Freelance article about the Keto diet
What Foods Can You Eat on a Keto Diet?
When you are first looking into what foods you can eat on the ketogenic diet, it can seem like a confusing prospect. In fact, once you get you get yourself familiar with the principles of the diet, it can be very straightforward and there are many ways to keep eating your favourite recipes.
The premise of the ketogenic (keto) diet is that you adapt your daily food and drink consumption so that your body enters a state of ketosis. This is where your body uses your fat reserves for energy, therefore losing weight from fat. Ordinarily your body would convert carbohydrates into blood sugar for energy, so on the keto diet, your consumption of carbs is restricted to a small amount, so that your body uses the fat instead.
Depending on your height, weight and lifestyle you will be looking at a daily carbohydrate intake of only 20-50g. If you consider that a slice of white bread has 17g of carbs and a jacket potato has 26g, your daily allowance doesn’t stretch too far. It’s out with carb rich foods like pasta, fruit and starchy vegetables, and in with fats, dairy and proteins. You will be monitoring your levels of different nutrients on a daily basis, to ensure that you keep your body within the ketosis state but remain healthy.
What foods can you eat on a keto diet?
Whilst many people undertake a keto diet in order to lose weight, you do still need to consume a high amount of fat per day to provide your body with the energy to function properly.
Look for saturated fats, such as those found in butter, coconut oil and ghee, and monosaturated fats such as olive oil or avocados. You should avoid trans fats, which are the processed fats used in products to extend their shelf life. Also steer clear of processed polyunsaturated fats as these are unhealthy, but polyunsaturates which occur naturally in meat protein and fish are fine to eat.
Many everyday foods have a high fat content when you choose the ‘standard’ versions, such as double cream, butter, creme fraiche, and bacon. You will need to check the labelling of certain items carefully though, for example yoghurt often has added sugars, which will count towards your carbohydrate allowance. Look for the more fatty cuts of meat, such as chicken thighs and drumsticks, plus stick to skin-on for added fat content. If you’re looking for something meat free, stock up on avocados, nut butters and coconut oil.
There are easy ways to up your fat consumption during the day, you could add double cream to your tea or coffee or cook with butter instead of oil.
Unlike fats, your level of daily protein intake will be limited, as consuming too much protein can lead to an increase in your blood glucose levels. Despite this, your protein level is likely to be higher than you were used to, and most proteins are fine to eat.
For meats, the best sources are darker red meats and choose the fattier versions rather than lean cuts. With items such as bacon sausages and ham, check labelling for any added glutens or carbohydrates, as these can easily eat into your daily allowance. If you look for varieties with a high meat content, you will still be able to eat a sensible portion size.
Whole eggs are an excellent source of protein, as well as fish and shellfish, although steer clear of any processed versions such as fishcakes or breaded items. If you are struggling to reach your daily amount of protein, you can increase your consumption with protein powders, used in cooking or made as a drink with water or milk.
The best sources of protein are chicken breasts, pork chops, beef mince, ribeye steak and shellfish.
Most dairy products such as soft and hard cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, cream, mayonnaise and Greek yoghurt are fine to eat on a keto diet, and they are an easy way to boost your fat levels. You should be aware of the protein levels in these foods though, especially if you are combining them with another protein source.
You won’t need to miss out on your favourite comfort foods on a keto diet, things like pizza and pasta can still be made, using a substitute for the carbohydrates such as a cauliflower pizza base (made from cauliflower rice, egg and cream cheese).
Unfortunately chocolate doesn’t make it on to the good list, because of its high sugar content. If you do need a fix though, look for dark chocolate with a 90% cocoa content as this has the lowest carbohydrate level.
The dairy products with the lowest carbohydrate values are mozzarella, mayonnaise, cream and marscapone cheese. Cottage cheese, cream cheese, Cheddar and Greek yoghurt have higher carb values but are still within your daily allowance.
As a general rule, vegetables which grow below ground will be much higher in carbs, so should be avoided or consumed in small quantities, such as half an onion in a bolognese sauce.
Vegetables which grow above ground have lower carb counts, but these should still be monitored carefully. The best vegetables to eat are dark, leafy greens such as spinach or kale, and there is no difference in their nutritional values between fresh or frozen. Other good vegetables are mushrooms, green pepper, green beans and lettuces which have the lowest carb counts. Cauliflower, broccoli and onions have higher carb counts but can still be eaten in moderate quantities. Tomatoes and red peppers have the highest carbohydrate levels.
You will find that some of the vegetables with a lower carb count make excellent substitutes for high carb foods. For example, if you blitz cauliflower in a food processor or chopper, you can use it instead of rice, or as a ‘flour’ in a pizza base. There are also lots of options for pasta substitutes, such as courgetti (courgette spaghetti) or edamame spaghetti. Be mindful that some ready made versions of these may have added ingredients, so it can be better for your daily intake to make your own. Using a spiraliser or serrated peeler is an easy option if your knife skills aren’t professional!
Because of their naturally occurring sugars, most fruits tend to have a high carbohydrate level. For example a medium apple has 22g and a banana has 23g of carbohydrate, which is your whole daily allowance. Berries have a lower carb value, with the best options being raspberries or blackberries.
Seeds and Nuts
Nuts are a great source of ‘good’ fat and can be a very versatile ingredient in cooking. However, the nutritional qualities of different types of nuts vary considerably, so you do need to choose wisely. Macademia nuts, pecans and brazil nuts have the best fat to carbohydrate ratio so are the ones to head for, either to eat as a snack or to use in cooking. Make sure you only buy the plain, unflavoured varieties though. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and peanuts are fine to eat in moderation, but pistachios, peanuts and cashews should be avoided as they have the highest carbohydrate value.
Nut butters and nut flours are great for cooking, with almond flour (finely milled ground almonds) being an excellent substitute for wheat flour.
Hydration is particularly important on the keto diet, as the balance of foods required has a diuretic effect on the body. You should drink the recommended amount of two litres of water per day, as well as more on top of that if you can manage.
Other drinks are fine on the keto diet, but try not to consume too much caffeine as it can have an impact on your weight loss. You can make an alternative hot drink using stock or bouillon. Plant milks are also a good option. Swap out granulated sugar in your hot drinks for sucralose or stevia, but make sure check the quantity conversions carefully!
Along with balancing your carbohydrate, fat and protein amounts on a daily basis, you also need to ensure that you are consuming enough of the key electrolytes that your body needs to function properly. These are sodium, potassium and magnesium, and these can be found in part in the foods that you eat, but you may also need to supplement your intake.
Foods that can be eaten on a keto diet which are rich in these minerals are halloumi cheese (sodium), avocado (potassium) and spinach, leafy greens and edamame beans (magnesium). You can boost your electrolyte levels either with supplement tablets or products such as Lo-Salt, which is a salt product high in potassium and can be added into cooking or drinks.
It does take some careful planning and measuring but you can see that there are plenty of foods which can be eaten on a keto diet. Once you have got through your first few days and weeks, you can start to be more adventurous with your ingredients and recipes, it’s not all about avocados!