Learn which foods you should eat and avoid on a keto diet to reap all the health benefits and lose weight quickly.
Starting a new way of eating can be challenging. Keto is no exception. Stop the guesswork with my list of essential keto foods to eat and avoid.
You can even download it as a printable PDF shopping list. With more than 275 yummy foods, keto does not have to be boring or limiting. Happy keto-dieting!
What Foods Can You Eat on Keto?
Keto is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet.
The health benefits of keto help fight type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, fatty liver, PCOS, cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other chronic conditions (Volek et al. 20051; Li et al. 20212; Weber et al. 20183; Neal et al. 20084; Choi et al. 20215).
Keto introduces the natural metabolic state of ketosis through diet. In ketosis, your body breaks down stored fat into ketones that can supercharge your whole organs and body.
By calories, ketogenic diets typically comprise 60% fat, 30% protein, and 10% carbohydrates (Masood et al. 20226).
While that sounds intimidating, keto is straightforward. Since one gram of fat has nine calories, and one of protein or carbohydrates has only four, you do not have to eat so much fat.
However, cutting carbs and upping fat intake can be challenging when starting. Therefore I have curated a shopping list of the very best foods to eat on keto. In the second part, I will show you which foods to avoid on a ketogenic diet.
Stop the guesswork lose weight, dodge modern diseases, and feel more energetic without the annoying calorie counting!
Foods to Eat on Keto
Contrary to popular belief, proper ketogenic diets are based on the most nutrient-dense whole foods available. Use the following food list to get all the essential vitamins, minerals, amino, and fatty acids while keeping carbs in check.
Healthy Keto Fats
Let’s start with foods you can eat all you want on keto: fats. But be warned that there are a lot of inflammatory vegetable oils that can harm weight loss and health. We will cover these unhealthy fats in the keto foods to avoid section.
The following healthy keto fats and oils are safe for cooking:
- Avocado oil
- Extra virgin coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Clarified butter
- Beef tallow
Grass-fed butter, avocado, and olive oil are packed with nutrients and an excellent addition to veggie sides, but you should not use them for deep-frying. The other fats on the list are more suitable for very high heat.
High Protein Keto Foods
As an essential part of a ketogenic diet, you should get 20-30% of your daily energy intake from high-quality protein. If you strength train, you can even go beyond this protein requirement.
Eggs are the ultimate keto food on a budget. They are nutrient-dense and have an excellent macronutrient distribution for a ketogenic diet.
One large egg has 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and almost zero carbs. They are rich in vitamins A, B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, D, and E, as well as zinc, phosphorus, and selenium (*).
Because they are a natural superfood that is super versatile, they are a must in your keto pantry.
Contrary to popular belief, eggs help regulate triglycerides, cholesterol, and inflammation in the blood (Blesso et al. 20157).
For this reason, they reduce the risk of heart disease (Marotta et al. 20108).
After all the fat and nutrients hide in the yolk, use the whole egg. Go for pasture-raised or free-range eggs since husbandry affects nutrient density and fat profile.
Meat and Poultry
Meats are among the most common foods that suit keto.
Hence, cheaper high-fat meats like pork belly, chicken thighs, and ground beef are a great way to go keto on a budget. These parts supply healthy collagen for your skin, hair, joints, and muscles.
If you can afford it, buy pasture-raised quality. However, ruminants like cattle and lamb come with an advantage.
Their four stomachs help eliminate plant-based chemicals and toxins from their digestive systems so that our food is almost free (Loh et al. 20209).
Never buy marinated meat. It contains hidden sugars and refined seed oils that will quickly oxidize on the grill, leading to cellular damage and heart disease (Staprans et al. 200510).
Here is a variety of meats fitting a ketogenic diet:
- Ground beef
- Stew meat
- Pork chops
- Pork belly
- Wild boar
- Organ meats
- Bone marrow
Always check the ingredients list for added sugars, sweeteners, seed oils, and fillers when buying processed meats.
Fatty Fish and Seafood
Wild-caught fatty fish is the perfect keto protein with the additional benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids from seafood increase the basal metabolic rate and help build muscle (Hulbert et al. 199911).
Due to the worse Omega-3-to-6 ratio, farmed fish is only the second choice.
The following fish and seafood are excellent choices for a ketogenic diet:
- Salmon (fresh, smoked, and canned)
- Mahi Mahi
- Red snapper
- Tuna (fresh)
- Canned Tuna (water, olive oil only)
Wild-caught fish from the North Atlantic is the least contaminated by mercury.
Cheese and Other Dairy
Besides little carbs, a high ratio of fat to protein is essential to cheese on keto. Be sure always to check the nutrition facts on the label. Full-fat dairy products with zero carbs are lactose-free by nature.
The rule of thumb for a ketogenic diet is always to prefer full-fat dairy products. Foods made from low-fat and skim milk are deprived of natural fats and are high in (added) sugar.
The following dairy products suit a ketogenic diet:
- Parmesan cheese
- Blue cheese
- Cottage cheese (2.7g)
- Cream cheese (4.1g)
- Ricotta (3.0g)
- Sour cream (3.5g)
- Heavy cream (2.8g)
As you can see in parenthesis, some keto-friendly dairy still hides some carbs per 100 grams you must consider for your daily macros.
Low-Carb Nuts and Seeds
Most nuts are high in fats and medium in proteins, making them great candidates for keto. However, some are too high in carbs to make it onto the keto foods list.
However, nuts are shelf-stable and ready to eat and, therefore, among the best keto snacks you can stock up in your pantry.
Here are my top choices:
- Pilis (4.0 g)
- Pecans (4.4 g)
- Brazil Nuts (4.8 g)
- Macadamia (5.6 g)
- Walnuts (7.0 g)
- Hazelnuts (7.0 g)
- Almonds (9.5 g)
Keto Foods with Carbs
Despite the meat reputation, vegetables are among the most common foods on a keto diet. They are your primary source of carbs.
What makes so many veggies keto-friendly is dietary fiber. Fiber is those carbs you can consume in unlimited quantities on a ketogenic diet. It helps minimize blood glucose and insulin spikes (Chandalia et al. 200012).
Since you excrete dietary fiber, you must not count it as carbohydrates. You get the net carbs if you subtract fiber from total carbohydrates in food. Net carbs, not total carbs, matter on a keto diet.
An easy way to identify keto-approved veggies is to stick to green vegetables grown above the ground.
Vegetables that grow below the ground, like carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, are yellow to orange and starchy. Starches below the ground are a plant’s energy reserve, like body fat to humans. They are high in carbs and, in turn, can make you fat.
Here are the very best green vegetables you can eat on keto:
- Pak choi
- Chinese cabbage
- Savoy cabbage
- Red cabbage
- White cabbage
In addition to leafy greens, vegetables of different colors suit a ketogenic diet. Following low-carb veggies are excellent options for making your pantry and dishes more versatile:
- Spring onion
Although fruit provides antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, the extent of its health benefits is vastly overestimated.
Green vegetables are far better keto food choices. Broccoli, for example, offers 20 times as many vitamins as an apple.
Natural fructose sounds good, but it is chemically no different from the fructose in table sugar, which is the primary contributor to insulin resistance and the obesity pandemic.
Therefore, you should only consume limited amounts of fruit on a keto diet.
Coat your fruits with healthy fats such as whipped cream or cheese to dampen blood sugar and insulin response.
Here is the best fruit for keto (net carbs per 100g in parentheses):
- Avocado (1.8g)
- Rhubarb (2.7g)
- Lime (1.9g)
- Lemon (3.2g)
- Raspberries (4.8g)
- Blackberries (4.9g)
- Strawberries (5.4g)
- Cranberries (7.6g)
- Blueberries (12.1g)
Besides salt, many more keto-friendly condiments can spice up your life:
- Celtic sea salt
- Pink Himalayan Salt
- Black Himalayan Salt
- Black Hawaii Salt
- Red Hawaii Salt
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili powder
- Soy sauce
- Dijon mustard
Keto Baking Ingredients
For almost any dessert in the world, there is a recipe for a keto version. Have a look at the top ingredients used for keto baking:
- Coconut flakes
- Coconut flour
- Linseed meal
- Almond flour
- Cocoa powder
- Extracts (i.e., vanilla)
- Xanthan gum
- Monk fruit
Stevia and monk fruit, the most common keto sweeteners, are widely praised since they are marketed as plant-based. However, both are highly-processed products, which is not natural.
That means they are not great for weight loss. Only use them on special occasions.
Erythritol can be a better alternative since scientists have not yet observed significant increases in glucose and insulin levels (Bornet et al. 199616).
However, there is a lack of studies.
Also, the most popular binding agent in keto foods and recipes, xanthan gum, comes with a caveat. You cannot determine if it’s gluten- or allergen-free. Fortunately, there are simple substitutes.
When people start keto, some complain about not finding keto-friendly snacks. But there are countless healthy keto-friendly options you can eat on the go.
To save you a lot of time, I wrote a summary of the best keto snacks you can buy and easily make in no time.
Special Keto Foods
Some special keto foods do not fit into other categories. They are processed but only to a minor degree. They are among the very best keto foods. In short, their health benefits outweigh possible concerns:
- MCT Oil
- Extra virgin linseed oil
- Cocoa butter (0g)
- Coconut butter (6.6g)
- 100% almond butter (13g)
- Shirataki noodles
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can be metabolized quickly and help boost focus and fat burning. Linseed oil can be an excellent keto fat if you do not use it for cooking.
I do not recommend using peanut butter on a ketogenic diet. In contrast to cocoa, coconut, and pure almond butter, most peanut products are highly processed, using highly inflammatory seed oils and added sugars.
Lastly, high-fiber noodles from the konjac root are a unique low-carb alternative.
Many people say keto is not fun since you can’t drink alcohol, but that’s not true. You can enjoy alcoholic drinks on keto if you dodge the hidden carbs.
Most long drinks are full of sugar. That’s why you should avoid cocktails and other mixed beverages on keto. Instead of alcohol, juices, and syrups are a real problem.
You can enjoy dry low-carb wines or clear spirits in moderation. Mix them with sparkling water instead of sweet beverages.
While diet soda is a gray area for many, I would not drink it on keto. It’s proven that non-nutritive sweeteners make you hungry and gain weight (Yang 201017; Fowler et al. 200818; Stellman et al. 198619).
Here is a list of beverages that are always safe for keto:
- Mineral water
- Water with a squeeze of lemon or lime
- Water with orange or cucumber slices
- Green tea
- Black tea
- Oolong tea
- White tea
- Herbal tea (check for sugars)
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Unsweetened coconut milk
- Bone broth
- Diluted apple cider vinegar
- Black coffee
- Bulletproof coffee
- Coffee with whipped cream
- Low-carb wines
- Clear spirits
Keto doesn’t have to be boring, be a Skinny Bitch.
Foods to Avoid on Keto
For beginning a healthy and effective keto diet, the foods you should not eat are more important than those you can eat.
Grains, Starchy Veggies, and Legumes
Grains are high-carb. One cup of wheat flour has 72.5 grams of net carbs (*).
It’s a little-known fact that grains harm your gut. Gluten destroys the protein that holds the intestinal wall together (Sturgeon et al. 201620).
Besides gluten, another lectin in whole grains harms the intestinal wall and supports insulin resistance, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes (Kamikubo et al. 200821).
Wheat germ agglutinin binds to insulin and leptin receptors, helping to store body fat more efficiently (Shechter 198322).
Grains, pseudo-grains like quinoa, legumes, and starchy nightshades like potatoes contain lectins.
Starches are polysaccharides. They are multiple sugars, but the liver breaks them down into a simple sugar called glucose.
In short, potatoes and friends are bad news for people with diabetes and keto dieters. They elevate blood sugar and insulin for quite a while and block the body’s ability to break down stored fat (Meijssen et al. 200123).
That’s why we avoid starchy tubers and eat low-carb veggies that grow above the ground on keto.
While legumes are some rare vegan protein sources, they are still too high in carbs. One cup of cooked black beans has 25.8 grams of net carbs, which can kick you out of ketosis.
Moreover, while they contain protein, their bioavailability is weak.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, Black Beans have a protein efficiency ratio of 0, wheat gluten of 0.8, beef of 2.9, and eggs of 3.9 (Hoffman et al. 200424).
And there is another concern regarding nutrient absorption. While some legumes are rich in minerals, their bioavailability is poor due to phytate (Sandberg 200225).
Phytic acid insolubly binds minerals in the digestive tract, limiting their absorption (Gibson et al. 201026).
Sweets, Fruits, Juices, and Smoothies
As you might have imagined, sweet treats and desserts loaded with sugar are unsuitable for keto.
While natural fruit fiber helps dampen blood sugar and insulin spikes, it’s still high in sugar (Chandalia et al. 200027).
Smoothies are worse, and juices are a complete no-go for keto since these are fruits without protective fiber. Stick to the fruits on my keto shopping list for a refreshing sweet taste.
Regarding alcohol, we can all agree that you should limit it. But as mentioned, the hidden sugars and syrups in mixed alcoholic beverages are an even more significant concern.
Fructose, not alcohol, is the primary driver of fatty liver disease. Furthermore, the sweet molecule in sugar inhibits satiety and changes the brain’s reward system, fueling cravings (Lustig 201328).
Few people know that sugar hides in places they do not expect. For example, condiments like vinegar, dressings, sauces, and mustard can contain loads of hidden sugars. Always read labels.
Sweeteners, Low-Fat and Low-Carb Foods
Processed foods are a show-stopper for keto and other healthy diets. That fact does not stop at products labeled keto, low-carb, or gluten-free.
Gluten-free goods are generally high in carbs, and most low-carb products are heavily processed, slowing your weight loss progress.
You can find two primary additives in processed foods marketed as keto-friendly:
- Refined seed oils
- Non-nutritive sweeteners
Besides sugar, another additive is hiding in processed foods. It’s a cheap and tasteless way to improve texture and fat content.
Refined seed oils, such as soybean, corn, sunflower, canola, and peanut oil, are among the world’s unhealthiest foods. They drive inflammation and obesity (Patterson et al. 201229; Simopoulos 201630).
For example, canola oil is heated, refined, bleached, and deodorized, among many other processing steps (Saleem et al. 201831).
But technically they are keto. Give foods containing seed oils a wide berth, even if labeled low-carb or keto.
Sweeteners always come with a caveat on keto. While most artificial and natural sweeteners are non-nutritive, they can promote insulin secretion and harm gut health (Ruiz-Ojeda et al. 201932).
It will help if you dodge diet soda and foods labeled diet. Use the sweeteners on the keto food list wisely for special occasions.
Regarding dairy, go for full-fat products with the highest degree of maturation. The maturation of dairy eliminates lactose, the primary sugar.
For example, while carbs dominate milk or yogurt, cheddar cheese is virtually free. It’s a little-known fact that matured cheeses are lactose-free, even if not labeled so.
Besides sweeteners, low-fat foods often contain added sugars, which you can identify on the label if you have the basic knowledge.
Read Food Labels on Keto
The bottom line is that you must read labels to guarantee a healthy diet and weight loss, even on keto.
Especially sugar is hiding everywhere. The food industry invented more than 50 synonyms for sugar, so you cannot easily spot them on the ingredients list. The most common names to watch out for are fructose, sucrose, maltodextrin, dextrose, and corn syrup.
In short, a whole-food keto diet supplies all the essential nutrients to improve your health and lose weight.
Your number one source to ensure progress and reap the health benefits is this superior keto foods shopping list, available as a printable PDF.
Keto Foods FAQ
What are the top 10 keto foods?
The top 10 keto foods are broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, olive oil, grass-fed butter, full-fat cheese, steak, chicken thighs, macadamia nuts, and Himalayan salt.
What foods to eat and not to eat on the keto diet?
Eat whole foods like low-carb veggies, nuts, full-fat dairy, meats, and seafood, while avoiding grains, legumes, sweet treats, most fruits, and processed foods on keto.
What carbs can you eat on keto?
Leafy greens and nuts are healthy keto-approved carb sources.
What fruits can I eat on keto?
Avocados, lemons, limes, rhubarb, and berries are the best fruits to eat on keto.
Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.
Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.
Click on the links above to visit his author and about me pages.