The ketogenic diet has become popular.
Studies have found that this very low carb, high fat diet is effective for weight loss, diabetes, and epilepsy (Trusted Source).
Still, higher quality research on the diet is still needed to determine its long-term safety and efficacy (Trusted Source).
A ketogenic diet typically limits carbs to 20 to 50 grams per day. While this may seem challenging, many nutritious foods can easily fit into this way of eating.
Here are some healthy foods to eat on a ketogenic diet.
However, the carbs in different types of shellfish vary. For instance, while shrimp and most crabs contain no carbs, other types of shellfish do (Trusted Source).
While these shellfish can still be included on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to account for these carbs when you’re trying to stay within a narrow range.
Here are the carb counts for 3.5-ounce (100-gram) servings of some popular types of shellfish (Trusted Source):
- clams: 4 grams
- mussels: 4 grams
- octopus: 4 grams
- oysters: 3 grams
- squid: 3 grams
Salmon, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish are very high in omega-3 fats, which have been found to lower insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity in people who have overweight and obesity (Trusted Source).
In addition, frequent fish intake has been linked to a decreased risk of disease and improved cognitive health (Trusted Source).
The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1 to 2 seafood meals every week (Trusted Source).
Many types of seafood are carb-free or very low in carbs. Fish and shellfish are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s.
2. Low-carb vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbs, but high in many nutrients, including vitamin C and several minerals.
Vegetables and other plants contain fiber, which your body doesn’t digest and absorb like other carbs.
Therefore, look at their digestible (or net) carb count, which is total carbs minus fiber. The term “net carbs” simply refers to carbs that are absorbed by the body.
Note that net carbs and their effects on the body are somewhat controversial, and more research is needed.
Many vegetables contain very few net carbs. However, consuming one serving of “starchy” vegetables like potatoes, yams, or beets could put you over your entire carb limit for the day.
The net carb count for non-starchy vegetables ranges from less than 1 gram for 1 cup of raw spinach to 7 grams for 1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts (Trusted Source).
What’s more, cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower have been linked to decreased cancer and heart disease risk (Trusted Source).
Low carb veggies make great substitutes for higher carb foods.
- cauliflower can be used to mimic rice or mashed potatoes
- “zoodles” can be created from zucchini
- spaghetti squash is a natural substitute for spaghetti
Here are some examples of keto-friendly vegetables to include in your eating plan.
Keto vegetable list:
- green beans
- peppers (especially green)
The net carbs in non-starchy vegetables range from 1 to 8 grams per cup. Vegetables are nutritious, versatile, and may help reduce the risk of disease.
One ounce (28 grams) of cheddar cheese provides 1 gram of carbs, 6.5 grams of protein, and a good amount of calcium (Trusted Source).
Cheese is high in saturated fat, but it hasn’t been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. In fact, some studies suggest that cheese may help protect against heart disease (Trusted Source).
In addition, eating cheese regularly may help reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging.
A 12-week study in older adults found that those who consumed 7 ounces (210 grams) of ricotta cheese per day experienced less muscle mass and muscle strength loss over the course of the study than others (Trusted Source).
Here are some cheeses that are lower in carbs for a keto diet.
Keto cheese list:
- blue cheese
- colby jack
- cottage cheese
- cream cheese
- goat cheese
- pepper jack
- string cheese
Cheese is rich in protein, calcium, and beneficial fatty acids, yet contains a minimal amount of carbs.
Avocados are incredibly healthy; 3.5 ounces (100 grams), or about one-half of a medium avocado, contain 9 grams of carbs.
However, 7 of these are fiber, so its net carb count is only 2 grams (Trusted Source).
Avocados are high in several vitamins and minerals, including potassium, an important mineral many people may not get enough of. What’s more, a higher potassium intake may help make the transition to a ketogenic diet easier (Trusted Source).
In addition, avocados may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Avocados contain 2 grams of net carbs per serving and are high in fiber and several nutrients, including potassium. In addition, they may help improve heart health markers.
5. Meat and poultry
Meat and poultry are considered staple foods on a ketogenic diet.
Fresh meat and poultry contain no carbs and are rich in B vitamins and several important minerals (Trusted Source).
One study in older women found that consuming a diet high in fatty meat led to HDL (good) cholesterol levels that were 5% higher than on a low fat, high carb diet (Trusted Source).
It’s best to choose grass-fed meat, if possible. That’s because animals that eat grass produce meat with higher amounts of omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid, and antioxidants than meat from grain-fed animals (Trusted Source).
Meat and poultry do not contain carbs and are rich in high-quality protein and several nutrients. Grass-fed meat is the healthiest choice.
Eggs are one of the healthiest and most versatile foods on the planet.
One large egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs and about 6 grams of protein, making eggs an ideal food for a ketogenic lifestyle (Trusted Source).
In addition, eggs have been shown to trigger hormones that increase feelings of fullness and satiety (Trusted Source).
It’s important to eat the entire egg, as most of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk. This includes the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect eye health (Trusted Source).
Although egg yolks are high in cholesterol, consuming them doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels in most people. In fact, eggs appear to modify the size of LDL particles in a way that reduces the risk of heart disease (Trusted Source).
Eggs contain less than 1 gram of carbs each and can help keep you full for hours. They’re also high in several nutrients and may help protect eye and heart health.
7. Coconut oil
Coconut oil has unique properties that make it well suited for a ketogenic diet.
To begin with, it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike long-chain fats, MCTs are taken up directly by the liver and converted into ketones or used as a rapid source of energy.
In fact, coconut oil has been used to increase ketone levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders of the brain and nervous system (Trusted Source).
The main fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, a slightly longer-chain fat. It has been suggested that coconut oil’s mix of MCTs and lauric acid may promote a sustained level of ketosis (Trusted Source).
What’s more, coconut oil may help adults with obesity lose weight and belly fat.
In one study, men who ate 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of coconut oil per day lost 1 inch (2.5 cm), on average, from their waistlines without making any other dietary changes (Trusted Source).
For more information about how to add coconut oil to your diet, read this article.
Coconut oil is rich in MCTs, which can increase ketone production. In addition, it may increase metabolic rate and promote the loss of weight and belly fat.
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8. Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are healthy, high protein foods.
While they contain some carbs, they can still be included in a ketogenic lifestyle in moderation.
A half cup (105 grams) of plain Greek yogurt provides 4 grams of carbs and 9 grams of protein. That amount of cottage cheese provides 5 grams of carbs and 11 grams of protein (Trusted Source).
Both yogurt and cottage cheese have been shown to help decrease appetite and promote feelings of fullness (Trusted Source).
Either one makes a tasty snack on its own. However, both can also be combined with chopped nuts, cinnamon, or other spices for a quick and easy keto treat.
Both plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese contain 5 grams of carbs per serving. Studies have shown that they help reduce appetite and promote fullness.
9. Olive oil
Olive oil provides impressive benefits for your heart.
It’s high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been found to decrease heart disease risk factors in many studies (Trusted Source).
In addition, extra-virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants known as phenols. These compounds further protect heart health by decreasing inflammation and improving artery function (Trusted Source).
As a pure fat source, olive oil contains no carbs. It’s an ideal base for salad dressings and healthy mayonnaise.
Because it isn’t as stable as saturated fats at high temperatures, it’s best to use olive oil for low-heat cooking or add it to foods after they’ve been cooked.
Extra-virgin olive oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It’s ideal for salad dressings, mayonnaise, and adding to cooked foods.
10. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are healthy, high fat, and low-carb foods.
Frequent nut consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression, and other chronic diseases (Trusted Source).
Although all nuts and seeds are low in net carbs, the amount varies quite a bit among the different types.
Here are the carb counts for 1 ounce (28 grams) of some popular nuts and seeds (Trusted Source):
- almonds: 2 grams net carbs (6 grams total carbs)
- Brazil nuts: 1 gram net carbs (3 grams total carbs)
- cashews: 8 grams net carbs (9 grams total carbs)
- macadamia nuts: 2 grams net carbs (4 grams total carbs)
- pecans: 2 grams net carbs (4 grams total carbs)
- pistachios: 5 grams net carbs (8 grams total carbs)
- walnuts: 2 grams net carbs (4 grams total carbs)
- chia seeds: 1 gram net carbs (12 grams total carbs)
- flaxseeds: 0 grams net carbs (8 grams total carbs)
- pumpkin seeds: 3 grams net carbs (5 grams total carbs)
- sesame seeds: 3 grams net carbs (7 grams total carbs)
Nuts and seeds are heart-healthy, high in fiber, and may lead to healthier aging. They provide 0 to 8 grams of net carbs per ounce.
Berries are low in carbs and high in fiber. In fact, raspberries and blackberries contain as much fiber as digestible carbs.
These tiny fruits are loaded with antioxidants that have been credited with reducing inflammation and protecting against disease (Trusted Source).
Here are the carb counts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of some berries (Trusted Source):
- blackberries: 11 grams net carbs (16 grams total carbs)
- blueberries: 9 grams net carbs (12 grams total carbs)
- raspberries: 6 grams net carbs (12 grams total carbs)
- strawberries: 7 grams net carbs (9 grams total carbs)
Berries are rich in nutrients that may reduce the risk of disease. They provide 5 to 12 grams of net carbs per 3.5-ounce serving.
12. Butter and cream
For many years, butter and cream were believed to cause or contribute to heart disease due to their high saturated fat contents. However, several large studies have shown that, for most people, saturated fat isn’t linked to heart disease (Trusted Source).
In fact, some studies suggest that a moderate consumption of high fat dairy may possibly reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke (Trusted Source).
Like other fatty dairy products, butter and cream are rich in conjugated linoleic acid, the fatty acid that may promote fat loss (30).
Butter and cream are nearly carb-free and appear to have neutral or beneficial effects on heart health when consumed in moderation.
13. Shirataki noodles
They contain less than 1 gram of net carbs and 15 calories per serving because they’re mainly water (Trusted Source).
In fact, these noodles are made from a viscous fiber called glucomannan, which can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water (Trusted Source).
Viscous fiber forms a gel that slows down food’s movement through your digestive tract. This can help decrease hunger and blood sugar spikes, making it beneficial for weight loss and diabetes management (Trusted Source).
Shirataki noodles come in a variety of shapes, including rice, fettuccine, and linguine. They can be substituted for regular noodles in all types of recipes.
Shirataki noodles contain less than 1 gram of carbs per serving. Their viscous fiber helps slow down the movement of food through your digestive tract, which promotes fullness and stable blood sugar levels.
Olives provide the same health benefits as olive oil, only in solid form.
Oleuropein, the main antioxidant found in olives, has anti-inflammatory properties and may protect your cells from damage (Trusted Source).
In addition, in vitro studies suggest that consuming olives may help prevent bone loss and decrease blood pressure, though no human trials are available yet (Trusted Source).
Olives vary in carb content due to their size. However, half of their carbs come from fiber, so their digestible carb content is very low.
Ten olives (34 grams) contain 2 grams of total carbs and 1 gram of fiber. This works out to a net carb count of about 1 gram depending on the size (Trusted Source).
Olives are rich in antioxidants that may help protect heart and bone health. They contain 1 gram of net carbs per ounce.
15. Unsweetened coffee and tea
What’s more, coffee and tea drinkers have been shown to have a significantly reduced risk of diabetes. In fact, those with the highest coffee intake have the lowest risk for developing diabetes (Trusted Source).
Adding heavy cream to coffee or tea is fine but stay away from “light” coffee and tea lattes. These are typically made with nonfat milk and contain high carb flavorings.
Unsweetened coffee and tea contain no carbs and can help boost your metabolic rate, as well as physical and mental performance. They can also reduce your risk for diabetes.
16. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Dark chocolate and cocoa are delicious sources of antioxidants.
In fact, cocoa provides at least as much antioxidant activity as any other fruit, including blueberries and acai berries (Trusted Source).
Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and keeping arteries healthy (96).
Somewhat surprisingly, chocolate can be part of a ketogenic diet. However, it’s important to choose dark chocolate that contains a minimum of 70% cocoa solids, preferably more, and eat in moderation.
One ounce (28 grams) of unsweetened chocolate (100% cocoa) has 3 grams of net carbs (Trusted Source).
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are high in antioxidants and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Take Away
A ketogenic diet can be used to achieve weight loss, blood sugar management, and other health-related goals.
Fortunately, it can include a wide variety of nutritious, tasty, and versatile foods that allow you to remain within your daily carb range.
To reap all the health benefits of a ketogenic diet, consume keto-friendly foods on a regular basis.
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