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Hands down, one of the questions I receive the most is “Can I eat [insert food here] on keto?”
This is a totally understandable question for a few reasons:
- Keto is often presented as a strict, rigid diet with a lot of rules, and even more dogma
- There are so many conflicting reports on what is, and isn’t, “keto friendly”
- Keto is often simplified to lists of “safe” foods
- The consequence of being knocked out of ketosis is given way too much weight
So wait, can I eat that on keto?
I’ll tackle the big question first, and then break down that list further in this post. In a word: yes. Yes, you can eat that on keto. How do I know that, even though I have no idea what food you’re talking about? Because you can eat anything on a ketogenic diet, in the right quantity. Keto isn’t about specific foods, it’s about macronutrients and keeping your body burning fat for fuel. Even further, a low carb or ketogenic way of eating is about making informed food choices, based on what’s best for you at that moment.
This concept is as simple or difficult as you want to make it. You may decide that eating a small piece of the special pie your grandma made at Thanksgiving is worth being kicked out of ketosis for a day. You may also decide that eating a slice of pie will lead you down the path of a week long sugar bender, and that is might be best for you to stick with the sugar-free dessert you brought. Knowing what your body needs is a key part of keto.
In terms of the day-to-day foods you may be questioning, it comes down to a similar choice. When determining whether or not you want to eat a specific food, think about how many carbs are in that item as compared to the approximate number of carbs you eat in a day, and go from there. If you eat 20g of carbs in a day, maybe a daily yogurt with 12g of carbs isn’t in the cards for you. This will take some label-reading, but knowing the nutritional content of foods is important, and not just for keto or low carb diets.
To make things a little simpler, I’ll say this – you should be stricter when you first start out on a low carb diet. This is the crucial point where you’re (most likely) kicking a sugar habit, and are working on becoming fat-adapted (if you want to know more about fat adaptation, Mark Sisson has an awesome explanation here, and a follow-up Q & A here). If you’re questioning whether you want to incorporate milk, or bananas, or a few chips in the first few weeks of a ketogenic diet, I’d say that it’s better to avoid these higher carb foods for a while. This gives you time to kick cravings, stop being dependent on sugar and actually reach fat-adaptation.
So, I Can Eat anything on keto?
Basically, yes. You can eat anything in the right quantity. That last bit is important, if you want to stay in ketosis. Odds are, a bite of cake, or one chip, or three chocolate chips won’t kick you out of ketosis. If all it takes is those three chocolate chips for you to feel like you’ve had your sweet treat and can move on, then go for it. However, like I said before, it’s important to know yourself. If those three chocolate chips will definitely lead you to eating the whole bag, you might want to forego them entirely.
Once you become fat-adapted, you’ll have a little more leeway with what you can eat, while still staying in ketosis. You should still try to focus on eating predominantly fat (from whole foods sources), but you’ll find that there’s more wiggle roon for that rogue bite of cake, or piece of chocolate. You’ll likely also find that once you’ve been on keto for a while, those cravings disappear, and the taste of those foods isn’t quite as palatable as it once was. I’ve had several
But What If It Kicks Me Out of Ketosis?
This is the main consequence of eating higher carb foods when on a ketogenic diet. Now, this means different things to different people. If you’re on a ketogenic diet for medical reasons, you may realize that being kicked out of ketosis is not worth the treat. In fact, if you are on a ketogenic diet for medical reasons, you should probably follow a pretty strict plan (and consult with your doctor and/or dietician). However, if you’re in ketosis strictly for weight loss, the consequences are a little different.
While it may have taken you a while to achieve ketosis at the start (it’s different for different people), once you’ve been happily burning fats for a while, jumping back into ketosis shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. So long as you don’t eat high carb/sugar foods regularly, you should be fine and dandy.
Why Can’t You Just Give Me a Definitive Answer?
Food can be a complicated issue for some people. For many of us (especially those coming to a low carb or ketogenic way of eating), what to eat is a question fraught by years of disordered eating patterns and self-imposed rules. Framing foods in terms of “good” and “bad” or “safe” and “unsafe” just adds to the confusion, and doesn’t really serve your better interests. Additionally, we all have different goals, different requirements and different ways of approaching healtn, nutrition and diet. It doesn’t help anyone to issue a blanket ban on chocolate for those doing a keto diet. Rather, explaining the sugar content of a certain food, and then determining how that can fit into your day/week/month/whatever can be a lot more productive. Having a bite of a chocolate chip cookie, or a small dish of ice cream from time to time can work with a low carb way of eating, and can promote a much better relationship with food, and your body.