KETO BASICS and TOOLS
What Foods Are Ketogenic Friendly?
When you embark on a ketogenic eating lifestyle, you want to reduce your carbohydrate intake to make up about 5% of the total calories you eat. An easy way to try to achieve this is to limit your net carbohydrate (net carbs) intake to around 20g-30g per day. Net carbs are the total amount of carbohydrates minus your fibre intake. Using food calorie apps can make it easier to track your carbohydrate, fat and protein intake, but you can also do this the old fashioned way with pen and paper if you have enough time to do this and you have nutritional information such as labeling on food packaging or access to nutritional information about the foods you are eating.
Vegetables are a great way of getting micronutrients into your diet. There is an array of low carb vegetables that you can eat that provide you with the vitamins and minerals that you need to stay healthy but also add bulk and beauty to your plate of food. Your best options would be leafy greens such as kale, spinach and lettuce, and although higher in carbs, broccoli, cauliflower and even cabbage also have their place in a ketogenic diet. The best vegetables tend to be the above-ground leafy greens. Vegetables to be eaten in smaller quantities would be those that are slightly higher in carbs such as onions, capsicums, mushrooms and brussels sprouts. And the vegetables to greatly restrict or better still, avoid, are the high carb and starchy vegetables like carrots, potatoes and kumaras (sweet potato), basically the below-ground types of vegetables.
The above picture shows which vegetables are higher or lower in carbs per 100g serving.
High in fructose, fruits should generally be avoided on a ketogenic diet. However, there are still a few good choices, providing you keep your intake low, and in my opinion, these are also the best fruits to eat anyway. Opt for berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. They have a high fibre content, high water content and are lower carbohydrates than most other fruits. They are also a great source of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid and resveratrol. You might also be able to squeeze in a slice or two of rock melon (cantaloupe) that, although slightly higher in carbs than berries, is still relatively low compared to many other fruit types. Fruits to avoid would be the super sweet ones such as bananas, pineapples, grapes, and even apples and pears that tend to contain a high amount of carbs and are usually eaten in larger quantities than the likes of berries.
The above picture shows which fruits are higher or lower in carbs on average per 100g serving.
Fun fact…did you know that the human body is made up of about 60% water? So it goes without saying that the best beverage you can drink on a ketogenic diet (or any diet for that matter) is water. Not only does it hydrate the body, which is very important for many bodily functions, but your body also has a tendency to flush out water on a ketogenic diet. It also has zero carbohydrates and zero calories so long as you don’t add any sugary flavouring to it. If you’re not a fan of plain water, then perhaps opt to flavour it with sugar free flavoured stevia drops or a squeeze of lemon juice. Other great beverage options are black tea and coffee with perhaps a dash of cream if you like to have it white and no sugar. Herbal teas (without milk) are also great and often come with some holistic healing properties. A word of caution, be careful when buying a coffee from a store as they tend to have a lot of milk added to them which is not keto friendly and worse still if there are sugary syrups added to them. Broth and clear soups, particularly bone broth, are tasty, nutritious, delicious and relatively low carb. Avoid soups that are thickened with wheat flour and also the thick soups based on starchy vegetables such as pumpkin and potatoes. Sugar sweetened cordials and soft drinks (sodas), milkshakes, and even beverages that you may think are health such as smoothies and fruit juices all pack a wallop when it comes to carbs and are best avoided.
Many of you may also be wondering about alcohol. It is best to avoid alcohol if possible. But if you still want to enjoy your social drink or end of the week reward, then your best options would be to opt for hard liquors/spirits, such as whisky, tequila, gin, etc. and have them either plain/neat, over ice or perhaps with soda water or a diet soda. Spirits do not tend to have any carbohydrates until you add them to a mixer such as tonic water, lemonade, cola, etc. They do however pack a punch with the alcohol volume and calorie content. It is worth noting that if you are on a weight loss journey, the intake of alcohol will tend to halt fat burning until the body has first used up any alcohol calories that have been consumed. If you are not a hard liquor person, then the next best alcoholic beverage options would be dry white or red wine, dry sparkling wine, or low carb beers that are now more readily available.
This picture shows some of the most common everyday beverages. The number indicates the grams of carbs per average standard sized drink.
Good quality meat is a great protein source for those on a ketogenic diet. Organic and pasture-raised meat is the preferred option to ensure optimal nutrition and avoid pesticides, antibiotics and added hormones. The great news is that the cheaper, fattier cuts of meat are great on the keto menu. A small note of caution though…the ketogenic diet is comprised of moderate amounts of protein, not high amounts of protein. Consuming too much protein may result in the body converting excess protein into glucose, so it is important to not go overboard. By the way, this goes for fish, dairy, poultry and eggs too.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are generally considered keto-friendly foods although they have a tendency to be very calorie dense (high in calories) in a tiny package. Because of this, it is advisable to measure out a portion or serving size because those calories can add up really quickly!! It is also worth noting that some nuts and seeds are considered more keto-friendly than others due to both their fat content and also their carbohydrate content.
The most recommended nuts and seeds are macadamias as they are high in fat but very low in carbohydrates. Then there are pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts flaxseed/linseed, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds. I’ll also add in peanuts here, although technically they are a legume, not a nut. Brazil nuts are low in carbs but you need to take care not to consume too many as they contain high amounts of selenium, a trace element, that can cause toxicity if consumed too often or in high doses. Cashew nuts are not recommended as they are actually very high in carbs compared to other nuts and seeds.