Ketogenic diet foods – what to eat

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Are you not sure what to eat on a keto diet? Here you’ll find a quick food list and visual guide, showing you what to eat and avoid on keto. Let’s start with a basic overview:

In summary, eat real low-carb foods like , , , and like butter or olive oil. As a basic beginner’s rule, stick to foods with fewer than 5% carbs (numbers above).1

 

Avoid

Here’s what you should not eat on a keto diet – foods full of sugar and starch. As you can see, these foods are much higher in carbs.

 

Drinks

Keto diet drinks

Drink water, coffee, tea or the occasional glass of wine. More

 

Disclaimer: This guide is for adults with health issues, including obesity, that could benefit from a keto diet. While the diet has proven benefits, it’s still controversial. There may be a need to adapt pre-existing medications. Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor. Full disclaimer


 

Full keto diet food list

Eat

    Meat

  • Meat – Unprocessed meats are low carb and keto-friendly, and organic and grass-fed meat might be even healthier.2 But remember that keto is a high-fat diet, not high protein, so you don’t need huge amounts of meat. Excess protein (more than your body needs) is converted to glucose, making it harder to get into ketosis.3 A normal amount of meat is enough.
     
    Note that processed meats, like sausages, cold cuts and meat balls often contain added carbs. When in doubt look at the ingredients, aim for under 5% carbs. Top recipes
  • Keto diet food list: fish

  • Fish and seafood – These are all good, especially fatty fish like salmon. However, avoid breading, as it contains carbs. If you can find wild-caught fish that’s probably the best.4 Top recipes
  • Eggs

  • Eggs – Eat them any way, e.g. boiled, fried in butter, scrambled or as omelets, whatever you want. Top keto egg recipes
  • Buying organic or pastured eggs might be the healthiest option.5How many eggs can you eat, considering cholesterol? Our advice is no more than 36 eggs, per day.6 But feel free to eat fewer if you prefer.

    Fats&sauces

  • Natural fat, high-fat sauces – Most of the calories on a keto diet should come from fat. You’ll likely get much of it from natural sources like meat, fish, eggs etc. But also use fat in cooking, like butter or coconut fat, and add plenty of olive oil to salads etc. You can also eat delicious high-fat sauces including Bearnaise sauce etc., or garlic butter (recipes).
     
    Full guide to keto fats & sauces
    Top 10 ways to eat more fat
     
    Remember, don’t fear fat.7 On keto, fat is your friend. Why saturated fats are fine to eat
  • Keto low-carb vegetables

  • Vegetables growing above ground. Fresh or frozen – either is fine. Choose vegetables growing above ground (here’s why), especially leafy and green items. Favorites include cauliflower, cabbage, avocado, broccoli and zucchini.8  
    Vegetables are a great and tasty way to eat good fat on keto. Fry them in butter and pour plenty of olive oil on your salad. Some even think of vegetables as a fat-delivery system. They also add more variety, flavor and color to your keto meals.
     
    Many people end up eating more vegetables than before when starting keto, as veggies replace the pasta, rice, potatoes etc. Full guide to keto low-carb vegetables
  • Keto dairy

  • High-fat dairy – Butter is good, high-fat cheese is fine and high-fat yogurts can be had in moderation.9 Heavy cream is good for cooking.
     
    Avoid drinking milk as the milk sugar quickly adds up (one glass = 15 grams of carbs), but you can use it sparingly in your coffee. Definitely avoid caffè latte (18 grams of carbs). Also avoid low-fat yogurts, especially as they often contain lots of added sugars.
  • Finally, be aware that regularly snacking on cheese when you’re not hungry is a common mistake that can slow weight loss.
    Keto nuts

  • Nuts – Can be had in moderation, but be careful when using nuts as snacks, as it’s very easy to eat far more than you need to feel satisfied. Also be aware that cashews are relatively high carb, choose macadamia or pecan nuts instead or check out our full keto nuts guide
  • Berries

  • Berries – A moderate amount is OK on keto, perhaps with real whipping cream, a popular keto dessert. Full fruits and berries guide

Keto drinksDrink

  • Water – The #1 option. Have it flat, with ice, or sparkling. Sip it hot like a tea, or add natural flavouring like sliced cucumbers, lemons, or limes. If you experience headaches or symptoms of “keto flu“, add a few shakes of salt to your water.10
  • Coffee – No sugar. A small amount of milk or cream is fine. For extra energy from fat, stir in butter and coconut oil for “Bulletproof coffee.” Note, if weight loss stalls, cut back on the cream or fat in your coffee.11
  • Tea – Whether black, green, Orange Pekoe, mint, or herbal — feel free to drink most teas. Don’t add sugar.12
  • Bone broth – Hydrating, satisfying, full of nutrients and electrolytes — and simple to make! — homemade bone broth can be a great beverage to sip on the keto diet. Stir in a pat of butter for some extra energy.13

For more suggestions see our full keto drinks guide

 

Recipes

So what does keto food look like when it’s cooked and ready to eat? Feel free to check out our keto recipes for hundreds of examples. Below you’ll find a few popular options.

Shopping lists & meal plans

If planning your own meals sounds too time-consuming, we can help you avoid it. For maximum simplicity sign up for the free 2-week keto challenge or our customizable keto meal plan service (free trial). Personalized shopping lists are included.

Alternatively, just use our free 14-day keto meal plan.  

Keto alcoholFor special occasions

You decide when the time is right. Your weight loss could slow down a bit.14

  • Alcohol: Dry wine (regular red or dry white wine), champagne, whisky, brandy, vodka and cocktails without sugar. Full keto alcohol guide
  • Dark chocolate: A square of dark chocolate, with cocoa above 70% , can often hit the spot. Try some 85% gourmet chocolate shaved over whipped cream and berries. See our guide to keto treats and snacks.

Keto–Chocolate

 


 

High-carb foods to avoid

  • Avoid sugary foods on ketoSugar: This is the big no-no. Cut out all soft drinks, fruit juice, sport drinks and “vitamin water” (these are all basically sugar water). Avoid sweets, candy, cakes, cookies, chocolate bars, donuts, frozen treats and breakfast cereals.
     
    Read labels for hidden sugars, especially in sauces, condiments, drinks, dressings and packaged goods. Honey, maple syrup, and agave are also sugars. Ideally try to avoid or limit artificial sweeteners as well.15 Full keto sweeteners guide
  • keto-avoid-starchStarch: Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes (including sweet potatoes), French fries, potato chips, porridge, muesli and so on. Avoid wholegrain products as well.16  
    Legumes, such as beans and lentils, are high in carbs too. Small amounts of certain root vegetables (other than potatoes and sweet potatoes) may be OK.

    Note that there are many good potential replacements for these foods, that work on a keto diet. Here are a few of them:
    Keto breads
    Keto “pasta”
    Keto “rice”
    Keto porridge

  • Beer: Liquid bread. Full of rapidly absorbed carbs. But there are a few lower-carb beers
  • Fruit: Very sweet, lots of sugar. Eat once in a while perhaps. Treat fruit as a natural form of candy. Learn more

Also avoid

  • Margarine: It’s industrially produced imitated butter with a very high content of omega-6 fat. It has no obvious health benefits, and many people feel that it tastes worse than butter.17 It might be linked to asthma, allergies and other inflammatory diseases, possibly because of the high omega-6 content.18

 
View list of things you may want to remove from your pantry

Beware!

The ketogenic diet has recently become very popular, and many food companies want to cash in by putting a “ketogenic” or “low carb” label on a new product. Be very cautious of special “keto” or “low-carb” products, such as pastas, chocolate bars, energy bars, protein powders, snack foods, cakes, cookies and other “low carb” or “ketogenic” treats. Read all labels carefully for natural low carb ingredients. The fewer ingredients the better.

Fake low-carb productsThese packaged products generally do not work well for weight loss and for correcting metabolic issues. They may have hidden carbs not declared on the label, or they may keep you attached to cravings and even addictions to the high-carb foods they attempt to replace.

Analyze the labels. Often you will see that a product is full of additives, sugar alcohols and other sweeteners. They are often in essence a processed junk food with a “keto” label.” And the labels may even lie. For example, a few years ago a large pasta company was fined $8 million for lying about the carb content of their products.

In short:

  • Don’t replace high-carb junk with keto junk. If you want a treat, make a low-carb version of a dessert or treat yourself, using our dessert or treat guide. You will likely have more life-long success on the keto diet if you adapt your palate so that you no longer want, need, or crave these sorts of foods.
  • Beware of labels that say “net carbs”. That might sometimes be a form of creative marketing to hide the true carb content.

See this guide about deceptive keto products.

 
 
 

Eat real food

Real keto foods

Focus on eating good quality, minimally processed real food. Ideally the food you buy shouldn’t even have a list of ingredients (or it should be very short).19


 

Leaflet

This leaflet with basic keto advice can be printed for easy reference, or given to curious friends.

Keto for beginners_folder_181214

 

How low carb is keto?

Keto is a low-carb diet, not “no carb”. So how much of carbs can you eat in a day?

The answer is that it depends. But as a rough guide stay under 20 grams per day for maximum effect, and if you want some benefit of low-carb eating (like weight loss) you should probably aim for at least staying under 100 grams of carbs per day.20

Below are three examples of how a low-carb meal can look, depending on how many carbs you eat per day. Learn about how many carbs can be appropriate for you

 

 
 

How much fat do you need to eat?

The body has two main sources of energy: carbs and fats. Take away most of the carbs and the body switches to burning fat for energy. This can come from your body’s fat stores or the fat in your food (e.g. butter or olive oil).

Because of this, a proper keto low-carb diet always means you get a lot more energy from fat burning, and at least in the longer term it means eating more fat.

This is why some people call keto diets “LCHF” (low carb, high fat).

Top 10 ways to eat more fat

How much fat should you eat? As much as you need to feel satisfied. Whatever else the body burns, it will take from your fat stores, as you lose weight. Eat more fat than you need to feel great, and it will slow down your fat loss. Eat too little fat, and you might feel tired and hungry.

So how much fat should you eat? As much as you need to feel satisfied and great. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are satisfied. Then repeat. It can be that simple.21

Learn more about the benefits of eating fat until satisfied

 
 

 
 

Companion guides

Keto diet foods — Top three mistakes at the grocery store
Keto diet food list – what to buy

More

14-day keto diet plan
A ketogenic diet for beginners

 

Visual keto guides


 

Questions and answers

Keto questions and answersThere are many common questions about keto foods, and we’ll do our best to answer them all. Feel free to check out our full keto FAQ, or choose one of the questions below.

 

Can I eat a vegetarian keto diet?

Yes. Especially if you eat eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarianism) it’s definitely doable. Vegan keto is very hard to do, but you can certainly eat a lower-carb vegan diet. Learn more and find inspiration here

 

Can I eat a dairy-free keto diet?

Sure. It’s not necessary to eat dairy to successfully eat keto (though dairy may help add taste and variety). A dairy-free keto diet can be very effective. Learn more and find recipes

 

Can I drink alcohol on a keto diet?

Yes. But make sure it’s an alcoholic drink that is low in carbs, like dry wine. Check out our full guide to keto alcoholic drinks

 

More questions

Other common question and answers about keto
 

 

Keto breakfasts

 
 

Keto meals

More keto recipes

  1. The numbers are grams of digestible carbs per 100 grams, i.e. net carbs

  2. This is controversial, and scientific findings are still preliminary [very weak evidence]. Grass-fed meat tends to be higher in omega-3 fat and vitamins, per gram, which should be a good thing. These animals may also be raised in a more ethical way.

    It’s unknown if improved nutritional contents of meat results in better health, but it would make sense if it could. From an evolutionary perspective eating grass-fed rather than grain-fed meats should more closely match the environment of our ancestors, which could potentially have some positive health effects.

    The available evidence only show that grass-fed meats can have a slightly different nutritional profile, which can also change the biochemical profile of the cell structures of humans eating it:

    British Journal of Nutrition 2011: Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet n-3 PUFA in healthy consumers [moderate evidence for a different nutritional effect]

    Nutrition Journal 2010: A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef [moderate evidence for slightly different nutritional profile of grass-fed meat]

    Regarding unprocessed red meat in general, its health effects are controversial. But it’s clear that it’s nutritious and satiating, and that humans have been eating it for millennia. We see no good health reasons to avoid it: Why red meat won’t kill you

  3. There’s a lack of clear scientific evidence about what level of protein intake that is most beneficial on a keto diet. Quite likely it depends on your goals.

    As a general guideline, stay at about 1.5 gram of protein per day, per kg of body weight – about 100 grams of protein per day if you weigh 70 kilos (154 pounds).

    Younger, fit people who exercise a lot may be able to tolerate quite a lot of protein and still stay in ketosis.

    Here are some thoughts on individualization of protein intake, and details about the views of different low-carb experts.

  4. Studies suggest that farmed fish may often have higher levels of pollutants and that they can be lower in essential omega-3 fats:

    Environmental Health Perspectives 2005: Risk-based consumption advice for farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific salmon contaminated with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds

    Public Health Reviews 2018: Food safety impacts of antimicrobial use and their residues in aquaculture

    Science 2004: Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon

    Scientific Reports 2016: Impact of sustainable feeds on omega-3 long-chain fatty acid levels in farmed Atlantic salmon, 2006–2015

    PLOS One 2011: Chronic consumption of farmed salmon containing persistent organic pollutants causes insulin resistance and obesity in mice

  5. The scientific support for this is not strong [very weak evidence].

    From an evolutionary perspective eating pastured eggs might more closely match the environment of our ancestors, which could potentially have some positive health effects.

    According to some studies (like the one below), organic or pastured eggs have higher nutritional contents. But studies do not consistently show a large difference.

    Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 2010: Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens [moderate evidence for different and possibly improved nutritional profiles]

  6. Yes, this is a bit of a joke. The reality is that for your health, it does not appear to matter much how many eggs you eat. So there’s no good reason to have an upper limit at all – eat all the eggs you want.

    Do you worry about eating saturated fats or cholesterol? There’s no good reason to do so. While still a bit controversial, repeated modern systematic reviews find no benefit from avoiding saturated fats, or replacing them with unsaturated fats:

    Here’s a study investigating if eating eggs for breakfast every day has any negative effects on cholesterol levels. They found none, but the egg-eating group reported greater satiety:

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015: The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study-a 3-mo randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]

  7. Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    More studies

  8. Technically, avocado is a fruit. But we list it as a vegetable as that is how most people think of it.

  9. There’s no good reason to fear natural saturated fats, including from dairy:

    Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    In fact, if anything, people eating higher-fat dairy products tend to on average have lower body weight and possibly fewer metabolic issues:

    European Journal of Nutrition 2013: The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease [weak evidence]

  10. This piece of advice is based on theory and consistent experience from clinicians using it, and people testing it [weak evidence].

    However, there’s also some support from this study that found only minor increases in these side effects, while advising participants to drink salt-containing bouillon:

    Nutrition & Metabolism 2008: The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus [moderate evidence]

  11. More on this here:

    Is drinking coffee with butter and oil the key to weight loss?

  12. Read labels on some herbal or specialty teas to make sure it does not contain added sugars or sweeteners. Be careful of herbal teas with licorice flavouring, as these have been known to raise blood pressure, lower potassium, or cause erratic heart beats in some people.

  13. Many local butchers and health food stores are now making bone broth for purchase. In a pinch, you may want to sip commercial beef stock or chicken stock, choosing organic brands with the most natural, and shortest, list of ingredients. However, be aware that many of these commercial brands – even when called “organic” – may be far from the real thing, containing little more than regular salt and flavoring.

  14. There’s a lack of stronger scientific support for this, and it’s mainly based on logical arguments, basic science, and the experience of individuals [very weak evidence]. Here are the main arguments:

    • Alcohol is generally considered empty calories – adding pure energy
    • Alcohol is usually metabolized first by the liver, slowing down fat burning somewhat
    • Excess consumption of alcohol might lead to fatty liver, resulting in insulin resistance and thus increased levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin
    • Some alcoholic drinks, like beer or sweet drinks, have a double negative effect on body weight due to the sugar and other rapidly absorbed carbohydrates.
    • Alcohol can impair judgement and reduce impulse control, increasing the likelihood of eating unplanned and non-keto foods, that can slow weight loss.

    This study supports a few of the points above:

    The Journal of Clinical Investigation 1988: Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance

  15. Even zero-calorie sweeteners may have some negative effects, including maintaining a preference for sweet tastes, and increased reward, potentially increasing the risk of overeating and even food addiction. This is mainly based on clinical experience [weak evidence].

    There is also one RCT study showing weight loss from avoiding 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]

  16. Wholegrain products are also full of carbohydrates, and thus not part of a keto diet.

    Do you need whole grains for health? Probably not. The most recent Cochrane review of high-quality nutrition science found no evidence for that theory:

    Cochrane reviews 2016: Whole grain cereals for cardiovascular disease [strong evidence for lack of any proven effect on heart health]

  17. Lack of health benefits:

    Open Heart 2016: Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Many people feel that margarine tastes worse, example:

    Consumer Reports 2017: Spreads are dead: no one likes eating margarine anymore

  18. Overview article:

    Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2012: Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids

    Fairly robust (HR>2) correlation between margarine intake and eczema or allergies:

    Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2006: Margarine and butter consumption, eczema and allergic sensitization in children. The LISA birth cohort study. [weak evidence]

    Strong (HR 2.3 – 4.8) correlation between margarine intake and asthma:

    Annals of Epidemiology 2005: Margarine consumption, asthma, and allergy in young adults: results of the German National Health Survey 1998. [weak evidence]

  19. Unprocessed real food is what our ancestors have been eating for millions of years, and what the human animal is evolutionarily adapted to. By introducing processing, e.g. refining carbohydrates in a way that increases the speed of absorption and reduces the amount of nutrients and fiber, we change the food into something our bodies may not be adapted to, i.e. we introduce an unknown risk of side effects.

    Learn more: What are you designed to eat?

  20. The idea that lower carb is more effective is mainly based on the consistent experience of experienced practitioners, and stories from people trying different levels of carb restriction [weak evidence].

    There is not yet any RCT that has actually tested two low-carb diets of varying strictness head-to-head. But RCTs of strict low-carb diets appear to often show better results, compared to RCTs of more moderate or liberal low-carb diets.

    This makes logical sense: if something has an effect, doing more of it often has a stronger effect.

    RCTs of low-carb interventions for weight loss

  21. A number of studies demonstrate that people can lose weight on low carb without being instructed to count calories, like this one:

    New England Journal of Medicine 2008: Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, mediterranean, or low-fat diet [moderate evidence]

    This may be caused by a reduction of hunger:

    Obesity Reviews 2014: Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    It may also be caused by burning more calories on low carb:

    British Medical Journal 2018: Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial [moderate evidence] Analysis