- The keto diet is a very low-carb eating plan that forces the body to burn fat, not glucose, for fuel. It’s a popular option for weight loss.
- To follow the diet most healthfully, focus on non-starchy vegetables, grass-fed meats, and nuts, nutritionists told INSIDER.
- Considering the diet’s restrictions, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients and fiber to minimize potential risks.
While the jury is still out on its long-term benefits, the keto diet – which restricts carbs and promotes fats so your body starts relying primarily on fat for energy – has become a popular avenue to lose weight.
However, considering that many fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes all contain enough carbohydrates to put you out of the fat-burning state of ketosis, it can be tough to plan your meals to make sure they’re keto-friendly while also allowing you to get the fiber, minerals, and vitamins you need to keep your body running healthfully.
INSIDER talked to registered dietitian nutritionists about what a full day of healthy eating looks like on keto, and what you should take into consideration when planning your meals for the day.
Eat certain foods like processed meats in moderation on the keto diet.
While a keto-friendly diet can allow many high-fat and processed meats, “it also isn’t a license to eat as much cheese and bacon as you’d like,” said sports nutritionist Emmie Satrazemis, who serves as the nutrition director for Trifecta, a meal delivery service that offers a keto plan.
“Without enough nutrition in your diet, you are missing out on important health benefits and not giving your body everything it needs to thrive,” she said.
Getting enough fiber on the keto diet can also be challenging. Satrazemis suggests including a low-carb fruit or veggie with every meal to help you get the fiber and nutrients you need without getting out of ketosis.
Many people on the keto diet lack potassium, magnesium, and sodium, as well as certain vitamins.
Lara Clevenger, a keto nutritionist and coach who follows the diet herself, said she’s had clients come to her with leg cramps, swelling, or headaches when they weren’t getting enough essential minerals on the keto diet.
To help prevent such physical ailments, “choose high-fat meats, wild fatty fish, organ meats, and eggs to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients,” she recommended. In some cases, a multivitamin or a vitamin with D3 (which is typically found in fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, and fortified foods) might be helpful as well.
You also want to watch your protein intake on the keto diet.
“I noticed that a lot of my patients confused the ketogenic diet with the Atkins diet,” registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick said, noting that the two differ significantly in terms of the amount of protein consumption that’s allowed. (Atkins allows more.)
“The body always prefers stored glucose and will seek it out over all other sources,” Kirkpatrick said. “If your protein is too high, and stored glucose from carbs are gone, the liver will turn amino acids from protein and turn them into glucose. It’s an amazing survival mechanism that the liver performs, but it backfires when on keto. Protein really needs to be moderate to low [on the diet].”
Beginning your day with an egg-based meal is a good bet on keto.
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For breakfast, all three nutritionists recommended some form of an egg-based scramble. Clevenger, for example, suggests making one with local free-range chicken or duck eggs and uncured bacon or local pasture-raised sausage. Pair it with low-carb veggies like avocado, onions, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms, too.
Nuts, which are a great source of insoluble fiber, can be a good keto-friendly snacking option.
“When I choose snacks, it’s always best to go with whole foods and less processed foods when possible,” Clevenger said. In addition to nuts, she also recommends olives, dill pickles, fermented vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and uncured meat sticks to keep hunger at bay between meals.
Lunch is a good time to eat a keto-friendly salad.
Kirkpatrick suggests choosing salads with a protein base of chicken or salmon. Satrazemis said she tends to supplement a grilled chicken salad with low-carb veggies, seeds, and avocado to add even more nutrition to the mix. Top your salad with a keto-friendly dressing made with balsamic vinegar and a high-quality avocado or olive oil.
At dinner, you can easily add some fatty meats and non-starchy vegetables to your keto diet.
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Satrazemis gravitates toward a grass-fed steak stir-fry with low-carb veggies over cauliflower rice for keto-friendly dinners. Clevenger, meanwhile, pairs some sort of protein like pasture-raised pork or wild-caught fatty fish with some type of non-starchy vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or asparagus. To add more fat to the mix, you can cook your veggies in a high-quality animal fat like lard, tallow, or duck fat.
If you’re looking for a meat-free option that’s also keto-approved, Kirkpatrick suggests zucchini noodles mixed with pesto or just olive oil and herbs.