If you are like most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words ‘ketosis’ or ‘keto-diet,’ is ZERO carbs. It might make you want to cry on the inside; life without carbs just sounds so intimidating.
But the truth is, keto-happiness can be had at about 30-50 grams of carbs a day– enough for a wide variety of tasty and healthy foods without going cuckoo for carbs.
Yes, you’ll have to give up the chocolate cake and vats of pasta to get your flat tummy, but you can do it!
We’ll show you how to get into ketosis, the exact foods to eat (even when eating out), and how to trouble-shoot anything that gets in your way.
But first: what is ketosis?
Ketosis is a healthy, normal metabolic pathway in which fats are burned for energy instead of sugars.
Nutritional ketosis is not the same thing as diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening complication type one diabetics can experience because they don’t produce insulin.
On the other hand, nutritional ketosis is tightly controlled to ensure your body functions properly.
You’ve probably experienced it several times in your life without realizing it. If you’ve gone without carbohydrates or food for 48 hours, or consumed too much alcohol, you’ve likely been in ketosis.
Ketosis and your brain
When you talk about doing a ketogenic diet, you’ll run into people who will say scary things like: “you need carbs in your diet because your brain runs on glucose”
That’s only partially true, for two reasons.
First, glucose is not the only fuel your brain runs on. Ketones can also be used by the brain for energy.
Second, consumption of carbs is not required to make glucose. Your body can create glucose from non-carbohydrate sources such as fats, amino acids, glycerol, and lactic acid via a process called gluconeogenesis.
And furthermore, the keto diet was originally created to help people with epilepsy, and has been used to help other brain-related conditions such as brain tumors, autism, and even migraines.
Why do you want to be in ketosis?
Most people learn about ketosis when they try a low-carb diet for weight loss. Removing carbs from your diet shifts your body from burning glucose to burning body fat for energy.
Ketosis accomplishes fat loss in two ways:
One: by eliminating the primary food source that creates fat when eaten in excess (simple sugars and starches).
Two: by forcing the body to burn fat that has been stored on the body.
Once you drop excess carbs, it can take as little as 48 hours for your body to start using energy stored in your fat cells.
(Which is pretty exciting to anyone who wants to lose weight as quickly as possible.)
How excess carbs and starches make you fat
Carbohydrates, particularly simple starches and carbs are readily used by the body for energy.
That’s good but…
Along with a diet high in simple starches (such as breads, potatoes, and pasta), Americans eat an average of 20 tablespoons of sugar a day,
This is well in excess of your body’s needs for fuel.
All that extra glucose circulates in your bloodstream, spiking blood sugar levels. High blood glucose levels cause damage to your body.
To prevent damage, your body acts quickly to store all excess glucose as fat on your body.
Now here’s the problem…
Sugar toxicity: a sticky situation
Excess blood glucose floating around in your body likes to ‘stick’ to your cells. It’s called glycosolation.
This ‘candy-coating’ hardens your cells and creates inflammation, and every cell in your body is at risk.
Here are just a few things sticky, glycolsylated sugar does to your body:
- Atherosclerosis1, 2
- High triglycerides3,4
- High blood pressure5,6,7
- Death from heart attack8,9
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease10, 11,12,13
- Kidney disease14,15
- Memory loss, dementia and alzheimer’s31,32,33,34
- Premature Aging35,36,37,38,39
…and the list goes on…
Health benefits of ketosis
You might only care about ketosis in terms of what it can do to help you lose weight, but ketosis can improve your health, too.
Here are some examples:
- Significant weight loss with better adherence, fat mass loss, muscle mass retention, and long-term results than low-calorie and/or low-fat diets.40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51
- Decreases blood pressure52, 53
- Improves cardiovascular risk factors: decreases metabolic syndrome, decreases LDL cholesterol, increases HDL cholesterol, and decreases triglycerides).54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63
- Helps with diabetes and blood sugar control.64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72
- Reverses non-alcoholic fatty liver disease73, 74, 75, 76
- Alleviates the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines77, 78, 79
- Improves cognitive function and memory in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients80, 81, 82
- Protects neurological function in those suffering from Parkinson’s disease83, 84, 85, 86, 87
- Decreases brain and neurological inflammation and degeneration such as is seen in multiple sclerosis88, 89, 90
- Improves mental clarity and focus91, 92
- Suppresses cancerous tumor growth93, 94, 95, 96, 97
- Reduces pain and inflammation98, 99
- Promotes, deeper, more restful sleep100, 101, 102
See all those references above? Unlike a high-sugar diet, a diet that puts you in ketosis has a ton of proven health benefits.
It’s time to stop thinking that a ketogenic diet is scary and unhealthy.
What do you eat to achieve ketosis?
Ssshhhh… the keto-diet industry doesn’t want you to know this.
They’d like you to buy all their processed and packaged (and super-expensive) foods instead.
Here’s the thing, it all boils down to eating natural foods like:
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Nuts (in moderation)
- Cheese (in moderation)
And the good news is that when you stick with these foods, you won’t have to count, weigh, or measure anything. You’ll be in the magic 30-50 gram range for headache-free weight loss.
If you do eat anything packaged, even if it’s advertised as high-protein, low-carb, organic, paleo, non-GMO, gluten-free, or whatever– ALWAYS read the label. Packaged foods can surprise you with more carbs than you think, bumping you well outside of ketosis.
If you’re thinking “whattabout….” right now, relax. We’ll take a more in-depth look at foods you can (and can’t) eat to stay in ketosis later in this article.
What to expect when going into ketosis
It takes about three days to get into ketosis, but the full transition can take about a week and sometimes longer.
Your body has about one day’s worth of glycogen stored in the liver and muscles, so day one is a piece of cake.
By day two or three all available glycogen and there’s no sugar to replace it. That’s when you might feel like you’re running on empty.
Some things you might notice:
- Low energy, lethargy
- Dizziness, light-headed
- Cravings increase, especially for sugars and starches
- Loss of strength, fatigue, lack of montivation
- Changes in digestion, constipation, gas
All those crummy feelings are related to one thing: dehydration. This happens because as sugar leaves your body, you also lose water and electrolytes.
Public Service Announcement: This is an excellent time to remind you to stay hydrated, keto or not– for the good of yourself and the people around you.
The good news: these are all signs that your body has started shifting your metabolism to burn fat, and they will pass very soon.
Ketosis and “carb flu”
Along with feeling a little tired, weak, and headachey you may even feel nauseous and come down with what feels like a little cold.
The best way to handle your first week and “carb flu” is to be kind to yourself. Take things easy and allow yourself to rest if you need it.
In addition to staying well-hydrated, sugar-free electrolytes will help your body adjust faster. An over-the-counter pain reliever can be used for the headache.
By week two, you should be feeling better again. Much of your energy will return– and then some.
You may notice that your breath and/or urine have a fruity- or acetone-smell. This is not a cause for alarm, and it should pass after awhile. Brushing your teeth and chewing sugar-free gum will help.
Weight loss will level off slightly during this week since you won’t be losing as much water weight– but you should still continue to lose steadily.
Weeks three to four
You should now be in full ketosis– as long as you have stayed below 50 grams of carbs a day.
Now that your body has fully switched to burning fat for fuel, your strength and energy levels should be back to normal– better than normal even.
You might even feel like a super-hero with inexhaustible energy. That’s because once you are burning fat stores for fuel, you’ll have thousands upon thousands of calories ready to go when you need it.
An extra bonus to your energy levels: you should be sleeping better as well.
As long as you are consuming fiber-rich, non-starchy vegetables, your digestion should be normalized and cravings long gone.
In the absence of sugar, your taste buds can taste again. You’ll find that you actually enjoy eating healthy foods. Each meal will make you feel full and satisfied.
Weight loss will continue at a slow but steady rate from these weeks forward.
How can you tell if you’re really in ketosis?
Some lucky people can tell they are in ketosis by the way they feel, and if the scale is moving. For others, ketosis signs are more nuanced.
That’s when a trip to the diabetic care section of your local pharmacy can help.
Once there, you’ll find ketone test strips that measure the presence of ketones in the urine. A bottle of 50 test strips cost about $7-13. The tests are very easy, and can be done quickly and discreetly any time you need to visit the bathroom.
Ketone test strips can help you learn two important things about your body:
- When you are in fat-burning mode.
- When you have been kicked out of fat-burning mode.
Being able to actually see the difference between these two states is a powerful motivator when you are trying to lose weight.
The trouble with ketone test strips
People often mistake the color depth of the test strips as a signal that they are burning “a lot” …or “a little” fat.
Here’s the BIG, FAT SECRET to reading the strips: the color depth has nothing to do with ‘how much’ fat you are burning.
The color depth is related to your hydration status. A darker color is because the ketones are more highly concentrated. A lighter color change means that ketones have been diluted.
This is very important to understand: if ketones are present in your urine at all, the strips will change in color (light or dark), indicating that your body is in a fat-burning state.
If the strips do not change color, you’re not in ketosis.
Ketone strip envy: the thief of weight loss happiness
If you are comparing ketosticks with a friend, scrolling through online forums, or googling images, at a minimum you’ll be discouraged. Mostly, you’ll just end up driving yourself crazy.
Why? Images can be tricky to evaluate. Remember that internet dress? Was it white and gold or black and blue?
Comparing ketosticks in person with your buddies can be equally as frustrating. The color depth will always be a reflection of your unique metabolism.
Even if you and your diet buddies…
Have eaten the exact same things…
Guzzled the same amount of water…
Followed the same Richard Simmons exercise routine…
You can still fall on opposite ends of the ketostick spectrum.
If the strip changes color, no matter how light or dark… CONGRATULATIONS. You’re in ketosis!
How to find hidden carbs
The number one reason ketosticks won’t change in color is because there are carbs lurking in your diet.
The first thing to do is this: track everything that you put in your mouth.
Read all the labels and keep a tally of all the carbs. If the food does not have a label, Google it.
Don’t forget to look for hidden carbs in things like: over-the-counter medications, sugar-free gum, sugar-free mints, hot and cold beverages, sauces, creamers, and flavored syrups.
While these items are labeled as sugar-free, it doesn’t mean they are carb-free. One serving of sugar-free gum can have 5g of carbs in it. Let’s say you chew gum after each meal. That’s 15g for the day; half of the low end for being in ketosis range.
Rounding errors can also be a source of carbs. You might have assumed a certain food was safe to eat in large amounts because it is less than 1g of carbs per serving. But in reality you are consuming enough of it to kick you out of ketosis.
An honest 1-3 day assessment is enough for most people to find what is pushing their carb count above the 30-50 gram range.
But what if you honestly don’t find anything?
Zero-carb things that kill ketosis
Eat too little protein, and your body will break down your muscles to regulate your blood sugar levels. That will kick you out of ketosis and create body fat. This process explains why vegans and vegetarians who don’t monitor their protein intake become ‘skinny-fat’ and also why they may look haggard.
On the flip side, when you eat too much protein, the excess amino acids are turned into glucose, spiking your blood sugar levels—and then stored as fat.
To avoid this, you want to stay in the sweet spot of consuming enough protein to prevent muscle loss, but not so much that your liver can create glucose.
A rough guideline for your protein needs is ~0.36g per pound of body weight. A 3-5 ounce serving (about the size of a deck of cards or palm of your hand) of meat or eggs at each meal is just about right for most people.
Just keep in mind that your needs do vary day to day, so a little more or less protein from day to day is ok.
It’s really tempting to want to limit your fat intake when eating low-carb.
You might try doing this because you:
- Believe that eating fat makes you fat.
- Have a lingering fear from the 80s that fat is bad for you.
- Want to lose weight faster.
Limiting fat means means you’ll be consuming protein and non-starchy vegetables.
This is not a low-carb or keto diet. It’s called a very low-calorie or “VLC” diet. It’s otherwise known as starving yourself, and it will backfire.
Very low calorie dieting kicks you out of ketosis. Instead of breaking down fat for fuel, your body will start breaking down muscles for fuel via gluconeogenesis, leading to insulin spikes and weight gain.
You need to eat enough fat to get into ketosis. What is enough? For most people, 50-75% of total calories from fats will do it.
Zero calorie sweeteners can help keep your sanity on low-carb diets, and can be the difference between continuing your diet or breaking it for your sweet tooth.
But using them as a crutch to eat sweets all the time could spell trouble for ketosis. While the label on the sweetener might tell you there are zero carbs in it, many will still spike your blood sugar level.
Avoid the following if you are having problems getting into ketosis:
- Sucralose, found in Splenda (may spike your blood sugar more than sugar itself!)
- Aspartame, found in Nutrasweet, and Equal
- Acesulfame potassium, found in diet sodas
- Xylitol, found in chewing gum
- Maltitol, found in diabetic candies and chocolate
- Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, lacitol, glycerol, and isomalt)
Luckily, there are some sweeteners that have not been shown to spike blood sugar levels—and even better, they are natural too:
- Monk fruit, also known as Lo Han or Luo Han Guo
Just be sure to read the labels to ensure that these sugars have not been blended with things that will spike your blood sugar levels.
If you are still having problems getting into ketosis after eliminating artificial sweeteners you may have to go commando and eliminate all sweet-tasting foods.
Simply tasting sweet foods may trigger a response directly from your brain to increase insulin levels—even before they hit your stomach for digestion!
Other things that could take you out of ketosis
The following things can spike insulin levels without increasing blood glucose:
- NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen)
- Casein (a protein found in dairy products)
- MCT oils (like coconut oil)
How to get back in ketosis and break plateaus
Here’s what to look at if you’ve done everything right, but your weight loss has stalled out and you are no longer in ketosis.
(First: don’t get frustrated. This can happen to anyone.)
You’re eating too many calories
One of the perks of low-carb eating is that you can eat unlimited quantities of meats, fats, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables. Mentally, it works because you don’t feel deprived, and physically it works because the fat sends a signal to your brain that makes you feel full… and usually you stop eating.
But if you frequently eat past the point of feeling full, the law of thermodynamics will catch up to you.
Eventually, your body will start using (and storing) those excess calories rather than burning body fat. That will kick you out of ketosis.
You’re eating too frequently
Try sticking to a schedule, putting 2-3 hours in between each meal and snack.
When you are in ketosis, your blood sugars should be very stable since you always have calories available from the fat on your body. So you really shouldn’t need to eat more frequently than this—it will lead to eating too many total calories (like we talked about above).
If you do find that you are getting hungry between meals, it’s time to hunt for hidden carbs in your menu.
You need a break
If you’ve been doing everything perfectly for a long time and you’ve stalled out, you might need a break.
This isn’t license to cheat throughout your diet program, because that won’t work.
Think of it as a 1-7 day dietary retreat—not a trip to Las Vegas. Then get back to it. That will work.
Your biochemistry is out of whack
Hormonal fluctuations, illness, and stress are invisible factors that can disrupt ketosis. It can be hard to recognize them immediately, especially since most of the time, these things are ‘normal’ for your body. (If they aren’t normal, it’s time to see your doctor.)
Some things, like getting more sleep or over a cold will correct themselves. Other things like hormones may be more vexing—and something that you will have to learn to work with rather than around.
A journal, and the process of elimination by following all the tips above can help you narrow things down so you can start working on solutions to get you back into ketosis.
9 Concrete steps to break plateaus
When our Weight Loss Coaches do weight loss competitions, they’ve found that these 9 steps will break most plateaus:
- Do a 24- 48 hour clear liquid fast. If you can’t do that, have your last meal at 5 or 6 pm and don’t eat until you wake up the next day.
- Search and destroy anything that can take you out of ketosis from our discussions above.
- Simplify your diet. Complex recipes and meals can trip you up easily. Eat simple meals to avoid errors. Aim for 3-5 ingredients max, for example dinner would be: steak, broccoli, olive oil, salt, pepper.
- Limit milk, cheese, and dairy. Many people have a hidden intolerance to lactose that can stall weight loss.
- Limit nuts. It’s easy to eat more than you think, jacking up your calories, carbs, and fats.
- Stick to a schedule, eating every 3 hours and eliminate snacking between meals.
- Get at least 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day. Moderate exercise tells your body to preserve lean muscle while burning fat for energy.
- Drink water, coffee, and black, green, or herbal tea only. (No creamers or sweeteners.)
- Get more sleep and reduce stressors.
What it means when you have cravings
Cravings are going to happen, it’s a fact of life.
But if you are in ketosis, and eating enough food every few hours, they can be easily managed. Usually drinking some water or having a cup of coffee is enough to put them off until your next meal.
But what does it mean if you just can’t get to your next meal without obsessing over donuts?
- Might not actually be in ketosis.
- Have hidden carbs lurking in your menu.
- Need some water; you’re dehydrated.
- Are not eating enough calories.
- Should eat more fat, and less protein at your next meal.
- Could cut back on (or eliminate) non-caloric sweeteners—artificial or natural.
- Might be over-exercising.
- Can try drinking fewer caffeinated beverages.
- Need to turn off Netflix and catch more zzzzs.
- Might be coming down with a cold.
If all else fails, you need to leave the break room and not come back until your co-workers have eaten all the donuts for you.
In the meantime, it’s always better to eat (even over-eat) food that will keep you in ketosis (meats, eggs, cheeses, and non-starchy veggies) than fall into the box of donuts. The donut will cost you at least 3 days of progress.
A more in-depth look at what you can (and can’t) eat
As we mentioned, if you stick to a diet of real meats, eggs, cheese, nuts, and non-starchy vegetables, you can into ketosis without much work.
Any source of animal protein can be eaten– lean, fatty, domestic, or exotic; they will help you lose weight.
Here’s a reminder there’s more than just beef or chicken to eat on a ketogenic or low carb diet:
|Shellfish||Smoked meats||Smoked salmon||Squab||Swordfish|
What about plant sources of protein?
Here are some good vegan and vegetarian sources of protein you can incorporate into a low-carb diet:
|Plant Protein||Protein||Carbs||Fiber||Net Carbs|
|1oz Chia Seeds||5g||12g||10g||2g|
|1C Chick Peas||39g||121g||2.2g||118.8g|
|1C Lima Beans||15g||39g||13g||26g|
Nutrition facts collected from Wikipedia 2018
You’ll notice that even after adjusting for net carbs in the table above (by subtracting fiber from the carb count) that many of these foods are still pretty starchy.
Non-vegetarians should eat these proteins sparingly until they get to their goal weight. Lacto-/ovo-/pesci vegetarians should round out their plant proteins with milk, eggs, and fish whenever possible.
If you are a strict vegan, you can follow a ketogenic diet too. You’ll just want to eat more vegan fat sources like avocados. That will keep your calories up without consuming too many starches that will kick you out of ketosis.
Fats and oils to eat
The fats in the meats you eat on a low-carb diet are all ok to eat—even if they are saturated. Saturated fat from meat does not cause heart disease, and as long as you are eating low-carb, will not cause you to gain excess weight.
However, it’s a very good idea to make sure you are getting enough omega-3 essential fatty acids from other food sources— in the right balance for your health.
You’ll get plenty of omega-6 fats from nuts, meats, and vegetables–often much, much more than what you need, which can cause inflammation over time. Omega-3 fats decrease inflammation.
For most people, a 4:1 ratio is optimal. Eat 4 omega-6s to every 1 omega-3.
The problem is that omega-3s are easily destroyed in our food system, so you do have to make an effort to seek them out.
The table below highlights good sources of omega-3s to help you keep your essential fatty acids in balance.
|Good Sources for Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids|
|Salmon, herring, mackerel, fatty fish, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, cod liver oil, fish oil, flax seed oil, hempseed oil, perilla oil, vegetable oil, dark green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, eggs, grass-fed meats, grass-fed dairy.
Tip: Omega-3 fatty acids are absorbed best when eaten as part of a meal rather than taken as a supplement in between.
|Other Healthy Fats|
|Butter, ghee, coconut oil, avocados, cold-processed vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, some vegetables.|
|Fats to Avoid|
|Canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil. Trans fats such as margarine and spreads which contribute to weight gain and stroke risk. Refined fats and oils that have been processed at high temperatures, creating free radicals that damage cells.|
Vegetables you should eat to get into ketosis
Non-starchy vegetables are your best choice to lose weight. They are high in fiber, high in nutrients, and low in calories.
These are great vegetables to stock up on:
|Alfalfa sprouts||Artichokes||Artichoke hearts|
|Baby bok choy||Baby corn||Bamboo shoots|
|Bean sprouts||Bell peppers (all)||Bok choy|
|Cabbage (all)||Cactus leaf||Carrots, raw|
|Chicory||Chinese cabbage||Collard greens|
|Crookneck squash||Cucumber||Cushaw squash|
|Daikon radish||Dandelion greens||Mahi mahi|
|Dark leafy greens (any)||Dill pickles||Eggplant|
|Green onions||Hearts of palm||Herbs (all)|
|Horseradish||Hot chili peppers||Iceberg lettuce|
|Italian beans||Jalapeno peppers||Jicama|
|Leeks||Lettuce (all)||Mushrooms (all)|
|Mustard greens||Okra||Olives (all)|
|Rapini||Red cabbage||Romaine lettuce|
|Seaweed (all)||Shallots||Snap peas|
|Snow peas||Spaghetti squash||Spinach|
|Summer squash||Swiss chard||Tomatillos|
|Water chestnuts||Watercress||Wax beans|
|Yard-long beans||Yellow squash||Zucchini|
Vegetables to avoid or limit
It’s not that starchy vegetables are BAD for you, but they have enough starch to trip up ketosis.
They are also not as nutrient-dense per calorie as the non-starchy vegetables in the list above. It makes sense to keep the quality of your calories as high as possible on any diet.
You’ll want to avoid these if you are just starting your diet. You can (cautiously) add them back in once you are at your goal, or as small snacks, garnishes, or pre- or post-workout snacks:
|Avoid These Starchy Vegetables|
|Acorn squash||Adzuki beans||Beets|
|Black beans||Black-eyed peas||Butternut squash|
|Edamame||Fava beans||Garbanzo beans|
|Green peas||Horse beans||Kidney beans|
|Lentils||Lima beans||Mung beans|
|Navy beans||Parsnip||Peanuts (aren’t nuts)|
|Peanut butter||Pinto beans||Plantains|
|Potato (any kind/color)||Pumpkin||Red beans|
|Refried beans||Soybeans||Split green peas|
|Split yellow peas||Sweet potatoes||Taro|
|Tofu||White beans||Winter squash|
Can fruit be part of a ketogenic diet?
Once you start losing weight, it is possible to have a small serving of low-sugar/high fiber fruit a day, as long as you find that it does not trigger your appetite.
These fruits are great choices to eat as small snacks or garnishes:
|Low Sugar, High Fiber Fruits|
|Apples, Pears, Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Grapefruits|
Tip: incorporate fruits slowly, watching for any weight gain and/or cravings. If you experience either of these things, it may be a sign for you that fruits are best in small portions, reserved as occasional treats, or eaten as pre- or post-workout snacks only.
Can you eat dairy on a low-carb diet?
Dairy can be included in a low-carb or keto diet– if you don’t have any known milk allergies or sensitivities.
Even if you don’t have a confirmed intolerance, you should be aware that approximately 65% of adults cannot fully digest milk.
The problem is that even mild food intolerances can stall your weight loss. So if you are having difficulty losing weight on a low-carb (or any) diet, dairy might be one of the first things to look at eliminating or reducing for a period of time.
If you find you need to reduce dairy, here’s a list of keto-friendly foods that are high in calcium.
Which dairy products to eat
There are a few rules to keep in mind when adding dairy:
- Choose full-fat products.
- Check for any added sugars or fruit before consuming.
- Keep portion sizes small to avoid adding too many carbs to your diet.
Milk & cream
Full-fat dairy contains far fewer carbs than low-fat dairy. So instead of milk or half-and-half, use heavy cream. The heavy cream will be richer and more filling, so you’ll automatically use smaller servings. You can always thin it out with a little water if it is too much for you.
Cheese, yogurt, & sour cream
Full-fat fermented dairy such as cheeses, cottage cheese, yogurt, and sour cream can also be used. The bacteria these foods are made with digest some of the milk sugars, concentrating the fat and protein.
There is one thing to watch for in the case of cottage cheese and yogurt– added sugars and fruits that will kill your carb count for the day. To avoid this, always choose the plain, full-fat varieties. You can add your own low-carb sweeteners, nuts, and fruits to make healthier (and tastier) alternatives.
For all cheese, yogurt, and sour cream, you’ll want to stick to reasonable serving sizes. That can be a little difficult with cheese because of the way it is served– sliced, grated, wedges, or melted. A good guideline for cheese is to keep it around one ounce per meal. One cheese stick is about 1 ounce, so visualizing how much that is when preparing or selecting your foods can be helpful.
A hidden benefit of these foods is that during fermentation, the bacteria have digested some or most of the allergens that trigger reactions. For those with sensitivities, fermented milk products may be better tolerated than non-fermented ones.
Butter & ghee
Of all dairy, butter and ghee contain almost no carbs per serving. That means they can be eaten relatively freely.
Furthermore, grass-fed butter is a great way to add omega-3 fatty acids to balance out your fatty acid ratio (see the discussion above on fats and oils for more information).
Nuts and seeds for ketosis
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants so there’s good reason to include them in a diet for ketosis.
However, eating nuts is a lot like eating popcorn. It’s easy to eat much more than you realize!
To avid overloading on carbs and calories from nuts, serving sizes should be kept to about 1-1.5 ounces (about enough to fit in the palm of your hand, no double-dipping). Our best advice is to get a little scale and measure them out into individual snack baggies or containers.
If you are eating nuts and find you are gaining weight, there are a few things you can do…
- Go back and measure your portions again.
- Try smaller portions if you are not active or have a smaller body type.
- Eat them only before or after an exercise session
- Eat them earlier in the day.
- Eliminate them and see if weight loss resumes.
Here’s a chart of some common nuts and seeds so you can see how the carbs add up. Note that “Net Carbs” is the total carbs minus the undigestible fiber. Net carbs are the carbs that contribute to blood glucose levels.
The high fat, high protein, dense nutrient value, and low net carb count is what makes the nuts below good to include in a low-carb ketosis diet.
|Nut or Seed||Carbs||Fiber||Net Carbs|
|1oz Brazil Nuts||3.5g||2.1g||1.4g|
|1oz Chia Seeds||12g||10g||2g|
|1 T Flax Seeds||3g||2.8g||0.2g|
|1oz Hemp Seeds||3g||1.7g||1.3g|
|1oz Macadamia Nuts||3.9g||2.4g||1.5g|
|1oz Pine Nuts||3.7g||1.0g||2.7g|
|1oz Pistachios (unshelled)||8g||2.9g||5.1g|
|1oz Pumpkin Seeds (unshelled)||15g||5g||10g|
|1T Sesame Seeds||2.1g||1.1g||1.0g|
|1oz Sunflower Seeds (in shell)||9g||4g||5g|
Nutrition facts collected from Wikipedia 2018
Sweeteners to use
As we discussed above, non-caloric sweeteners can help to break up the monotony of a weight loss diet.
But beware: some sweeteners look like they should be sugar-free, but have actually been ‘cut’ with a caloric sweetener that will spike blood sugar levels. And don’t be fooled by labels that claim ‘zero added sugars’ or ‘no added sugars.’ That does not mean ‘no sugar or carbs.’
Always read the nutrition facts before purchasing.
If you suspect that non-caloric sweeteners may be stalling your weight loss, eliminate the sweeteners under ‘Use In Limited Amounts’ first. Those are the ones that are most likely to take you out of ketosis.
|Good Non-Caloric Sweeteners for Ketosis|
|Stevia, Monk fruit, Lo Han, Luo Han Guo, Erythritol|
|Use with Caution In Limited Amounts|
|Sucralose, Splenda, Aspartame, Nutrasweet, Equal, Saccharin, Acesulfame potassium, Xylitol, Maltitol, Sorbitol, Lacitol, Glycerol, Isomalt, Sugar alcohols|
Sweeteners to avoid
Many added sugars aren’t listed as sugar at all. Instead, they are listed under healthier-sounding, more appealing names so consumers will feel good about eating them.
Here’s an example: Florida Crystals
Sorry to disappoint, but when you eat Florida Crystals you won’t get a white-sand beach, fresh breezes, and blue waters. You’ll just get a bunch of sugar.
This deceptive practice is called ‘health-washing.’ Here are a bunch of alternative names for sugars so you can avoid being fooled:
|78 Names for Sugar|
|Agave nectar||Anhydrous dextrose||Barbados sugar|
|Barley malt||Barley malt syrup||Beet sugar|
|Blackstrap molasses||Brown rice syrup||Brown sugar|
|Buttered syrup||Cane juice||Cane juice crystals|
|Cane sugar||Caramel||Carob syrup|
|Castor sugar||Coconut sugar||Coconut palm sugar|
|Confectioner’s sugar||Corn sweetener||Corn syrup|
|Corn syrup solids||Crystalline fructose||Date sugar|
|Ethyl maltol||Evaporated cane juice||Florida crystals|
|Free-flowing brown sugar||Fructose||Fruit juice|
|Fruit juice concentrate||Galactose||Glazing sugar|
|Glucose||Glucose solids||Golden sugar|
|Golden syrup||Grape sugar||HFCS|
|High fructose corn syrup||Honey||Icing sugar|
|Organic raw sugar||Palm sugar||Panocha|
|Powdered sugar||Rapadura||Raw sugar|
|Turbinado sugar||Xylose||Yellow sugar|
What to drink to stay in ketosis
For any weight loss diet, you must stay hydrated. It’s even more important when you are losing weight rapidly (as you do when you are in ketosis) to replace water and electrolytes. Not only will it keep you from stalling, you’ll feel better too.
Aim for at least 2-3 liters of water every day.
Here’s a list of beverages that are best for ketosis:
- Sparkling water
- Flavored sparkling waters
- Crystal Light
- Espresso shot
- Americano espresso
- Unsweet iced tea
- Herbal teas
- Diet soda
- Zero-calorie drinks
- Broth with no added sugar
Is caffeine a good idea?
Coffee fiends: rejoice!
Caffeine does not hinder ketosis. In fact, it may help you lose weight in the following ways:
- Can help suppress your appetite103
- Enhances fat loss104, 105, 106, 106
- Increases energy and exercise performance107,108,109,110,111
- Increases metabolism112,113
- Gives you a sense of well-being, so dieting and exercising doesn’t seem like such a drag.115,116,117
Before you toss back that quad espresso, there are just a few things to keep in mind…
First: in addition to the 2-3 liters of water you should be drinking each day, you should drink an extra cup of water for every caffeinated beverage you consume.
Second: a little bit can blunt your appetite, but too much caffeine, or caffeine on an empty stomach can drop your blood sugar levels. This can be especially noticeable when you first start out on a low-carb or keto diet. Along with making you feel jittery, light-headed and nauseous, low blood sugar levels can cause hunger and cravings. If this happens to you, snack on some nuts or an apple to help even out your blood sugars.
What not to drink for ketosis
It goes without saying that most beverages containing sugar and carbs should be avoided. That includes milk, fruit juices, berry juices, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk etc.
Even beverages that advertise ‘NO ADDED SUGAR!’ on the label can be a problem; that does not mean they don’t have carbs or sugars in them. Fruit juices and fruit-flavored beverages are the worst for this.
If the nutrition facts do not show a big fat ‘0’ next to carbs and calories, it should be avoided. If you are at a drink fountain and in doubt, stick to what you know or just have water instead.
Milk for ketosis
Milk is a big part of American food culture. So the question is: if almonds and edamame are ok in limited quantity, why not milks made with them? Three reasons:
- Most store-bought preparations will have added sugars.
- Most people are really bad at limiting or measuring their serving sizes of caloric beverages.
- Calories consumed in liquid form are not registered by your body as ‘food’ so you end up eating more.
…but even if you aren’t much of a milk-drinker, you might want something to lighten coffee or tea, or to add in recipes. A splash of heavy cream or unsweetened coconut milk are good choices.
You can also make your own nut milks. It’s cheap, fast, and tastes fresher than store-bought:
Truly Keto Almond Milk
Approximately < 9g net carbs per ½ cup serving, or <1g net carbs per tablespoon.
1 cup Almonds
3.5 cups Water
Pinch of salt or sea salt
- For best results, soak your almonds 8 overnight in water. If you are short on time, you can soak them for as little as 1-hour. This will produce a creamier milk.
- Drain soaking water and place almonds in a blender with the water and pinch of salt.
- Blend on high for about a minute.
- Line a bowl with cheesecloth or use a nut milk bag or very fine sieve. Pour the almond mixture in to strain it. Gently press out the milk.
- You can rinse your blender and pour the milk back in and whisk in some extra flavor such as cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice, stevia, and vanilla.
- Store the milk in the fridge. If it separates during storage, just shake it until the milk is even again.
Soy milk variation: use dried soybeans, peel off skins after soaking.
Hemp seed variation: use raw shelled hemp seeds and skip the soaking step 1.
Alcohol and ketosis
Buzzkill alert: if you are serious about losing weight, you need to skip booze.
Yes, there are people who say (drunk-brag) how much vodka, low-carb beer, or white wine they can have and still remain in ketosis.
They might even be able to show you a purple ketostick as proof. The stick is only proof that their body is running on booze instead of carbs or body fat.
Unlike meats and veggies, alcohol is a toxin. Your body’s best defense is to metabolize it immediately and (like sugar) store it as fat.
And remember, even a low-carb alcohol is high in calories. A jigger of vodka has 97 calories, and a glass of white wine has 150. (Assuming you pour an honest 6 ounces in your 15-ounce wine glass.) Even a low-carb spiked seltzer water has 100 calories per serving.
Muffin-top reality check: the calories from 2-3 drinks every Friday night can add about 7 pounds of fat in a year—and land right on your belly.
If you’re gonna cheat and have a drink anyway…
- Stick to the lowest carb drinks to minimize damage.
- Steer clear of the carby party treats.
- The next day, super-hydrate and get on your diet plan 1000%.
- Read the next section so you know what you’re up against.
Cheating on a low-carb or keto diet
Is cheating really that bad? Or should you do it, you know… to make the rest of your diet more bearable?
Let’s say you like to have a little drinkie-poo—but only on Fridays and Saturdays.
Whether its alcohol or chocolate cake, when you cheat, it’s going to take 3 days for your body to get back to the business of burning fat. In our scenario here, that means that you’ll be back on track by Wednesday.
Now for a little math: that’s 5 days (71%) of the week spent not burning fat.
Knowing this, you decide to scale back to drinks with the crew on Friday nights only.
That’s still 4 days, or 57% of the week spent not burning fat.
The choice is yours. You can take the fast lane and give up booze and cheat meals until you get to your goal. Or, you can get on a dumpy old school bus that might not make it to the destination.
If you really must cheat: schedule tacos and margs with your crew once every 4 weeks. That’s enough time to burn some serious fat, have a day or two off and then get back to burning fat for another solid 4 weeks.
Sample menu for ketosis
At this point, you might be wondering how it all fits together, and if eating for ketosis can be satisfying.
Here’s what one day can look like, complete with sweet tastesL
|Breakfast: spinach omelete & coffee w/cream||Calories||Carbs|
|3 whole eggs||240||1.8|
|1 cup spinach||6.9||1.1 g|
|1 oz Parmesan cheese||121||4.3 g|
|1 cup coffee||1||0 g|
|Morning Snack: nuts & coffee||Calories||Carbs|
|1 Cup coffee||0||0g|
|1 T heavy cream||52||1.4 g|
|500 mL water||0||0 g|
|Lunch: Garlic Chicken & Broccoli Salad||Calories||Carbs|
|3.5 oz Chicken breast||165||0 g|
|1 cup broccoli||31||3.6 g|
|1/2 tsp Italian seasoning||0||0 g|
|1 T olive oil||120||0 g|
|500 mL water||0||0 g|
|Afternoon Snack: apple & cheddar cheese||Calories||Carbs|
|1oz cheddar cheese slices||113||0.4 g|
|1 medium apple||94||25 g|
|1 can diet soda||0||0 g|
|500 mL Water||0||0 g|
|Dinner: Blue Cheese Burger & Green Beans||Calories||Carbs|
|1/4 lb Sirloin burger||220||0 g|
|1 cup green beans||31||3.6 g|
|1 oz blue cheese crumbles||100||0.7 g|
|500 mL sparkling water||0||0 g|
|Total Calories & Carbs:||1458||44.4 g|
That’s a very healthy menu, with plenty of protein, healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Notice too that water is included with each meal, ensuring the target of 2-3 liters of water a day.
The menu is simple, following this principle:
- Non-starchy veggies
- Cheese <6 oz per day
- Nuts <3 oz per day
- Fruit 1 small serving per day
The rules above can be easily memorized to use at home, eating out, or at social events to keep you in ketosis.
A great way to learn about the serving sizes and rules is to measure everything out at first. If you would rather eliminate errors and fast-track your weight loss, pre-portioned meals like Personal Trainer Food can be a life-saver.
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About the Writer: 100 pounds ago, Jan knew what it is like to be obese, unhappy, and stuck. She has spent the last 17 years as a fitness writer, trainer, yoga teacher, and Weight Loss Coach. Today, she’s proud to be a part of the Personal Trainer Food team so she can continue her goal to help others live their fullest lives possible. Email Jan@PersonalTrainerFood.com if you have any questions!
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