Making a decision to change your eating habits can be empowering and energizing. It is, after all, a choice that could change your life! So you head to the grocery store, ready to kick off a new eating pattern on the right foot. But then you walk through the doors of your local market and realize that you have no idea where to start. That's where we come in.
For those on the ketogenic diet — or for anyone trying it out — it’s important to know what's keto-friendly and what isn’t. Sure, you probably know the basics. You may be aware, for example, that the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb eating program that aims to put the body in a metabolic state where instead of carbohydrates and that it burns fat for fuel in a process known as ketosis. But do you know what foods you should actually eat on the keto diet?
As you start checking nutrition labels, finding foods that are healthy sources of fat and comply with the low-carb requirements of the keto diet can be tough. To help kickstart any of your keto goals, we bring you a grocery list, with everything from meal ingredients to snacks to keto-friendly alcohol — Yes! — that prioritizes nutrient-dense foods to ensure that your keto goals are met the right way.
What are the benefits of the keto diet?
One of the most notable benefits of the keto diet is its ability to lower overall appetite and reduce hunger. The keto diet eliminates foods that are high in carbohydrates and are high on the glycemic index, meaning they raise your blood sugar by a significant amount in a short period of time, which then affects how we release insulin.
Kristin Kirkpatrick is a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic who tracked her experience trying the keto diet for 30 days. She said that these high-glycemic index foods put us on a “roller coaster” of blood sugar changes. After insulin is released and blood sugar dips back down, we will want more and more of the original food, making it difficult to control portions.
“Not only does that rollercoaster keep us in more of a hunger mode where we could really eat all day and not feel the satisfaction, that very high and low can also be slightly damaging to inflammatory levels in the body as well,” she said.
But with the keto diet eliminating these high GI foods, blood sugar and insulin levels aren’t on that roller coaster, more like a “rolling hill,” Kirkpatrick said, which has less of an impact on our feelings of hunger and can improve overall insulin sensitivity.
Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietician and wellness expert, also said that in the short term, the keto diet can help with weight loss, especially due to its ability to suppress appetite.
“The hardest thing is to feel full on that calorie deficit that you’re trying to achieve, so (the keto diet) can give you an edge for weight loss,” she said.
What are the cons of the keto diet?
The best diet is one that you can stick to long term, Kirkpatrick and Cassetty advise their clients. And because of the high level of restriction required for the keto diet, it’s not always sustainable. Eating out can prove difficult, and social occasions like happy hour or a birthday party might not have modifications for someone on the diet.
Another con to going on the diet comes from the fact that there is a “fine line” between being in a state of ketosis and eating a really unhealthy diet, Cassetty said. Because it calls for a high-fat consumption, it’s important to prioritize healthy unsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats found in things like butter and processed red meat.
In fact, one of the most common misconceptions Kirkpatrick hears from clients is that the diet calls for people to just “eat bacon all day long.” But the type of fat consumed is crucial to ensure that the keto diet is done in a way that still protects overall health.
While processed foods may be compliant with the keto diet, they pose additional health risks. Processed meat is considered carcinogenic, meaning it raises your risk of certain cancers. Cassetty also cautions that some of the foods that the diet does eliminate, such as fruit, prevent people from getting important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant compounds that contribute to a healthier gut and overall better health outcomes.
And in regards to weight loss, Cassetty added that while the diet can help in the short term, those results tend to plateau after six months.
Another con that some people experience is the keto “flu,” side effects of the body switching up its metabolic processes to enter ketosis. Some people experience headache, fatigue and sugar cravings during this transition time, which can last between 10 days and three weeks, Cassetty said.
What can you eat on the keto diet?
Because the keto diet is relatively restrictive, planning is key. So first off, before even stepping foot in the door of a grocery store, it can be helpful to put pen to paper and make a list. So where do you start?
Cassetty advises her clients to start with a rough map for their week. Estimate how many times you will eat out and how many meals you will need to make a home. A good baseline is to pick a consistent breakfast to start each day on the right foot, then plan for two to three lunch meals and three dinner options. Then, construct your list around what ingredients you need to make every meal.
As you start to list out certain ingredients, it’s important to know what to look for on the nutrition label. The keto diet calls for a very low-level of carbs, but specifically net carbs, or digestible carbs. This is where fast math comes in. Net carbs equal the food’s total carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohol content, Kirkpatrick said. In general, the diet calls for people to eat less than 50 grams of carbs total per day.
Another tip for those getting started is to decide what meals you love and find keto-friendly substitutions, such as cauliflower bases instead of traditional starchy foods and almond flour instead of traditional flour.
A keto diet food list
So what should you plan to put in your cart? With all these factors in mind, here is a keto grocery list to get you started:
Almond flour is a low-carb baking ingredient that can keep you in ketosis without giving up your favorite sweet treats.
Avocados are a high-fat fruit that are rich in fiber, which can help keep you full and satisfied longer. Bring on the guacamole!
Brussel sprouts cooked in a plant-based oil can be a delicious side or base for a solid lunch or dinner.
Cauliflower crust and cauliflower rice
If pizza is a food you can’t live without, substitute traditional dough for a crispy cauliflower crust. And for grains, while one cup of white rice has 45 grams of carbohydrates, one cup of cauliflower rice only has two grams.
Cheese is a high-fat snack or topping that can be healthily consumed with around one serving a day, Cassetty said.
Cottage cheese is high in protein and can be mixed with spices or nuts for an easy snack. Cottage cheese does have some carbs, though, so you will have to limit your consumption.
Cream and half-and-half
Cream and half-and-half are both high in fat and low in carbs, which make them popular on the keto diet. Still, it is best to keep your consumption of these moderate, as they are high in saturated fat.
For a quick breakfast, consider preparing eggs your favorite way, served with a side of sliced avocado and mushrooms cooked in a plant-based oil.
Fish is a staple of the ket diet. Most fish are low in carbohydrates and rich in B vitamins, potassium and selenium.
Frozen green vegetables
If you find yourself with a short amount of time to prep a meal or snack, frozen veggies are an easy way to pack nutrients into your diet with little effort.
Grass-fed beef provides a source of red meat that is better for your overall health and more environmentally-friendly than other processed meats.
Tea flavored with ginger, turmeric or cinnamon can spice up your drinks with no added sugars while still keeping you hydrated.
Herbs and spices
The best way to stick to a diet is to make sure you enjoy it, so adding and experimenting with new herbs and spices can add fun flavors to your eating plan. For example, if you’ll really miss bagels on the keto diet, consider picking up everything bagel seasoning to get that familiar fix.
Kale, cabbage, broccoli and other leafy greens
While vegetables contain carbohydrates, the fiber content helps keep the total net carbs low, keeping the body in ketosis while providing a source of important vitamins and minerals that are good for your brain health.
Lean and non-processed chicken breast and turkey breast are a good source of protein and a filling meal.
Low-carb snack bars
For an easy snack that can be stored in your purse in case of a hunger emergency, try a low-carb, keto-friendly protein bar. For the most keto-friendly option, look for a bar high in fiber with protein. And to stay satisfied, make sure it’s a flavor and taste you enjoy!
Pecans, Brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds and pine nuts are low-carb, high-fat foods that can serve as a snack or meal topping. Just make sure to check each label to ensure there are no added sugars, and it’s best to avoid flavors or glazes.
Almond butter and no sugar-added peanut butter are a low carb topping that offers a good source of protein. For an easy keto snack, try celery and peanut butter. Or, you can eat a spoonful out of the jar.
Peppers are great for spcing up your main dishes or as a main dish of their own. They're crunchy, low-carb and full of vitamin C. Plus, sliced bell peppers make a great snack with some keto-friendly dip!
Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil are an easy way to sneak additional fat into your diet. Plant-based oils are preferred to butter because they contain plant compounds that are good for your gut. Plus, the unsaturated fats can help mediate inflammation, which is one of the main drivers of disease, Cassetty said.
Poultry is a great source for high quality protein and is central to the keto diet.
Seafood is an excellent source of protein and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation in the body.
Most shellfish are low in carbohydrates, and shrimp and crabs are most recommended on the keto diet. Be careful of oysters and octopus, though, as they have a higher carb count than other shellfish.
Dry mouth is one symptom of the “keto flu” that some people report experiencing as their body changes fuel sources from glucose to fat. Look for a flavored, but unsweetened, sparkling water to add fun tastes to your diet while keeping you hydrated.
Sugar-free dark chocolate
If chocolate is a treat that you would miss while on the keto diet, find a dark chocolate made with sugar alcohols instead of added sugar to stay in the keto parameters.
Unsweetened plant-based milk
A fortified, unsweetened almond milk offers a low-carb milk alternative that comes with the added bonus of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin E. Soy and coconut milk can also be part of the keto diet, although you should avoid high-carb oat milk.
Zucchini is a versatile green vegetable that can serve as a base for a variety of meals, such as zucchini noodles or zucchini boats.
Can you drink alcohol on the keto diet?
There's a widespread rumor that you have to quit drinking on the keto diet. Lucky for you, it's just not true. There are various alcohols that are compliant with a low-carb lifestyle. Remember: CDC dietary guidelines recommend not drinking at all or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to just one drink a day for women, or two drinks for men.
Here are some alcohols that won’t break your keto diet:
In general, the dryer the wine, the less residual sugar and lower the carb count. Wines do contain carbohydrates, so they should be consumed in moderation on the keto diet. For reds, try pinot noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and merlot. If you prefer white, try sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, champagne or pinot grigio.
Most spirits such as vodka, gin, tequila and rum contain few carbohydrates and no added sugar. Drink it neat, on the rocks, or pair with a sugar-free mixer like seltzer or tonic water.