Keto diet foods — top 3 mistakes at the grocery store
It all starts at the grocery store. If you want to succeed on a keto diet, you have to know how to buy keto groceries. Follow this guide and you’re on your way to keto success.
Here are the top three mistakes people make when buying groceries on the keto diet – and how to avoid them:
1. Fake food
Even on a keto diet, it’s possible to end up buying unhealthy groceries. But not if you keep it real. Here’s how to keep your focus on real, whole food:
Buy real food
Real food has only one ingredient. Examples are meat, seafood, eggs, butter, oils, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Such foods should form the foundation of your keto diet — there are so many delicious choices!
Avoid packaged food
Heavily processed food = fake food. And most of the packaged food products you find in grocery stores are ultra-processed. Such “foods” are usually full of sugar, starch and bad fats, and should be avoided.
Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid fake food. Here’s how:
Ignore the obvious
Sometimes the package speaks for itself. If it says anything like “cereal” or “cake” or “cookie” or “bread” or “pretzel” or “cracker” or “chip” — read no further. Walk away.
Ignore low-carb products
If your store carries low-carb versions of pastas, breads and cookies, AVOID them. They tend to be full of fake ingredients, including starch, artificial sweeteners, and strange additives.
Ignore “healthy” or “natural” labels
Many ultra-processed food-products are labeled “healthy” and/or “natural.” Ignore these meaningless terms. Disregard any health claim, including the AHA Heart-Check. Stick with real, tasty keto foods.
Buy minimally-processed packaged foods
Not all packaged foods are fake, but how do you know which to trust? The rule of thumb is to look for products with few ingredients.
Eggs, meat, and fish are great choices even though they are often packaged.
Some minimally-processed real foods with few ingredients — like butter, cheese, coconut or olive oil, cream, nut butters, shredded veggies (like coleslaw), and sour cream — are packaged, but you can safely buy them.
Some slightly more processed foods, like no-sugar versions of beef jerky, hollandaise, pesto, pizza sauce, salad dressings, sausage, tahini, and tapenade are okay too. Check the ingredient list and carb content to be sure.
2. Too many carbs
Now that you know how to avoid fake food, let’s fix the second keto grocery mistake: too many carbs.
For success on the keto diet, eating a maximum 20 grams of net carbs per day is essential for lots of people. Here’s how to keep carbs from sneaking into your house:
Avoid carb creep
Carbs add up.
That portion of broccoli and carrots you had for dinner, the strawberries with whipped cream you had for dessert, and the nuts and dark chocolate you had in the evening — they all add up.
Even when eating real keto foods, “a little bit of this” and “a little bit of that” can take you out of ketosis. If you’re not getting results on your keto diet, consider the following grocery-shopping tips:
Buy fewer high-carb vegetables
Avoid stocking up on on high-carb vegetables. Check out our visual vegetable guide for the most keto-friendly options.
Our favorite keto vegetables are very low carb. Greens, asparagus, avocado and zucchini come to mind. Enjoy other delicious veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and brussels sprouts too of course, but be careful — they can quickly take you out of ketosis.
Buy less fruit
On the keto diet, your best bet is to avoid buying fruit and berries. If you want to eat them occasionally, check out our visual fruits and berries guide for the most keto friendly options.
Though no fruit is great for keto, raspberries and blackberries are okay once in a while, especially if you keep your serving size small. Lemon and lime, in small amounts, work too.
Buy fewer nuts and less dark chocolate
Nuts and dark chocolate (85% cocoa minimum) are keto friendly in small amounts. The problem is that they are convenient and delicious, so it’s easy to overeat these treats, which can take you out of ketosis.
Check out our visual nut guide for the best keto options (replace cashews with macadamia nuts or pecans, for example). Take a look at our keto snack guide to see the amount of carbs in different types of chocolate.
Another common slip-up is over-eating almond flour in baked items that are keto-friendly only when served in smaller quantities. So keep your eye on portion size and be mindful of how much almond flour you buy.
Buy less cream cheese and Greek yogurt
These full-fat dairy products can be okay in moderation, but both contain carbohydrates. Cream cheese has one or two grams of carbs per ounce, and Greek yogurt has about 10 g of carbs per cup. So go easy!
Calculate net carbs
Packaged foods often contain hidden sugars and starches. Avoid this trap by calculating the number of net carbs1 the food contains.
As an example, consider the label on the chocolate bar to the left – the Green & Black 85% Cacao Bar.
How do you calculate the number of net carbs in that chocolate? Do these four things (it takes just seconds once you’ve done it a few times):
1. Check the serving size
First, look at the serving size, (circled in red, above). How much chocolate is in one serving? A square? A cup? Half the package?
As you can see, the serving size for this chocolate is 40 grams, or 12 small squares.
2. Check carbs per serving
Second, check the total grams of carbohydrate per serving (circled in blue, above).
This chocolate has 14 grams of carbs per serving.
3. Calculate net carbs per serving
Third, check the grams of dietary fiber per serving, (circled in green, above). Calculate net carbs by subtracting the fiber (green) from the total carbohydrates (blue). This chocolate has 9 g net carbs per serving (14 g carbs – 5 g fiber = 9 net carbs).
4. Calculate how many net carbs you will eat
Finally, multiply the number of servings you’ll eat by the net carbs per serving.
Let’s say you want to eat six small squares of chocolate (about half a serving, or 20 grams). That’s 4.5 grams of net carbs (0.5 serving * 9 g net carbs).
BUT, if you were to eat the whole chocolate bar (2.5 servings), you would eat 22.5 grams of net carbs (2.5 servings * 9 net carbs) – A LOT of carbs.
This chocolate bar, when consumed in small amounts, is a keto approved treat, but buyer beware — it’s easy to overeat.
Let’s look at the nutrition facts label for another dark chocolate option, Salazon’s delicious Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds:
As you can see, this bar has 13 g of net carbs2 per serving. If you eat a half serving (in this case, 1/4 of the bar, but still 20 grams), you would consume 6.5 g of net carbs. This treat does not meet the net carb goal for most keto lifestyles. After a look at the nutrition facts label and a quick calculation of net carbs, you will know to put this bar back on the shelf.
For more information about the nutrition facts label, and how to use it in advanced ways, please check out our guide on how to use the nutrition facts label.
Almost all packaged food include an ingredient list. Always check it before buying something new.
For keto success, avoid the big four:
- Trans fats and processed vegetable oils
When making keto selections, it is key to avoid sugar in all its forms. Manufacturers sometimes come up with odd names to disguise sugar on their labels. In general, avoid:
- Any kind of sugar, syrup, malt or cane product;
- Any chemical ending with ‘ose’ (like lactose); and
- All naturally sugary ingredients like honey, fruit juice concentrates and dried fruit.
Most of the starch in our diets come from grains. Wheat and corn are the main ones, but any kind of grain, and any sort of flour except nut flours, can add loads of carbohydrates to a food product. These sorts of products spell trouble for keto eaters. For a list of all the different names for wheat, grains, and other starchy additives, click through to our guide, Ingredients to avoid.
Avoid trans fats and processed vegetable oils
Although keto emphasizes fat, not all fats are created equal. Put natural fat in your cart and stay away from altered and industrially extracted fats. Avoid:
- Trans fats— anything partially hydrogenated or any ingredient like margarine or shortening.
- Processed vegetable seed oils— canola, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, safflower, and soybean oils.
Click through for a more detailed list of fats to avoid.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and other chemicals
Sweeteners have been shown to stall weight loss and prolong sugar addiction. Our recommendation is to eliminate them from your keto diet and help banish sugar cravings for good.
- Sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol.
- Chemical sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Nutrasweet).
Click through for a more detailed list of artificial sweeteners.
Avoid all of the classic grocery cart mistakes—fake food, too many carbs and bad ingredients — and put keto success within reach. With a little practice, it’s easy to load up your cart with a delicious selection of whole, full-fat food… and minimally processed keto extras, too.
Now go forth and grocery shop, keto-style!
There are two companion guides with more information about ingredients to avoid, and how to decipher food labels:
In addition, check out our main keto foods guide below to understand the basics about keto foods, and our keto diet foods list, for fast and real-food inspired grocery shopping!
For all the keto 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.