If you’re just starting a low carb diet, you might wonder, what can I eat on a keto diet? This keto food list for beginners includes recommendations for a healthy, whole foods approach to the diet. Find ideas for healthy keto dinners, keto breakfasts, keto snacks, and keto desserts.
What is the Keto Diet?
Ketogenic diets have been used in medicine for over a century. Carbohydrates are restricted, forcing the body to produce ketones to use for energy. The diet results in many positive changes to a person’s health.
Popularly the keto diet is used for weight loss. This approach works because it lowers insulin in the blood, which is needed for the body to store fat. Keto diets also reduce appetites and cravings, making dieting easier for many people.
To enter ketosis, one must consume a diet with 20g-50g of carbohydrates or less.
Someone eating a standard American diet consumes 250 g carbohydrates or more daily!
Considering a medium sized apple has 25 g of carbs, this diet isn’t easy without learning first about what foods are appropriate for the ketogenic diet.
A Clean Approach to a Keto Diet
If you browse keto accounts on social media, you’ll see a slew of processed foods made “keto” being popularized. If you’re interested in a keto diet to improve your health, avoid processed foods, keto or not.
Processed keto foods, or keto-fied fast food, will cause immediate weight loss, but result in other health complications that make the diet not sustainable.
The keto diet has so many health benefits, from controlling epilepsy, to reversing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even curing cancer. Some studies are even showing Alzheimer’s and autism reversed with a healthy keto diet!
A Keto Diet Can Improve Metabolic Health
Only 7% of Americans have good metabolic health. This means our blood glucose levels stay in the healthy range throughout the day. Eating diets high in processed grains and sugar leads to insulin resistance, a condition that causes weight gain and inflammation.
At minimum, poor metabolic health compromises the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight colds and flus.
This in turn leads to the diseases most affecting our nation: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer.
So harness health, and choose a whole food, low-carb approach!
What are the Macros for a Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet needs to have between 20g-50g of carbohydrates (or higher, in some cases such as endurance athletes), based on activity levels and weight. The more active a person is, the higher the carbohydrate needs. The heavier a person is (especially for more muscular people), the higher the carbohydrate needs.
Carbohydrate needs should be determined based on an individuals goal weight, not their current weight. If a person weighs 200 pounds, but has a healthy goal weight of 150 pounds, the later is used to determine macro needs.
Something to remember when people are questioning your low-carb diet:
Low carb diets are essentially built around the foods our bodies need the most.
I like to think of keto diet macros as: Stay below your carbs, hit your protein, and use fat as a lever. There is no magical percentage of fat necessary to maintain ketosis. Healthy fats should be added to make meals satiating and to add nutrients.
Protein Needs on a Ketogenic Diet
Protein needs increase with age. A younger person can handle lower protein, but should aim for .7g per pound of body weight at minimum.
People over 40, or highly active people, should aim for 1g – 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight.
It’s a popular misconception that protein should be limited on a keto diet. While it is a moderate protein diet, most people underestimate their protein needs.
Protein contains essential amino acids that play a role in building and maintaining muscle, and muscle is necessary for health as we age! Vary how much protein you consume based on your activity levels.
A person would have to consume a very large amount of protein for it to be converted into carbohydrates, a process called gluconeogenesis.
Key Takeaways for Planning your Macros
When writing out my keto grocery list, I always start with proteins, then low carb veggies, then throw in some healthy fats. Be sure to include variety and not pick up the same things week after week!
Once an individual has reached ketosis (and maintained it for a week or two), add in some lower carb foods like berries and Greek yogurt.
There are even some higher-carb foods that should be incorporated in small quantities once in a while (or during carb cycling), to ensure we are getting a variety of nutrients.
Always pick up a rainbow of foods and plan meals with colorful fruits and vegetables!
What Foods are Low Carbohydrate?
- Pastured eggs
- Organic boneless chicken thighs (or breasts)
- Organic chicken pieces (bone in)
- Organic ground turkey
- Grass-fed beef (any cuts or ground beef)
- Lamb and Bison
- Pastured or heritage breed pork
- Wild seafood (prioritize fatty fish, like salmon. Shrimp, scallops, halibut, canned tuna or salmon, etc.)
- Nitrate/nitrite-free bacon or sausage
- Quality deli meats, like turkey, salami, or prosciutto (check ingredient label for sugar)
- Whole milk Greek yogurt
- Full fat cheese, organic when possible (raw is best)
- Organic full-fat cottage cheese
- Organic full-fat sour cream
- Jerky (without added sugar)
- Brussels sprouts
- Leafy Greens (romaine or leaf lettuce, arugula, spinach)
- Collard greens
- Carrots (enjoy in moderation)
- Peppers (green or red bell peppers, jalapenos, poblanos)
- Zucchini and Yellow Squash
- Spaghetti squash
- Green beans
- Herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley)
- Broccoli Rabe
- Snow Peas
- Green Beans
- Nuts (macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts)
- Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds)
- Nut Butters (Almond butter, Sunflower seed butter (unsweetened), Macadamia nut butter. Peanut Butter is higher in carbs and should be limited.)
- Coconut butter
- Grass-fed butter
- Virgin coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Extra Virgin Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Pastured heavy whipping cream
- Coconut milk (full fat)
Dairy Products (if you tolerate dairy and include it in your diet)
- Organic, full-fat Parmesan Cheese
- Organic, full-fat Aged Cheeses (cheddar, swiss, pepperjack, etc).
- Organic, full-fat Cream Cheese
- Organic, full-fat Cottage Cheese
- Organic Heavy Cream
- Grass Fed or Organic Greek Yogurt (watch for carb counts! Learn How to Enjoy Yogurt on a Keto Diet)
- Kefir (great for adding gut-healthy bacteria to your diet!)
Keto Friendly Condiments
- Vinegars (not sweetened)
- Avocado oil Mayonnaise
- Kimchi or Sauerkraut
- Unsweetened Spaghetti Sauce
- Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
- Cholula or other Mexican hot sauces
- Lemon or Lime juice
- Organic chicken or beef stock
- Organic Chicken or beef bone broth
- Coconut aminos
- Pickles or Pickled Peppers
- Almond milk (unsweetened)
- Hemp milk (unsweetened)
- Coconut Milk (unsweetened beverage)
- Salad Dressings (buyer beware! Check nutrition labels for carbs (many have added sugars), but also look for processed ingredients like vegetable oils (canola oil, soybean oil, etc.). Try homemade options, like this Raspberry Vinaigrette made with monk fruit sweetener.
- AVOID: Vegetable oils, like canola oil (rapeseed), soybean oil, corn oil. These are highly processed, and contain high ratios of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats, which lead to inflammation in the body.
- Organic Coffee
- Green Tea or Black Tea
- Herbal Teas
- Sparkling Water
- Almond or Coconut Milk (unsweetened)
- Water with lemon or herbs (mint, basil)
- Keto Smoothies
- Dry Wine (in moderation)
- Clear Alcohols (in moderation), like tequila and vodka
Keto Baking Staples
- Almond Flour
- Coconut Flour
- Spices (like cinnamon and ginger)
- 85% Dark Chocolate or sugar free chocolate chips
- Unsweetened Cacao Powder (or natural cocoa powder)
- Gelatin (plain, unsweetened)
A Note on Keto Processed Foods
My general viewpoint on keto processed foods is to avoid them. Most are just as unhealthy as non-keto processed foods.
Keto breads contain wheat, and then a bunch of processed fiber to bring down the net carbs, and are not gluten free.
This includes keto cookies, keto tortillas, and keto ice creams.
Many products contain artificial sweeteners which disrupt the gut microbiome and ultimately lead to weight gain.
There are some keto processed foods I buy for convenience or for travel snacks. However, these are foods I pull out on occasion and don’t incorporate into my daily diet.
Read nutrition labels, and continue becoming educated on how foods (and food-like substances created in the lab) affect our bodies, and make the best decisions you can.
Higher-Carb Keto-Friendly Foods (Limited on Keto Diets)
With a good understanding of what foods should be included on keto diets, it’s also important to know what foods to avoid or eat in moderation.
When first entering in to ketosis, limiting carb foods, except low carb veggies, is important. I recommend even staying away from berries the first couple of weeks during your journey. Once you’re in ketosis, bringing in some higher carb foods on this list is okay in moderation.
We all have different carb needs! The general recommendation of 20 G of net carbs is too low for most individuals. Anyone who has an active lifestyle needs to increase this amount. The best way to understand your personal carb needs is to monitor it. I personally love monitoring my blood glucose levels and ketone levels with a Continuous Glucose Monitor.
Higher Carb Keto Friendly Foods
Grab your grocery list, and incorporate some of these in to recipes on occassion:
- Organic Strawberries
- Organic Blueberries
- Organic Blackberries
- Organic Raspberries
- Cashews or Cashew Butter
- Peanuts or Peanut Butter (if you tolerate it)
- Citrus fruit, like oranges and grapefruit
- Honeydew Melon
- Butternut Squash
- Pumpkin or Pumpkin Puree (use in my Keto Pumpkin Muffins!)
- Acorn Squash
- Turnips or Rutabagas
- Delicata Squash
- Sweet Potatoes
- New Potatoes
Examples of Keto Breakfasts
- Bacon, Eggs, and Avocado
- Chia Pudding with Berries and Nut Butter
- Steak and Vegetables
- Dinner Leftovers!
- Coffee – it’s okay to fast on keto diets (and many people find fasting easier when following a low carb diet).
See all my Keto Breakfast Recipes here!
Keto Lunches and Keto Dinner Ideas
- Grilled Chicken Salad: Grill a chicken breast or thigh, and add it on top of a bed of greens. Dress up your salad with tomatoes, olives, avocado, cucumbers, peppers, or a small handful of nuts. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, or vinegar.
- Grilled Steak & Veggies: Grill up your favorite steak along with zucchini, red bell peppers, and mushrooms.
- Keto Chili: Make a bean free chili (using less tomatoes than an average chili recipe), and top with avocado, onions, and cheese for a cozy keto dinner.
- Keto Pizza: There are lots of creative options to try that eliminate the high-carb wheat pizza crust. You’ll love this option that uses a cauliflower pizza crust!
Browse creative & fun Keto Dinner recipes here!
- Keto Smoothies (made with berries, veggies, and protein powders or yogurt)
- Jerky (look for no-sugar added options)
- Veggies and Meat (like deli turkey or salami)
- Nuts (a small handful of almonds, pecans, walnuts, or macadamias)
- Keto Crackers
- Greek Yogurt with Berries or Nuts (Is Yogurt Keto?)
Find more Keto Snack Ideas here!
- Chocolate Avocado Pudding
- Keto Chocolate Chip Cookies (seriously, the best keto cookie recipe!)
- Keto Carrot Cake (great for celebrations!)
- Dark Chocolate & Berries (look for 85% dark chocolate or above, or find sugar free chocolate bars)
Find easy-to-make, tempting keto desserts here!