Keto diet made easy: 7 Must-eat foods and 5 to avoid

The keto diet, revered by many for its impressive weight loss and health benefits, revolves around the principle of ketosis: a metabolic state where our bodies burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. 

But diving into this low-carb, high-fat journey isn’t merely about slashing carb intake; it’s also about making informed food choices to optimize health outcomes. As the popularity of the keto lifestyle surges, so does the sea of misinformation. 

In this guide, we’ll simplify the process by spotlighting seven must-eat foods that should take center stage in your keto regimen and five others that are best left on the sidelines.

What is ketosis?

Ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which the body, in the absence of sufficient glucose (derived from carbohydrates), turns to burning stored fat for energy [1].

This shift results in the production of molecules known as ketones, which are then utilized as a primary energy source by various organs, especially the brain.

The standard Western diet is carbohydrate-dominant, providing our cells with glucose as their main energy source.

However, when carb intake is drastically reduced, as in the keto diet, the body is deprived of its regular glucose supply. In response, the liver begins to convert fatty acids, both from our diet and our body’s fat stores, into ketones.

It’s worth noting that achieving ketosis doesn’t just involve cutting carbs. It also means increasing healthy fat intake and moderating protein consumption. Excessive protein can be converted into glucose, which could interfere with ketosis.

Being in ketosis offers several benefits, including weight loss, improved focus, and sustained energy [2].

This is primarily due to the body’s efficient use of fat as fuel, reducing the roller-coaster of energy spikes and crashes commonly associated with carb-heavy diets.

As appealing as these benefits sound, it’s crucial to approach ketosis with knowledge and care to maximize its advantages and ensure well-being.

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What foods can you eat in a keto diet: 7 must-eat foods 

Starting the keto diet involves more than just reducing carbs. It entails building a pantry stocked with high-fat, nutrient-dense foods.

These staples help maintain the state of ketosis and offer numerous health benefits. If you are following a keto diet, here are seven essential foods you should consider adding to your meal plan.

1. Fatty fish 

The rundown: Rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish play a pivotal role in any balanced diet but shine especially bright in keto.

Why it’s great:

  • Heart and brain booster: Omega-3s have long been celebrated for supporting heart and brain health.
  • Vitamin powerhouse: Particularly abundant in vitamin D and B vitamins, making them great for bone and energy metabolism.

Top picks:

  • Salmon: A fan favorite known for its rich flavor and nutrient density.
  • Mackerel: A lesser-known option but incredibly high in essential fatty acids.
  • Sardines: Perfect for salads and packed with calcium when bones are included.
fatty fish

2. Avocado 

The Rundown: This creamy fruit is not just a trendy toast topper; it’s a keto superstar.

Why it’s great:

  • Fat and fiber: Avocados have the ideal blend of healthy fats and dietary fiber, ensuring you stay full longer.
  • Potassium punch: They’re an excellent source of potassium, vital for muscle function and balancing electrolytes.

Pro-tip: Dice them into salads, blend them in smoothies, or simply season them with salt and pepper for a delectable snack.

3. Coconut oil/MCT oil 

The rundown: These oils are champions in the keto community and for a good reason.

Why it’s great:

  • Rapid ketone production: MCTs in coconut oil provide a swift energy source and elevate ketone production [3].
  • Thermogenic effect: Consuming MCTs can increase the number of calories your body burns, assisting in weight management.

Usage: They’re versatile! Fry your veggies, blend them in your coffee, or use them in keto-friendly baking.

4. Leafy greens 

The rundown: Low in carbs, yet bursting with nutrients – leafy greens are a must.

Why it’s great:

  • Antioxidant rich: Helps combat oxidative stress in the body.
  • Mineral source: Abundant in magnesium, calcium, and iron – essential minerals many keto dieters need more of.

Favorites: Whether it’s the crisp bite of kale, the tenderness of spinach, or the slightly bitter charm of Swiss chard, these greens can be sautéed, blended, or eaten fresh.

5. Nuts and seeds 

The rundown: Perfect for snacking or adding crunch and flavor to dishes.

Why it’s great:

  • Healthy fats galore: They’re loaded with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Protein packed: A great source of plant-based protein, helping with muscle repair and growth.

Top choices: Almonds for vitamin E, walnuts for brain-boosting ALA omega-3s, and chia seeds for a fiber punch. Remember, moderation is key due to their calorie density.

6. Grass-fed meat and poultry 

The rundown: Quality is essential when it comes to meats, especially on a high-fat diet like keto.

Why it’s great:

  • Nutrient richness: Grass-fed meats have a superior nutrient profile with better omega ratios.
  • Ethical and environmentally friendly: Grass-fed options typically mean better animal welfare and a reduced environmental footprint.

Best options: Ribeye steaks for marbling, lamb chops for tenderness, and chicken thighs for juiciness and flavor.

7. Cheese and dairy (full fat) 

The rundown: Dairy, when chosen wisely, can be a delightful addition to the keto diet.

Why it’s great:

  • Dense in nutrients: High-quality dairy products are rich in calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and B12.
  • Flavor variety: From the creamy delight of brie to the tangy kick of blue cheese, there’s a dairy product for every palate.

Note: Always opt for full-fat and, when possible, organic or pasture-raised varieties to maximize benefits and minimize additives.

What foods can you not eat during keto: 5 foods to avoid

To successfully follow the keto diet, you must not only know which foods to include but also be mindful of the ones to limit or avoid altogether. Here are five foods to sidestep to ensure you maintain ketosis and enjoy optimal health benefits:

1. Sugary treats and beverages 

The rundown: These are the obvious culprits when it comes to disrupting ketosis, as they’re loaded with carbs.

Why they’re problematic:

  • Blood sugar spike: Consuming high-sugar foods and drinks can cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
  • Hidden carbs: Even some ‘healthy’ drinks or snacks can have hidden sugars, making it easy to exceed your daily carb limit without realizing.

Common offenders:

  • Soft drinks: A single can might contain more carbs than your daily allowance.
  • Sugary snacks: Pastries, candies, and most desserts will quickly take you out of ketosis.
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2. Grains and starches 

The rundown: Even whole grains, which are generally considered healthy in other diets, can be problematic in keto.

Why they’re problematic:

  • Carb density: A single serving of grains or starchy foods can quickly consume a significant portion of your carb allowance.
  • Nutrient imbalance: While grains offer nutrients, they don’t align with the high-fat, low-carb macro requirements of keto.

Common offenders:

  • Bread: Even whole-grain options can be carb-heavy.
  • Rice and pasta: These staple foods are best avoided or replaced with low-carb alternatives like cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles.

3. Legumes and beans 

The rundown: While packed with protein and fiber, most legumes and beans are too carb-rich for the keto diet [4].

Why they’re problematic:

  • Carb count: The carbohydrate content in most beans can add up quickly, jeopardizing your state of ketosis.
  • Digestive issues: For some, legumes can cause bloating or other gastrointestinal issues.

Common offenders:

  • Chickpeas: Often used in hummus and salads.
  • Lentils: Common in soups and stews.
  • Black beans: A staple in many dishes but high in carbs.
legumes and beans

4. Fruit juices and most fruits 

The rundown: While fruits are nutritionally dense, their natural sugar content can be problematic for keto dieters. However, not all fruits have the same amount of carbs and fiber [5]. Avoid high-sugar, low-fiber fruits on a keto diet, but they can be healthy on other diets with more carbs.

Why they’re problematic:

  • Sugar concentration: Juicing fruits concentrates their sugars while removing the fiber that would typically slow its absorption.
  • Carb accumulation: Even eating whole fruits in excess can accumulate carbs quickly.

Common offenders:

  • Juices: Orange, apple, and grape juices are notably high in sugars.
  • High-sugar fruits: Bananas, grapes, and mangoes are especially carb-rich.

5. Low-fat or diet products 

The rundown: These might seem like healthier choices, but they often compensate by adding sugars or unhealthy fillers.

Why they’re problematic:

  • Hidden sugars: To improve taste after removing fat, many manufacturers add sugars or artificial sweeteners.
  • Misleading labels: Terms like “light” or “reduced-fat” can be deceiving, making you think they’re better choices when they’re not keto-friendly.

Common offenders:

  • Diet yogurts: Often loaded with added sugars or artificial flavorings.
  • Reduced-fat snacks: These can include crackers, chips, or other processed foods labeled as “light” or “low-fat.”

Practical tips and tricks to be successful in keto

At first, trying out the keto lifestyle can seem intimidating. However, with a handful of helpful pointers, you’ll soon discover that it can be both enjoyable and feasible to maintain. Here’s how to navigate this high-fat, low-carb journey with ease:

1. Plan ahead

Just like any diet, spontaneity can lead to poor choices. By planning your meals and snacks ahead, you’re less likely to grab non-keto-friendly foods in a rush. Consider batch cooking or pre-portioning snacks to ensure you always have a keto option on hand.

2. Stay hydrated

As you enter ketosis, your body may shed excess water and vital minerals. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and consider supplementing with electrolytes, like potassium, magnesium, and sodium, to prevent symptoms like the “keto flu” [6].

3. Learn to read labels

Beyond just looking at carbs, pay attention to ingredients. Avoid products with added sugars or unhealthy additives. Familiarize yourself with common sugar aliases (like maltose or dextrose) to ensure you’re not unintentionally consuming hidden carbs.

4. Embrace healthy fats

Not all fats are created equal. Prioritize omega-3 rich sources like fatty fish, as well as monounsaturated fats from avocados and olives. While saturated fats like butter and coconut oil are okay in moderation, it’s essential to strike a balance.

5. Stay active

While adjusting to keto, some people might experience reduced energy. However, as your body adapts, you’ll likely feel rejuvenated. Incorporate regular exercise, whether it’s a brisk walk, a gym session, or yoga, to complement your diet and boost endorphins.

6. Find support

Joining keto forums, following keto influencers, or even forming a keto-friendly group with friends can offer motivation, share recipes, and provide invaluable advice from those with more experience.

Closing thoughts

The ketogenic diet is a nutrition plan that provides various health advantages, such as better weight loss and metabolic function.  But as with any dietary journey, knowledge is power. 

Understanding which foods to prioritize and which to avoid, coupled with practical strategies for daily living, ensures that you’re not just following a diet, but embracing a sustainable lifestyle. 

Whether you’re a seasoned keto enthusiast or just starting, remember that consistency, mindfulness, and self-compassion are your steadfast allies on this transformative journey to better health and vitality.

FAQs

Can you eat rice on keto?

No, traditional rice is not keto-friendly due to its high carbohydrate content. For a keto alternative, many individuals opt for cauliflower rice, which offers a similar texture with significantly fewer carbs.

Can I drink milk on keto?

While regular milk contains sugars in the form of lactose, which can add up in carbs, it’s consumed in moderation on keto. Many keto dieters opt for alternatives like almond milk, coconut milk, or heavy cream which have lower carb content.

What vegetables can I eat on keto?

On keto, you can eat low-carb vegetables, primarily leafy greens and above-ground vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. It’s best to avoid or limit starchy vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and peas due to their higher carbohydrate content.

Can you eat peanuts on keto?

Yes, you can eat peanuts on keto as they are relatively low in carbs and high in fat. However, it’s essential to consume them in moderation and be mindful of the carb count to ensure it fits within your daily macro limits.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketosis 
[2] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24003-ketosis 
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mct-oil-101 
[4] https://www.carbmanager.com/article/ynpj7xuaaetzksf7/are-legumes-allowed-on-keto 
[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/keto-friendly-fruits 
[6] https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto/supplements

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.