The Diet Doctor food policy
There are many thoughts and ideas about what foods are and aren’t part of a healthy low-carb or keto diet, and that can sometimes be confusing, to say the least. With this food policy we aim to make transparent where we stand on the matter and what foods you can expect from our low-carb and keto recipes.
Our goal, to empower people everywhere to revolutionize their health, humbles us to the fact that all individuals are different and have different needs at different times. We hope you will find this policy helpful when you embark on the journey of finding out what foods work best for you.
- Different levels of low carb
- Carbohydrates (carbs)
- Higher-carb ingredients
- Fruits and berries
- Gluten-free grains
- Dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
Different levels of low carb
Here’s how we define different levels of low carb at Diet Doctor:
- Ketogenic low carb <20 gram net carbs per day.1 This is a ketogenic diet (if protein intake is moderate). This level is defined as below 4 energy percent (E%) carbs in our recipes.2 We also keep the protein level low or moderate (excess protein is converted to carbohydrates in the body).34 In our ketogenic recipes the amount of carbs per serving is shown in green balls.
- Moderate low carb 20-50 net grams per day. This level is defined as between 4-10 E% carbs in our recipes and the amount of carbs per serving is shown in yellow balls.
- Liberal low carb 50-100 net grams per day. This means 10-20 E% carbs in our recipes and the amount of carbs per serving is shown in orange balls.
We aim to provide recipes with 0–20 percent of the total energy intake coming mostly from unprocessed real food carb sources (e.g. vegetables).
Carbs are not essential to the human body but if they come from unprocessed food, they contribute nutrients and fiber.56 They also give you the possibility to vary how you eat and add texture and color to your plate.
We show net carbs (total carbs with fiber subtracted) because in most people the fiber doesn’t cause a rise in blood glucose or insulin.7
We recommend meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and/or dairy as sources of protein, preferably as unprocessed as possible.8
Protein is essential to the human body but an excess intake can lead to some of the protein turning into glucose, which may raise insulin levels and reduce ketosis.9 This is why we slightly limit protein in our keto recipes but not otherwise.10
Minimally processed added fats, such as butter, olive oil and coconut oil can be used in amounts needed to provide satiety.13 However, they should still be seen as a modest part of one’s diet and not the main component due to their relative lack of essential nutrients.
Vegetable and seed oils (except olive or coconut oil) are often high in omega-6 fats and, therefore, are not something we recommend. Examples of these non-recommended vegetable and seed oils are soybean oil, corn oil and sunflower oil. In large quantities omega-6 fats might potentially increase inflammation.14 These fats may also be less tolerant to heating, potentially forming harmful substances when used for frying.15 Processed fats such as margarine are not used on our site.
- Visual guide: Low-carb fats and sauces – the best and worst
- Learn more about fat
- Vegetable oils: What we know and what we don’t
We see real foods high in carbs, like potatoes and rice, as something that can be a part of a healthy diet, in small to moderate amounts, for most people (especially if they are insulin sensitive).
However, such foods are high in carbs, reduce the effects of a low-carb diet, and can be a problem for insulin-resistant people.16 Therefore, we have chosen to not include potatoes, rice and other starches in our meal plans or recipes.
Herbs, like buckwheat and quinoa, are not something we recommend eating large amounts of, but are theoretically allowed in quantities that keep the recipes within our set limits for carbs. As a general rule, we don’t use them in our keto recipes.
Fruits and berries
We see fruits and berries as nature’s candy and something that can be a part of a healthy diet, in small to moderate amounts, for most people.17 However, fruit contains a large proportion of calories from sugar. Thus, people with insulin resistance, e.g. people with type 2 diabetes, may want to mostly avoid fruit.18
We aim to clearly mark recipes with a significant amount of sugar in them as moderate or liberal. This is to make it simple for people sensitive to sugar, such as people with diabetes, to take that into consideration.19
As a general rule, we don’t have any fruit in our keto recipes. Berries are usually a lower-carb option and are used in recipes as long as they stay within our set limits for carbs.
Additionally, although we occasionally use very small amounts of citrus juice in some of our recipes, we ensure that they fall within our established carb limits.
We recommend minimizing the use of non-caloric sweeteners due to the potential for addiction, maintaining a preference for sweet tastes or stimulating over-consumption.20 Some people can also experience gastrointestinal problems when consuming.21
Certain sweeteners that we deem potentially less harmful, such as erythritol and stevia, may be used in small amounts in our low-carb and keto dessert recipes.22
We don’t see a need to use pure regular sugar, brown sugar, honey or agave in our recipes because they don’t provide anything necessary for a healthy diet.
We don’t use ingredients containing gluten knowingly because it can cause problems for people sensitive to it, even in small amounts.24
We can’t guarantee that some ingredients used in our recipes (ground psyllium husk, oat fiber and protein powder etc.) haven’t been contaminated in production.25
Gluten-free grains, such as oats, are not something we recommend eating a lot of due to their high carb content.26
We do think that in small to moderate amounts, they can be part of a healthy diet for insulin-sensitive people. That’s why small amounts of gluten-free grains are allowed in our moderate and liberal low-carb recipes as long as they stay within our set limits for carbs. As a general rule, we don’t use them in our keto recipes.
However, some of our keto and low-carb recipes do contain oat fiber, which does not raise blood sugar and insulin because it is not digested and absorbed by your body.27
We use full-fat dairy products such as butter, heavy whipping cream, yogurt and cheese in our recipes unless they are marked as dairy-free.28 Full-fat dairy products have a high protein and/or fat content, which can increase satiety.29
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are used in our recipes, both in their natural form and as flours. They add texture and flavor and can be used as a handy snack.30
The carb content between different nuts and seeds varies quite a lot and if used in a recipe it must stay within our set limits for carbs.
Some legumes (sometimes referred to as grain legumes or pulses) – such as beans, lentils, peas and peanuts – are fairly high in carbs but are allowed in our recipes as long as the recipe itself stays within our set limits for carbs.
Legumes have varying amounts of resistant starch, which may have a lowering effect on blood sugar for some people, potentially mitigating the effects of the other carbohydrates somewhat.31
Products made from soy, like tofu, are not something we recommend eating often or in large quantities. This is because they contain phytoestrogens, which some studies suggest might be detrimental to health.32
Since the potential harm depends on the amount consumed, soy may be used in some recipes as a substitute for animal protein, but only on rare occasions.
Dark chocolate with ≥70% cocoa solids (preferably ≥85%) and sugar-free chocolate may be used in our dessert recipes if they stay within our set limits for carbs. It’s only allowed in desserts and intended for occasional consumption, not in breakfast or snack recipes or in recipes that can be considered everyday foods.
However, unsweetened cocoa powder may be added to coffee or consumed as hot cocoa on a more frequent basis, as it contains a minimal amount of net carbs.33
My favorite recipes
My meal plans
Keto meal plans
Moderate low-carb meal plans
Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fiber. ↩
The limit of four percent energy means that you’ll stay below a maximum 20 grams of carbs on a 2,000-calorie diet, even if you only choose our most carb-rich keto recipes.
In most cases you’ll end up with far fewer carbs than that, as some of the keto recipes you use are likely to have significantly less than the maximum amount of carbs. ↩
As excess protein can reduce ketosis, our keto recipes are also limited in protein. Our rule is that for keto recipes with 4 energy percent carbs we accept a maximum of 25 energy percent protein. For lower carb levels we accept slightly more protein:
- 3 % carbs = max 27 % protein
- 2 % carbs = max 29 % protein
- 1 % carbs = max 31 % protein
- 0 % carbs = max 33 % protein
If there’s too much protein in a recipe to classify it as keto low carb, we instead classify it as moderate low carb.
Note that we use percent protein in our recipes for simplicity, but what really matters most is the absolute amount of protein you eat per day. If you eat very little, you may stay in ketosis even with a higher percentage protein. In this case, your protein intake probably shouldn’t exceed 1.7 grams per kg of body weight.
The process of converting excess protein to glucose is called gluconeogenesis (literally “making new glucose”). During digestion, protein is broken down into individual amino acids, which your body can use to make glucose.
US Food and Nutrition Board’s 2005 textbook “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids”, stated that:
“The lower limit of dietary carbohydrate compatible with life apparently is zero, provided that adequate amounts of protein and fat are consumed.”
Although some low-carb experts disagree, it’s generally accepted that humans lack the enzymes needed to break down fiber and absorb it into the bloodstream. Therefore, the fiber portion of carbs does not raise blood sugar and insulin levels.
In addition to containing fewer carbs than most plant sources of protein, animal protein is considered higher quality because it contains all 9 essential amino acids – the ones your body can’t make on its own – in optimal amounts.
Gluconeogenesis is a demand-driven process that occurs whenever glucose is needed. For instance, when someone follows a carb-free diet, gluconeogenesis will provide glucose for the few parts of the body that can’t use ketones: red blood cells and portions of the kidney and brain.
Very high protein intake on a keto or low-carb diet may also lead to gluconeogenesis.
However, reports from physicians who recommend a higher-protein, low-carb way of eating suggest that blood sugar response to this approach can vary quite a bit from person to person.
Our rule is that for keto recipes with 4 energy percent carbs we accept a maximum of 25 energy percent protein. For lower carb levels we accept slightly more protein:
- 3 % carbs = max 27 % protein
- 2 % carbs = max 29 % protein
- 1 % carbs = max 31 % protein
- 0 % carbs = max 33 % protein
If there’s too much protein in a recipe to classify it as keto low carb, we instead classify it as moderate low carb. ↩
While we recommend consuming adequate amounts of good-quality fat, technically only alpha-linolenic (omega-3) and linoleic (omega-6) fatty acids are essential, meaning they must be consumed in the diet because your body can’t make them.
The reason is that these foods have significantly higher levels of essential nutrients, compared to added fats. ↩
Many natural fat sources are high in saturated fatty acids. This should no be longer considered harmful, as modern science has shown saturated fat to be more or less neutral from a health perspective.
Open Heart 2015: Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence] ↩
However, results from controlled trials investigating a relationship between omega-6 fatty acids and inflammation have been mixed. Further research in this area is needed.
People with type 2 diabetes often do better on a very low-carb diet:
Studies have found that people with diabetes achieve better blood sugar and insulin control when consuming keto diets that contain minimal to no fruit vs. diets that contain moderate amounts of fruit.
Nutrition & Diabetes 2017: Twelve-month outcomes of a randomized trial of a moderate-carbohydrate versus very low-carbohydrate diet in overweight adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes [moderate evidence]
Journal of Medical Internet Research 2017: An online intervention comparing a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and lifestyle recommendations versus a plate method diet in overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]
At this time, research remains inconclusive regarding the effects of sweeteners on appetite, cravings, and overeating:
However, many people have reported experiencing these effects when consuming artificial sweeteners.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015: Effects on weight loss in adults of replacing diet beverages with water during a hypoenergetic diet: a randomized, 24-wk clinical trial [moderate evidence]↩
This includes potential changes to the gut microbiome:
Stevia and erythritol have minimal, if any, effects on blood sugar and insulin levels. They are generally considered safe and well tolerated when used in small amounts on an occasional basis.
American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology & Metabolism 2016: Gut hormone secretion, gastric emptying, and glycemic responses to erythritol and xylitol in lean and obese subjects [moderate evidence]
Keep in mind that sugar is sugar. “Natural” sugars like honey have been shown to raise blood glucose and insulin levels as much as white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup:
This may be true for both for people with celiac disease and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Nutrients 2016: Evidence for the presence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity in patients with functional gastrointestinal symptoms: results from a multicenter randomized double-blind placebo-controlled gluten challenge [moderate evidence]
If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, you may want to purchase ingredients that are certified or verified gluten-free. ↩
Furthermore, some inherently gluten-free grains, seeds, and flours (e.g. oats, millet flour, soy flour) not labeled gluten-free might sometimes be contaminated with gluten while being harvested, transported, and/or processed.
This potential risk of contamination could be a health concern for gluten-sensitive people.
Humans lack the enzymes needed to break down fiber and absorb it into the bloodstream. Therefore, the fiber portion of carbs does not raise blood sugar and insulin levels.
The fear of saturated fats, like those in dairy, appears to have been completely misguided:
Nutrition Journal 2017: The effect of replacing saturated fat with mostly n-6 polyunsaturated fat on coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials [strong evidence] (analysis)
Studies suggest that consuming dairy products may help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight by promoting satiety and reducing overall food intake:
Nuts also contain several micronutrients and may have generally positive health effects:
Resistant starch “resists” digestion in the intestinal tract and instead passes directly into the colon, where bacteria ferment it into short-chain fatty acids that may potentially improve blood glucose regulation.
Note, however, that the studies below used large amounts of resistant starch (10 or 30 grams per day). It may be unpractical to get as much resistant starch from legumes, that usually contain about 1-4 grams of resistant starch per 100 grams.
Research suggests that soy may have both positive and negative effects on health. Although most studies demonstrating harm were conducted on animals rather than humans, concerns remain regarding potential hormone-disrupting effects of soy and other phytoestrogens.
Choosing whole and/or fermented soy (tempeh, miso, natto) might be a better option than other soy products. ↩
Some studies suggest it might even have benefits for heart and gut health:
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011: Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study [moderate evidence]