Healthy keto foods
Keto is the high-fat, super-low-carb diet with staying power. As keto continues to attract followers and inspire new versions and spinoffs, it's clear that some keto-friendly foods are healthier than others. Here are some key foods for minding your health and maintaining good nutrition while watching your weight on keto.
Avocados are the No. 1 food item for keto-friendly diets, says Lolita Carrico, a registered nutritionist and chef and founder of ketology.net, which focuses on a keto lifestyle for women over 40 but also offers plenty of tips for anyone interested in keto.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat, a healthy type of fat when eaten in moderation. The fruit is also a great source of fiber and a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Eating avocados helps you feel full -- which is half the battle when you're trying to lose weight.
Salmon is a fish-based source of healthy fat. Salmon is both versatile and tough, Carrico says. It can withstand the grill without flaking out, and can be used in multiple ways. For instance, you can cube salmon for a stir-fry or make poke bowls with the high-quality fish.
Grilled, pan-seared or broiled: It's your preference when it comes to grass-fed beef. "The most important thing is to make sure you're adding high-quality fat to keep it moist," Carrico says. "The lovely thing about a keto lifestyle is you can cook your favorite foods the way you always have -- it's just what you eat with it." So instead of steak and potatoes, or steak and rice, she says, sub in keto-appropriate side dishes.
Cauliflower rice, cauliflower pizza crust, cauliflower ice cream -- cauliflower food hacks have almost become a keto cliché. "Cauliflower gets such a bad rap as a potato substitute, but I love making mashed cauliflower," Carrico says. "It tastes so much better to me than mashed potatoes, now that I've been doing it for a while." You can mash, roast or even rice cauliflower in a food processor, she adds, or buy riced cauliflower at the grocery store.
Although some keto proponents recommend skin-on chicken thighs as a higher-fat poultry source, Carrico prefers to serve skinless chicken breasts. Or you could just cook the entire chicken. "Weeknight skillet roast chicken with lemon-herb pan sauce," is a keto fan favorite, according to the recipe creators at America's Test Kitchen.
Nuts and nut butters
Walnuts and pecans are good nut choices. "They're the lowest-carb and have a good healthy-fat profile, as well," Carrico explains.
Similarly, some nut butters are better than others. "I would stay away from peanut butter because peanuts are a little higher on the carb side," she says, along with some concerns about pesticides sprayed on peanuts growing in the field. "Almond or pecan butter is great," she adds. "I make almond butter at home -- you literally just blend it into a natural nut butter."
Some companies now make "amazing, keto-friendly nut butters that don't have sugar," Carrico says. "The main thing is: If you're buying a nut butter at the store, read the label, because they usually add sugar and you have to find no-sugar-added versions."
"Berries are one of the key foods," Carrico says. While most fruits are too high in natural sugars to be truly keto-friendly, she says, "Berries, for the most part -- in addition to having lots of fiber and other antioxidants -- are also the most keto-friendly and low-sugar."
Combine nuts and berries for a satisfying keto snack, she suggests.
Kale and spinach
Healthy plant foods and the keto diet can easily go hand in hand. "Although a lot of people think keto is beef and butter, fiber in the form of a salad is very beneficial," Carrico says. "So I'll usually have a huge salad every day with kale and spinach."
Combining these leafy greens offers a great mix of nutrients. Kale is particularly rich in calcium and vitamins C and K, while spinach is a super-source of minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium, as well as vitamins A and E.
Do you cringe at the idea of even smelling, much less swallowing, Brussels sprouts? If so, you're not alone. "I know, but they're really good if you cook them right," says Carrico, who's a "huge fan" of the pungent, cruciferous veggie.
To encourage reluctant keto adherents to give them a try, Carrico offers a recipe for garlic-Parmesan smashed Brussels sprouts: "Even my children like them," she swears. You'll just need these ingredients:
-- 1 pound trimmed Brussels sprouts.
-- 2 tablespoons avocado oil.
-- 2 teaspoons garlic powder.
-- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper.
-- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan.
Follow the simple recipe instructions on boiling the Brussels sprouts, crushing them into patties, then seasoning them with the avocado oil, garlic powder and crushed red pepper before roasting and finally sprinkling on the Parmesan cheese and briefly broiling.
If you're on keto, skip the whole or skim milk or 'lite' yogurt in the dairy aisle. Instead, add lower-carb items like plain Greek yogurt and butter to your grocery cart. "As far as dairy goes, if I'm having coffee I'll definitely have a splash of heavy whipping cream, because full fat is very important," Carrico says, while noting that you don't necessarily have to douse your coffee in cream.
Butter and ghee -- which is simply clarified butter -- are essentially carb-free. Many types of cheese work for keto, including Brie, cheddar, Swiss, provolone, mozzarella and Monterey Jack.
Certain plant oils -- for cooking, dressings and flavoring -- play a big part in keto meals and snacks. Coconut, avocado and extra-virgin olive oil are prime sources for healthy fat, Carrico says.
Many keto followers swear by MCT oil, a manufactured combination of processed palm oil and coconut oil. (MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride, a compound made of specific fat molecules.) Carrico uses MCT in her salad dressing and coffee. "Adding fat first thing in the morning helps," she says. "It gives you sustained energy and MCT oils have all sorts of benefits, health-wise."
Because it's more easily absorbed than other oils, MCT may be a good choice for people who have difficulty with fat absorption, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, among other digestive conditions.
Allulose, which is found in select plant foods such as kiwi, figs and raisins, has few carbs and essentially zero calories. Monk fruit sweetener, a powder derived from a green melon that grows in parts of Asia, is carb- and calorie-free.
Eggs are a keto staple. High in protein, eggs lend themselves to keto-friendly breakfasts such as egg-stuffed avocado, egg-and-cheese muffins and salmon omelets.
"Eggs are a keto must-have food," Carrico says. "I buy pasture-raised eggs because they're really high quality with all the nutrients" of regular eggs.
Healthy keto foods
Going keto? Put these healthy staples on your grocery list:
-- Grass-fed beef.
-- Nuts/nut butters.
-- Kale and spinach.
-- Brussels sprouts.
-- Full-fat dairy.
-- Coconut, avocado, MCT and extra-virgin olive oil.
-- Allulose and monk fruit sweeteners.