A ketogenic diet is a high fat and low carb diet. Reducing carbs may put your body in ketosis, which causes it to use fat for energy.
If you find yourself in a conversation about dieting or weight loss, chances are you’ll hear about the ketogenic, or keto, diet. The keto diet has become one of the most popular methods worldwide among people trying to lose weight and improve their health.
Some research suggests that adopting this low carb, high fat diet may promote fat loss and improve glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes (
The keto diet may also have neuroprotective effects and help improve cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease, though more research is needed (
While the keto diet does seem to have some benefits, it is typically high in saturated fat. This can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in some individuals, which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke (
For this reason, the keto diet may not be a good option for everyone.
Additionally, the keto diet is not recommended for people who are pregnant or nursing, or those who have kidney disease, liver disease, respiratory failure, cardiac arrhythmia, or type 1 diabetes (
If you’ve been thinking about trying the keto diet and have gotten the thumbs up from your doctor, use this article to learn more about what to eat and what to limit while following a keto diet.
The keto diet, as a rule, is very low in carbs, high in fat, and moderate in protein.
When following a ketogenic diet, carb content is between 5–10% of calories consumed, though looser versions of the diet exist (
Fats should replace the majority of cut carbs and deliver approximately 60–80% of your total caloric intake.
Proteins should account for around 10–30% of energy needs, while carbs are usually restricted to 5%.
This carb reduction forces your body to rely on fats for its main energy source instead of glucose — a process known as ketosis.
While in ketosis, your body uses ketones — molecules produced in the liver from fats when glucose is limited — as an alternate fuel source. Plus, keto diets reduce hunger and increase satiety, which can be particularly helpful when trying to lose weight (
Research shows that ketogenic diets are effective at promoting weight loss — though they may be no more effective than other weight-loss diets (
The ketogenic diet relies on a very low carb routine. Carbs are typically restricted to 20–50 grams per day, replaced mostly with fat and moderate amounts of protein.
Even though research shows the keto diet may be effective at promoting weight loss, other weight loss diets may be just as effective.
Switching to a ketogenic diet may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Your focus should be on reducing carbs while increasing the fat and protein content of meals and snacks. Some online tools and calculators can be helpful.
In order to reach and remain in a state of ketosis, carbs must be restricted. While certain people might only achieve ketosis by eating 20 grams of carbs per day, others may be successful with a higher carb intake.
Generally, the lower your carbohydrate intake, the easier it is to reach and stay in ketosis.
This is why sticking to keto-friendly foods and avoiding items rich in carbs is the best way to successfully lose weight on a ketogenic diet.
When following a ketogenic diet, meals and snacks should center around the following foods:
- Eggs: pastured, organic, or conventional all work fine
- Poultry: chicken and turkey
- Fatty fish: salmon, herring, and mackerel
- Meat: beef, venison, pork, organ meats, and bison
- Full-fat dairy: unsweetened yogurt, butter, and cream
- Full-fat cheese: cheddar, mozzarella, brie, goat cheese, and cream cheese
- Nuts and seeds: macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and flaxseeds
- Nut butter: no-sugar-added peanut, almond, and cashew butters
- Oils rich in healthy fats: olive oil, avocado oil, and sesame oil
- Avocados: whole avocados can be added to almost any meal or snack
- Non-starchy vegetables: greens, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers
- Condiments: salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and spices
Foods to limit
When possible, it’s best to avoid or limit foods rich in carbs while following a keto diet.
The following foods should be limited:
- Bread and baked goods: white bread, whole wheat bread, crackers, cookies, doughnuts, and rolls
- Sweets and sugary foods: sugar, ice cream, candy, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, and coconut sugar
- Sweetened beverages: soda, juice, sweetened teas, and sports drinks
- Pasta: spaghetti and other noodles
- Grains and grain products: wheat, rice, oats, breakfast cereals, and tortillas
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas, and pumpkin
- Beans and legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans
- Fruit: citrus, grapes, bananas, and pineapple
- High carb sauces: barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, sugary salad dressings, and dipping sauces
- Certain alcoholic beverages: beer and sugary mixed drinks
Though carbs should be restricted, you can enjoy low glycemic fruits, such as berries, in limited amounts as long as you’re maintaining a keto-friendly range of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat).
Be sure to choose plenty of whole foods and steer clear of processed foods and trans fats when possible.
Sugar can be found in a wide variety of beverages including juice, soda, iced tea, and coffee drinks. While on a ketogenic diet, you should limit or avoid high carb drinks, just like high carb foods.
It’s no small matter that sugary beverages have also been linked to various health concerns — from obesity to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (
There are many tasty sugar-free options for those on the keto diet. Keto-friendly beverage choices include:
- Water. Water is the best choice for hydration and should be consumed throughout the day.
- Sparkling water. Sparkling water can make an excellent soda replacement.
- Unsweetened coffee. Try using heavy cream to add flavor to your cup of coffee.
- Unsweetened green tea. Green tea is delicious and may provide many health benefits.
If you want to add some extra flavor to your water, try experimenting with different keto-friendly flavor combinations. For example, tossing some fresh mint and a lemon peel into your water bottle can make hydration a breeze.
Though alcohol should be restricted, enjoying an occasional low carb drink like vodka or tequila mixed with soda water is acceptable on the keto diet.
The ketogenic diet revolves around high fat, low carb food choices and limits highly processed foods and trans fats. Keto-friendly beverage options should be sugar-free when possible. Consider water, sparkling water, or unsweetened green tea and coffee.
The following menu provides fewer than 50 grams of total carbs per day. As mentioned above, some people may have to reduce carbohydrates even further in order to reach ketosis.
This is a general, 1-week ketogenic menu that can be altered depending on individual dietary needs.
- Breakfast: two eggs fried in butter served with sauteed greens
- Lunch: a bunless burger topped with cheese, mushrooms, and avocado atop a bed of greens
- Dinner: pork chops with green beans sauteed in olive oil
- Breakfast: mushroom omelet
- Lunch: tuna salad with celery and tomato atop a bed of greens
- Dinner: roast chicken with cream sauce and sauteed broccoli
- Breakfast: bell pepper stuffed with cheese and eggs
- Lunch: arugula salad with hard-boiled eggs, turkey, avocado, and blue cheese
- Dinner: grilled salmon with spinach sauteed in sesame oil
- Breakfast: full-fat yogurt topped with Keto granola
- Lunch: steak bowl with cauliflower rice, cheese, herbs, avocado, and salsa
- Dinner: bison steak with cheesy broccoli
- Breakfast: baked avocado egg boats
- Lunch: Caesar salad with chicken
- Dinner: pork chops with vegetables
- Breakfast: cauliflower toast topped with cheese and avocado
- Lunch: bunless salmon burgers topped with pesto
- Dinner: meatballs served with zucchini noodles and Parmesan cheese
- Breakfast: coconut milk chia pudding topped with coconut and walnuts
- Lunch: Cobb salad made with greens, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, cheese, and turkey
- Dinner: coconut chicken curry
As you can see, ketogenic meals can be diverse and flavorful.
Although many ketogenic meals are based around animal products, there is a wide variety of vegetarian options to choose from as well.
If you’re following a more liberal ketogenic diet, adding a cup of berries to your breakfast or a small serving of a starchy vegetable to your dinner will increase the number of carbs in this meal plan.
A ketogenic meal plan, like any nutritious diet, should include whole foods and many fiber-rich, low carb vegetables. Choose healthy fats like sesame oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and butter to increase the fat content of dishes.
Snacking between meals can help moderate hunger and keep you on track while following a ketogenic diet.
Here are some excellent, keto-friendly snack options:
- almonds and cheddar cheese
- half an avocado stuffed with chicken salad
- guacamole with low carb veggies
- trail mix made with unsweetened coconut, nuts, and seeds
- hard-boiled eggs
- coconut chips
- kale chips
- olives and sliced salami
- celery and peppers with herbed cream cheese dip
- berries with heavy whipping cream
- cheese roll-ups
- Parmesan crisps
- macadamia nuts
- greens with high fat dressing and avocado
- keto smoothie made with coconut milk, cocoa, and avocado
- avocado cocoa mousse
No matter which diet you are following, it’s important to eat the appropriate number of calories based on your activity level, weight loss goal, age, and gender. Working with a nutritionist can help you make sure you get the proper amount of nutrients and calories for your personal goals or health history.
Keto-friendly snacks should be high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs. You can increase your fiber intake by snacking on sliced, low carb vegetables with a high fat dipping sauce.
A well-rounded ketogenic diet should include lots of fresh produce, healthy fats, and proteins.
Choosing a mixture of both fresh and frozen produce will ensure that you have a supply of keto-friendly vegetables and fruits to add to recipes.
The following is a simple ketogenic shopping list that can guide you when perusing the grocery aisles:
- Meat and poultry: beef, chicken, turkey, and pork
- Fish: fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, canned tuna, and herring
- Shellfish: oysters, shrimp, and scallops
- Eggs: organic or conventional
- Full fat dairy: unsweetened yogurt, butter, heavy cream, and sour cream
- Oils: olive, sesame, and avocado oils
- Avocados: a mixture of ripe and unripe avocados (so that your supply will last)
- Cheese: Brie, cream cheese, cheddar, and goat cheese
- Frozen or fresh berries: blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
- Nuts: macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds
- Nut butters: almond butter, sunflower butter, and peanut butter
- Fresh or frozen low carb vegetables: mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, greens, peppers, onions, and tomatoes
- Condiments: sea salt, pepper, salsa, herbs, garlic, vinegar, mustard, olives, and spices
It’s always worthwhile to plan your meals ahead of time and fill your cart with the ingredients needed for a few days’ worth of healthy dishes.
Plus, sticking to a shopping list can help you avoid foods that don’t fit within your nutrition plan.
Preparing a shopping list can help you decide what foods will fit into your ketogenic meal plan. Fill your cart with meat, poultry, eggs, low carb veggies, full-fat dairy, and healthy fats.
A ketogenic diet should consist of about 60–80% fat, 10–30% protein, and no more than 5–10% — or 20–50 grams — of carbs per day.
Focus on high fat, low carb foods like eggs, meats, dairy, and low carb vegetables, as well as sugar-free beverages. Be sure to limit highly processed foods and trans fats.
The popularity of the ketogenic diet has made it easier than ever to find a wide array of interesting and healthy keto meal ideas online.
Using this article as a guide to get started on the keto diet can set you up for success and make transitioning to a high fat, low carb diet a breeze.
Because the keto diet may not be advisable for certain individuals with high cholesterol or who are living with heart disease, be sure to consult a registered dietitian, physician, or other qualified healthcare professional before starting the keto diet to ensure it is safe for you.
Just one thing
Try this today: If you prefer a vegetarian lifestyle, it’s still possible to follow a keto diet. Check out some creative keto food and meal plans for vegetarians.