There is no question that our society is obsessed with fad diets, and keto (short for ketogenic) is no exception. The keto diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein, high-fat diet that is similar to the Atkins diet. By significantly reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat, your body shifts into a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body stops using carbs for fuel and instead becomes more efficient at burning fat for energy.
Why do people tout keto as the best new way to lose weight? It’s simple – since reducing your carb consumption limits your body’s supply of glucose (sugar), the main source of energy for your cells, it is forced to burn fat for fuel. This makes the keto diet an effective way for some people to lose weight.
Following a ketogenic diet is the most effective way to enter ketosis. In a standard ketogenic diet, carb intake is reduced to only 20–50 grams per day. There are several types of ketogenic diets, but the standard keto diet typically contains 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs. Even though most people following the keto diet know to fill up on healthy fats, such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and healthy oils, there is still a lot of confusion about exactly what you can and cannot eat on keto.
Here are the top 10 low-carb, keto-friendly foods you can enjoy:
1. Fish and seafood
Fish and seafood are protein-rich and carbohydrate-free. Frequent fish consumption is linked to decreased risk of chronic disease and improved mental health. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, and albacore tuna all contain high levels of omega-3s. They may lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. If mercury toxicity is a concern, stick to eating smaller fish.
2. Meat and poultry
Fresh meat and poultry are great sources of lean protein with no carbs. Some people following the keto diet load up on processed meats, like bacon and sausage. While these are allowed on keto, limiting processed meats is advised because they may increase your rick of certain cancers and contribute to heart disease. Keto is a high-fat, moderate-protein diet, so smaller portions of protein are suggested. Excess protein is converted to glucose, which may hinder ketosis.
Cheese, milk, and yogurt, are great choices on keto because they have no carbs and are high in fat. However, because they can be high in saturated fat, people with heart disease need to be cautious. Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese give you the best bang for your buck. They are both high in protein and calcium-rich, which can reduce appetite and keep you full longer.
Eggs are another eggcellent option because they contain no carbs and a good amount of protein. This increases the feeling of fullness and keeps blood sugar levels stable. You can prepare them how you like, but remember that eating hard-boiled eggs may impair digestion. Boiling eggs long enough to reach a hard-boiled state can denature proteins, slowing down digestion.
Although they are not entirely carb-free, avocados are full of good fat and are high in fiber. By loading up on heart-healthy plant fats instead of animal fats, you can lose weight and improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
6. Low-carb veggies
Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbs but remain high in nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants. Most low-carb veggies are also high in fiber – they not only protect against free radicals that cause cell damage but can also keep you regular. Some great options include broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers, zucchini, and spinach. These can be a great substitute for rice, bread, or pasta normally eaten with meals. Non-starchy vegetables with less than eight grams of carbs per cup are recommended.
7. Nuts, seeds, and healthy oils
Nuts and seeds often get a bad rap because of high fat content, but there are some great options that are low in carbs and full of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. With high levels of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, nuts and seeds are the perfect snack in the right portions. As a general rule, limit nut intake to less than half a cup per day.
Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are all considered keto-friendly. With its high levels of oleic acid, olive oil is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and is considered heart healthy, too. Coconut oil can be controversial because it’s high in saturated fat but also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can increase ketone production. MCTs promote weight loss by increasing metabolic rate.
Most fruits tend to be rich in carbohydrates, but berries are the perfect exception. Not only are they low in carbs and high in fiber, but they are also rich in antioxidants that reduce inflammation and fight free radicals, protecting against disease.
9. Unsweetened coffee and teas
Plain coffee and tea contain zero grams of carbs, fat, or protein. The problem starts when we add sweetened milks, syrups, and whipped cream. Added sugar raises not only the calorie count of these drinks but their carbohydrate content as well. Drinking them in their simplest form without these additives is beneficial. Research has shown coffee lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Drinking tea, which is high in antioxidants, may boost your immune system while reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
10. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Most chocolate bars are riddled with sugar and should be avoided whether you’re following keto or not. Dark chocolate with higher percentages of cacao, on the other hand, contains less sugar than milk chocolate and white chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols, which may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure. Since cocoa powder contains no sugar, it’s also a great keto-friendly option, especially when used in baking.
The bottom line
Even though the keto diet is touted as beneficial for weight loss and other health improvements, there really is no one diet superior to another. And there is no single diet that works across the board for all people! My training with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) helped me recognize the significance of bio-individuality, the concept that we are all unique and have to find what works for us individually. While keto may be a great option for some people, it’s not recommended for everyone.
As a physician, I’m often asked which diets are best for weight loss. The truth is fad diets don’t work in the long run. My patients are always speechless when they hear those words. Health is a lifestyle, and any beneficial changes we make to the way we eat need to be sustainable; otherwise our health suffers.
As a good rule, try to follow a real, whole foods diet. For those who are plant-based, keto can still be a good option. You just have to find what works for you. As always, combining dietary changes with lifestyle changes will improve your chances of reaching your health goals.