are from a plant source of some sort.
Interestingly enough, a lot of the oils are actually byproducts of the agricultural process - meaning that they’re leftovers.
Cottonseed oil for instance, is really terrible stuff - more suited for car fuel than for consumption - but they use it as a cheap fat source for frying up potato chips and other snack foods.
What foods contain bad fats?
As I mentioned previously, a lot of the foods that we know to be terrible for us contain a lot of bad fats.
Junk foods like chips are generally fried in bad fats like cottonseed or sunflower oil. Same thing goes for any sort of donut or donut-like product.
In addition, there are a lot of foods that have hydrogenated vegetable oils in them as thickeners, binders and emulsifiers. Foods like cookies and cakes, dips and spreads and sauces all contain these hydrogenated oils.
Even “real” foods like guacamole, cheese, sausage and sour cream may contain these vegetable oils. Generally speaking, the more processed it is, the higher chance you’re going to be dealing with bad fats.
Good fats on the other hand, are full of the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. These are the “healthy” fats that you’re getting when you eat wild-caught seafood or taking fish oil.
While omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in wild caught fish, there are a lot of other sources for these good fats including
Canned fish like tuna and sardines
Seafood like mussels, scallops, shrimp, clams, crab
Grass-fed beef and dairy products
Grass-fed butter and ghee
Coconut oil, milk, butter and cream
Avocados and avocado oil
High Quality Protein
When it comes to protein, I advise you to get the best quality protein that you can find. Whether it’s beef, pork, lamb, goat, boar, bison, venison, rabbit, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, quail, fish or seafood, try to keep these three things in mind:
When possible, get wild-caught or grass-fed
Ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, bison, deer, rabbits) and seafood have better omega 3 fatty acid profiles
Conventionally raised poultry and conventionally raised pork have more omega 6 fatty acids
These are general rules of course. If you can’t afford or obtaingrass-fed or wild-caught, then you can still eat conventionally raised meat - just keep in mind that they will most likely have a higher amount of omega 6 fatty acids which can cause inflammation.
NOTE: If you are doing the keto as a vegetarian, you can still do it - but it is going to be much more difficult to stay under 20 g of protein. You’ll be eating a lot of meat substitutes - there are veggie burgers that are very low net carbs as well as soy strips and crumbles, along with avocados and olives and nuts, but it can be done. Lacto-ovo vegetarians will have a much easier time doing keto. I recommend trying to eat more fat and decrease the protein even more if you’re going vegetarian.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Not all veggies are created equal when it comes to the keto diet. There are some vegetables that are pretty high in carbohydrates that can throw you out of ketosis - so the leafy green vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, kale and others are going to be your friend and rock when doing the keto diet.
These veggies are the vehicle by which everything else is transported, wrapped up in, served on top of, served alongside with, which makes it sound like it plays second violin to everyone else - but really, without vegetables the keto world is a very miserable place.
When shopping in the produce section, remember that the green leafy stuff is the best for the keto diet because they’re the leaves of the plant - where the least amount of carbohydrates are stored compared to the flower, fruit, or roots of the plant.
Take for example carrots are a high-carb veggie with a whopping 12 g of net carbs per cup, while iceberg lettuce only has around 1 g of net carbs per cup. You can literally eat an entire head of iceberg lettuce without coming close to your daily carbohydrate limit.
Broccoli and cauliflower are also the darlings of the keto diet, given their versatility and strength in standing up in recipes like broccoli mac and cheese and cauliflower crust pizza.
High Fat Dairy
There’s an important distinction to be made between types of dairy.
We’ve already talked about the importance of fat, of which dairy is an excellent source to obtain your fat from. Grass fed heavy cream and butter and ghee and cheese are all great ways to incorporate fat into your diet.
It’s important to remember that we’re talking the fat from dairy that is great for keto. You can’t go out and start drinking milk and eating ice cream - they contain a lot of carbohydrates in the form of the dairy sugar, lactose.
It’s important to remember that a lot of dairy - sour cream, half and half, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese - have a decent amount of lactose in them, so use caution when consuming them so you don’t break your carb limits.
In addition, it’s probably best to go with foods like butter and hard cheese since with the absence of lactose, even lactose intolerant people will be able to tolerate dairy fat pretty well.
Limited amounts of starchy vegetables, nuts and low-carb fruit
I’m not one to necessarily be the keto food police - you’re a grown-up, and you can choose what you want to eat.
On the other hand, if you’re wanting to find success, you’ll want to limit these to maybe once a week, if that. I personally found it easier to just get rid of them entirely for the first three months I was on keto.
Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yucca aren’t necessarily bad - you can still have a sweet potato and come in under your daily carb limit of 20 g - but in a lot of people they cause a pretty severe glycemic response, which will kick you out ketosis and hinder you in attaining your goals.
Nuts are fine, but you’re not able to have many - a handful at most - and I found that they just left me hungry afterwards for more nuts, which was maddening. Now if I want something to snack on, I reach for a piece of cheese or have a cup of coffee instead.
Fruit should really be banned from the keto diet - the fructose in fruit is particularly problematic for most people - but you can still have some low-carb fruit once in a while. Lemon and limes, grapefruit and berries are all relatively low-carb fruit, but I found that fruit also just made me hungry for sweet stuff afterwards. I chose to forego fruit - and to be honest, I didn’t miss it all that much.
Plenty of coffee, tea, sparkling water, and other zero-carb beverages
If I didn’t have coffee, I don’t think I would be able to do the keto diet successfully. Whether having it as my first cup in the morning blended with grass-fed butter and coconut oil, or having it anytime during the day with a little splash of heavy cream, it helps me get into ketosis fast and easily, helps curb my hunger, and is just so pleasurable.
When I get bored with coffee (because as much of a coffee addict as I am, even I get burnt out a bit after the first six cups) I switch over to tea. Black tea usually, sometimes a rooibos or a green tea. I love a good keto matcha latte, and a chai latte made with heavy cream and butter is particularly lovely.
We mostly drink sparkling water from a Sodastream at our home - it’s easy, convenient, economical, and is better than the sparkling water you can buy from the store (and is environmentally conscious - you recycle the CO2 canister instead of recycling bottles or cans). If you want to, you can add a bit of lemon or lime flavoring for an extra boost of flavor.
And that’s what you eat on a keto diet
There are a lot of variations and other additions you can add to your diet to keep it from becoming too boring (fat bombs for example) but these are the main things you’ll be eating on a keto diet.
If you’re interested in learning more about the keto diet, you can check out the little write-up of it at the link below that goes further into depth on what keto is, how it can help improve your health and answer all your questions about starting it!