Everything You Can and Can't Eat on the Keto Diet

·6 min read

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If fast weight loss while consuming nearly unlimited amounts of fat sounds too good to be true, "think again," keto diet devotees say. Followers of the trendy high-fat, low-carb meal plan swear it clears the brain while lowering the number on the scale. Before embarking on the diet, it's important to look at what kinds of foods you actually enjoy eating, since if you particularly enjoy high-carb foods like fruits, it might not be the right diet for you. But there are plenty of Keto diet foods that will make you feel full and satisfied, and perhaps even like royalty. Practicing the Keto diet could look like a day filled with nuts, avocados, and beef, as well as some tasty vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. So if you're not sure what you can eat on Keto, read on.

Although long-term health effects of the diet, which requires roughly 80% of your daily calories to come from fat, are still unknown for the average person, the Keto diet has long been used to treat children with epilepsy and people with diabetes.

But the biggest question of all is how does eating keto diet foods cause you to lose weight when you're eating bacon, butter, and cheese? It's all about changing the way your body processes food based on what you're giving it to work with. Keep reading to learn which foods you can (and can't!) eat on Keto.

Carbs (5-10% of calories)

Approximate grams of carbs per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet: 40

"Drastically limiting your intake of glucose, the usual energy source for your cells, reduces insulin secretions in your body. Since low levels of glucose are coming in, the body uses what is stored in the liver and then the muscles," says Rania Batayneh, MPH, the author of The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. After about three or four days, all of the stored glucose is used up.

"For an alternative source of energy, your liver will start to convert fat into ketones, which will then be released into the bloodstream and be used by your cells for energy. Basically, your brain and muscles will be fueled by fat instead of carbohydrates," says Michelle Hyman, MS, RD, CDN a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss.

Nosh on noodles or other high-carb foods and you'll send your body back into glucose-burning mode; eat too little and you'll likely feel your energy dragging. Most keto dieters aim to eat between 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day to maintain that ketone-burning state called "ketosis."

You should aim to score your carbs from high-fiber, water-rich fruits and vegetables to naturally boost hydration and keep your digestive system humming along. Unsure of whether a produce pick is low in carbs? Reach for options grown above the ground (leafy greens, peppers, and stalk-shaped vegetables), rather than below ground (root veggies like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips), as they typically offer fewer carbs.

Good examples of carb keto diet foods:

  • Tomatoes

  • Eggplant

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Spinach

  • Green Beans

  • Cucumber

  • Bell peppers

  • Kale

  • Zucchini

  • Celery

  • Brussels sprouts

Protein (10-20% of calories)

Approximate grams of carbs per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet: 70

Protein is essential to build muscle cells and burn calories. Eat too much or too little of it as part of your keto diet food plan and you'll end up sabotaging your goals.

In the absence of carbs and protein, for instance, if you’re sticking to the very low-carb quota of keto and eating more fat and less protein than recommended, your body will turn to muscle tissue as fuel. This, in turn, will lower your overall muscle mass and the number of calories you burn at rest.

Overdose on protein (following this macronutrient breakdown, that would equate to anything above and beyond one six-ounce steak and one four-ounce chicken breast) and you'll put undue strain on your kidneys. Plus, your body will convert the excess protein to carbohydrates for fuel. That's the exact opposite goal of the keto diet.

Shoot for around 15% of calories from high-fat protein sources like those below. Some, such as Greek yogurt, eggs, and cheese, provide important vitamins to keep your hair, eyes, and immune system strong.

"While processed meats like sausage and bacon are technically permitted on the keto diet, I'd recommend to limiting them since they're high in sodium," Hyman says.

Good examples of protein keto diet foods:

  • Chicken, dark meat if possible

  • Turkey, dark meat if possible

  • Venison

  • Beef

  • Salmon

  • Sardines

  • Tuna

  • Shrimp

  • Pork

  • Lamb

  • Eggs

  • Natural cheeses

  • Unsweetened, whole milk plain Greek yogurt

  • Whole milk ricotta cheese

  • Whole milk cottage cheese

*Opt for organic, pasture-raised, and grass-fed, if possible, for meat and poultry

Fat (70-80% of calories)

Approximate grams of carbs per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet: 165

Here's where the bulk of your intake comes into play. Several studies have shown that a higher-fat diet can reduce cravings and levels of appetite-stimulating hormones ghrelin and insulin.

When you're assembling your keto diet food stash, go full-fat. And don't stress over the dietary cholesterol content, a factor of how much animal protein you eat, suggests a study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Instead, focus on consuming a higher ratio of unsaturated fats (flaxseed, olive oil, nuts) to saturated fats (lard, red meat, palm oil, butter).

Since you're consuming a vast majority of calories from fat, it's crucial to focus on fueling up with options that are less likely to clog your arteries and less likely to increase your cancer risk.

Good examples of fat keto diet foods:

  • Olive oil

  • Avocado oil

  • Olives

  • Avocados

  • Flaxseeds

  • Chia seeds

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Sesame seeds

  • Hemp hearts

  • Coconuts

  • Nuts

  • Natural, no-sugar-added nut butters

What to Avoid

Make it easier to stay within the macronutrient framework of the keto diet by steering clear of these foods, Hyman says:

  • Beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts

  • Grains, such as rice, pasta, and oatmeal

  • Low-fat dairy products

  • Added sugars and sweeteners

  • Sugary beverages, including juice and soda

  • Traditional snack foods, such as potato chips, pretzels, and crackers

  • Most fruits, except for lemons, limes, tomatoes, and small portions of berries

  • Starchy vegetables, including corn, potatoes, and peas

  • Trans fats, such as margarine or other hydrogentated fats

  • Most alcohols, including wine, beer, and sweetened cocktails

Possible Side Effects

There are a number of immediate side effects people transitioning over to a keto diet may experience. According to a New York Times article exploring the keto diet, some people will experience stomach issues and gastrointestinal distress due to such a drastic change in diet. There is also the "keto flu" — characterized by dizziness, fatigue, and poor sleep — that can come within the first few days if dieters aren't careful about replenishing their fluids and sodium. Some people also experience a halitosis known as "keto breath," which is attributed to an increased production of acetone — one of the ketone bodies.

Experts also stated that after 12 months of the diet, the weight loss advantage for keto followers compared to other dieters may plateau and disappear all together. Carol F. Kirkpatrick, director of Idaho State University’s Wellness Center, told The New York Times that keto should be seen as a "kick-start diet" to be used before switching over to a more sustainable carb intake.

Some health experts have also warned dieters about the possible longer-term cardiovascular side effects for people who follow the diet for several years. Currently there are no long-term studies on the keto diet to see what effects, positive or negative, the diet can have on the body over the course of several years, leaving some doctors worried about the negative outcome eating so much fat could have on the body's bad cholesterol.

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