People overcomplicate what to eat on a keto diet. How many keto recipe books have been written? Hundreds? Thousands?
Telling people to eat lean protein, eggs, vegetables, and olive oil won’t get you a book deal, but that’s the gist of eating keto. If you want to eat a healthy keto diet, just eat high-protein and low-carb whole foods. I’ll cover these foods (and a few basic keto recipes) later.
Why don’t I mention fatty foods? Most keto advice emphasizes fatty foods, but entering the fat-burning state of ketosis depends on minimizing carbs, not maximizing fat. Maximizing fat displaces a more important macronutrient: protein.
I see this all the time in new Ketogains members. They understand carb restriction, but they neglect protein. Some eat a ton of extra fat each day where they could actually be squeezing dozens more grams of protein into their diet. When we fix this, they start to achieve what many people want out of a diet: body recomposition, or losing fat and gaining or maintaining muscle.
They also feel more satiated. People forget how filling lean protein can be. It kicks hunger to the curb, and when you feel more satiated, you’re less likely to snack beyond your calorie needs. Even healthy and “keto-friendly” snacks like nuts and cheese are best to limit. It’s hard not to overeat them.
This article is my concise manual (tried and true for thousands of Ketogains members) of what to eat on keto for fat loss, satiety, and body recomposition. I hope you find it helpful in the pursuit of your goals.
What Is The Keto Diet?
A ketogenic diet (keto diet) is a very low-carb diet. Specifically, it’s a diet low enough in carbohydrates to promote a fat-burning, ketone-producing state called ketosis.
Why does carb restriction lead to ketosis? There are a few reasons.
First, the hormone insulin goes down and the hormone glucagon goes up. Both hormones regulate blood sugar levels and therefore fat-burning capacity.
Restricting carbs also depletes glycogen (stored glucose) in your liver and muscles. Once liver glycogen is sufficiently depleted, your cells can start burning fat for energy.
On a typical high-carb diet, people burn mostly glucose (sugar) for energy. But on a keto diet, your metabolism shifts over to fat.
The obvious benefit is fat loss (supposing you are in an actual energy deficit), but there are many others. More stable energy. Clearer cognition. Fewer cravings. Better appetite control. And a variety of therapeutic benefits of ketosis, like reduced inflammation and anti-cancer effects.
Let’s talk about macros now. Once you understand our optimized keto macros, everything else falls into place.
Understanding Keto Macros
If you want keto to work for you, you need to get your macros right. They’re the key to keto success.
Tyler and I created this mantra to help folks remember their keto macros:
- Protein is a goal to help you grow
- Carbs are a limit to stay below
- Fat is a lever to make your abs show
- Salt is the secret so you are not slow
- Salt is not a macronutrient, of course, but it’s equally as important on keto. More on this later.
We already covered the importance of carb limitation. It creates the conditions necessary to enter ketosis.
For most people, 30 grams of net carbs is a reasonable limit. In general, this means avoiding grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and anything with refined sugar.
Remember, net carbs = total carbs - fiber - (sugar alcohols/2). If you need a refresher on why fiber and sugar alcohols don’t count towards your carb limit the same way other carbs do, read my deep dive on net carbs.
The goal with protein is to consume at least 0.8 grams of daily protein per pound of lean body mass. Go higher (1 gram per pound lean body mass or more) if you’re active.
Most keto dieters don’t get enough protein to support hormonal health, brain health, or body recomposition. They see 30% protein and visualize a mere quarter of their plate as protein. But since protein has 4 calories per gram (vs. 9 for fat), that’s the wrong way to think about it.
Protein is 2.25 times less dense than fat, so a 30% protein (60% fat) keto diet means you’ll be consuming MORE protein (by weight) than fat. This is why I don’t like using macro percentages. Stick to grams.
And why is fat a lever? Because we follow carb and protein rules first, then fill in the rest with fats. The minimum amount of fat I would recommend to speed up fat loss is 50 grams per day, but depending on your current body composition, you can double or triple that figure. Particularly, you’ll want to lever upward when you are lean and your primary goal is muscle gain. Make sure to lever fat intake according to your calorie needs after dialing in protein and carbs.
Eating Whole Foods on Keto
There are two types of keto diet:
- A clean keto diet (mostly containing whole foods)
- A dirty keto diet (that ignores the quality of your calories)
I recommend option one. If you choose option two, you’ll miss out on all those beneficial whole foods.
First, several studies show better fat loss from whole foods, due to an increase in the thermic effect of food (TEF), plus added satiety. Yup. Processed foods have a significantly lower TEF vs. their unprocessed counterparts, so eating whole foods can effectively decrease the number of calories you’re obtaining while keeping your belly full.
Sure, you can still enter ketosis by eating processed and refined foods that fit your macros. But while this strategy might promote short-term weight loss, it won’t promote long-term health. That’s because refined foods tend to contain less micronutrients.
If you want your body to run on all cylinders, you need to be satiated and get plenty of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and polyphenols. In other words, you need whole foods. Whole foods are how nature provides the right nutrients—in the right ratios—for optimal health.
Why not just supplement? I’m not against targeted supplementation, but consider these drawbacks:
- Supplements increase your risk of overdoing a given nutrient (i.e., vitamin A toxicity).
- Many nutrients are best absorbed in food form.
- Whole foods contain antioxidants and fatty acids that can’t be found in supplements.
The takeaway is to shop the perimeter of the supermarket. Avoid the central aisles, which are typically filled with nutrient-devoid Frankenfoods designed by well-compensated food scientists who understand that the junk food we crave will sell more units.
Getting Your Electrolytes on Keto
But they really matter on a low-carb diet. Why? Because on keto, you lose more electrolytes through urine.
That’s why I recommend low-carb folks shoot for 5 grams of sodium, 4.7 grams of potassium, and 500 mg of magnesium per day. Get there by eating mineral-rich whole foods, shaking the salt shaker, and adding electrolytes to your water using a zero-sugar drink mix like LMNT.
Foods to Eat on Keto
Here I’ll break approved keto foods into proteins, veggies, fats, and other categories. Let’s dig in.
To hit your protein goal, favor lean protein sources on keto like:
- 80-90% ground meats (chicken, beef, pork, lamb, buffalo, etc.)
- Lean cuts of beef or bison
- Chicken or turkey breast
- Eggs whites (yolks are super healthy too, but they are mostly fat)
- Heart (beef or chicken)
- Lamb or pork chops
- Low sugar beef, chicken, or salmon jerky
To keep carbs low, favor non-starchy vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to stick to green-ish vegetables that grow above ground. Here’s a good list:
- Brussels sprouts
Healthy keto fats include:
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Olives and olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Animal fat
- Egg yolks
Enjoy noncaloric beverages like:
- Black coffee
- Bone broth
- Electrolyte water
- Sparkling water
And to satisfy your sweet tooth, have noncaloric sweeteners like:
- Monk fruit
Foods to Avoid on Keto
We won’t need a huge list for this section. If it has carbs or sugar, avoid it.
That means fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, pasta, bread, cookies, and most packaged foods are off-limits. You can have a few berries, a bite of dark chocolate, or a little tomato sauce, but any significant carb hit will kick you out of ketosis.
I also recommend you avoid vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. These oils won’t derail your ketones, but they contain tons of inflammatory omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. And definitely avoid cooking with veggie oils. Cooking oxidizes the fragile omega-6 fats, creating compounds that appear to accelerate heart disease.
Nuts and Dairy: Avoid Them Too
Except for whey and casein shakes, I advise my Ketogains clients to avoid nuts and dairy products. Here’s why:
- They’re super high in calories but not high in micronutrients. Other whole foods are more nutrient-dense.
- Both nuts and dairy encourage binge eating. It’s hard to stop nibbling delicious salted cashews, and the same goes for cheese.
- Many folks are sensitive to nuts and dairy. The resulting inflammation isn’t only uncomfortable but can hinder fat loss goals.
- Most supermarket dairy contains TONS of added sugar.
I know avoiding nuts and dairy isn't standard keto doctrine, but people who do it tend to get the best results. Try it out for at least 4 weeks and see what happens.
4 Basic Keto Meals
When it comes to keto meal planning, it’s helpful to keep things simple at first. That’s why I’m only presenting four staple keto recipes. Stick with these basic meals and you’ll get a solid start. Then, mix in some variety with the foods I mentioned earlier to keep things interesting.
Keto Meal #1: Eggs and Vegetables
If you know how to cook eggs, you’re all set here. Try scrambled eggs or an omelet using:
- 3-4 whole eggs
- Coconut oil (as cooking oil)
- A side of avocado
- Delicious spices
Keto Meal #2: Lean protein and vegetables
A keto standby. Simply cook a 6-10 ounce portion of fish, red meat, or poultry and add a side of broccoli, asparagus, kale, or cauliflower. (Multiple veggie sides are encouraged.) Drizzle some olive oil on those veggies and the keto gods will smile upon you.
Keto Meal #3: Big salad with protein
A salad is an ideal vehicle to get your keto macros and micros handled. Use spinach or kale as a base to maximize micronutrient density. Add chicken or salmon, top with olive oil and vinegar, and you’re good to go.
Keto Meal #4: Protein Shake
A protein shake is efficient fuel for your keto lifestyle. If possible, use whey protein. (Whey contains the complete amino acid spectrum needed to promote body recomposition.) Add greens, pour coconut milk, blend, and enjoy.
Simple Keto, Happy You
Eating keto isn’t complicated. Just eat low-carb whole foods, prioritize protein over fat, and get your electrolytes handled.
And keep meal planning as simple as possible. Fewer choices mean less decision fatigue and a happier, healthier, more relaxed you.