Many people say diet success starts in the kitchen, but it actually starts somewhere else—the grocery store.
Making the wrong choices at the grocery store might lead you to make bad decisions in the kitchen as well. This is particularly true if you plan on following the ketogenic diet. Just like any other diet, keto requires adherence to certain macronutrient breakdowns for success.
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But before exploring what you’ll need to fill your shopping cart with, let’s dive into the background of the keto diet to illustrate why it might be useful to you.
What is Keto?
Unless you have been hibernating for a period of several years, chances are you’ve heard of the keto diet.
The word “keto” comes from the term “ketogenic.” Keto is a low-carb (<50g/day), high-fat, moderate protein diet which forces a metabolic adaptation where the body relies on fat stores for energy, resulting in the production of ketones.1,2
Ketones exist almost as a safety mechanism for the body. When our cave people ancestors went days without food, the body needed an ability to tap into stored energy; our bodies store seemingly infinite amounts of fat compared to carbohydrates. But the brain can’t use fat for energy (it loves carbs).
So, when the body began turning to fat stores for energy, it resulted in the production of ketones to fuel our brains.
Ketones are a fundamentally different energy source than the carbohydrates your body is typically designed to utilize for energy. Ketones are produced through a process known as ketosis. The body achieves ketosis when blood ketone levels exceed 0.5mM.
Tapping into that evolutionary adaptation, the main goal of the keto diet is, above all else, to trigger ketone production.
Exogenous ketones are ketones that are consumed—meaning ketone production does not occur within the body. Exogenous ketones provide the body with fuel and allows us to enter a metabolic state that wouldn’t occur naturally, because you don’t need to fast or diet to be in ketosis.
The body’s metabolism is not black and white. Most people don’t go straight from using carbohydrates as a fuel source to immediate ketosis at the drop of a dime; there’s a period of adaptation which sometimes results in the “keto flu” (flu-like symptoms while the body learns to tap into fat as fuel instead of carbs).
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Benefits of Keto
From weight loss to cardiovascular health, there are several potential benefits to ketogenic dieting. The diet isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution (despite what you’ve maybe heard, with all the keto hype). And no matter what diet, it’s important to consider your own personal needs before embarking on a lifestyle change.
Let’s take a closer look at what the keto diet may be able to do for you.
May Increase Weight Loss
A reduction in carbohydrate consumption usually leads to weight loss. This is especially true of those consuming a Western diet, in which you may consume 50% of your calories from carbs.
In a meta analysis performed on low-carbohydrate diets, individuals were assigned to either a low-carb diet (less than 50g per day) or a low-fat diet (less than 30% of calories from fat). Five different studies showed decreased bodyweight, lower diastolic blood pressure, and increased HDL (good) cholesterol for patients using the low-carb diet when compared to low-fat diets.3
A second study followed 120 overweight people who were assigned an extremely low-carb diet (less than 20g per day) or a low-fat diet (less than 30% calories from fat with a 500 calorie deficit).4 Both groups also exercised regularly as part of the diet plan. The results showed patients lost on average 4.8kg on a low-carb diet vs. 3.3kg on a low-fat diet.
Both of these versions of low-fat diets illustrate that for weight loss purposes, a low-carb diet might be better than a low-fat diet (all other factors being equal).
Can Help Improve Satiation
Many people believe high-fat, low-carb diets are better for satiation purposes. This can result in less overall calories consumed, which might result in weight loss.
In one study, 119 overweight volunteers were assigned either a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet or a low-fat diet.5 The study sought to assess weight loss diets on mood, food cravings, and other self-reported symptoms, including negative effects, fatigue, somatic symptoms, physical effects of hunger, insomnia, and stomach problems. The results showed those following a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet experienced less hunger compared to those following the low-fat diet.
It’s likely the high fat content of the ketogenic diet that plays a role in keeping you feeling fuller for longer. In turn, people may eat less food and potentially lose weight as a result.
May Help Diabetic Patients
Maintaining blood glucose levels at a healthy level is imperative for diabetics (type 1 and type 2). The lower intake of carbohydrates on a ketogenic diet can help reduce the large spikes in blood sugar, and thus, reduce the need for insulin.
A study was performed on 49 diabetics who followed a low-carb diet (less than 20g) or a reduced-calorie diet (-500 calories).6 Both groups also exercised regularly.
The low-carb group experienced greater improvements in hemoglobin (1.5% vs. 0.5%), bodyweight (11.1kg vs. 6.9kg) and HDL cholesterol (+5.6mg vs 0). The results of this study leads us to believe lower carb diets may help improve glycemic control and lowering risks associated with type 2 diabetes.
May Lessen Cardiovascular Risks
Cardiovascular disease is often a result of a complex collection of symptoms. Weight, activity level, diet—these all might play a role in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In relation to keto, fat consumption is usually the hotly debated topic in the medical community. For decades, low-fat diets were thought to be the answer; but now, it may seem like eating more fat is linked to weight loss.3 This is simply an example of the way we learn, how studies change, and how advice medical professionals may give based on those learnings will also, undoubtedly, change too.
All that said, let’s look at how the ketogenic diet may play a role in lessening the risks of cardiovascular disease.
A study was performed on 60 participants who followed either a higher-carb or lower-carb diet for 12 weeks. The lower-carb group experienced greater weight loss (13.6 pounds) compared to the higher carb group (7.5 pounds).7 The lower carb group also experienced better blood lipid levels compared to the higher carb group.
A separate study was conducted on 63 obese men and women who followed either a low-carb, high protein, high-fat diet or a low-calorie, high-carb, low-fat diet.8 The results were clear; patients on the lower-carb diet lost more weight after a six month period compared to the low-fat group (7 pounds vs. 3.2 pounds).
How to Use the Keto Shopping List
The grocery store may feel like a whole new world after using this shopping guide.
Although keto may appear simple in practice, choosing the wrong foods can take you out of ketosis or prevent you from ever getting there.
As you’ll see, we stress the importance of whole food purchases and staying away from processed goods.
This food list will provide several dietary options fitting within the confines of the keto diet, but keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list.
Before we dive into the food choices, let’s go over some basic fundamental steps before setting foot in the grocery store. This is like laying the foundation of a lifestyle change.
Set a Budget
When beginning a new diet, it’s easy to get carried away. You want to purchase every single product possible because you think it’ll help you reach your goals.
Before you max out that credit card, take a deep breath.
Assess your finances and try to set a reasonable budget so you don’t overspend. Many people buy too much food at the grocery store and much of the food expires before they ever get an opportunity to consume it.
Maybe your budgeting will even involve shopping at different grocery stores. Many people will purchase all their meats from a local butcher, while getting other items, like fruits and vegetables, from big-box stores. Think about where you live and what the best option is for you.
Stick to the Basics
Many people tend to get caught up in new food items the moment they pop up on the shelves; has there been a new superfood announced this week? When it comes to food choices, you should always try to stick to the basics.
Most of the foods you purchase will include combinations of the following:
- Healthy cooking oils
The key is shopping the edges of the grocery store and staying away from processed foods in the aisles. Once you have the basics down, you may be able to incorporate other food items.
The key is not to overcomplicate the minor details when starting out.
Now that you have a firm grasp on the basics, you’re ready to go to the store. Grab that shopping cart and break out this list.
To make this more user-friendly, we’ve broken the list down in the most logical way possible.
Meats to Buy
The keto diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet at its most basic and fundamental level. Consuming different types of meat is one way to ensure you keep your fat content high.
Some of the meats you should purchase include:
- Ground beef and ground turkey
- Chicken thighs and chicken breasts
- Pork chops
- Steaks (we like NY strip)
- Salmon and other fatty fish, like tuna
Meat selection should go beyond simple caloric values. While the caloric and macronutrient content may be similar, the quality of the meats can vary.
When possible, you should strive to purchase grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken and pork, and wild caught seafood. Some of this will vary depending upon season and location. Certain parts of the country may not have as many meat choices available.
Some meats also contain hormones and antibiotics so be wary of this as well. Consume higher-quality fatty meats if they fits within your budget.
Veggies to Buy
Most vegetables are considered healthy and fit within the ketogenic diet, although higher carb choices such as white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots should be avoided.
Stick to non-starchy veggies such as:
- Romaine lettuce
- Green beans
- Bell peppers
- Spaghetti squash
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok choy
Do not consider this an all-inclusive list as there are several other vegetables you may purchase that are also keto-friendly.
You’ll be making many new dishes that may call for vegetables you’ve never heard of. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Fruits to Buy
Most fruits are off-limits on keto due to their carb content. Cherries and berries are probably the most keto-friendly fruit, specifically, raspberries and blackberries. And since we’re in the fruit aisle, best to stock up on all the avocados to get a dose of healthy fat.
Some of the most keto-friendly fruit choices include:
Generally, it’s best to consume fruit in moderation; we like to use them as dessert.
Dairy Products to Buy
The carb content of dairy products can vary depending upon the item. Be sure to look at all the nutrition labels before making a purchase.
Some keto-friendly dairy options include:
- Full-fat yogurt
- Heavy cream
- Sour cream
- Heavy whipping cream
- Goat cheese
- Blue cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- String cheese
- Cream cheese
- Cottage cheese
Many dairy products will be keto-friendly while others not so much—just be sure to focus on those with full fat content. If you consume dairy in moderation you should have no problem keeping it keto.
Nuts and Seeds
Some nuts are considered low-carb and keto-friendly, while others have higher carb content and should be avoided as snacks. Keto-friendly options to consider include:
- Macadamia nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Peanut butter
- Almond butter
- Chia seeds
- Nut butters
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Other nuts such as peanuts and cashews are higher in carbs, so stick to the ones we’ve listed.
Healthy Cooking Oils
High-quality fat sources are an important part of a diversified keto meal plan. Some of the best healthy cooking oils for keto include:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Avocado oil
You should stay away from oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids, such as vegetable oil and canola oil. The healthy fats listed above are high in healthy Omega-3s and should be consumed regularly as part of the keto diet.
When it comes to baking, there are high-carb options that should be avoided, such as white flour.
The good news is you can still create keto-friendly recipes by using lower carb ingredients. And if you need to add a source of high-quality fat when baking, two great options of H.V.M.N.’s MCT Oil Powder and Keto Collagen+. Both of these powders contain C8, the world’s most ketogenic fat, with a base of the gut-friendly prebiotic, acacia fiber.9 They’ll settle right into your pantry as keto diet staples.
Some of the best low-carb keto choices include:
- Vanilla extract
- Baking soda
- Sea salt
- Cocoa powder
- Coconut flour
- Almond flour
- MCT Oil Powder
If a recipe calls for traditional flour, you can substitute it for one of the alternative flours we’ve listed above.
Condiments can oftentimes be a hidden source of carbohydrates. Be sure to stay away from sugary condiments such as BBQ sauce in favor of vinegar-based options.
The following condiments are safe to use on the keto diet:
- Mustards (yellow, grain, deli, dijon, etc.)
- Soy sauce
- Hot sauces
- Worcestershire sauce
- Vinegar-based dressings, like an Italian dressing
- Sugar-free maple syrup
- Classic lemon and lime juices
People don’t realize that ketchup and BBQ sauce can add several hundred calories to daily caloric intake if unaccounted for. Try to use options listed above to stay keto.
One reason many diets fail is that people eat too many unhealthy snacks.
A handful of candy or a couple of cookies from the jar may not seem substantial, but just a few of these can wreak havoc on your ability to stay in ketosis.
Some of the best keto snacks include:
- Pork rinds
- Beef jerky
- Low-carb nuts
- Hard Boiled eggs
- Cottage cheese with diced avocado
This is not a complete list, as there are more low-carb snacks on the market than ever before. You should never take a low-carb item at face value, but should read nutritional labels to be sure you’re adhering to a keto diet.
Foods to Avoid
Generally these items are considered a big no-no. Anything filled with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup is definitely not considered keto.
The foods to avoid include:
- Sugary snacks and desserts
- Processed goods
- Fruit juice
If you want to play it safe, simply throw these foods away to completely eliminate the temptations from sight. If these foods aren’t within arms reach, there’s less of a chance of you cheating on your diet.
Things to Keep in Mind
Sticking to a keto diet doesn’t have to be difficult or overly complicated. Meats, starch-free veggies, full-fat dairy, and nuts should lay the foundation for most of your dietary choices.
Be cautious when shopping at the grocery store and check all nutrition labels if you aren’t sure of the carb content. Also look at serving sizes to make sure you are adequately accounting for nutritional content. Consume carbs in moderation if you want to follow a strict keto diet.
The best diet is the one you can stick to long-term. No matter the diet always try to eat healthy to maximize your health and longevity.
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