Eliminating sugar is an obvious requirement on a ketogenic diet, but there is more nuance around which foods are best to eat or avoid to achieve weight loss on a low-carb, high-fat diet.
All fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and nutrients, but it's best to choose your vegetables wisely to select items on the lower end of the glycemic scale.
The key is to forgo eating a banana for a small bowl of strawberries or blueberries. Or whip up some creamy cauliflower mash instead of frying stalks of russet potatoes and select nuts like macadamia and pili to keep carbs low.
While we'll want to rearrange the elements of our dishes to ensure carbs are curtailed, we can still enjoy many pre-keto favorites; the remixed and alternative recipes are astounding and lacking nothing, so no worries!
We always like focusing on the abundance of what we can have rather than harping on foods to eliminate because the options on the side of the former are plentiful. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't highlight foods that often pose setbacks to those seeking to slim down on keto.
A solid knowledge base is the best way to guide wise decisions, and we want to equip you to make the best choices when compiling your weekly grocery list to ensure you're moving steadily toward your goals each week.
There are levels to the hierarchy of which foods work best for low-carb, high-fat diets. Cane sugar, grain-based bread, and high-glycemic fruits like mangos are off-limits, but there is room for dispute with foods with moderate sugar levels—it depends on your situation and your goals whether it's a good choice for you.
You can incorporate a sweet potato or a peach into your keto meal plan in limited amounts, especially if you're more active, but certain foods are best to avoid completely.
And your ideal food options become clearer if you want to lose weight on keto, and we're going to share the foods to limit, even if they're low-carb, to help coax the scale downward.
Here are the foods that we suggest ditching altogether:
- White cane sugar: Opt for granular sugar replacements like the varieties made by Swerve, Lakanto, or Sukrin instead of the insulin-spiking cane granules.
- Flour & corn tortillas: Quesadillas and other delicious recipes require the aid of a soft and pliable tortilla. Fortunately, Folio’s cheese wraps, Nuco coconut wraps, and lettuce wraps all act as superb replacements without the unwanted starch or sugars. There are also some great recipes if you’d like to make your own keto-friendly wraps.
- Rice (e.g., white, brown, jasmine, basmati, et al.): We know, rice is a culinary staple in so many cultures; it’s wildly popular worldwide. But these grains are not our allies on a low-carb, high-fat diet. Consider remaking your favorite rice dishes using clever keto swaps like cauliflower rice, instead.
- Pasta: An easy and tasty pasta salad is a perfect meal addition during the hot summer months, and we can still enjoy these sides on keto. Avoid grain-based pastas and instead use options like the keto-friendly zoodles or shirataki noodles.
- Chips and Crackers
Most beans are a subprime choice on a keto diet because their carb loads are too heavy. The only bean options that are feasible on a low-carb, high-fat diet are green beans—which are more so a vegetable than a bean or organic, non-gmo, black soybeans which work well for soups, bean dips, refried beans, or other recipes because they’re significantly lower in carbohydrates.
The following are some of the beans to avoid completely on keto, especially if weight loss is the goal:
- Pinto Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Black Beans
- Black-eyed Peas
- Green Peas
- Lima Beans
- Navy Beans
- Cannellini Beans
- Great Northern Beans
- Baked Beans
Being careful with our food choices is essential, but that thoughtfulness is for naught if we blow our caloric and carb budget on liquid calories. Take extra care to avoid sugary drinks and be selective with your sweetener selections to keep carbs in check.
Here are some beverages to omit from your keto plan in their traditional sugar-laden form:
- Fruit Juice
- Soda (e.g., cola, ginger ale, grape, etc.)
- Tonic Water (not sugar-free)
- Non-light Beers
- Cocktails such as margaritas, screwdrivers, and piña coladas
- Condensed Milk (sweetened with sugar, of course.)
- Hot Chocolate
- Root Beer (try Zevia’s take on this classic pop favorite if you’re missing it on keto)
- Sweetened Iced Tea
Fruits provide a bevy of beneficial nutrients, but certain varieties also offer loads of glucose which will cause insulin fluctuations, and lead to possible intense carb cravings.
Consider incorporating nutrient-dense foods like bone broth or sea moss into your diet to gain loads of minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes without the unwanted carbs and sugars, instead.
Here are some fruits to steer clear of on keto:
- Raisins and other dried fruits
- All fruit juices (save lemon or lime)
Dark leafy greens, asparagus and cauliflower are fantastic veggie options to enjoy freely on a keto diet, but there are other vegetables that don’t make the cut due to their high carb count.
Although recipes containing the following ingredients may invoke longing and nostalgia, it’s best to avoid them on keto:
- Sweet Potatoes
Getting enough nutrients is always a primary goal worth striving toward on a keto diet, and there are many foods to include in your plan to ensure you’re getting your nutritional needs met.
Including loads of nutrient-dense foods is the key to establishing a well-rounded eating plan that supports optimal health and expedient muscle recovery. And creating a robust meal plan is completely possible, even on a budget.
Here are a few of our articles dedicated to incorporating optimal foods into your meal plan to maximize health and weight-loss success:
Plus, we’ve composed an article dedicated to outlining the inflammatory foods that often make their way onto our plates on a low-carb, high-fat meal plan that we would suggest eliminating to avoid their oxidative stress, which is known to promote certain cancers.
Many animal and plant-based proteins are excellent on a keto diet, but there are others we'd advise avoiding.
Here are the protein items on the "pass" list in our book:
- Low-quality processed meats containing carcinogenic components like nitrates and nitrites pose a health risk and should be avoided entirely. Instead, opt for additive and yucky-ingredient-free brands like Applegate Farms for your bacon, salami, sliced turkey, and other deli meats or sausage to avoid inflammatory foods that can impair health and stall weight loss.
- Honestly, the amount of names for sugar is quite impressive. Check out our dedicated post that delves into the many words used to identify sugar on food labels, so you're aware and able to remain vigilant.
- Grilled, baked, or fried shrimp and meats are a fantastic option to incorporate in your keto diet, but mind your dredging as that’s where the hidden carbs may reside.
Replace traditional bread crumbs and frying mixes with a keto-friendly alternative—maybe some parmesan cheese and pork rinds pulsed into a flavorful flurry.
- Bacon with added sugar: It may appear a far-fetched thought that slabs of bacon would contain sugar but it’s quite common. Scan labels or stick to trusted brands like Applegate Farms or Wellshire Farms to keep pesky hidden sugars at bay.
- Breaded meats: Tempura-style fried shrimp or a battered and deep fried fillet of catfish are marvelous meal options if you use the right batter and dredging. Stay away from grain or corn-based mixes and recreate or source keto-friendly options instead.
- Any processed meats containing hidden carbs: Some lunch meats can contain many questionable ingredients, including problematic sugars or partially-hydrogenated fats. Be selective with which brands you consume to make sure you’re ingesting the intended food item and nothing more.
Oils and Other Unhealthy Fats
Eating healthy fat is essential on a low-carb, high-fat diet; it sustains us and adds incredible taste to every dish.
However, some forms of fat are sub-optimal and worth avoiding. Here are some oils and fats to steer clear of on keto:
- Canola oil: Although it contains vitamins like K and E, canola oil also is composed of trans fats linked to numerous adverse health effects. Opt for fantastic neutral-tasting options like avocado oil that are super versatile since it can handle cooking at high heats, instead.
- Margarine (a member of the toxic trans fat family of Frankenfoods) Opt for a high quality grass-fed butter or ghee instead.
- Trans fats (hydrogenated fats): The potential of experiencing adverse health effects with prolonged consumption has caused the phasing out of these fats in foods on store shelves, according to the USDA. But we appreciate brands that go out of their way to share their commitment never to use trans fats in their products.
Sweetened Yogurt: You might drop the petite cup if you read the sugar macros touted by most store-bought yogurt brands; it’s truly shocking! You might as well indulge in a bowl of sugar-sweetened ice cream.
Opt for a sugar-free, live culture yogurt brand like CocoYo or make your own at home in your handy dandy yogurt maker or Instant Pot instead. There are also some keto-friendly yogurts sweetened with stevia, such as Two Good brand, available at many grocery stores. You can also buy a low carb plain yogurt, like Fage 5% and add your own keto friendly sweetener to taste.
- Fat-free or low-fat yogurt: The fat-free and low-fat craze of the nineties didn’t only fail to deliver lasting weight-loss results for its subscribers but it often led to overeating and increased carb cravings since these products usually replaced fat with—you guessed it—sugar. Always go for full-fat foods, when possible.
- Cow’s Milk: Whole milk is the best of the options because of its high-fat content, but it's still too high in sugar and carbs for keto. Instead, opt for heavy cream or your favorite keto-friendly milk. Unsweetened almond, coconut, macadamia nut, cashew, and hemp milks are all fantastic low-carb options.
- Cheese: Many keto recipes call for cheese, and it's totally fine to consume dairy on a low-carb, high-fat diet. But it's imperative to mind your caloric input and output so as not to overdo it and create a caloric surplus—impeding desired weight loss.
- Maple Syrup
- Cane sugar
- Date sugar or syrup
Giving up sweets presents a huge challenge for those considering a keto diet, but luckily the concern is all in vain. There is a wide variety of sugar replacements to choose from, whether stevia, monk fruit, or erythritol, to recreate recipes without compromising an ounce of taste.
We’re so impressed with the vast array of sugar alternatives we can access in stores and online nowadays. Brands like Swerve and Lakanto are producing fantastic offerings that taste and bake like sugar, usually 1:1.
Have no fear of the need to banish sweets from your menu, check out our deep dive covering the best keto sweeteners we’ve had the pleasure of trying to see which picks suit you. Plus, keep an eye out for the numerous names of sugar listed on food labels to help you stay on track. Take a look at our handy guide on sugar’s many aliases, here.
- Potato chips: Get creative with kale, spinach, or cucumbers and make a chip alternative to rival that of the potato, you might find yourself pleasantly pleased. You can also snack on low carb cheese crisps or pork rinds for a convenient store-bought option.
- Tortilla chips
- Crackers: Flax seeds make for the perfect base for keto crackers that are great to keep around the house for dipping or piling high with toppings..
- French Fries: The potato frites aren’t a wise choice on a low-carb diet, but you can create an alternative option with veggies like jicama and zucchini and a keto-friendly flour.
Cereal: Many of our childhoods are filled with memories diving into bowls of sugary cereals soaked in milk, but those processed sugar-bombs are certainly off the list on a ketogenic diet.
Instead, consider low-carb cereal options by brands like Magic Spoon, HighKey, or Schoolyard Snacks for a more keto-conscious catalog of breakfast options.
Porridge: Oat-based porridge is said to stick to the ribs to keep you full, but it seems even more to stick to the hips, helping to pack on or keep on the excess pounds.
Pass on traditional oats and try a luscious overnight chia pudding topped with unsweetened coconut flakes and fresh berries, instead. Or try one of the tasty warm keto cereal options available from brands like Wildway, NuTrail and Keto and Co. and see which you prefer.
Alcohol & Spirits
Enjoying a spirited libation can enhance any dining experience, but choosing the wrong selection could spike your blood sugar and quickly kick your body out of ketosis.
You can still enjoy a well-blended cocktail, like a refreshing mojito, but we'd advise avoiding the following options:
- Bloody Mary
- Moscow Mule
- Regular Beer
- Pina Colada
- Long Island Iced Tea
Hard liquors are usually the best option on keto as many selections like vodka are free of carbs (per 1.5 oz shot). However, we often suggest avoiding mixed drinks and sweetened liquors as they generally contain loads of sugars and are likely to kick you out of ketosis.
Stick to the following alcoholic beverages to keep carbs low and remain mindful of the amount you drink as they contain a notable amount of calories:
Whiskey: Swap in raspberry in place of a Maraschino cherry to garnish and insert a super-easy simple keto syrup, and you can whip up a low-carb whiskey sour in moments—it's a refreshing bbq beverage.
Vodka: A minty mojito is the perfect summer libation, topped off to perfection with a spritz of lime. It's effortless to create a wide range of takes on this light and soothing classic with sugar-free flavor boosters and stevia or your choice of sugar alternative.
Gin: New Bombay offers a berry-flavored gin worth trying. Or opt for a drink like a London dry gin & tonic for something less sweet yet thoroughly enjoyable. Rum: Pair this clear or dark spirit with a Zevia cola to remix the classic 'rum & Coke' for a touch of the islands, no matter your location.
Brandy: Try a creamy treat with a recipe like a brandy Alexander: a combination of crème de cacao, cream, brandy, and a touch of sweetener.
Tequila: Honestly, sometimes it's best just to let the bare beverage shine. Pair a tequila shot with a lime wedge chaser for a simple sugar-free summer drink with a kick.
Wine: Stick to merlot, pinot noir, or cabernet sauvignon when sourcing red wine. Options like sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, and pinot grigio are excellent options if your palette prefers a lighter-bodied vino selection.
Beer: Light beers on the market make for the best choice at times when you'd like to enjoy a chilled brew with a side of barbecue.
It's incredible to know that the ketogenic lifestyle can accommodate enjoying our favorite spirited beverages while maintaining ketosis and staying on track with our efforts to improve our health. Include alcohol in your diet in moderation, keeping macros in mind, and you should have no trouble adding the occasional drink to your meal plan while achieving continual weight loss.
Plus, there are many fantastic keto-friendly pre-packaged foods available to enjoy that help prevent reaching for high-carb options when cravings come calling. However, it's a great idea to return to the basics and eat a plan composed primarily of whole and organic foods that are as fresh as possible; foods free of preservatives and unhealthy fats.
Also, you can use approaches like meal prep to set yourself up for success throughout the week. Make veggie casseroles, succulent meat dishes, and savory sides and enjoy them all week with the comfort of knowing you're feeding yourself or your family the very best.
Plus, having a plan is a fantastic way to tip the scales of success in your favor. Do you have specialized dietary needs to make keto work well for you? Are you interested in trying a keto vegetarian or other modified keto diet?
Take our 30-second questionnaire to formulate your tailored keto meal plan for weight loss, based on your needs and preferences; it’s the perfect tool!
A sugar-free meal plan is a given on a ketogenic diet, but as we've shared, there are levels to this lifestyle.
Opt for low-glycemic vegetables and fruits, leaning more toward dark leafy greens than sweet produce. Comprise your weekly meal plan with an abundance of healthy fats with a focus on nutrition (i.e., seek nutrient-dense options like MCT oil, mackerel fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, or creamy and ripe avocado).
Focus on eating premium quality whole foods rich in fiber and other nutrients, select lower glycemic foods to eat more volume to help you feel fuller longer while keeping calories low. And rest assured that the keto lifestyle is one designed to help you win.
So fill your culinary coffers with foods you enjoy, based on some of the options we’ve shared, that will deliver the results that you desire. Explore all your options and let the goal of eliminating sugar and carbs act as your guiding light.
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