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The ketogenic diet has become popular.
Studies have found that this very low carb, high fat diet is effective for weight loss, diabetes, and epilepsy (, , ).
Still, higher quality research on the diet is still needed to determine its long-term safety and efficacy (, , ).
A ketogenic diet typically limits carbs to 20 to 50 grams per day. While this may seem challenging, many nutritious foods can easily fit into this way of eating.
Here are some healthy foods to eat on a ketogenic diet.
Fish and shellfish are very keto-friendly foods. Salmon and other fish are rich in B vitamins, potassium, and selenium, yet virtually carb-free ().
However, the carbs in different types of shellfish vary. For instance, while shrimp and most crabs contain no carbs, other types of shellfish do (, ).
While these shellfish can still be included on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to account for these carbs when you’re trying to stay within a narrow range.
- clams: 4 grams
- mussels: 4 grams
- octopus: 4 grams
- oysters: 3 grams
- squid: 3 grams
Salmon, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish are very high in omega-3 fats, which have been found to lower insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity in people who have overweight and obesity (14).
The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1 to 2 seafood meals every week (16).
Many types of seafood are carb-free or very low in carbs. Fish and shellfish are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s.
2. Low-carb vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbs, but high in many nutrients, including vitamin C and several minerals.
Vegetables and other plants contain fiber, which your body doesn’t digest and absorb like other carbs.
Therefore, look at their digestible (or net) carb count, which is total carbs minus fiber. The term “net carbs” simply refers to carbs that are absorbed by the body.
Note that net carbs and their effects on the body are somewhat controversial, and more research is needed
Many vegetables contain very few net carbs. However, consuming one serving of “starchy” vegetables like potatoes, yams, or beets could put you over your entire carb limit for the day.
Low carb veggies make great substitutes for higher carb foods.
- cauliflower can be used to mimic rice or mashed potatoes
- “zoodles” can be created from zucchini
- spaghetti squash is a natural substitute for spaghetti
Here are some examples of keto-friendly vegetables to include in your eating plan.
Keto vegetable list:
- green beans
- peppers (especially green)
The net carbs in non-starchy vegetables range from 1 to 8 grams per cup. Vegetables are nutritious, versatile, and may help reduce the risk of disease.
One ounce (28 grams) of cheddar cheese provides 1 gram of carbs, 6.5 grams of protein, and a good amount of calcium (23).
In addition, eating cheese regularly may help reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging.
A 12-week study in older adults found that those who consumed 7 ounces (210 grams) of ricotta cheese per day experienced less muscle mass and muscle strength loss over the course of the study than others (27).
Here are some cheeses that are lower in carbs for a keto diet.
Keto cheese list:
- blue cheese
- colby jack
- cottage cheese
- cream cheese
- goat cheese
- pepper jack
- string cheese
Cheese is rich in protein, calcium, and beneficial fatty acids, yet contains a minimal amount of carbs.
Avocados are incredibly healthy; 3.5 ounces (100 grams), or about one-half of a medium avocado, contain 9 grams of carbs.
However, 7 of these are fiber, so its net carb count is only 2 grams (28).
Avocados are high in several vitamins and minerals, including potassium, an important mineral many people may not get enough of. What’s more, a higher potassium intake may help make the transition to a ketogenic diet easier (29).
In addition, avocados may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Avocados contain 2 grams of net carbs per serving and are high in fiber and several nutrients, including potassium. In addition, they may help improve heart health markers.
5. Meat and poultry
Meat and poultry are considered staple foods on a ketogenic diet.
One study in older women found that consuming a diet high in fatty meat led to HDL (good) cholesterol levels that were 5% higher than on a low fat, high carb diet (24).
It’s best to choose grass-fed meat, if possible. That’s because animals that eat grass produce meat with higher amounts of omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid, and antioxidants than meat from grain-fed animals (35).
Meat and poultry do not contain carbs and are rich in high-quality protein and several nutrients. Grass-fed meat is the healthiest choice.
Eggs are one of the healthiest and most versatile foods on the planet.
One large egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs and about 6 grams of protein, making eggs an ideal food for a ketogenic lifestyle (36).
It’s important to eat the entire egg, as most of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk. This includes the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect eye health (39).
Although egg yolks are high in cholesterol, consuming them doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels in most people. In fact, eggs appear to modify the size of LDL particles in a way that reduces the risk of heart disease (40).
Eggs contain less than 1 gram of carbs each and can help keep you full for hours. They’re also high in several nutrients and may help protect eye and heart health.
7. Coconut oil
Coconut oil has unique properties that make it well suited for a ketogenic diet.
To begin with, it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike long-chain fats, MCTs are taken up directly by the liver and converted into ketones or used as a rapid source of energy.
In fact, coconut oil has been used to increase ketone levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders of the brain and nervous system (41).
For more information about how to add coconut oil to your diet, read this article
Coconut oil is rich in MCTs, which can increase ketone production. In addition, it may increase metabolic rate and promote the loss of weight and belly fat.
8. Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are healthy, high protein foods.
While they contain some carbs, they can still be included in a ketogenic lifestyle in moderation.
Either one makes a tasty snack on its own. However, both can also be combined with chopped nuts, cinnamon, or other spices for a quick and easy keto treat.
Both plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese contain 5 grams of carbs per serving. Studies have shown that they help reduce appetite and promote fullness.
9. Olive oil
Olive oil provides impressive benefits for your heart.
As a pure fat source, olive oil contains no carbs. It’s an ideal base for salad dressings and healthy mayonnaise
Because it isn’t as stable as saturated fats at high temperatures, it’s best to use olive oil for low-heat cooking or add it to foods after they’ve been cooked.
Extra-virgin olive oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It’s ideal for salad dressings, mayonnaise, and adding to cooked foods.
10. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are healthy, high fat, and low-carb foods.
Although all nuts and seeds are low in net carbs, the amount varies quite a bit among the different types.
- almonds: 2 grams net carbs (6 grams total carbs)
- Brazil nuts: 1 gram net carbs (3 grams total carbs)
- cashews: 8 grams net carbs (9 grams total carbs)
- macadamia nuts: 2 grams net carbs (4 grams total carbs)
- pecans: 2 grams net carbs (4 grams total carbs)
- pistachios: 5 grams net carbs (8 grams total carbs)
- walnuts: 2 grams net carbs (4 grams total carbs)
- chia seeds: 1 gram net carbs (12 grams total carbs)
- flaxseeds: 0 grams net carbs (8 grams total carbs)
- pumpkin seeds: 3 grams net carbs (5 grams total carbs)
- sesame seeds: 3 grams net carbs (7 grams total carbs)
Nuts and seeds are heart-healthy, high in fiber, and may lead to healthier aging. They provide 0 to 8 grams of net carbs per ounce.
Berries are low in carbs and high in fiber. In fact, raspberries and blackberries contain as much fiber as digestible carbs.
- blackberries: 11 grams net carbs (16 grams total carbs)
- blueberries: 9 grams net carbs (12 grams total carbs)
- raspberries: 6 grams net carbs (12 grams total carbs)
- strawberries: 7 grams net carbs (9 grams total carbs)
Berries are rich in nutrients that may reduce the risk of disease. They provide 5 to 12 grams of net carbs per 3.5-ounce serving.
12. Butter and cream
For many years, butter and cream were believed to cause or contribute to heart disease due to their high saturated fat contents. However, several large studies have shown that, for most people, saturated fat isn’t linked to heart disease (77, 78).
Like other fatty dairy products, butter and cream are rich in conjugated linoleic acid, the fatty acid that may promote fat loss (30).
Butter and cream are nearly carb-free and appear to have neutral or beneficial effects on heart health when consumed in moderation.
13. Shirataki noodles
They contain less than 1 gram of net carbs and 15 calories per serving because they’re mainly water (82).
Viscous fiber forms a gel that slows down food’s movement through your digestive tract. This can help decrease hunger and blood sugar spikes, making it beneficial for weight loss and diabetes management (84, 85, 86).
Shirataki noodles come in a variety of shapes, including rice, fettuccine, and linguine. They can be substituted for regular noodles in all types of recipes.
Shirataki noodles contain less than 1 gram of carbs per serving. Their viscous fiber helps slow down the movement of food through your digestive tract, which promotes fullness and stable blood sugar levels.
Olives provide the same health benefits as olive oil, only in solid form.
Oleuropein, the main antioxidant found in olives, has anti-inflammatory properties and may protect your cells from damage (87).
Olives vary in carb content due to their size. However, half of their carbs come from fiber, so their digestible carb content is very low.
Ten olives (34 grams) contain 2 grams of total carbs and 1 gram of fiber. This works out to a net carb count of about 1 gram depending on the size (90).
Olives are rich in antioxidants that may help protect heart and bone health. They contain 1 gram of net carbs per ounce.
15. Unsweetened coffee and tea
What’s more, coffee and tea drinkers have been shown to have a significantly reduced risk of diabetes. In fact, those with the highest coffee intake have the lowest risk for developing diabetes (94).
Adding heavy cream to coffee or tea is fine but stay away from “light” coffee and tea lattes. These are typically made with nonfat milk and contain high carb flavorings.
Unsweetened coffee and tea contain no carbs and can help boost your metabolic rate, as well as physical and mental performance. They can also reduce your risk for diabetes.
16. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Dark chocolate and cocoa are delicious sources of antioxidants.
In fact, cocoa provides at least as much antioxidant activity as any other fruit, including blueberries and acai berries (95).
Somewhat surprisingly, chocolate can be part of a ketogenic diet. However, it’s important to choose dark chocolate that contains a minimum of 70% cocoa solids, preferably more, and eat in moderation.
One ounce (28 grams) of unsweetened chocolate (100% cocoa) has 3 grams of net carbs (99).
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are high in antioxidants and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
The bottom line
A ketogenic diet can be used to achieve weight loss, blood sugar management, and other health-related goals.
Fortunately, it can include a wide variety of nutritious, tasty, and versatile foods that allow you to remain within your daily carb range.
To reap all the health benefits of a ketogenic diet, consume keto-friendly foods on a regular basis.