Did you really just eat that? It’s okay. It was probably an honest mistake. But what you just chomped down on wasn’t keto approved. We know, it gets tricky sometimes. Even if you’ve studied the lists of keto-friendly foods, certain types or specific ingredients might not jump out at you as forbidden.
Some of the foods to avoid are obvious, like pastas, breads, and just about anything processed. But there are some sneaky items out there that can quickly throw you out of ketosis and make you wish you would have thought twice before you indulged. Luckily, we’re here to help prevent regretful moments by explaining which foods slow down your weight loss and stop your keto progress.
What is Ketosis?
Let’s do a quick recap of ketosis. The human body needs large amounts of energy each day, even if exercise is a stranger. The automatic functions of the body, like breathing, digestion, and circulation, all require energy. The average American diet is full of carbohydrates. When consumed, carbohydrates turn into glucose, which the body gobbles up as energy. This energy doesn’t last long which can lead to overzealous snacking.
Ketosis is a metabolic state where the body looks to fat for energy instead of glucose. It can only be achieved by consuming a diet consisting mainly of fat and very little carbohydrates. When ketosis is your goal and you accidently (or even purposely) eat something that isn’t keto approved, you’re taking a step in the wrong direction. One of the main benefits of ketosis is fat loss so if your main goal is to shed those extra pounds, you’re only putting your goal further out of reach by eating the wrong foods .
Essentially, everything you eat when you go keto is either helping or hurting you. There’s nothing neutral. Everything you eat is a decision and we’re here to help you make the best decisions possible. Let’s dive right into the foods you should avoid (and what you should eat instead).
Foods to Avoid
To make this as easy as possible, we’ve broken down this list into several sections. Either go through it from start to finish or, if you’re looking for a specific food, head straight to the appropriate section. We’ve included some of the most common and some of the most surprising foods that can throw off your keto diet, along with explanations as to why they should be avoided and what to try instead. Let’s dive right in so you can start making smarter decisions.
If it’s considered a grain, it’s not keto friendly. This includes whole-grain products as well. This is probably where most struggle, at least when first making the switch to keto. After all, we have bread at just about every meal, whether it’s a bagel for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, or a thick slice of buttered bread at dinner.
Think you can still sneak grains here and there? Just remember this. A single slice of wheat bread can contain 14 grams of carbs. A cup of cooked oats can contain over 25 grams of carbs. So even one serving a day can throw off your keto macros, either keeping you from entering ketosis or throwing you out of it.
Don’t worry though. There are ways to get your fix without packing in the carbs. Can’t go without your morning bagel? There are keto bagels available. Just take the time to review the nutritional values carefully. If you miss rice, you have the option of making your own cauliflower rice. In fact, cauliflower can be used to replace grains in several of your favorite recipes. Try a cauliflower pizza crust to get your pizza fix without throwing your body out of ketosis.
Beans & Legumes
Despite their otherwise good reputation, legumes like peanuts, beans, chickpeas, and lentils aren’t recommended for a keto diet. Half a cup of cooked black beans contains an astonishing 23 grams of carbs. These are all considered vegetables, which is why it’s confusing at first as to why they’re not a friend of keto followers. After all, they’re natural foods and are considered healthy.
Unfortunately, they’re just too carb heavy. They can also be difficult for the body to digest and can lead to bloating, general discomfort, and chronic inflammation.
These can be another difficult to cut type of food but don’t worry. We have a few substitutes ready for you. You can try black soybeans. Just make sure they’re organic and made without chemicals or artificial ingredients. You can also give white kidney beans a try. While regular kidney beans are on the no-go list, white kidney beans have plenty of fiber and protein while being low enough in net carbs to make the cut. You’ll have to keep your serving small, but you’ll be able to enjoy beans now and again with this substitute.
This is one category that often throws new keto followers off. We’ve been told our entire lives that fruits are healthy and part of a balanced diet. While this is true to an extent, they’re also heavy in carbs. For example, a small banana can have 18 grams of carbs.
One apple can have over 20 grams of carbs and a mango can put up to 50 grams of carbs into your body, all in a matter of minutes! If you were in ketosis, you won’t be much longer after a mango. While fruit often makes for a convenient snack, many aren’t incredibly filling. You’ll be taking in extra carbs and could be hungry again within the hour.
You’ll also want to stay away from just about anything with fruit in its name. This includes fruit juices, dried fruits, and even those marketed as healthy smoothies. If you just can’t eliminate fruit entirely from your diet, look for lower-sugar options. These include raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. But even though we’ve given you the green light, keep your servings small and spread out.
There is one fruit that just about always gets the go ahead – avocado. It might not be the first piece of produce that comes to mind but at less than 2 grams of net carbs for half an avocado, you can make this tasty food a staple in your diet. Eat them as is, add them to a salad, or use them to make creamy sauces .
Yes, believe it or not, there are vegetables you should avoid on keto. Here’s a little trick to help you decide which vegetables are approved and which you should stay away from. If it grows below, just say no. Essentially, any vegetable that grows beneath the ground should be avoided while leafy greens can be enjoyed almost as often as you want. One medium baked potato can have nearly 30 grams of carbs. Half a cup of cooked yams can have nearly 20 grams of carbs. One exception to our rule is corn. Even though it grows above ground, it’s heavy in carbs. Half a cup of cooked corn can have 32 grams of carbs.
So what types of vegetables should you fill your plate with? Spinach is one of the best, along with lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. Cauliflower, as mentioned before, is a great substitute for some of your favorite carbs. Boil up some cauliflower and mash it for a great mashed potato substitute. You can also bake up cauliflower tots for another great potato substitute. If there’s a carb you’re really missing, see if there’s a way to replace it with a cauliflower version.
There’s one main rule to remember in dairy. You always want to go for the full fat version. Just a quick look in the dairy section at a grocery store can make your head spin. There are so many options for every product, between full-fat, low-fat, skim, and no-fat. A small oversight can be a big mistake so always double check your dairy products. When it comes to cream cheese, butter, whipped topping, and yogurt, always make sure you’re eating full-fat versions.
Let’s talk about milk for a second. We’ve been told since we were kids that milk makes for strong bones and healthy bodies. But when you’re on keto, this isn’t always the case. A small glass of milk can pack plenty of carbohydrates and digesting it can be more difficult on the body than other dairy products, thanks to the pasteurization process.
Do you use milk in your coffee? Try using cream instead. Can’t go without a glass of milk before bed or with the occasional dessert? Try coconut milk or nut-based milks, like almond milk. The flavor isn’t identical, but the texture and smoothness should hit home.
Here’s one more word of advice when it comes to keto and dairy. Those bags of shredded cheese may seem convenient, especially when adding cheese to your dishes is a great way to boost fat content. But it’s probably better to shred your cheese at home as pre-shredded bags often contain potato starch and other added ingredients.
Meat will be one of the main products in your keto diet, that’s for sure. But there are smart decisions and less than ideal decisions you can make in the meat aisle at the grocery store. The first step is to avoid anything processed. This includes packaged sausages and the American staple, the hot dog. They may have plenty of fat, but they typically contain nitrates, which should be avoided by everyone whether they’re following a keto diet or not.
When choosing other types of meat, stick with grass-fed. If you come across grain-fed meats, look for something else. These don’t typically offer much as far as nutrients go and can be a waste of your macros for the day. Seafood is great for keto but stay away from factory-farmed fish. These can be high in omega-6s, which should be avoided whether you’re following keto or not because of the inflammation they can cause. Fish that is raised in a farm environment can also be high in mercury. Stick with options caught wild, like catfish, halibut, salmon, snapper, trout, tuna, and mackerel. If you’re adventurous and live in the ideal location, why not see what you can catch on your own!
If possible, buy local meat. It might take a little research, but you’ll have a higher quality product and for less money in most cases. Many keto followers have meat at every meal so take the time to make sure you’re getting the best cuts. It will be worth it.
Fats and Sugar
Wait, there are fats you can’t have? Isn’t being on keto all about fat? Yes, but there are different types of fats out there. You want to avoid inflammatory oils. These include:
- Soybean oil
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Sesame oil
- Corn oil
- Sunflower oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Safflower oil
You’ll want to stick with unprocessed oils, such as virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, and virgin coconut oil. In fact, coconut oil is a staple in the ketogenic diet . You can use it to make some great fat bombs or cook with it for some great flavor to your dishes.
Surprisingly, sugar doesn’t have any fat, but we’ve decided to include it in this category because it’s another ingredient that throws so many new keto followers off, just like different types of fats. There are dozens of names for sugar used on nutritional labels, so you want to make sure you know what to look for. Even with names that sound so natural, like honey, the carb count can be surprising.
Think you can just swap out your regular sugar for artificial sweeteners? Think again. Artificial sweeteners that contain saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame, and sucralose can make you crave sweets and can cause problems with blood sugar. Avoid them when at all possible or use them sparingly. If you’re looking for a sweetener approved for keto, try stevia, which contains no carbs, no calories, and is zero on the glycemic index.
Water is always going to be your best choice when following a ketogenic diet. But there are a few drinks that should be completely avoided if possible. These include beers, which can contain 14 grams of carbs per 12 fluid ounces, and wines, especially the sweet varieties, which include similar amounts of carbs as beer. If you do want to have a drink, opt for hard liquor, which typically has fewer carbs. Just be careful with what you choose to mix it with, if you don’t want to drink it straight.
What you really want to stay away from is soda. One serving can have nearly 40 grams of carbs. Diet sodas should also be avoided because they contain artificial sweeteners. Smoothies and fruit and vegetable juices are also a hidden source of carbs.
Looking for something with a little more flavor than water? Coffee and tea are both great options (especially bulletproof coffee). If you’re a soda addict, try flavored seltzer water. There are keto friendly juices and smoothies out, but they’re best made at home so you’re in complete control of the ingredients.
A Few Final Tips
Look for real food – While there are always exceptions to every rule, start your elimination process by always opting for real food. Unless it’s a product manufactured and packaged for keto followers, there’s a good chance anything in a box or wrapper isn’t keto friendly. You’ll often find hidden carbs and copious amounts of sugar in these types of products.
Read labels carefully – It seems like you need a degree to make sense of nutrition labels these days. Take the time to learn what all the mumbo jumbo really means. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to find yourself chowing down on ingredients you should be staying away from. Make sure you also pay attention to serving sizes. You may think your snack is safe based on the label but if you don’t realize the label is only describing half the content, you could be in trouble.
Pay attention to your body – Your body is going to tell you if what you’re eating is working or not, but only if you listen to it. Do you have signs of ketosis, like extra energy and less mental fog? Are you losing weight or at a standstill? Have you tested for ketones at all? If you pay attention to the signs your body is giving you, you’ll be able to adjust your diet faster than any list can tell you. If necessary, start a journal to notice eating trends and their results.
When your goal is ketosis and weight loss, just remember one thing. Everything you put into your body is either taking you a step closer to your goal or a step farther away. We all get cravings and we all make mistakes.
So, if you have been eating something, whether accidently or knowingly, that’s been holding you back, it’s never too late to start making smarter decisions. Getting into ketosis is hard work but the benefits are more than worth the effort. Smarter eating today will make for a better tomorrow.
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Published online 2015 Feb 2. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00027
- Caryn Zinn,corresponding author Matthew Wood, Mikki Williden, Simon Chatterton, and Ed Maunder
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