The ketogenic diet can be dizzyingly complicated.
You want to load up on fats and protein, and keep your carb intake low—but all fats and proteins aren’t alike, and there are some veggies higher in carbohydrates than others. Oh, and fruit is pretty much banned.
But don’t worry: We’ve put together the best and worst of each category so you can go keto with confidence.
Saturated fats including coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, duck fat, tallow, and lard—all essential for a healthy immune system, dense bones, and proper testosterone levels.
Monounsaturated fats like olive, avocado, macadamia, and almond oils, which boost heart health and provide vitamin E—important for vision and a strong immune system.
Polyunsaturated omega-3s such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, and sustainably harvested seafood—to prevent heart disease and stroke and reduce blood pressure.
Medium-chain triglycerides, fatty acids that are easily absorbed and used for energy. Linked to weight loss, MCTs increase satiety and rev-up metabolism.
Refined fats and oils like sunflower, canola, soybean, grapeseed, and corn oils, which have been processed at high temperatures, creating free radicals that can damage cells.
Trans fats, such as margarine and other spreads, which contribute to weight gain, increase stroke risk.
Meat and offal (e.g., tongue, liver, heart) from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals—it’s low in calories and contains vitamins like A and E along with tons of antioxidants.
Wild-caught and sustainably harvested seafood, which is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and better for the environment than farmed fish.
Free-range organic eggs, which contain higher levels of vitamin A and E, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids than the farmed variety.
Factory-farmed animal products and seafoods, which are lower in nutrients and often worse for the environment than their healthier counterparts; and processed sausages and hot dogs, which, more often than not, have preservatives called nitrates that have been linked to cancer.
Dark leafy greens, like Swiss chard, spinach, kale, and lettuce.
Lower-carb veggies, like cucumber, celery, asparagus, squash, and zucchini; cruciferous veggies, like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts; nightshades, like eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers; root vegetables, like onion, garlic, and radishes, and sea veggies, like nori and kombu. The guidelines are simple: focus on dark, leafy greens, then the stuff that grows above the ground, then root vegetables.
Starchy, high-carb vegetables, like potatoes, peas, corn, yucca, parsnips, beans, yams, and legumes are great, nutritious whole foods that work well in the regular diet of a guy looking to get healthy and fit—however, their elevated carbs make them a no-go for achieving ketosis.
Full-fat dairy products, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, cream, sour cream, goat cheese, and other cheeses. Note: Dairy should be eaten sparingly, but when you do eat it, stick with full-fat, as it’s more filling and nutritious.
Milk—but not cheese—is off the list because it contains a lot of lactose, a form of sugar, which makes it high in carbohydrates. When cheese is made, all the sugar is eaten by bacteria and turned into lactic acid, cutting the carb content way down. Low- and reduced-fat dairy products are to be avoided as they’re overly processed, which strips out nutrients like the fatty acids that make you feel full. Plus, sugar is often added to make up for a loss of flavor and texture, so some actually have more sugar than full-fat dairy. Resist shredded cheese, too, as it contains a carby potato starch that keeps it from sticking together.
Nuts and seeds
Macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds. Be careful when eating nuts, as they’re calorie-dense and can easily put you over your carb limit for the day.
Cashews, pistachios, and chestnuts are on the higher end for carbs in nuts, and should be avoided.
Avocados are low in carbs and have great fat and fiber content; berries are OK since their carb content is negligible; and 1 cup of tomatoes has just 6g of carbs.
Fruits in general, dried or otherwise, are forbidden since most have high sugar and carb content.
Water, sparkling water, seltzer, black coffee, unsweetened and herbal teas, unsweetened nut milks, wine, light beer, and liquor. Caffeine is fine for most people—just don’t go pouring in sugar or milk; the same goes for tea and nut milk. Lower-carb alcohol in moderation is OK, especially if you’re at the point where you’re just trying to maintain weight.
Soft drinks, fruit juices, sweet wines, craft beers, and flavored liquor are filled with way too much sugar and/or carbs to be allowed if you’re serious about keto. Some people will drink diet, or “zero,” soft drinks, but avoid them if you can because the citric acid and aspartame often found in them may derail your trip to ketosis.
Sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, and xylitol can be made a part of your keto diet, but try to buy only the pure versions, as the powdered products usually have a small amount of sugar added as a bulking agent.
Inulin is a sweet and starchy plant fiber that helps regulate blood sugar.
Monk fruit powder is 300 times sweeter than sugar and doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste like stevia.
70% cocoa dark chocolate and cocoa powder are packed with antioxidants.
Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and agave nectar need to be ditched. Even if honey and agave are healthy whole foods, sugar is still sugar and will bump you out of ketosis.