If you find yourself in a conversation about dieting or weight loss, chances are you’ll hear of the ketogenic, or keto, diet.
That’s because the keto diet has become one of the most popular methods worldwide to shed excess weight and improve health.
Research has demonstrated that adopting this low-carb, high-fat diet can promote fat loss and even improve certain conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline.
This article explains what to eat and avoid while following a keto diet and provides a one-week keto meal plan to get you started.
Ketogenic diet basics
The keto diet, as a rule, is very low in carbs, high in fat, and moderate in protein.
When following a ketogenic diet, carbs are typically reduced to 20 to 50 grams per day, though looser versions of the diet exist.
Fats should replace the majority of cut carbs and deliver approximately 75% of your total calorie intake.
Proteins should account for around 10-30% of energy needs, while carbs are usually restricted to 5%.
This carb reduction forces your body to rely on fats for its main energy source instead of glucose — a process known as ketosis.
While in ketosis, your body uses ketones — molecules produced in the liver from fats when glucose is limited — as an alternate fuel source.
Though fat is often avoided for its high calorie content, research shows that ketogenic diets are significantly more effective at promoting weight loss than low-fat diets.
Plus, keto diets reduce hunger and increase satiety, which can be particularly helpful when trying to lose weight.
Summary: The ketogenic diet relies on a very low-carb routine. Carbs are typically restricted to 20-50 grams per day, replaced mostly with fat and moderate amounts of protein.
Ketogenic diet meal plan
Switching over to a ketogenic diet can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Your focus should be on reducing carbs while increasing the fat and protein content of meals and snacks.
To reach and remain in a state of ketosis, carbs must be restricted.
While certain people might only achieve ketosis by eating 20 grams of carbs per day, others may be successful with a much higher carb intake.
Generally, the lower your carbohydrate intake, the easier it is to reach and stay in ketosis.
This is why sticking to keto-friendly foods and avoiding items rich in carbs is the best way to successfully lose weight on a ketogenic diet.
Keto-friendly foods to eat
When following a ketogenic diet, meals and snacks should center around the following foods:
- Eggs: Pastured, organic whole eggs make the best choice.
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey.
- Fatty fish: Wild-caught salmon, herring, and mackerel.
- Meat: Grass-fed beef, venison, pork, organ meats, and bison.
- Full-fat dairy: Yogurt, butter, and cream.
- Full-fat cheese: Cheddar, mozzarella, brie, goat cheese, and cream cheese.
- Nuts and seeds: Macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and flaxseeds.
- Nut butter: Natural peanut, almond, and cashew butter.
- Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut butter, and sesame oil.
- Avocados: Whole avocados can be added to almost any meal or snack.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Greens, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers.
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and spices.
Foods to avoid
Avoid foods rich in carbs while following a keto diet.
Suggested read: Does the ketogenic diet work for weight loss?
The following foods should be restricted:
- Bread and baked goods: White bread, whole-wheat bread, crackers, cookies, doughnuts, and rolls.
- Sweets and sugary foods: Sugar, ice cream, candy, maple syrup, agave syrup, and coconut sugar.
- Sweetened beverages: Soda, juice, sweetened teas, and sports drinks.
- Pasta: Spaghetti and noodles.
- Grains and grain products: Wheat, rice, oats, breakfast cereals, and tortillas.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas, and pumpkin.
- Beans and legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans.
- Fruit: Citrus, grapes, bananas, and pineapple.
- High-carb sauces: Barbecue sauce, sugary salad dressings, and dipping sauces.
- Certain alcoholic beverages: Beer and sugary mixed drinks.
Though carbs should be restricted, low-glycemic fruits such as berries can be enjoyed in limited amounts as long as you’re maintaining a keto-friendly macronutrient range.
Be sure to choose healthy food sources and steer clear of processed foods and unhealthy fats.
Suggested read: Is coconut milk keto-friendly?
The following items should be avoided:
- Unhealthy fats: Margarine, shortening, and other sources of trans fat.
- Processed foods: Fast food, packaged foods, and processed meats such as hot dogs and lunch meats.
- Diet foods: Foods that contain artificial colors, preservatives, and sweeteners such as sugar alcohols and aspartame.
Sugar can be found in a wide variety of beverages including juice, soda, iced tea, and coffee drinks.
While on a ketogenic diet, high-carb drinks must be avoided just like high-carb foods.
It’s no small matter that sugary beverages have also been linked to various health issues — from obesity to an increased risk of diabetes.
Thankfully, there are many tasty, sugar-free options for those on the keto diet.
Keto-friendly beverage choices include:
- Water: Water is the best choice for hydration and should be consumed throughout the day.
- Sparkling water: Sparkling water can make an excellent soda replacement.
- Unsweetened coffee: Try heavy cream to add flavor to your cup of joe.
- Unsweetened green tea: Green tea is delicious and provides many health benefits.
If you want to add some extra flavor to your water, try experimenting with different keto-friendly flavor combinations.
For example, tossing some fresh mint and lemon peel into your water bottle can make hydration a breeze.
Though alcohol should be restricted, enjoying a low-carb drink like vodka or tequila mixed with soda water is perfectly fine on occasion.
Summary: A healthy ketogenic diet should revolve around high-fat, low-carb food choices and restrict highly processed items and unhealthy fats. Keto-friendly beverage options must be sugar-free. Consider water, sparkling water, or unsweetened green tea and coffee.
A sample keto menu for one week
The following menu provides less than 50 grams of total carbs per day.
As mentioned above, some people may have to reduce carbohydrates even further to reach ketosis.
This is a general one-week ketogenic menu that can be altered depending on individual dietary needs.
- Breakfast: Two eggs fried in pastured butter served with sauteed greens.
- Lunch: A bunless grass-fed burger topped with cheese, mushrooms, and avocado atop a bed of greens.
- Dinner: Pork chops with green beans sauteed in coconut oil.
- Breakfast: Mushroom omelet.
- Lunch: Tuna salad with celery and tomato atop a bed of greens.
- Dinner: Roast chicken with cream sauce and sauteed broccoli.
- Breakfast: Bell pepper stuffed with cheese and eggs.
- Lunch: Arugula salad with hard-boiled eggs, turkey, avocado, and blue cheese.
- Dinner: Grilled salmon with spinach sauteed in coconut oil.
- Breakfast: Full-fat yogurt topped with Keto granola.
- Lunch: Steak bowl with cauliflower rice, cheese, herbs, avocado, and salsa.
- Dinner: Bison steak with cheesy broccoli.
- Breakfast: Baked avocado egg boats.
- Lunch: Caesar salad with chicken.
- Dinner: Pork chops with vegetables.
- Breakfast: Cauliflower toast topped with cheese and avocado.
- Lunch: Bunless salmon burgers topped with pesto.
- Dinner: Meatballs served with zucchini noodles and parmesan cheese.
- Breakfast: Coconut milk chia pudding topped with coconut and walnuts.
- Lunch: Cobb salad made with greens, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, cheese, and turkey.
- Dinner: Coconut chicken curry.
As you can see, ketogenic meals can be diverse and flavorful.
Suggested read: Mediterranean diet: Beginner's guide and meal plan
Although many ketogenic meals are based around animal products, there is a wide variety of vegetarian options to choose from as well.
If you’re following a more liberal ketogenic diet, adding a cup of berries to your breakfast or a small serving of a starchy vegetable to your dinner will increase the number of carbs in this meal plan.
Summary: A ketogenic meal plan, like any healthy diet, should include whole foods and many fiber-rich, low-carb vegetables. Choose healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, and pastured butter to increase the fat content of dishes.
Healthy ketogenic snack options
Snacking between meals can help moderate hunger and keep you on track while following a ketogenic diet.
Because the ketogenic diet is so filling, you may only need one or two snacks per day, depending on your activity level.
Here are some excellent, keto-friendly snack options:
- Almonds and cheddar cheese
- Half an avocado stuffed with chicken salad
- Guacamole with low-carb veggies
- Trail mix made with unsweetened coconut, nuts, and seeds
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Coconut chips
- Kale chips
- Olives and sliced salami
- Celery and peppers with herbed cream cheese dip
- Berries with heavy whipping cream
- Cheese roll-ups
- Parmesan crisps
- Macadamia nuts
- Greens with high-fat dressing and avocado
- Keto smoothie made with coconut milk, cocoa, and avocado
- Avocado cocoa mousse
Though these keto snacks can maintain fullness between meals, they can also contribute to weight gain if you’re snacking too much throughout the day.
Suggested read: No-carb diet: Benefits, downsides, and foods list
It’s important to eat the appropriate number of calories based on your activity level, weight loss goal, age, and gender.
If you’re unsure how many calories you should be eating, check out this article to learn how to calculate energy needs.
Summary: Keto-friendly snacks should be high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs. Increase your fiber intake by snacking on sliced, low-carb vegetables with a high-fat dipping sauce.
A simple ketogenic shopping list
A well-rounded ketogenic diet should include lots of fresh produce, healthy fats, and proteins.
Choosing a mixture of both fresh and frozen produce will ensure that you have a supply of keto-friendly vegetables and fruits to add to recipes.
The following is a simple ketogenic shopping list that can guide you when perusing the grocery aisles:
- Meat and poultry: Beef, chicken, turkey, and pork (choose organic, pasture-raised options whenever possible).
- Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring are best.
- Shellfish: Oysters, shrimp, and scallops.
- Eggs: Purchase omega-3-enriched or pastured eggs whenever possible.
- Full-fat dairy: Unsweetened yogurt, butter, heavy cream, and sour cream.
- Oils: Coconut and avocado oils.
- Avocados: Buy a mixture of ripe and unripe avocados so that your supply will last.
- Cheese: Brie, cream cheese, cheddar, and goat cheese.
- Frozen or fresh berries: Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.
- Nuts: Macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios.
- Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds.
- Nut kinds of butter: Almond butter, peanut butter.
- Fresh or frozen low-carb vegetables: Mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, greens, peppers, onions, and tomatoes.
- Condiments: Sea salt, pepper, salsa, herbs, garlic, vinegar, mustard, olives, and spices.
It’s always worthwhile to plan your meals ahead of time and fill your cart with the ingredients needed for a few days’ worth of healthy dishes.
Plus, sticking to a shopping list can help you avoid tempting, unhealthy foods.
Summary: Preparing a shopping list can help you decide what foods will fit into your ketogenic meal plan. Fill your cart with meat, poultry, eggs, low-carb veggies, full-fat dairy, and healthy fats.
A healthy ketogenic diet should consist of about 75% fat, 10-30% protein, and no more than 5% or 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
Focus on high-fat, low-carb foods like eggs, meats, dairy and low-carb vegetables, as well as sugar-free beverages. Be sure to restrict highly processed items and unhealthy fats.
The popularity of the ketogenic diet has made it easier than ever to find a wide array of interesting and healthy keto meal ideas online.
Using this article as a guide to get started on the keto diet can set you up for success and make transitioning to a high-fat, low-carb diet a breeze.