Not Seeing Results With The Keto Diet? This M.D. Says "Sneaky Carbs" Could Be Why

Board-Certified Internist By Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
Board-Certified Internist
Dr. Vincent M. Pedre is a board-certified internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. He serves as medical director of Pedre Integrative Health, president of Dr. Pedre Wellness, and is the author of Happy Gut.

Image by mbg Creative x Various / iStock

Are you struggling to get the weight loss and other results you want on a keto diet? Sneaky carbohydrates might be the problem. 

The downside of the keto diet is that to get and stay in ketosis, the state where your body burns fat rather than glucose as its predominant fuel source, you'll need to keep your carbohydrate intake between about 20 and 50 grams a day.

To put that into perspective: A small apple contains 20 grams of carbohydrates and, depending on its size, a banana can have up to 35 grams of carbohydrates. While these might seem like obvious sources of carbs to a keto expert, other sneaky sources of carbs can easily slip into your diet and push you past the daily allowable limit needed to stay in ketosis. 

When I say sneaky carbohydrates, I'm talking about the foods and drinks you might think are fine but that don't actually fit into a keto diet plan. 

What kicks you out of ketosis.

Unfortunately, carbohydrate-rich plant foods just don't fit into most keto plans. Eating them can knock you out of ketosis. Yes, these foods have their merits; they come loaded with plant compounds such as flavonoids, carotenoids, phytoestrogens, and glucosinolates and other vitamins and minerals. But, if you are looking to go keto, you'll have to skip them.

Let's look at some frequent offenders that trip people up on their keto plan:

Starchier veggies. Sweet potatoes, beets, pumpkin, and butternut or spaghetti squash are nutrient powerhouses. But along with those nutrients and fiber comes a hefty carbohydrate load that can knock you right out of ketosis.

Legumes. This broad category of plant foods includes alfalfa, beans, carob, chickpeas, lentils, peas, soybeans, tamarind, and peanuts. Legumes are high in carbohydrates. (Read: keto-unfriendly in even small amounts.) They also contain lectins, anti-nutrients that can lead to inflammation in some people. 

Fruit. Apples and other fruits are nutrient rock stars with gut-healing nutrients and fiber. But fruit tastes sweet and can be easy to overeat for a reason: Most kinds are high in sugar. Even a little bit of fruit can stall weight loss on a keto diet.

Even when you're avoiding these higher-carbohydrate plant foods, you might still be getting carbs from other sources that sabotage your keto plan. 

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"Sneaky" sources of carbs.

You might not even consider these offenders, but they could be the obstacle that holds you back from your goals. Sneaky carbohydrates that can jeopardize keto include: 

Beverages

Sugar-sweetened teas, fruit juices, and sports drinks are bad news on any plan, but they’ll knock you out of ketosis fast. Artificially sweetened drinks aren’t any better: They can mess with your gut and waistline

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"Keto-friendly" products

Snack bars, drinks, cookies, crackers, and any un-keto food or drinks that manufacturers repackage as keto-friendly can stall weight loss. Many come packed with artificial sweeteners, high amounts of sugar alcohols, and food additives that can lead to bloating and alter your gut microbiome in an unfavorable way. 


Added sugars and other problem ingredients

You know that piece of chocolate cake will knock you out of keto, but did you know a single-serving of flavored yogurt could have as much sugar as a candy bar? Other problem sources include:

  • Marinara sauce
  • Packaged nuts and seeds
  • Restaurant omelets (some chains add starch to bulk up omelets)
  • Salad dressings
  • Packaged meats, including sausage

Keeping a food journal is a great way to pinpoint foods that might be hijacking your success. (And there's an added bonus: People who write down everything they eat can lose twice the amount of weight compared with those who don't.)

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5 tips to avoid sneaky carbs (and stay in ketosis).

Once you've pinpointed and eliminated those food saboteurs, you'll want to put these five strategies into place. They will help you stay in ketosis to reach your weight loss and overall health goals: 

1. Eat real, whole foods whenever possible.

Real foods like broccoli or raw almonds don't contain any added sugar or other keto "no-no" ingredients. Quality matters, too. Always opt for organic produce whenever possible. With animal foods, choose grass-fed beef, wild-caught cold-water seafood, and organic free-range poultry and eggs. 

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2. Try cyclical keto.

Want to eat keto and enjoy these healthy starchier carbs? Try keto-cycling. Alternating higher-carbohydrate days with keto days allows more variety in your diet and can get you unstuck when you plateau on a keto diet. You might do five ketogenic days followed by two high-carbohydrate days, when you bring in nutrient-dense carbs like sweet potatoes and quinoa.

3. Read labels diligently.

When you do opt for packaged food, read your labels and look for these three numbers: 

  • The total amount of carbohydrates. Remember the 20- to 50-gram limit for ketosis PER day.
  • The total added sugars in the product.
  • Any ingredient that ends in -ose, which is a sugar.
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4. Ask at restaurants.

When at restaurants, ask your server whether your dish contains any added sugars or other food sensitivities, like gluten and dairy. More restaurants offer gluten-free menus these days. But watch out! While they are sometimes safer than the regular menu, that's no guarantee you'll be eating a keto-friendly meal. For example, a dish may substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs as a sauce thickener, but that won't keep you in ketosis. If you have any doubt, ask.

5. Consider exogenous ketones.

Exogenous ketones, a supplemental form of ketones, might—might—help you keep that keto edge, even when some higher-carbohydrate foods slip into your plan. But using these supplements does not give you permission to indulge in pizza and ice cream, which is a surefire way to get out of keto.

Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre...
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