20 Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet

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20 Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet

 

NUTRITION

20 Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet

Eating high fat low carb foods is the principal of a Keto diet. Followers of this diet may consume a variety of animal proteins, dairy, vegetables, other plant-based foods, and fats and oils.

The ketogenic diet’s increasing popularity is largely due to its potential benefits for weight loss and blood sugar control (1Trusted Source2Trusted Source3).

Early evidence also suggests that this low carb, high fat diet may help treat certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and other health conditions. Still, higher quality research is still needed to determine the keto diet’s long-term safety and effectiveness (1Trusted Source4Trusted Source56Trusted Source7Trusted Source8Trusted Source).

The keto diet typically limits carbs to 20–50 grams per day.

While some people on keto count their total carb intake, others count net carbs. Net carbs refer to total carbs minus fiber. That’s because fiber is indigestible, so it can’t be broken down and absorbed by your body.

This diet may seem challenging, but it allows people following it to eat many nutritious foods.

Here are 20 healthy foods to eat on the keto diet.

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1. Seafood

Fish and shellfish are very keto-friendly. Salmon and other fish are not only nearly carb-free but also rich in B vitamins, potassium, and selenium (9Trusted Source).

However, the carb count in shellfish varies by type. While shrimp and most crabs contain no carbs, oysters and octopus do. You can still eat these foods on the keto diet, but it’s important to carefully track these carbs to stay within your range (10Trusted Source11Trusted Source12Trusted Source13Trusted Source).

Additionally, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish are very high in omega-3 fats, which have been associated with lower insulin levels and increased insulin sensitivity in people who are overweight or have obesity (14Trusted Source).

Frequent fish intake is linked to improved brain health and a decreased risk of disease (15Trusted Source16Trusted Source).

The American Heart Association recommends that adults over 18 years old eat 8–10 ounces of seafood per week (17Trusted Source).

2. Meat and poultry

Meat and poultry are considered staple foods on the keto diet.

Fresh meat and poultry contain no carbs and are rich in B vitamins and several important minerals. They’re also a great source of high quality protein, which may help preserve muscle mass during a very low carb diet (18Trusted Source19Trusted Source20).

One small study in older women found that a diet high in fatty meat led to 8% higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol than a low fat, high carb diet (21Trusted Source).

It may be best to choose grass-fed meat, if possible, since it has more omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than meat from grain-fed animals (22Trusted Source23).

3. Eggs

Eggs are an extremely healthy protein source.

Because each large egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs and about 6 grams of protein, eggs can be ideal for keto (24Trusted Source).

In addition, eggs have been shown to trigger hormones that increase feelings of fullness (25Trusted Source).

It’s important to eat whole eggs rather than egg whites since most of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk. This includes the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect eye health (26Trusted Source).

Although egg yolks are high in cholesterol, they don’t appear to increase your risk of heart disease (27Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Most animal proteins — such as eggs, beef, pork, poultry, and seafood — are low in carbs and appropriate for the keto diet.

4. Cheese

There are hundreds of types of cheese, most of which are very low in carbs and high in fat, making them a great fit for the keto diet.

Just 1 ounce (28 grams) of cheddar cheese provides 1 gram of carbs, 6 grams of protein, and a good amount of calcium (28Trusted Source).

Cheese is high in saturated fat, but it hasn’t been shown to increase your risk of heart disease. In fact, some studies suggest that it may help protect against this condition (29Trusted Source30).

Cheese also contains CLA, which has been linked to fat loss and improvements in body composition (31Trusted Source).

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 ate 7 ounces (210 grams) of ricotta per day experienced less loss of muscle mass and muscle strength than those who didn’t eat this amount of cheese (32Trusted Source).

Here are some cheeses that are lower in carbs for a keto diet.

Keto cheese list

  • blue cheese
  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • cheddar
  • chevre
  • Colby jack
  • cottage cheese
  • cream cheese
  • feta
  • goat cheese
  • halloumi
  • Havarti
  • Limburger
  • Manchego
  • mascarpone
  • mozzarella
  • Muenster
  • Parmesan
  • pepper jack
  • provolone
  • Romano
  • string cheese
  • Swiss cheese

5. Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese

Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are nutritious, high protein foods. While they contain some carbs, you can eat them in moderation on keto.

Both yogurt and cottage cheese have been shown to help decrease appetite and promote feelings of fullness (3334Trusted Source).

Either one makes a tasty snack on its own, but you can combine them with chopped nuts, cinnamon, or other spices to make a quick keto treat.

6. Cream and half-and-half

Cream is composed of the fatty portion of fresh milk that’s separated out during milk processing. Half-and-half, on the other hand, is made of 50% cream and 50% whole milk.

Both of these dairy products are very low in carbs and high in fat, making them ideal for keto (35Trusted Source36Trusted Source).

Like other fatty dairy products, butter and cream are rich in CLA, which may promote fat loss (31Trusted Source).

Despite this, it is best to enjoy cream and half-and-half in moderation.

The American Heart Association 2021 dietary guidance states that people should limit foods high in saturated fat. Replacing animal and dairy fat with plant-based sources of fat or polyunsaturated fats is linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke (37Trusted Source).

Some studies have suggested that high fat dairy products may not be so closely linked to heart disease. Others suggest that a moderate intake of high fat dairy may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. However, the evidence remains inconclusive (30Trusted Source3839Trusted Source).

This is an area that continues to be under debate and can depend on many factors, such as the level of processing food has gone through (37Trusted Source40Trusted Source).

Cream and half-and-half are popular choices for adding to coffee or using as keto alternatives to small amounts of milk in cooking.

7. Unsweetened plant-based milk

Several varieties of plant-based milk are keto-friendly, including soy, almond, and coconut milk (41Trusted Source42Trusted Source43Trusted Source).

You should choose unsweetened versions. Sweetened options have too much sugar to be considered appropriate for keto.

Additionally, you should avoid oat milk, because even unsweetened oat milk is too high in carbs to be keto-friendly (44Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Several types of dairy and dairy alternatives are suitable for keto, including cheese, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, cream, half-and-half, and certain unsweetened plant milks.

8. Green leafy vegetables

Green leafy veggies are extremely low in carbs, making them excellent for keto. They’re also rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (45).

In particular, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are packed with vitamin K and iron (45).

Greens add bulk to your meals without drastically increasing the carb count. Additionally, herbs such as oregano and rosemary add ample flavor with almost no carbs.

Here are some keto-friendly leafy greens:

  • Salad greens: lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, escarole, and frisee
  • Cooking greens: bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and cabbage
  • Herbs: thyme, sage, mint, oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, and lemongrass

9. Peppers

Several varieties of peppers exist, all of which are appropriate for the keto diet. While they’re technically fruits, they’re treated like vegetables in cooking.

Small hot peppers add spice to recipes, and jalapeños are ideal for making keto-friendly appetizers. You can use larger, mild peppers such as bell peppers and poblanos in numerous dishes, or stuff them to make flavorful low carb main dishes.

Peppers are also a rich source of vitamin C. For instance, one bell pepper provides 107% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C (46Trusted Source).

10. Summer squash

Summer squashes, such as yellow squash and zucchini, are extremely versatile and low in carbs.

In fact, zucchini is extremely popular on keto. Using a spiralizer, you can make zucchini noodles, which are an excellent substitute for pasta or noodles.

You can grate zucchini to make a rice alternative or add it to baked goods without affecting the flavor. You can also slice it thinly using a mandoline, then toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper to enjoy it as a cold salad.

11. High fat veggies

Avocados and olives, while technically both fruits, are unique among vegetables in that they’re fairly high in fat. They also contain fiber and are low in net carbs (47Trusted Source48Trusted Source).

Oleuropein, the main antioxidant in olives, has anti-inflammatory properties and may protect your cells from damage (49).

Additionally, one study found that people who ate one avocado per day experienced improvements in heart health risk factors, including lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol (50Trusted Source).

12. Other nonstarchy vegetables

Several other nonstarchy vegetables are low in calories and carbs yet full of nutrients and antioxidants.

What’s more, low carb veggies make great substitutes for high carb foods.

For instance, you can easily turn low carb cauliflower into cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower. Spaghetti squash serves as a natural alternative to spaghetti, and low carb root veggies such as jicama and turnips make great substitutes for roasted potatoes or french fries.

Here are some other examples of keto-friendly vegetables.

Keto vegetable list

  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • mushrooms
  • cucumber
  • green beans
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes
  • spaghetti squash
  • jicama
  • radishes
  • turnips
  • Brussels sprouts
  • celery
  • okra

Veggies to avoid on keto

Keep in mind that not all vegetables are low in carbs. Some should be avoided on keto, including:

  • potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • onions (in large amounts)
  • certain winter squashes, such as acorn squash and butternut squash
  • corn
  • beets
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SUMMARY

You should eat plenty of nonstarchy vegetables — including leafy greens, summer squash, peppers, avocados, and olives — on keto.

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13. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are healthy, high in fat, and low in carbs.

Frequent nut intake is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression, and other chronic diseases (51Trusted Source52).

Furthermore, nuts and seeds are high in fiber, which can help you feel full and naturally lower your calorie intake (53Trusted Source).

Although most nuts and seeds are low in net carbs, the amount varies widely by type. The lowest in carbs — and therefore the best for keto — are (54Trusted Source55Trusted Source56Trusted Source57Trusted Source58Trusted Source59Trusted Source):

  • almonds
  • macadamia nuts
  • pecans
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • flaxseeds

14. Berries

Most fruits are too high in carbs to eat on the keto diet, but berries are an exception.

Berries, particularly raspberries and strawberries, are low in carbs and high in fiber. While blackberries and blueberries are lower in carbs than some other fruits, they may not fit into strict keto diets (60Trusted Source61Trusted Source62Trusted Source63Trusted Source).

These tiny fruits are loaded with antioxidants that may reduce inflammation and help protect against disease (64Trusted Source65Trusted Source).

15. Shirataki noodles

Shirataki noodles are a fantastic addition to the keto diet. They contain less than 1 gram of net carbs and only 15 calories per serving because they’re mostly water (66Trusted Source).

These noodles are made from a viscous fiber called glucomannan, which offers many potential health benefits (67,Trusted Source 68).

Viscous fiber forms a gel that slows down food’s movement through your digestive tract. This can help decrease hunger and blood sugar spikes, which may aid in weight loss and diabetes management (67Trusted Source6869).

Shirataki noodles come in a variety of shapes, including rice, fettuccine, and linguine. You can swap them for regular noodles in almost all recipes.

16. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder

Dark chocolate and cocoa are delicious sources of antioxidants.

Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which may reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and keeping your arteries healthy (70Trusted Source71Trusted Source72).

Somewhat surprisingly, you can eat chocolate on keto. However, it’s important to choose dark chocolate that contains a minimum of 70% cocoa solids — preferably more — and eat it in moderation.

SUMMARY

Other plant foods that are ideal for keto diets include berries, shirataki noodles, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate.

17. Olive oil

Olive oil provides impressive benefits for your heart.

It’s high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been found to decrease heart disease risk factors (73Trusted Source74Trusted Source.)

In addition, extra-virgin olive oil is high in polyphenol antioxidants — plant compounds that further protect heart health by decreasing inflammation and improving artery function (75Trusted Source76Trusted Source).

As a pure fat source, olive oil contains no carbs. It’s an ideal base for salad dressings and healthy mayonnaise.

Because olive oil isn’t as stable at high temperatures as saturated fats are, it’s best to use olive oil for low heat cooking or add it to dishes after they’ve been cooked.

Other excellent plant-based oils to try on keto are coconut oil and avocado oil.

18. Butter and ghee

Butter and ghee are good fats to include while on the keto diet. Butter contains only trace amounts of carbs, and ghee is totally carb-free (77Trusted Source78Trusted Source).

Ghee is clarified butter made by heating butter and removing the milk solids that rise to the top. It has a concentrated buttery taste and is commonly used in Indian cooking.

Like other types of full fat dairy, butter and ghee don’t appear to be as harmful to health as previously thought (30).

SUMMARY

The best fats and oils for keto cooking and baking are olive oil, butter, and ghee. Avocado and coconut oils are good choices as well.

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19. Unsweetened coffee and tea

Coffee and tea are healthy, carb-free drinks.

They contain caffeine, which increases your metabolism and may help improve your physical performance, alertness, and mood (79Trusted Source80Trusted Source81Trusted Source).

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, though a cause and effect relationship has not yet been determined (82).

Adding heavy cream to coffee or tea is fine, but you’ll need to avoid “light” coffee and tea lattes while on keto since they’re typically made with nonfat milk and high carb flavorings.

20. Unsweetened sparkling water

If you’re looking for a keto-friendly alternative to soda, unsweetened sparkling water is a great choice.

These beverages are refreshingly fizzy and may be flavored but are generally free of sugar or sweeteners. For that reason, they have no calories or carbs (83Trusted Source).

However, some varieties are flavored naturally with small amounts of fruit juice, and these may contain carbs. Be sure to check the label, as extra carbs can add up quickly (84Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Unsweetened coffee, tea, and sparkling water are good beverages to drink while doing keto.

Is keto right for you?

The low carb, high fat keto diet remains quite popular, and many people find that they enjoy the diet and the results it provides. However, it may not be the right fit for everyone.

Keto is extremely restrictive compared with some other diets, which may cause stress for some people.

Additionally, the keto diet may cause side effects, especially when you’re getting started. Some possible side effects can include (85Trusted Source):

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • digestive changes
  • increased cholesterol levels

If keto isn’t a good fit, you may want to try other healthy eating patterns.

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The keto diet may help with weight loss, blood sugar control, and other health goals. However, its low carb and high fat approach may seem overly restrictive, especially at first.

Nonetheless, this eating pattern accommodates a wide variety of nutritious, tasty, and versatile foods that let you stay within your daily carb range.

To reap all the health benefits of the keto diet, it’s best to eat a wide variety of these foods.

Just one thing

Try this today: The importance of tracking your carb count — especially when you first start keto — can’t be overstated.

Because it can be hard to estimate the carb count of many foods on your own, a number of keto apps are available to help you learn more about the carb content of the foods you eat most often.

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Last medically reviewed on April 5, 2022

How we reviewed this article:

Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Feb 23, 2023

Written By

SaVanna Shoemaker, Franziska Spritzler

Edited By

Heather Hobbs

Copy Edited By

Chris Doka

Apr 5, 2022

Medically Reviewed By

Marie Lorraine Johnson MS, RD, CPT

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