Since the majority of calories on a ketogenic diet will come from dietary fats, choices should be made with digestive tolerance in mind. Most people cannot tolerate eating a large amount of vegetable oil, mayonnaise or even olive oil over time. And this is a good thing, since vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acids.
The Omega-6 fatty acids (found in nut oils, margarine, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, and canola oil) trigger inflammation within the body and they will make you sick if they are your only fat source. In addition, cooking with them is not recommended.
Most nuts (with the exceptions of macadamias and walnuts) are high in Omega 6 fatty acids as well, so go easy on them). However, there are polyunsaturated fats which are essential and these are the Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats. Your intake of Omega 6 and Omega 3 types should be balanced, and you only need about a teaspoon a day. Eating wild salmon, tuna and shellfish will provide balancing Omega 3 fatty acids and are important part of a low carb food list. A few nuts or some mayonnaise will provide the Omega 6. If you don’t like seafood, then consider taking small amounts of a fish or krill oil supplement for Omega 3s.
Saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter, macadamia nuts, coconut oil, avocado and egg yolks are tolerated more easily by most people, and since they are more chemically stable, they are less inflammatory. Fats and oils can be combined in sauces, dressings, and other additions to basic meals. Over time, it will become a habit to add a source of fat to each meal.
Avoid hydrogenated fats such as margarine to minimize trans fats intake. If you use vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, flaxseed and sesame oils) choose “cold pressed.” Keep cold pressed oils like almond and flaxseed refrigerated to avoid rancidity. Avoid heating vegetable oils. Use clean non-hydrogenated lard, beef tallow, coconut oil, ghee and olive oil for frying, since they have high smoke points.
- Avocado (very high in fat, so I’m including it here)
- Avocado oil
- Almond oil
- Beef tallow, preferably from grass fed cattle
- Butter: try to find organic sources
- Chicken fat, organic
- Duck fat, organic
- Ghee (butter with milk solids removed)
- Lard such as organic leaf lard (make sure it is NOT hydrogenated)
- Macadamia Nuts
- Macadamia oil
- Mayonnaise (most have carbs, so count them. Duke’s brand is sugar free.)
- Olive oil, organic
- Organic coconut oil, coconut butter and coconut cream concentrate
- Organic Red Palm oil
- Peanut Butter: make sure to use unsweetened products, and limit due to Omega 6 content.
- Seed and most nut oils: Sesame oil, Flaxseed oil, etc. These are higher in inflammatory Omega 6 fats, so limit amounts, and don’t heat them.
- 85-90% dark chocolate can be used in small amounts, or use Chocoperfection low carb chocolate.
Sources of Protein
Fattier cuts of meat are better because they contain less protein and well, more fat. Choose organic or grass fed animal foods and organic eggs if possible to minimize bacteria, antibiotic and steroid hormone intake. Websites such as www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.org can point you to local sources of clean, grass fed meats and poultry. These clean proteins are the best choices for a low carb food list.
- Meat: beef, lamb, veal, goat and wild game. Grass fed meat is preferred, as it has a better fatty acid profile.
- Pork: pork loin, Boston butt, pork chops, ham. Look out for added sugar in hams.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, quail, Cornish hen, duck, goose, pheasant. Free range is better if it’s available.
- Fish or seafood of any kind, preferably wild caught: anchovies, calamari, catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, herring, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, sardines, scrod, sole, snapper, trout, and tuna.
- Canned tuna and salmon are acceptable but check the labels for added sugars or fillers. (Exception: Avoid breaded and fried seafood.)
- Shellfish: clams, crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, and oysters. (Exception: imitation crab meat. It contains sugar, gluten and other additives.)
- Whole eggs: These can be prepared in various ways: deviled, fried, hard-boiled, omelets, poached, scrambled, and soft-boiled.
- Bacon and sausage: check labels and avoid those cured with sugar or which contain fillers such as soy or wheat. Specialty health food stores carry most brands of sugar-free bacon.
- Peanut butter and soy products such as tempeh, tofu and edamame are good sources of protein, but they are higher in carbohydrate, so track them carefully.
- Whey protein powders, plus rice, pea, hemp or other vegetable protein powders. Be aware that whey protein is insulinogenic (meaning it causes an insulin spike) in the body, so if you having trouble losing weight or getting into ketosis, limit amounts or avoid whey.
Most non-starchy vegetables are low in carbs. Choose organic vegetables or grow your own to avoid pesticide residues. Avoid the starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and most winter squash as they are much higher in carbs. Limit sweeter vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and summer squashes. This list is by no means comprehensive, so if there is a green vegetable you like that is not on this low carb food list, feel free to include it.
- Alfalfa Sprouts
- Any leafy green vegetable
- Bamboo Shoots
- Bean Sprouts
- Beet Greens
- Bell peppers*
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Celery root
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Dill pickles
- Lettuces and salad greens (arugula, Boston lettuce, chicory, endive, escarole, fennel, mache, radicchio, romaine, sorrel.)
- Sauerkraut (watch for added sugar)
- Snow Peas
- Summer squash*
- Swiss chard
- Water chestnuts
* Limit amounts of these vegetables, as they are higher in carbs.
Raw milk products are preferable; choose organic if raw products are not available. Be aware that dairy proteins (whey and casein) are insulinogenic (meaning they cause an insulin spike) in the body, so if you having trouble losing weight or getting into ketosis, limit amounts or avoid. I also try to avoid products that have added whey protein because whey adds to the insulin spike.
- Heavy whipping cream
- Full fat sour cream (check labels for additives and fillers. Look for brands such as Daisy which are pure cream with no added milk; carbs and protein will be low.)
- Full fat cottage cheese
- All hard and soft cheeses: (count each 1 ounce portion as 1 carb generally)
- Cream cheese (count each 1 ounce portion as 1 carb generally)
- Unsweetened whole milk yogurt (limit amounts as it is a little higher in carb) (Fage full fat Greek yogurt is divine)
- Mascarpone cheese
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are best soaked and roasted to remove anti-nutrients. They are also very high in calories and higher in carbs per serving. It’s very easy to eat a handful of nuts and not realize how much carb is included. If you are having trouble getting into ketosis or losing weight, reduce or avoid nuts.
- Nuts: macadamias, pecans, almonds and walnuts are the lowest in net carbs and can be eaten in small amounts. Cashews, pistachios and chestnuts are higher in carb, so track carefully to avoid going over carb limits.
- Nut flours, such as almond flour. I include this because a low carb food list shouldn’t completely exclude baking. Almond flour is a great flour substitute. See my recipe page for ideas on how to use it with the foods on this low carb food list.
- Peanuts are actually legumes and are higher in protein and are also high in Omega 6 fats, so limit amounts and include protein grams in daily totals.
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, etc.. ) are also very high in Omega 6 fats, limit amounts.
- Most nuts are high in Omega 6 fats, which increase inflammation in the body, so don’t rely on nuts as your main protein source. I have found that eating too many nuts over several days makes me feel stiff and sore and ruins my mood. I attribute this to the Omega 6 fats. Your mileage may vary.
- Clear broth, bone broth
- Decaf coffee (caffeine can drive up blood sugar)
- Decaf tea (unsweetened)
- Herbal tea (unsweetened)
- Flavored seltzer water (unsweetened)
- Lemon and lime juice in small amounts
- Almond milk (unsweetened)
- Coconut milk (unsweetened, can or carton)
- Soy milk (unsweetened, count protein grams as well)
Avoiding sweetened foods in general will help “reset” the taste buds. However, if there is a desire for something sweet, these are the recommended choices for sweeteners. Note that the powdered forms of most artificial sweeteners usually have maltodextrin, dextrose or some other sugar added, so liquid products are preferred.
- Stevia, liquid preferred as the powdered usually has maltodextrin in it.
- Xylitol (keep any food with this sweetener in it away from dogs)
- Splenda*, liquid preferred as the powdered usually has maltodextrin in it.
- Lo Han Guo
- Monk Fruit
- Inulin and Chicory Root (Just Like Sugar brand)
*Some readers have objected to my recommending Splenda. If you have concerns about this, please note that I have done research in the medical literature and I have looked at the studies which have been offered on sucralose (Splenda).
I have yet to find a gold standard, clinically controlled human study which shows conclusively that sucralose causes human health issues. I don’t like to propagate misinformation so I wait until there are definitive studies of negative effects before I condemn a product. In my opinion, eating sugar, honey and other nutritive sweeteners has negative blood sugar effects which far surpass those which might be associated with using a small amount of Splenda, or any other non-nutritive sweetener.
Having said that, I will also say that I offer information on this low carb food list about Splenda, just as I do on the other sugar substitutes, because everyone is different. Some people are not bothered by Splenda, while others are. It’s the same for sugar alcohols and other sweeteners such as insulin and chicory root. I try to offer both pros and cons for each sweetener, with the idea that readers will use the product that suits them best. See my artificial sweeteners page for more information.
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries) can be enjoyed occasionally in small amounts, as they are the lowest in carbohydrate. Avoid other types of fruit as most are too high in carb and can interfere with ketosis.
- Japanese Shirataki noodles
- Pork Rinds (these are great with dip, or as a substitute for bread crumbs, but note they are also high in protein, so limit amounts)
Spices do have carbs, so be sure to count them if they are added to meals made using this low carb food list. Commercial spice mixes like steak seasoning usually have added sugar. Sea salt is preferred over commercial salt, which is usually cut with some form of powdered dextrose.
Cookbooks with Low Carb Food Lists
These are great resources for how to prepare the items on this low carb food list.
- 500 Low-Carb Recipes: 500 Recipes from Snacks to Dessert, That the Whole Family Will Loveby Dana Carpender. This is out of print, but Amazon has links to different sellers.
- 200 Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes: Healthy Dinners That Are Ready When You Are! by Dana Carpender
- 300 15-Minute Low-Carb Recipes: Hundreds of Delicious Meals That Let You Live Your Low-Carb Lifestyle and Never Look Back by Dana Carpender
- The Low-Carb Barbecue Book : Over 200 Recipes for the Grill and Picnic Table by Dana Carpender
- Eating Stella Style: Low-Carb Recipes for Healthy Living by George Stella and Christian Stella
- George Stella’s Livin’ Low Carb: Family Recipes Stella Style by George Stella and Cory Williamson
- Your favorite cookbook – Most whole food, main meal recipes which include the foods on this low carb food list can be adapted to a low carb, ketogenic version.