For close to 20 months now, I have been carefully composing meals that are high fat, moderate protein and low carb. Since joining the keto movement in June 2015, the learning curve of how to eat a high fat diet has changed significantly from my early meals to today.
What is eating keto? Ketogenic eating is a very low carbohydrate diet that puts the eater into a state of nutritional ketosis and offers a myriad of health benefits, including reducing insulin and blood glucose levels, lowering triglycerides and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and satisfying hunger which helps to effectively and permanently dropping body fat (see A Lesson on Fueling the Body). Keto or very low carb eating includes meals that are highest in fat by calories, moderate in protein and lowest in carbohydrates.
The part I did not really understand when I first started was: what does eating keto look like on a plate?
My early meals consisted of eating a stick of butter (my keto friends will tell you it’s true) with minimal protein and vegetables on the side. Since that time, I have figured out how to eat meals that satisfy me without eating purely to produce high ketone readings (see Eating Keto Part I).
If you have read my Keto Basics series, then you understand why eating a ketogenic diet is beneficial. We know that eating a low carb diet means avoiding foods that are high in impact carbohydrates, which are foods that raise insulin and blood sugar levels. This post will discuss specifically what you should eat on a keto diet and what you shouldn’t. Let’s start with the latter.
What foods should you avoid?
Some of the foods listed here may surprise you. We are told that these foods are good for us, but for those eating a ketogenic diet, the foods listed below elevate blood glucose very high and can prevent the body from producing ketone bodies and burning fat for fuel. In addition, some of these foods are also highly inflammatory, meaning that they create leaky gut and damage your body in ways you can’t even imagine. Because my primary reason for being in ketosis is to achieve optimal physical health, I do not just base my diet upon whether or not a food is low enough in carbs to keep me in ketosis. I avoid eating:
- Sweeteners such as sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, as well as artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, which are dangerous for host of other reasons (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23850261).
- Grains (no barley, buckwheat, corn, quinoa, rice, rye, sorgum, wheat).
- Sweet fruits besides berries on occasion (no apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, cherries, etc.).
- Vegetables high in starches, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro, etc.
- Legumes (no beans, soy products, tempeh, peanuts, etc.) or products made from these items, such as store-bought salad dressing, mayonnaise, or vegetable oils. For those interested in fat loss and overall health, avoiding inflammatory oils is essential. Stay away from store-bought salad dressings, mayonnaise, vegetable oils which are often made with soybean, corn and other inflammatory oils. Homemade dressing that use olive oil, avocado or flax seed oils are better for you and fresher.
What foods should you eat?
Fats: Quality fat sources including butter, ghee, coconut and/or medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil, tallow, duck fat, lard, bacon grease and cold pressed olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil and macadamia nut oils.
Proteins: Eggs including chicken, duck, goose and quail, and meats including beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, quail, fish, shellfish, etc. Low-carb dairy foods (such as cheese and cream) can be part of a low carb diet, but they are also highly inflammatory and contribute to leaky gut, food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions. Dairy is fine for those without these issues who seem to tolerate them.
Safe Carbohydrates: Low-carbohydrate vegetables including leafy greens (collard, mustard, spinach, romaine, turnip), crucifers including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts; and other vegetables including asparagus, Bok Choy, celery, green beans and many others. Fruits can include avocado, coconut, cucumbers, olives, and tomatoes in moderation. Some higher-carb root vegetables like squash, carrots and beets can be enjoyed in moderation once you are in ketosis, but they can slow adaptation so they are best avoided by beginners. Other products that can be enjoyed in moderation are sugar alcohols and stevia to sweeten foods, but be careful because some find that these foods elevate insulin levels.
Nuts and seeds: Macadamia nuts, flax seeds and chia seeds are usually well tolerated. Because many find that fat loss stalls due to the inflammatory effects, other nuts are okay to eat due to the low carb content but should only be eaten in moderation by those who tolerate them: almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. (Peanuts are actually legumes, but similarly to other legumes they are inflammatory and can damage gut lining. Due to the low carb content, they can be eaten in moderation by those who tolerate them well.)
Now that you have a list of foods, how do you create meals with them? There are many great keto recipes available if you search for them. There are some beautiful recipes on my buddy Greg’s website: http://i-stayfit.com/recipe-index/. I also enjoy the many tasty options on Leanne Vogel’s website, which can be sorted as gluten, dairy, nut and even egg free based upon your sensitivity: https://www.healthfulpursuit.com/.
How do I eat?
I eat twice a day. My meals consist of a good portion of protein (5-8 oz depending upon the food), a couple cups from my safe carbs list above and are usually prepared or served with a portion of fat. Simple, right? Here are examples of my favorite recipes.
Lettuce-Wrapped Burger (I eat this almost daily)
6 oz ground beef, 80% lean
2 romaine lettuce leaves
2 slices sandwich dill pickles
1 slice tomato or low carb ketchup (optional)
1 tablespoon homemade mayo
Salt & pepper to taste
Make two thin equal sized burger patties and fry 3 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Using the patties as “bread,” layer lettuce, tomato or ketchup (optional), pickles, avocado and mayo in between the patties. Serve.
1 pound salmon filets, with skin
4 cups cauliflower rice
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons coconut aminos
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon low carb sweetener or a few drops of liquid stevia (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh minced onion
2 cloves garlic
In a medium bowl, mix ingredients for marinade. Pour the liquid over the salmon in a baking dish, cover and refrigerate for 4-8 hours. Preheat the oven to 250°. Remove cover from salmon and bake for about 20 minutes, or until fish can be flaked with a fork. Sprinkle dill weed into steamed cauliflower rice and serve with salmon.
Bacon-Wrapped BBQ Chicken
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
16 slices bacon
1/2 cup low carb BBQ sauce
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, other seasonings
Preheat oven to 350°. Wrap each slice of chicken with two slices of bacon. Brush with BBQ sauce. Season with spices. Bake for 20 minutes; flip and bake another 15 minutes. Turn on broiler and roast until bacon is brown and crispy.
Country Style Ribs (thanks Holly for this recipe! http://homemadeholly.com)
McCormick Grill Mates Roasted Garlic and Herb seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 boneless country style ribs (any ribs are fine but boneless ribs have more fat)
Preheat oven to 350°. Place ribs in casserole dish or cookie sheet. Brush olive oil onto ribs to lightly coat the top and sides. Sprinkle a tablespoon of seasoning onto ribs. Bake for 45-50 minutes.
4 lbs beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon coconut oil, bacon grease or another flavorful oil
4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup (fresh) lime juice
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
– Salsa, Guacamole, Cauliflower Rice, Salad
Cut the roast into eight large pieces. Season well with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat oil in a large skillet and sear the pieces in batches on all sides until browned. Transfer seared meat to slow cooker. In a medium bowl combine chopped peppers, garlic, cumin, oregano, cloves, beef broth, vinegar, lime juice, and additional salt and pepper (to taste). Mix well, then pour over beef in the slow cooker and add bay leaves. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until meat shreds easily. Remove bay leaves. Remove and shred beef. Return beef to slow cooker to marinate at least 10 more minutes, or until ready to serve. Serve with cauliflower, salad ingredients, guacamole and/or salsa.
Broccoli & Zucchini Quiche
8 large eggs
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium head of broccoli, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dill weed
8 slices crumbled bacon (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°. Shred onion and zucchini. Add salt and let sit until water rises to surface; drain. Mix all ingredients and pour into a pie dish. Sprinkle bacon crumbles across the top (optional). Bake in a pie dish for 40 minutes.
3 tablespoons ground flax seed
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon coconut milk or water
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Mix ingredients. Batter will thicken as it sits. Pour into griddle and flip. Serve as pancakes or use to make one large wrap for a breakfast sandwich.
Hummus with Roasted Cauliflower
1 medium head cauliflower, broken into small florets
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup tahini
2 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt + pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cauliflower florets on baking sheet. Brush 1-2 tablespoons olive oil onto cauliflower and salt and pepper to taste.
Roast for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. (Sometimes I stop here because this tastes delicious!) Combine cooled cauliflower, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and remaining olive oil in food processor. Blend until smooth. Add water one tablespoon at a time for a thinner consistency, if desired. Serve with fresh veggies.
2 pounds broccoli florets (2 heads)
1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 ounces green onion, diced (optional)
1 cup homemade mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons low carb sweetener or a few drops of liquid stevia to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Mix the mayonnaise, vinegar, sweetener and sesame oil in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and serve.
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Hope you enjoy some of these recipes. What are your favorite low carb meals? If you have a favorite keto recipe, please post it below. Thanks again for reading.
Healthful Pursuit: https://www.healthfulpursuit.com/
Homemade Holly: http://www.homemadeholly.com/
Swithers S.E. (2013) Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 24(9): p. 431-441. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2013.05.005. Epub 2013 Jul 10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23850261