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Top 20 keto-friendly foods

Written by John Davis

Last updated: September 25, 2022

The keto diet has gained immense popularity over the last 20 years. The low carb high fat meal plan has taken over the market since it helps you lose weight quickly.  A diet that is considered Keto-friendly aims to maintain a zero daily carb intake. Anyone starting the keto diet will experience a significant reduction in bloat and water weight. The ketogenic diet has numerous medicinal applications and has gained immense social media support from famous people.  (1)

What is the keto diet?

Low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in fat, the keto diet is also known as the ketogenic diet. The bulk of the diet consists of 65% to 80% fat and contains a significant amount of protein and carbohydrates. Ketogenic diets aim to push your body to burn fat for energy. The ketogenic diet was first used to treat epilepsy in children in the 1920s. It has gained popularity as a weight-loss diet over time. (2)

There are numerous versions of the ketogenic diet and they consume different amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

  • Standard ketogenic diet: A typical ketogenic diet consists of only 10% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and 70% fats daily per person.
  • A high-protein ketogenic diet: Helps reduce carbohydrate intake to 5% and daily fat intake to 60% while increasing the protein ratio to 35%.
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet: This diet consists of two days of high carb intake and five days of the conventional keto plan.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet: If you engage in physical activity, you can start a different keto plan. It promotes carbohydrate consumption before exercising.

What is ketosis?

By adopting a ketogenic diet, your body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. In this case the body breaks down and burns fat instead of carbs as a daily energy source. Blood glucose levels start to drop when carbohydrate intake is restricted. This is due to the conversion of fatty acids produced from the conversion of adipose tissue into ketone bodies. (3)

These fat-derived ketone bodies favor body fuel over glucose. Simply put, when the body is deprived of carbohydrates, it starts to look elsewhere for energy. Consequently, fats burn aiding in weight loss.

What foods should you eat during a keto diet?

1. Fish and sea food

Fish is a protein-rich, carb-free food that is high in B vitamins, potassium, and selenium. Omega-3 fats, which are abundant in salmon, sardines, mackerel, albacore tuna, and other fatty fish, have been reported to reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

Regular fish consumption has been associated with a lower risk of developing chronic diseases as well as better mental health. Try to eat two 3-ounce portions of fatty fish per week. (4)

2. Low-carb vegetables

Non-starchy veggies are high in nutrients, such as vitamin C and a number of minerals, yet low in calories and carbohydrates. They also contain antioxidants, which help fight against free radicals, which destroy cells. Consume non-starchy veggies with a cup serving containing no more than 8 grams of net carbohydrates. The recommended vegetables include broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchini, and spinach. (5)

3. Peppers

There are numerous types of peppers, and they are all suitable for the keto diet. Despite the fact that they are essentially fruits, they are cooked like vegetables.

Jalapenos are excellent for preparing keto-friendly appetizers since they are small strong peppers that add flavor to recipes. Larger, milder peppers, such poblanos and bell peppers, can be stuffed to create low-carb main courses. (6)

Additionally, peppers contain a lot of vitamin C. For example, one bell pepper contains 107% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C. 

4. Shirataki noodles

Shirataki noodles are ideal for the keto diet. Since they are mainly water, they provide only 15 calories and less than 1 g of net carbohydrates per serving.

These noodles are composed of glucomannan, a viscous fiber with numerous potential health benefits.

The gel-like nature of viscous fiber delays the passage of food through your digestive system. This may facilitate weight loss and diabetes control by reducing blood sugar rises and hunger. (7)

There are many different types of shirataki noodles, such as rice, linguine and fettuccine.  They can all be swapped for ordinary noodles in different recipes.

5. Cheese

Cheese is a perfect fit for the ketogenic diet because it is high in fat and contains zero carbohydrates. It is also rich in calcium and protein. However, a 1-ounce slice of cheese contains approximately 30% of the Daily Value for saturated fat, so if heart disease is a concern for you, think about portion size when enjoying cheese. (8)

6. Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese

Both yogurt and cottage cheese are calcium and protein-rich. There are only 5 grams of carbohydrates and 12 grams of protein in 5 ounces of plain Greek yogurt. The same amount of cottage cheese contains 18 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs. Both calcium and protein have been shown in research to decrease hunger and increase feelings of fullness. Full-fat foods are allowed on the ketogenic diet, and higher-fat dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese help you feel fuller for longer. (9)

7. Butter and ghee

Butter and ghee are excellent additions to the keto diet. Ghee is free of carbohydrates, while butter has a negligible amount of carbs.

Butter, or ghee, is produced by heating butter and skimming off the milk particles that float to the top. It is commonly used in Indian cooking and has a rich buttery flavor. (10)

Butter and ghee, like other full-fat dairy products, are not as bad for your health as previously believed.

8. Summer squash

Zucchini and summer squash are low in carbohydrates and extremely adaptable.

In fact, zucchini is a staple of the keto diet. You can make zucchini noodles with a spiralizer, which is a great alternative to noodles or pasta.

Grated zucchini can be used as a substitute for rice or added to baked products without changing their flavor. It can also be prepared as a cold salad by slicing it thinly with a mandoline and tossing it with salt, pepper, and olive oil. (11)

9. Avocados

Heart-healthy fats like avocados are rich in potassium, a mineral that many Americans lack, and monounsaturated fats, which are good for your heart. One-half of a medium avocado contains  9 grams of total carbohydrates and 7 grams of  fiber. Avocados are a good source of plant lipids that can supplement animal fats and help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (12)

10. Cocoa powder and dark chocolate

Dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in antioxidants.

The flavanols in dark chocolate help minimize your risk of cardiovascular disease by regulating blood pressure and maintaining the health of your arteries.

Surprisingly, you can have chocolate while on the keto diet. But it’s crucial to select dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa solids, preferably more, and to consume it in moderation. (13)

11. Meat

The ketogenic diet regards meat as a staple food because it is a source of lean protein. Fresh poultry and meat are high in B vitamins, many minerals like potassium, selenium, and zinc, and they don’t contain any carbohydrates. (14)

On the other hand, processed meats like sausage and bacon are permitted on the keto diet but they aren’t the healthiest for your heart if you consume too much of them. This is primarily because they may increase your risk of developing some types of cancer. Limit consumption of processed meats and increase your consumption of poultry, fish, and beef.

12. Poultry

Protein, B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are all abundant in eggs. Two medium eggs contain  12 grams of protein and 0 carbs. Eggs also contain antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin that support eye health and have been shown to stimulate hormones that boost feelings of fullness and maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Eggs are scrumptious, portable, and ideal for vegetarians. For a quick, low-cost dinner, try them boiled, fried in butter, or in an omelet. Since you don’t have to avoid dietary cholesterol when you avoid carbohydrates, you can eat eggs as frequently as you wish. (15)

Eggs can be eaten in a variety of ways, including boiled, soft, fried, in quiches or frittatas, poached, scrambled, and omelets.

13. Seeds, nuts, and healthy oils

Seeds and nuts are rich in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, protein and fiber. Additionally, they have extremely low net carbohydrates. The two oils suggested for the keto diet are coconut oil and olive oil. Due to its high oleic acid content, olive oil is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Despite having a lot of saturated fat, coconut oil has medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that can boost ketone synthesis. MCTs may speed your metabolism, which can aid in losing weight and belly fat. Watch your portion quantities when consuming any form of healthy fat. (16)

1 oz. (28 g) of nuts and seeds has the following amount of net carbohydrates (total carbohydrates minus fiber):

  • Almonds 3 grams net carbohydrates and 6 g total carbs
  • Brazil nuts: 1 gram net carbohydrates and 3 grams total carbs
  • Cashews: 8 grams net carbohydrates and 9 grams total carbs
  • Macadamia nuts: 2 g net carbohydrates and 4 grams total carbs
  • Pecans: 1 grams net carbohydrates and 4 grams total carbs 
  • Pistachios: 5 grams net carbohydrates and 8 grams total carbs
  • Walnuts: 2 grams net carbohydrates in and 4 grams total carbs
  • Chia seeds: 2 grams net carbohydrates and 12 grams total carbs
  • Flax seeds: 0 grams net carbohydrates and 8 grams total carbs
  • Pumpkin seeds: 2 grams net carbohydrates and 4 grams total carbs
  • Sesame seeds: 4 grams net carbs and 7 grams total carbs

14. Olive oil

Olive oil has remarkable heart-health benefits.

It contains a lot of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that lowers risk factors for heart disease.

Extra-virgin olive oil is also rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which are plant substances that preserve heart health further by reducing inflammation and enhancing arterial function.

Olive oil is a pure fat source; it does not contain carbohydrates and makes a great base for healthy mayonnaise and salad dressings.

It’s recommended to use olive oil for slow low-heat cooking or to add it to meals after cooking because it doesn’t maintain its stability at high temperatures as well as saturated fats do.

Coconut oil and avocado oil are some fantastic plant-based oils to test when on a ketogenic diet. (17)

15. Berries

Antioxidants found in berries lower inflammation and guard against disease. They are high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. (18)

Carbohydrate counts for half a cup of certain berries:

  • Black berries: 3 grams net carbohydrates and 7 grams total carbs
  • Blueberries: 9 grams net carbohydrates and 11 grams total carbs
  • Raspberries: 3 grams net carbohydrates and 7 grams total carbs
  •  Strawberries: 3 grams net carbohydrates and 6 grams total carbs

16. Unsweetened tea and coffee

Tea and coffee are allowed on the keto diet. According to studies, coffee decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Tea offers more antioxidants than coffee and less caffeine, which may lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, aid in weight loss, and strengthen your immune system. (19)

17. Fats and sauces

Fats and sauces can help you feel fuller for longer. You should get the majority of your fat from foods high in protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. You can also add salad dressings, cook with olive oil, and top your vegetables with cheese. Rich sauces, such as Bearnaise, garlic butter, and mayo, can also be consumed when following a ketogenic diet, but only in moderation if you’re trying to lose weight. (20)

18. Beverages

Consuming unsweetened coffee, black tea, green tea, and non-dairy milk substitutes is allowed in the keto diet. Moreover, you can occasionally indulge in sweeteners like sucralose and stevia.

However, champagne, hard liquor, and dry win should be consumed sparingly. While they are technically considered keto beverages, diet sodas are not a healthy option. Sparkling water is a good alternative that is free of carbohydrates. (21)

19. Snacks

Excellent low-carb alternatives include a few slices of bacon, some olives, and cheese. You can also nibble on a tiny portion of nuts like Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts and pecans as a snack.

Vegetable sticks with dip that have the lowest amount of carbohydrates are a common snack option on the ketogenic diet. The dip typically includes sour cream, cream cheese, or a high-fat dipping sauce. Heavy whipping berries and cream without any sugar or sweeteners make a delightful keto snack. (22)

20. Cream and Half-and-Half

The fatty part of fresh milk that is removed during milk processing makes up what we know as cream. On the other hand, half-and-half is made of 50% whole milk and 50% milk.

These two dairy products are excellent for keto because they are both very low in carbohydrates and high in fat

Butter and cream are high in CLA, which like other fatty dairy products may help with fat loss.

Dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association (2021) include limiting foods high in saturated fat. The risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke is significantly reduced when plant-based sources of fat or polyunsaturated fats are substituted for animal and dairy fat.

In fact some recent studies suggest that high-fat dairy products may not be that closely associated with heart disease. Others argue that consuming high-fat dairy products in moderation may lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. However, this evidence is inconclusive. (23)

This is a topic that is still being debated and can vary depending on a variety of factors, such as how much processing the food has undergone.

Cream and half-and-half are popular alternatives for adding to coffee or substituting for milk when cooking on the keto diet.

Foods to avoid on the keto diet

This list is rather comprehensive and possibly contains some of your favorites: All of the following are prohibited: pasta, bread, rice, fruit, beans, corn, potatoes, baked foods, sweets, juice, and alcohol. In essence, you have to stay away from most carbs and sweets. (24)

  • Almost all fruits: Lemons, limes, plums, mango, grapefruits, oranges, grapes, apples, bananas, watermelon, peaches, cherries, pears, melon, pineapple, and more.
  • Most grains: millet, bulgur, quinoa, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, and sprouting grains; wheat, rice, rye, oats, corn.
  • Starches: Granola, bread, bagels, pasta, rice, cereal, corn, oatmeal, pizza, popcorn, crackers, muesli, and flour. However, you can still indulge in some workarounds, such as cheese-based tortilla wraps.
  • Beans and peas: lentils, black beans, soybeans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and peas.
  • Sugars and real sweeteners: Cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, aspartame,  Splenda, corn syrup and saccharin.  You’ll have to work with natural sugar replacements. 
  • Sweet treats: candy, pies, tarts, ice cream, chocolate, pastries, cookies, custard and pudding. You can find dessert substitutes that don’t raise blood sugar levels after just one dish.
  • A variety of cooking oils, including sunflower, sesame, grapeseed, peanut, and canola oils.
  • Alcohol: Beer, sweet wines, cider, and alcoholic beverages with added sugar. If you want wine, make sure it’s as dry as you can get it; the entire bottle should have 10g of sugar at most.
  • Bottled condiments such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, hot sauces with sugar and some salad dressings.
  • Low-fat dairy products should be substituted for their higher-fat counterparts. Examples include skim milk, fat-free yogurt, skim mozzarella, cream cheese and low-fat cheese. 

John Davis