Ingredients to avoid on a low-carb or keto diet
If you can keep the bad ingredients out of your cart, you set yourself up for low-carb or keto success. Avoid these four key ingredients when buying packaged goods: sugar, starch, bad fats, and sugar replacements.
Print this list and bring it with you to the market.
1. Avoid sugar
Why are there so many names for sugar? This is one of the games that Big Food plays. If food manufacturers call sugar something else, you will be less likely to recognize it and more likely to buy.
Some food manufacturers will even use a couple of different kinds of sugar in a product so it will have less of each kind. That way, they can list the sugary ingredients farther down on the ingredient list, so buyers won’t know how much sugar is in there. Tricky, right?
What might sugar be called in the ingredient list on packaged foods?
Coconut palm sugar
Brown rice syrup
Corn syrup solids
High fructose corn syrup
High maltose corn syrup
Cane juice crystals
Dehydrated cane juice
Evaporated cane juice
Sometimes special sugars (other than sucrose) are listed by their scientific name. And sometimes sugar finds it way into your food as a natural ingredient, like maple syrup. So watch for these possibilities, too:
Fruit juice concentrate
2. Avoid starch
So watch for ingredients like these and keep products made with them out of your cart:
Chickpea flour or Gram
Plantain or Banana
Sweet potatoes & yams
Worried about baking without grains? Fear not. Low-carb baking is still possible with ingredients like almond flour, coconut flour, and psyllium husk powder. Check out our guide low-carb baking 101, to learn more.
For help finding low-carb nut flours and other specialty items, check out our guide on how to shop for low-carb extras online.
You might want to check out our low-carb bread recipes, too.
3. Avoid bad fats
All fats are not created equal. Reviewing the ingredient list on products at the supermarket — before you buy — can help you eat more healthy naturally-occurring fat and avoid artificial trans fats and processed vegetable oils.
We encourage you to completely avoid artificially produced trans fats, usually listed as “partially hydrogenated” oil or vegetable shortening. In addition, we suggest you minimize margarine and the highly processed vegetable oils listed below. These oils are produced in a factory with high heat, solvents, deodorizers, and bleach. They are products of food science and are particularly unstable when heated. Avoid them if you can.
Partially hydrogenated anything
Vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
Note that for avoiding trans fat, the ingredient list is a better guide than the nutrition facts label. Artificial trans fats may be present in small amounts, up to 0.49 grams per serving, and the nutrition facts label will still show 0g trans fat. Small amounts can add up, especially when serving sizes are small, so check the ingredients before assuming a product is trans fat free.
And don’t worry about the small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in some whole foods like meat and butter. It is the artificial trans fats that we need to avoid. So, again, the ingredient list is more informative than the nutrition facts label when it comes to trans fat.
Read more about fats in our guide — Healthy fats on a keto or low-carb diet. And while you are at it, why not check out our guide to eating more of the right kinds of fat — The top 10 ways to eat more fat.
4. Avoid sugar replacements
Here are the names of sugar replacements you might see on an ingredient list:
Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
Monk Fruit (Luo Han Gul)
Want more information about the differences among these sugar replacements? Then check out this detailed listing with helpful information on dozens of products.
That’s it! Now you have better awareness of the names of ingredients that don’t fit your low-carb lifestyle. Print this list and take it along so you can hit the grocery aisles with resolve and confidence!
There are two companion guides with more information about navigating the grocery store and deciphering food labels. They are:
For more basics, check out our simple but thorough beginner’s guide to the keto diet:
About the author
Jenni Calihan created the non-profit, Eat the Butter, to start a mother-to-mother conversation about diet and health. She advocates for real-food-more-fat eating, and has been feeding her family (four kids) for twenty years.