The biggest learning curve when adapting to a keto diet is around food. You already know what you can’t eat: high-glycemic, sugary foods; bready products; and other carb-heavy items—in other words, essentially everything most of us regularly reach for in the American diet. But what can you eat?
Contrary to popular belief, the ketogenic diet is not all bacon and bulletproof coffee (though those are certainly optional perks)! Yes, it’s a higher fat, moderately low protein, and very low-carb diet, but it can include a wide variety of foods, including plenty of vegetables and moderate fruit (berries), and it can be followed whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or dairy-free, too.
Once you know what snacks to stock up on, ingredients to cook with, and recipes to turn to, you’ll begin to realize that keto cuisine is actually quite approachable, and it even includes iterations of many of your favorite foods (Hello, lasagna, mashed potatoes, and chocolate chip cookies!). So cast away any notions of deprivation or hunger. On the keto diet, you’ll feel full and satisfied, not to mention more energized than ever!
As you get started, don’t think you have to master the nuances of keto cooking, or even eating, all at once. First, stock up on and work with your favorite foods from the lists below, then broaden your horizons as you get more comfortable with the diet. You can even lean on repetitive meals while you settle in (for example, eggs and bacon for breakfast; a Cobb-style salad for lunch; and a protein and broccoli with cream sauce for dinner). Soon, you’ll discover that, you actually can have your cake and eat it too, without getting kicked out of ketosis or blowing your maximum daily macros!
We recommend eating a mostly whole-foods diet for several reasons. First, it’s easier to know what’s in your food and avoid unintentionally consuming hidden ingredients that may kick you out of ketosis. Second, cooking with whole ingredients rather than consuming processed foods is less expensive and you can make meals in bulk and refrigerate or freeze leftovers for easy, wholesome meals down the road. Finally, whole foods are good for you and they taste great, especially when you have good recipes to follow!
To get you started, we share several recipes in this guide; you’ll also find recipe-blog recommendations below. But you can also get going by grabbing and cooking with the following keto-friendly ingredients, making sure to mind your daily macros when determining portions.
Ingredients to Cook With and Eat
This is a starter list to get you going. Cook and eat to your macros with these items and you’re on your way!
- Almond flour (great for baking and breading)
- Berries (in moderation)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Chia seeds (great for low-carb baking and puddings)
- Coconut flour (good for baking)
- Cucumber (peeled)
- Dairy (heavy cream, cheese, butter, cream cheese, sour cream)
- Dark leafy greens
- Flaxseeds (great for baking and smoothies)
- Hemp hearts (rich in good fat, protein and minerals; good for breading and baking)
- Meat (beef, pork, poultry)
- Nuts (macadamia nets, chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts)
- Oils/fats (olive oil, avocado oil, ghee, MCT oil, coconut oil; go here for more information)
- Seafood (fish and seafood)
- Sweeteners (erythritol, monk fruit, and Stevia)
- Xanthan gum (acts as a binder for baked goods and a thickener for sauces and soups)
- Zucchini (in moderation)
Be sure to have some of these on hand at all times. Readily available, keto-friendly snacks are lifesavers when you’re hungry and don’t have immediate access to a keto-friendly meal.
- Beef jerky (watch for added sugar)
- Bone broth
- Cacao nibs
- Egg salad
- High-fat yogurt (we love Peak triple cream)
- Mascarpone cheese mixed with a little erythritol
- Nuts (macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts)
- Soft cheese with celery
- Veggies with blue-cheese dressing dip
Want more on snacks? See 5 Keto-Friendly Foods to Carry with You
Because the ketogenic diet is a natural diuretic, it’s very important to replenish the water and electrolytes you are losing. Staying hydrated will help combat the “keto flu” (learn more about that here) and avoid early keto symptoms of muscle cramps, headaches, and fatigue, all of which are signs of suffering from electrolyte imbalances. Zero-calorie soda is not included in the list below because many artificial sweeteners aren’t good for you, and some diet drinks contain sugar alternatives that can kick you out of ketosis (learn more on that here); plus, all of them perpetuate the craving for sugar, which is something you will otherwise joyfully lose on a keto diet.
- Bone broth
- Bulletproof coffee
- Sparkling water
Can you drink alcohol on a keto diet? Yes, if you do so in moderation, stick with keto-friendly libations, and factor them into your macros. Generally speaking, hard alcohol is okay (clear alcohols like vodka and gin are best), low-carb beer is fine, and you can even raise a glass of dry red or white wine or dry sparkling wine (brut). Your best bet for mixed drinks is sparkling water and a squeeze or two of lime or lemon. Just be sure you don’t overdo it. Moderation really is key here.
If you do indulge in an adult beverage, make sure you use caution, as people tend to have lower tolerances for alcohol on the ketogenic diet.
Want to know more about alcohol and keto? Go here.
It’s much easier to go keto when you have food you love to eat that’s easy to make. Fortunately, there are tons of great websites featuring keto recipes, including this one! You’ll find delicious meals that will support your ketosis and cravings for everything from Chinese food to cake!