The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet. It somewhat resembles the Atkins diet but allows more flexibility and variety when it comes to the foods you're allowed to eat regularly.
"The idea behind keto is to keep your fat-accumulating hormone, insulin, low by keeping your blood sugar low," Vincent Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health, told mbg. "In doing so, you turn on fat-burning genes while suppressing the abdominal-fat-amassing machinery."
Many diets can feel excruciatingly limiting, but the keto diet actually allows many of the foods that are likely staples in your regular meals, especially if you generally stick to minimally processed foods. The hard part of starting a keto diet is figuring out exactly which foods are allowed and which foods are off limits.
"Actual percentages vary a little, but traditionally ketogenic diets reduce carbohydrates to less than 50 grams a day," according to Pedre.
But while it's easy to flip over a package of processed food and check the nutritional information, learning the carb and fat content of various meats, vegetables, and fruits takes time. So where do you start? Right here, by consulting our keto-approved food list.
57 low-carb, keto-friendly foods.
Referencing this list makes it easy to mix and match foods and create a keto meal plan that suits your personal tastes. Everything on this keto food list is very low in carbohydrates and often higher in fat. While you'll still have to do a little math to keep track of your total carb count for the day (making sure you stay below a healthy threshold for your personal goals), these foods can all be a worthy addition to a keto diet when consumed in appropriate quantities.
Pro tip: If a food you love isn't on this list, check out its nutritional information on the USDA Food Composition Database, which is where we got the numbers below.
Beyond being high in healthy fats, research has shown that people who include nuts in their diet are likely to live longer than those who don't. The right type of nut can be a great keto-friendly snack. The thing to remember with the keto diet is that you're looking specifically for low-carb, high-fat foods. Certain nuts meet this criterion and should be included in your keto meal plan in moderation. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 1-ounce serving, the best nuts for the keto diet include:
- walnuts (Carbs: 2.8 g, Fat: 16.5 g)
- Brazil nuts (Carbs: 3.3 g, Fat: 19 g)
- pine nuts (Carbs: 3.7 g, Fat: 19.1 g)
- macadamia nuts (Carbs: 3.7 g, Fat: 21.5 g)
- pecans (Carbs: 3.8 g, Fat: 20.8 g)
- peanuts (Carbs: 6 g, Fat: 13.9 g)
- almonds (Carbs: 6.1 g, Fat: 14 g)
While nuts are a healthy option when you need a midafternoon pick-me-up, there are certain nuts to steer clear of on the keto diet. Nuts that are particularly high in carbs include cashews and pistachios. Avoid nuts of any kind that are coated with extra sugars or oils. Stick to the straightforward, low-carb nuts above if you're looking to achieve weight loss.
Like nuts, seeds are great for a snack on the go. But they're also a fun, crunchy addition to a salad. In addition to being low-carb and high-fat, seeds also offer a good serving of protein, which will help keep you full throughout the day. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 1-ounce serving, the best seeds for the keto diet include:
- pumpkin seeds (Carbs: 3.8 g, Fat: 11.8 g)
- sunflower seeds (Carbs: 6.7 g, Fat: 13.9 g)
- sesame seeds (Carbs: 6.6 g, Fat: 13.9 g)
- flaxseeds (Carbs: 8 g, Fat: 6 g)
- chia seeds (Carbs: 12.3 g, Fat: 8.6 g)
In general, seeds are also a great source of fiber. Some people have trouble staying regular as they adjust to the keto diet, so a healthy serving of seeds should keep things moving.
The keto diet doesn't discriminate against all you cheese lovers. While we're often told to avoid dairy because of its high fat content, this is precisely what makes it an ideal keto food group. As usual, stick to the low-carb options and avoid anything that adds unnecessary calories via flavorings or sugars. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 1-ounce serving, the best dairy products for the keto diet include:
- butter (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 22.7 g)
- cheddar cheese (Carbs: 0.4 g, Fat: 9.3 g)
- cottage cheese (Carbs: 0.9 g, Fat: 1.2 g)
- half and half (Carbs: 1.2 g, Fat: 3.2 g)
- plain, whole milk yogurt (Carbs: 1.3 g, Fat: 1 g)
- milk (Carbs: 1.5 g, Fat: 1 g)
While vegetables are not particularly high in fat, many are quite low in carbs, and any healthy diet must include these vitamin- and mineral-rich staples. Roasted, steamed, or raw, you can't go wrong with low-carb veggies in a keto meal plan. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per raw 1-ounce serving, the best vegetables for the keto diet include:
- zucchini (Carbs: 0.9 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
- celery (Carbs: 1 g, Fat: 0 g)
- cucumber (Carbs: 1 g, Fat: 0 g)
- spinach (Carbs: 1 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
- asparagus (Carbs: 1.1 g, Fat: 0 g)
- cauliflower (Carbs: 1.5 g, Fat: 0 g)
- cabbage (Carbs: 1.6 g, Fat: 0 g)
- broccoli (Carbs: 1.9 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
- green beans (Carbs: 2 g, Fat: 0 g)
- Brussels sprouts (Carbs: 2.5 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
Technically this one should be part of the fruits section, but we won't tell if you won't! Avocados are such a top-notch keto food, due to their low-carb, high-fiber, and high-fat content that we thought they deserved to be called out separately. Research has shown that people who eat avocados tend to be healthier in general, and they're practically a must in a balanced keto diet.
- 1 avocado (Carbs: 11.8 g, Fat: 21 g)
Meat and poultry
Grass-fed meat is a must for keto dieters. Compared to grain-fed, grass-fed meats are higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which have a range of health benefits including improving heart health, lowering levels of inflammation, and even easing symptoms of depression. High-quality poultry also packs a nutritional punch, with plenty of iron, selenium, zinc, and B vitamins. Dark meat, which is higher in fat, is particularly good for the keto diet.
Listed in order of highest to lowest fat content per 4-ounce serving, the best meat and poultry for the keto diet include:
- lamb (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 26.5 g)
- goat (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 23.4 g)
- duck (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 17.2 g)
- ground beef (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 17 g)
- chicken w/skin (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 15.4 g)
- venison (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 2.5 g)
Listed in order of highest to lowest fat content per 3-ounce serving, the best fatty fish for the keto diet include:
- mackerel (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 15.1 g)
- tuna (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 5.3 g)
- trout (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 4.9 g)
- salmon (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 3.8 g)
Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 3-ounce serving, the best shellfish for the keto diet include:
- shrimp (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 0.9 g)
- clams (Carbs: 4.4 g, Fat: 1.7 g)
- raw oysters (Carbs: 4.7 g, Fat: 1.3 g)
- mussels (Carbs: 6.3 g, Fat: 3.8 g)
Eggs are highly regarded as one of the perfect breakfast foods on the ketogenic diet. They are versatile and can be incorporated into many different dishes in many different forms. Beyond being low-carb and high-fat, eggs have powerful nutritional value. Eating eggs can increase your levels of high-density lipoprotein (or HDL) cholesterol, which is known to many as the "good" kind, which can result in a lowered risk of heart disease and stroke. We recommend that you scramble over to the egg aisle right away.
- 1 large egg (Carbs: 0.4 g, Fat: 5 g)
Oils can be a great source of healthy fats—if you choose the right ones. Certain oils, like olive oil and coconut oil, have been shown to lower blood pressure, aid in weight loss, and even lessen symptoms of Alzheimer's (translation: Oils are good for your brain!). Whether you're cooking with them, adding them to salad dressing, or occasionally downing a spoonful, you can't really go wrong. Listed in order of highest to lowest fat content per tablespoon, the best oils for the keto diet include:
- avocado oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 14 g)
- olive oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 13.5 g)
- coconut oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 13.5 g)
- sesame oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 13.5 g)
- walnut oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 13.5 g)
One assumption about the ketogenic diet is that you're strictly forbidden to eat any sources of sugar, including fruits. While keto meal plans limit fruit to an extent, there are plenty of low-sugar, and thus low-carb, fruits worth including to ensure a balanced diet. Berries, specifically, have the highest levels of antioxidants of all fruits and can even help stabilize blood sugar levels due to their high fiber content. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 100 grams (typically, around a half-cup), keto-approved fruits include:
- strawberries (Carbs: 7.7 g, Fat: 0.3 g)
- grapefruit (Carbs: 8.4 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
- blackberries (Carbs: 10.2 g, Fat: 0.5 g)
- raspberries (Carbs: 11.9 g, Fat: 0.7 g)
- blueberries (Carbs: 14.5 g, Fat: 0.3 g)
- coconut (Carbs: 15.2 g, Fat: 33.5 g)
Coffee and tea
If you're unable to start your engine without your daily dose of caffeine, rest easy knowing that you don't have to give up your morning cup of tea or coffee on the keto diet. It's best to sip these beverages unsweetened and black. While adding milk or heavy cream to your drink may seem like a good way to get some extra fat, these additions also pour in an unwanted serving of carbs. The same goes for any sweeteners and flavored creamers.
For an extra kick of fat without the carbs, you might try blending your coffee with coconut oil or MCT oil to your coffee. MCT, or medium-chain triglyceride, oil is a fatty acid usually derived from coconut oil. It's colorless, odorless, low in carbs, and high in fats that are thought to boost cognitive performance. It's also a liquid, making it easy to add to any beverage or salad dressing.
7-day keto-friendly meal plan.
As with any diet, it's best to plan ahead and create a meal plan you can actually stick to. Try this one to get started (using any of the oils above for cooking), and then play around with combinations of any and all of the foods listed above.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs served with avocado and a side of greens
Snack: Macadamia nuts
Lunch: Tuna salad (made with mayo and celery) on a bed of mixed greens
Dinner: Meatballs (made without breadcrumbs) over zucchini noodles with pesto
Breakfast: Smoothie with almond milk, greens, almond butter, protein powder
Snack: Sunflower seeds
Lunch: Mixed greens salad with chicken, Parmesan cheese, and toasted almonds (oil and vinegar dressing)
Dinner: Pan-seared pork chop with cabbage slaw (dressed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar )
Breakfast: Mushroom omelet
Lunch: Bunless grass-fed burger with cheese and avocado served on a lettuce bun
Dinner: Grilled or sautéed shrimp with broccoli
Breakfast: Coffee with coconut oil, hard-boiled eggs
Lunch: Shaved Brussels sprout salad with chicken, bacon, and walnuts (oil and vinegar dressing)
Dinner: Pan-seared salmon with sautéed spinach
Breakfast: Chia pudding made with coconut milk topped with walnuts
Lunch: Steak bowl with cauliflower rice, sautéed kale, and avocado
Dinner: Roasted chicken with asparagus and mushrooms
Breakfast: Spinach and cheese omelet topped with salsa
Lunch: Arugula salad with salmon, green beans, and cucumbers
Dinner: Grilled beef kabobs with sautéed broccoli
Breakfast: Smoothie with strawberries, spinach, avocado, almond milk, and protein powder
Snack: Full-fat yogurt
Lunch: Tuna salad with mayo, stuffed into hollowed tomato halves
Dinner: Grass-fed steak with roasted Brussels sprouts
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