The biggest learning curve when adapting to a keto diet is around food. You already know what you can’t eat while training your body to rely on ketones: high-glycemic, sugary foods and beverages like fruit juices; bready products; starchy vegetables, including sweet potatoes; legumes; and other high-carb, glucose-laden 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 low-carb vegetables, full-fat dairy products healthy fats, 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, ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies!). As you begin to restrict your carb intake by carefully counting your grams of carbs, your blood sugar will thank you, too!
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 keto diet food 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 (macronutrients), including carb counts!
Whether you’re on a keto diet for weight loss, general health, or adjunct therapy, 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 great recipes to follow!
To get you started, we share several recipes in this guide to help you keto meal plan; you’ll also find recipe-blog recommendations below. But you can also get going by grabbing and cooking with the following keto-friendly ingredients from the food list below, making sure to mind your daily macros, especially your net carbs, when determining portions.
Ingredients to Cook With and Eat
This is a starter list to get you going when you head to the grocery store. Add the following low-carbohydrate options that you like, including plenty of non-starchy vegetables, to your shopping list and look and eat to your macros with these items and you’re on your way!
- Almond flour (great for baking and breading)
- Beef, including ground beef
- Bell peppers (especially green bell peppers; they have lower total carbs than yellow or red bell peppers)
- Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries; good sources of antioxidants)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Chia seeds (great for low-carb baking and puddings)
- Coconut flour (good for baking)
- Condiments (keto-friendly ones only)
- Cucumber (peeled)
- Dairy (heavy cream, cheese, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, some cheeses, like brie, mozzarella, and feta; we don’t recommend full-fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese; though they’re protein-rich, each has 4 or 5 grams of carbs respectively, and low-fat is off limits, too)
- Dark leafy greens (wonderful low-carb veggies)
- Flaxseeds (great for baking and smoothies)
- Green beans
- Hemp hearts (rich in good fat, protein, and minerals; good for breading and baking)
- Meat (grass-fed beef, pork, poultry)
- Nuts (macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, hazelnuts; be mindful of pistachios and cashews, which are higher-carb)
- Oils/fats (olive oil, avocado oil, ghee, MCT oil, coconut oil, lard; go here for more information)
- Salad dressings (sugar-free and low-carb only)
- Seafood (fish, especially fatty fish like mackerel or salmon–they’re high in Omega 3 fatty acids, and shellfish such as mussels and clams)
- Seeds (chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds; be mindful of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, as they are nutritious but higher in carbs)
- 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 for your blood-sugar levels and ketone levels 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
- Cheese (including Parmesan and most other cheeses)
- Dark chocolate (sugar-free keto chocolates, specifically)
- Egg salad
- High-fat yogurt (we love Peak triple cream)
- Mascarpone cheese mixed with a little erythritol
- Nuts (macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts)
- Nut butter (including peanut butter, in moderation)
- 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
- Almond milk (unsweetened only)
- 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 (though watch the carbohydrates; they add up quickly), 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 and enjoy its health benefits (and fat loss, if desired) when you calculate an eating plan using food you love to eat that’s easy to make. The more familiar you are with the lifestyle and keto-approved products and ingredients, the easier it will be to find or make substitutes for everything from ketchup to whole grains to cake. Fortunately, there are tons of great websites featuring keto recipes, including this one! You’ll find delicious meals and diet plans that will support your ketosis and cravings for everything from Chinese food to cookies!
Regardless, it’s a good idea to consult your primary care physician or a dietitian before making major dietary changes.