Inflammatory Foods on a Keto Diet
The fundamentals of the ketogenic diet may be clear us here at Konscious Keto after a lot of practice: consume healthy fats, eat a moderate amount of protein, and commit to drastically reduce the carbs.
But you may be wondering, are all proteins and fats equally beneficial on a keto diet? And if not, which are the inflammatory foods to avoid on a ketogenic diet to optimize health and wellness?
By its very nature, if done right, eating a meal plan abundant in high-quality whole foods, the ketogenic diet is anti-inflammatory and well-known to promote accelerated healthy cell regeneration and support.
However, the majority of processed vegetable oils, processed meats, and foods consisting of trans fat, although all technically keto-friendly per their macros, do contribute to inflammation in the body and may lead to weight loss stalls or weight gain, in addition to other health consequences, when consumed over time.
Keynote, the type, and quality of the foods consumed on a ketogenic diet—in addition to minding carbohydrate macronutrient consumption-are equally important when constructing a comprehensive plan to approach the low-carb, high-fat, lifestyle.
Good News! We’ll provide some essential information about which foods optimize overall health. You'll also learn which foods to avoid on a ketogenic diet so you can start, or maintain an anti-inflammatory ketogenic protocol that helps reduce stress and disease.
Lowering Inflammation Using a Keto Diet
You may hear health experts mention inflammation concerning some dietary and environmental factors that can negatively impact our health and with good reason. Despite the devastating effects caused by inflammation, with it being at the source of virtually every disease that develops in the body, Americans still tend to eat highly-processed, highly-inflammatory diets.
The significant role of inflammation in relation to disease is well documented but remains underestimated by those in Western culture. Many continue eating manufactured foods and are subsequently exposed to higher risk of the effects of eating a Standard American Diet (SAD)—mostly the onset of conditions like type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart disease.
A focus on inflammation in the body is significant as, again, virtually all illness and disease are rooted in chronic inflammation. Therefore, the more dietary or lifestyle changes we make to reduce inflammation and increase alkalinity and balance in the body, the more likely we are to experience our body functioning in an optimal state.
Increased acute inflammation in the body (a.k.a., the soreness or redness that follows a physical injury), or chronic, prolonged inflammation—usually tied to ongoing stress and poor dietary and lifestyle choices—can significantly compromise the immune system and make us more susceptible to states of being unwell, often manifesting in the form of insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome, arthritis, and obesity, among other disorders.
Although we acknowledge that there are foods that can promote inflammation, as we mentioned, the encouraging news is that we can control what we eat and choose to consume foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and tissue-building collagen that prevent risk for disease and support entire body and brain function.
A ketogenic diet promotes the inclusion of healthy, delicious, fatty foods like wild-caught salmon and avocado—nutrient-dense foods that provide essential elements like omega-3s and monounsaturated fat, as they stomp out oxidative stress with ease.
Fortunately, salmon, avocado, nuts, seeds, and coconut-based foods (like coconut milk, cream, meat, and MCT oil)—all ideal on a ketogenic diet—are known to aid in the elimination of inflammation and prevent cellular-level damage that can lead to illness and disease.
Even beyond disease prevention, the keto-friendly foods mentioned above, in the context of the ketogenic diet and in a state of nutritional ketosis, have neuroprotective effects. Those following the eating plan say this leads to enhanced cognitive function and focus, as well as enhanced physical performance and stamina.
There are a plethora of low-carb, high-fat, food options that are ideal on a ketogenic diet. The following are our top keto-friendly picks that pack a potent punch of nutrition and anti-inflammatory benefits:
Ideal Food Sources
#1. Healthy Fats
Grasping the concept of having healthy fat as the bedrock of your diet, or even grappling with what may in the past have sounded like an oxymoron—’healthy fat’—may require a mindset adjustment as you begin eating a ketogenic diet, but you'll be pleasantly pleased if you push past your initial reservations and take a more in-depth look into living a low-carb, high-fat, lifestyle.
There are an endless amount of healthy fat options to please the palate while keeping your plate, or cup’s contents, keto. We suggest incorporating fatty, potassium-rich, fruits like avocado into your daily meal plan along with omega-3-rich fish like mackerel, and sardines.
Consider incorporating cold-pressed, organic, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in oil or powder form to provide the body with a highly-potent, extremely bioavailable, kind of energy that the body can tap immediately for enhanced physical or mental performance.
Also, healthy fat sources like grass-fed butter, coconut butter, organic bacon, organic ghee, olive oil, palm oil, or cold-pressed coconut oil are all excellent sources to help keep you fueled on a ketogenic diet. Enjoy these staples while encouraging accelerated fat loss, thanks to the state of metabolic ketosis produced when we remove or drastically reduce carbs in our diets.
#2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Regardless of the dietary protocol, green leafy vegetables have long been among the health-food-elites for their anti-oxidative, cellular protective and regenerative properties.
As is true when selecting fruits on a ketogenic diet, seek out the lowest-glycemic options available. This helps to avoid glucose spikes throughout the day, which may kick you out of ketosis but more importantly, may wreak havoc with your metabolic hormones, making it more challenging to release fat no matter what you do.
Vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard, and bok choy are all excellent food sources in this category and are extremely keto-friendly.
In addition to dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, especially when fermented, are all excellent for their nutritive and anti-oxidative properties, as well as how they act to improve the gut microbiome—the bacterial ecosystem in our body with the most significant collective impact on the state of our health.
A powerhouse of all spices and herbs, the compound turmeric curcumin has been widely researched in thousands of studies in recent decades, established for its highly-potent anti-inflammatory properties—an essential element to support overall health and wellness.
Whether you prefer a savory take on turmeric in the form of curry or decide to incorporate turmeric into your diet in a sweet, keto-friendly, golden milk or green smoothie recipe, this powerful compound is one to definitely incorporate into your daily dietary regimen.
Consider this simple, antioxidant-rich, golden milk recipe to get you started on the road to alkalinity and lessened joint pain:
Golden (Turmeric) Milk Elixir, Dairy-free
- 3 heaped tsp, turmeric
- 1 heaped tsp, ground cloves
- 2 tsp ground cardamom
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg + more for dusting (optional)
- 1.5 liters (50 oz) filtered water
- 1 + 1/2 tbsp Lakanto granular sugar replacement to taste
- 1/2 cup coconut milk or other nut-or-seed-based milk
- Add water and all dry ingredients to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring liquid mixture to a boil and let simmer over low heat for five minutes to infuse flavors.
- Remove from heat and add coconut milk and sweetener to taste, and enjoy!
Also note, you could add a pinch of black pepper to the turmeric milk to enhance the absorption of the turmeric curcumin spice.
#4. Ginger Root
Although often thought of as a salve for an upset stomach or the distinct spicy, sweet, kick in some candy recipes, ginger is a dominant player in the anti-inflammatory space—a highly-effective food that suppresses oxidative stress in the body.
Also, in addition to aiding in digestion, studies have found that ginger root—whether in dried, fresh, ground, cooked, oil or exogenous supplement form—plays a significant role in reducing the body's inflammatory response, even demonstrating efficacy comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Prozac, but with fewer and less adverse side effects, pretty powerful!
#5. Macadamia Nuts
Those on a ketogenic diet are likely no stranger to the minimal carb load of the mild macadamia nut. This nut reigns supreme above other kernels because of its high monounsaturated, healthy, fat content and super-low carb impact—ideal for anyone on a ketogenic diet.
The encouraging thing is that the nut's macros, ideal to eat if in or seeking to maintain ketosis, are only the beginning of its benefits. The abundant fat content of macadamia nuts provides an anti-inflammatory advantage by their very nature, as well.
Also, macadamia nuts are abundant in the essential mineral magnesium. As a result, consuming macadamia nuts is said to contribute to a calming and reduction of inflammation in our pain receptors, acting as a natural pain reliever, and also regulating blood sugar—a highly-desirable benefit, especially to those seeking to thwart or recover from the symptoms of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
Although a tad higher on the carb scale than macadamia nuts, the additional serving of magnesium make these nuts worth the macro hit. Walnuts, like salmon, also pack a potent portion of omega-3s, something many need to increase in order to maximize health benefits and optimal physical and cognitive performance.
The compounded anti-inflammatory and pain mitigating benefits of walnuts and macadamia nuts, in conjunction with the similar benefits produced while in ketosis, will certainly boost alkalinity and a state of balance in the body.
Along with an abundance of anti-inflammatory benefits, another attribute of this fatty fish is the omega-3 content it gives, great for joint lubrication and pain mitigation—excellent to support optimal health.
Eating a keto-friendly diet, rich in anti-inflammatory, cell-regenerating, foods is more simple than you may realize.
Check out our recent article that provides seven simple, meal-prep friendly, on-the-go, meal ideas to keep you satisfied without the hassle.
Inflammatory Foods on a Keto Diet
The renowned father of modern Western medicine, Hippocrates, said it well more than a century ago when he advised, "Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine thy food."
Our dietary choices bare such a significant influence on the overall state of our health, and this is particularly true as it relates to the correlation between what we eat and levels of inflammation in the body.
While many foods fit the low-carb-high-fat paradigm required on a ketogenic diet, not all fats and proteins are created equal.
The following are foods that are keto-friendly on paper but not advisable with further examination due to the other health consequences related to their continued consumption:
#1. Artificial Trans Fats
Yes, we are major fans of fat, and we encourage eating it as your primary energy source on keto, but the type of fat we eat indeed does matter.
Trans fats, or manufactured fats made by combining hydrogen and unsaturated fats to produce fake fats like margarine, are not recognized or easily digested by the body—placing them at the top of the list of fats to avoid in your diet.
While there are naturally-occurring forms of trans fats in meat and dairy that are benign in their impact on our health, artificial trans fats have been proven to increase inflammation and increase disease risk.
#2. Vegetable and Seed Oils
During the 20th century, as saturated healthy fats like coconut oil and grass-fed butter were being demonized by the nation's food agencies, the consumption of vegetable and seed-based oils skyrocketed 130% in the US.
Rather than advising the masses to eat energy-rich oils, like coconut-based MCT oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil or MCT-rich palm oil, Americans were encouraged to ditch many monounsaturated and saturated fats in place of low-fat faux foods filled with loads of sugar, additives and shelf-stabilizing preservatives.
Additional research is needed to identify the long-term effects of consuming a diet significantly higher in omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids.
However, the preliminary markers of increased omega-6 levels in the diet appear to evidence a spike in inflammation levels in the body, contributing to an enhanced disease risk over time.
#3. Processed Meats
Fresh, cooked, and cured meats are everyday staples on a ketogenic diet. From bacon to jerky, and ground beef, all are generally great food options on keto, but some processed meats are filled with nitrates, nitrites and other undesirable ingredients known to produce inflammation.
Common types of processed meat, in addition to those mentioned above, include sausage, ham, and smoked meat. The critical takeaway when selecting any form of processed meat is to get the least processed option available, and look for organic, grass-fed, options to avoid unwanted—potentially cancer-causing—additives and preservatives.
It's important to note that processed meat contains higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than most other meats. This matters because AGEs are formed when cooking meats—and some other foods—at high temperatures and is known to cause inflammation.
Symptoms of Inflammation
It can be more obvious to associate an event directly with acute inflammation (e.g., a swollen ankle as a result of a fall and subsequent sprain, etc.)—evidenced by pain, redness, swelling or numbness.
However, internal inflammation may be more challenging to pinpoint. Yet, some common symptoms of chronic inflammation are feeling physically sick, exhaustion regardless of how long you sleep, and the presence of a fever.
The symptoms mentioned above are the result of inflammation in the body, requiring a more efforted response from our immune system due to oxidative, bacterial, or viral stress. When the body senses stress it allocates energy and resources to remediate the issue, to the detriment of other systems in the body, especially if stress is chronic for a long period of time.
The body's fight-or-flight reaction may save our lives in a precarious situation, but running under the duress of a high-level of stress for an extended time, starving specific physiological systems in the body, can have detrimental consequences long-term.
What Foods Cause Inflammation?
Sticking to whole foods, preferably organic, will often keep you in the safe zone from otherwise keto-friendly foods that promote inflammation.
However, it is worth noting the low-carb culprits that can lead to disease and illness so you can craft your meal plan carefully without them, while not missing a beat. The following are the foods we advise avoiding on a ketogenic, or any diet, to prevent adverse health effects:
Artificial Trans Fats
Often masquerading under the alias of 'partially hydrogenated oils' in processed and packaged foods, trans fats are probably the worst of all fats to consume.
In addition to lowering what is referred to as our 'good' cholesterol (HDL), trans fats also impair the function of our arteries' cell lining, increasing the risk of heart disease.
With the countless other forms of fat available on the market that actually promote health (like ghee, MCT oil, and organic bacon renderings), there's no reason to opt for foods that contain this sub-standard, highly-inflammatory, ingredient.
Vegetable and Seed Oils
While a certain amount of omega-6 fatty acid in the diet can be beneficial, the SAD diet is often disproportionately filled with these fats, which can cause inflammation and increase the risk for different forms of disease.
Ditch oils like soybean, sunflower, safflower, and canola oil and instead reach for heart-healthy and metabolic-boosting oils like coconut, MCT oil, palm oil, avocado oil, and grapeseed oil—all of which are great for cooking at high temperatures and also provide a nice nutritive profile along with a boost of energy, in the case of those that contain bioavailable MCTs.
This should come as no surprise: refined carbs are the anti-hero to anyone following a ketogenic diet. And rice, bread, potatoes, and other high-starch foods are, of course, fundamentally off-limits on most any form of the keto diet.
Listen, we're not here to completely vilify carbs. Some lower-glycemic carbs like spinach, kale, cauliflower, and even sweet potatoes can be worked into a ketogenic diet—and those who are very physically active will particularly benefit from timing carb consumption per their fitness schedule.
However, refined carbs enter and hit the bloodstream rapidly and cause glucose spikes and dips, not something we want if maintaining ketosis is a goal. And in addition to the impact on physical esthetics, the consequences of consuming refined carbs long-term extend much further than skin deep.
Studies have shown that the inflammation caused by refined carbohydrates contributes to a higher risk of heart disease and the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria which can create a disproportionate propensity toward being overweight and obese.
This one is a no-brainer; ditch the refined carbs for overall wellness, and to prevent certain illnesses and diseases.
There's a long list of reasons to limit alcohol consumption to optimize health and avoid the deterioration in wellness, often directly linked to excessive alcohol consumption.
Remember, exceeding two standard drinks a day for men, one for women, can elevate our risk for some significant health problems.
From making us more susceptible to increased toxins in the bloodstream, to an increase in the inflammatory marker CRP in the body, to the mentioned increase in toxins in the blood making a breach in the gut lining more likely—resulting in the problematic condition known to many as 'leaky gut'—consuming too much alcohol seems to have no clear upside.
Honestly, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol provides no benefit to the state of our health, so drink spirits in moderation.
Processed meats, particularly those that contain nitrates and nitrites are directly linked to an increased risk of cancer, specifically colon and stomach cancer.
Again, a significant concern with eating processed meats is that they contain more advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than most other meats. AGEs tend to form in meat, and some other foods and, as we noted, can cause increased levels of inflammation.
The increase in inflammation caused by processed meat is particularly problematic as it contributes significantly to colon cancer—it is believed that this is the case due to an inflammatory response to processed meat by colon cells.
If you choose to include processed meats in your keto meal plan—and hey, part of why so many go keto is for the BACON—select organic and grass-fed meat options, and definitely move away from any options with added hormones, antibiotics, or any other undesirable ingredients mentioned above.
An old-time favorite, life partner of jelly, and a recently banned food—along with most other 'nuts'—from schools due to the severe and even fatal, anaphylactic, reaction that may be invoked in those with an allergy: peanuts are a polarizing food that garners mixed reactions.
Whether the peanut is healthy, or a trigger of inflammatory factors in our blood like C-reactive protein (CRP), for example, which has been identified as a predictor of cardiovascular disease, seems to depend on who you ask.
Proponents of peanuts, which are really a legume and not a real tree nut—as are almonds, cashews, and walnuts, etc.—point to its high levels of magnesium, an essential mineral, which is often deficient in the diets of those following a Standard American Diet.
Some research appears to show a positive impact on inflammation when small amounts of peanuts are consumed daily due to its protein content and negligible effects on blood sugar levels, as well.
Detractors of the podded seed raise concerns around consuming peanuts stating virtually the opposite of those who see a bounty of benefits in the controversial bud. The primary concern with peanuts is the possible life-threatening reaction some experience upon consumption of the ubiquitous kernel.
Despite being the most consumed of all ‘nuts’, making up around 67% of all those consumed in the US, as many as there are that love the food, there are almost as many who oppose its health benefits.
Beyond the dispute regarding the healthfulness of peanuts, remember: peanuts are actually a legume, within the same family as beans, and therefore a less desirable dietary option for anyone following a ketogenic diet due to possible insulin reactions.
Favor lower-carb, low-glycemic, nuts like macadamia nuts, pecans and walnuts over peanuts on a ketogenic diet to get the benefits of their fat and protein with the certainty that you're eating an actual nut and one that will not spike your glucose levels or impact insulin.
Keto Foods That Reduce Inflammation
The ketogenic diet by its very nature encourages eating foods that promote alkalinity. Essentially, if we consume healthy fats and grass-fed meats and dairy, along with green leafy vegetables, we're already at an advantage, as these foods are naturally anti-inflammatory.
You're likely to feel like a kid in a candy shop as we outline all the delicious, anti-inflammatory, foods that are ideal to eat on a ketogenic diet.
It's not a clickbait-style hook, keto allows and encourages some of the richest and most decadent foods that we're all naturally drawn to because they provide our palates' preferred flavors: butter, salt, and fat.
It's challenging to narrow the list of keto-friendly, anti-inflammatory, foods, but we'll do our best to note the standouts—ones you'll want to designate as staples in your ketogenic meal plan.
Eat the following to keep oxidative stress low and ketones high:
MCT Oil or Powder
Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, are an excellent source of clean fat for fuel and an excellent food-based tool to reduce inflammation in the body.
MCTs are excellent in either oil or powder form and can easily be added to food or drinks throughout the day for a quick boost of energy and mental clarity.
This light-tasting oil is nutrient-dense and an excellent option on keto, especially since it has such a high smoke point which is ideal for frying.
In addition to heated applications, avocado oil is a lovely oil to use for dressings as it adds a super-delicate nutty depth of flavor while providing an extra and significant dose of essential omega-3 fatty acids to low-carb dishes.
Although not as densely packed with MCTs, cold-pressed coconut oil is still an excellent fat source with a high smoking point which makes it great for all types of cooking, including frying.
Coconut oil is quite nutritive and serves as a great source of saturated fat to those following a ketogenic dietary protocol.
Indulge in decadent fat bombs inclusive of coconut oil, coconut butter, grass-fed butter and a sugar replacement for a sweet and satisfying serving of healthy fats without any adverse impact on your glucose levels.
Fatty Nuts and Seeds
We are fortunate to have such a wide variety of nuts at our disposal that work well when eating a low-carb, high-fat diet.
Macadamia, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, and pecans are some of the best options to consider—especially macadamia nuts because of their high level of fat content.
Nuts are an excellent source of fat on a ketogenic diet, and they are super convenient since they can be pre-portioned and tossed in your bag to ensure you have something on-plan available when hunger strikes while on-the-go.
However, even with their potent provision of protein and fat, nuts still contain carbs, and all nuts fall at various places along the glycemic spectrum.
Here's an outline of our favorite keto-friendly nuts and their carb load (net carb counts for a 1 oz. portion):
- Pecans: 1.1 grams
- Brazil nuts: 1.3 grams
- Macadamia nuts: 1.5 grams
- Walnuts: 1.9 grams
- Coconut: 2 grams
- Hazelnuts: 2.3 grams
- Pine nuts: 2.7 grams
- Almonds: 2.9 grams
- Peanuts: 3.8 grams
- Pistachios: 5.8 grams
- Cashews: 8.4 grams
- Chestnuts: 13.6 grams
All the nuts mentioned can work within a ketogenic eating plan with some planning and consideration. However, we recommend sticking to the lower-glycemic nuts as the staples in your daily eating plan (like pecans, walnuts, and macadamia nuts) to enjoy more substantial amounts of food without worrying about compromising ketosis.
Nuts are also rich in fiber, magnesium, selenium, and manganese, all essential minerals which contribute to an anti-inflammatory response in the body.
In addition to their anti-oxidative benefits, nuts also make an excellent base for keto-friendly, gluten-free, grain-free, flours that can be used to make an endless amount of tasty treats to whittle your waistline while creating a homeostatic state in the body.
Furthermore, studies have shown that the consumption of polyunsaturated fats, magnesium, L-arginine, and fiber—all of which are found in nuts—may help mitigate the risk of heart disease death, type 2 diabetes, and some inflammation markers in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for many reasons, including helping to lubricate joints and reduce inflammation. That fatty fish is featured on the keto menu is excellent news because of options like wild-caught or cold-water fish like salmon, or even canned mackerel or sardines, can only aid in the elimination of inflammation.
Pure Animal or Monounsaturated Vegetable Fat
Although the significant food regulatory bodies like the USDA or FDA, have demonized monounsaturated fat (r.e., olive oil, avocados, etc.) and pure animal fat (e.g., lard, beef tallow, duck fat, etc.) for decades—instead touting the so-called benefits of eating low-fat diets while ratcheting said foods up with sugar—the tide is turning on the matter among we, the people.
So many are returning to an eating style more reflective of that which our hunter-gatherer ancestors would likely have followed—whether in the form of eating a paleo, ketogenic, or even a carnivore diet—folks are opting to ditch the sugar and embrace fat.
Butter, bacon, and coconut oil are back in the good graces of the health community as people remember what elders have shared of the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of removing sugar from our diets and eating an anti-inflammatory diet consisting of alkalizing and optimizing, wholesome foods.
The ketogenic dietary protocol allows us to transform our relationship with fat and food in general—shifting to a mindset that perceives food as fuel rather than a source of pleasure to the point of excess.
Source healthy fats and low-glycemic vegetables and fruits, along with keto-friendly nuts and seeds, to develop a well-rounded and sustainable meal plan that works for you.
Fatty, Grass-fed Meats
Make friends with your local butcher to secure the most well-marbled, fatty cuts of grass-fed meat you can find. Remember, fat is your friend and your primary fuel on keto; see how this starts to get more and more fun once you surrender to the notion that eating fat facilitates losing body fat?
Choose ground beef with 80/20, high-fat content or experiment with ground lamb for some tender and herbaceous meatballs perfect for weekly meal prep.
Gravitate toward delicious and inherently fatty rib-eye steak and pair it with some sautéed asparagus and faux cauliflower mash doused in salted, grass-fed butter. Yes, we really get to eat like this on keto, every day; welcome to your new and fantastic life. You're welcome.
It's easy to avoid the trap of becoming an unhealthy person on keto the way one would avoid being a particularly unhealthy person on any dietary protocol: avoid processed, high-carb, foods and source foods that promote optimal health and performance.
The information outlined above provides a solid foundation from which to base your keto dietary meal plan. You can, of course, alter the contents of your program to suit your preferences, but follow the notes above as a template.
A ketogenic diet is inherently anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and a potent regulator of our hormonal and metabolic systems designed to bring our bodies into complete alignment for optimal performance.
Be mindful to avoid the foods mentioned above that are technically keto-friendly based on their macronutrient profile but bare adverse effects when consumed over time and you'll position yourself correctly to reap the rewards of ketosis, balance, and optimal cellular health on keto.
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