You’ve hopped on the keto train. That means yes, you can have full-fat cheese; but no, you can’t have any crackers to go with it – not even whole-grain varieties. The ketogenic diet is based on a high-fat, medium protein and very low-carb consumption. While this form of eating may result in rapid weight loss, it can also interfere with your nutritional balance.
The good news is that a healthy keto plan is possible. The following food swaps will help you get the most nutritional value from your meals, especially when carbohydrates are limited and fats are increased.
Healthy Fats for Keto Dieters
Fats are a sizable macronutrient, supplying 9 calories per gram. The value they provide is unmatched, especially when it comes to keeping you full and supporting your overall health. Fats play a vital role in supplying energy, in insulating your organs for protection and in storing and utilizing certain key nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E and K.
There’s no arguing your body needs fats. However, when increasing your fat intake over the American Heart Association’s recommended 3 grams per serving, you’ll want to be mindful of the types of fats you’re consuming.
Saturated fats from animal sources can contribute to heart disease due to their harmful effect on the cardiovascular system. (Keep in mind that America’s leading cause of death is heart disease.) That’s why dietitians recommend increasing healthy fats for keto dieters. Healthy fats are unsaturated fats from plant sources, which do not raise “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Healthy keto fat swaps:
Avocado and avocado oil – The avocado fruit is made up of 77% monounsaturated fat and is loaded with fiber, folate, potassium and vitamins B6, C and E. Try adding fresh diced avocado or avocado oil to salads, pizzas, soups, salsas, eggs and sandwiches. It makes a great spread or dip on its own, as well (hello, coconut guacamole!).
Olive oil – Swap your butter for olive oil, and your heart will feel the difference. Olive oil contains the highest amount of monounsaturated fatty acids and is also rich in vitamins E and K. Olive oil can be used for cooking, baking and as a delicious base for homemade salad dressings. You can punch up any plate of mixed greens with an olive-oil-based roasted red pepper dressing.
Nuts and nut butters – Nuts are not only a source of healthy monounsaturated fats, they’re also packed with protein. That’s what makes nuts and nut butters such a smart replacement for animal proteins. Instead of traditional meatballs, for instance, you could mix up a batch of walnut balls. Nuts have a nice, creamy consistency that blend well with various herbs and spices.
Healthy Carbs for Keto Dieters
Plain and simple, carbohydrates are essential for energy production. Every system in your body uses carbohydrates to perform its normal functions. However, keto dieters know that there’s another way for your body to create energy. By significantly reducing your intake of carbs, your body is forced to use a different method of energy production, one which burns fat for fuel.
As much as you want to burn fat to look lean in that teeny weeny bikini, you have to consider what else you’re losing in the process. Restricting carbohydrates also means forfeiting key nutrients found in whole grains, fruits and starchy vegetables.
For that reason, it’s extremely important to choose high-quality carbohydrates and carb substitutions while you follow the keto diet – or any other low-carb eating pattern.
Healthy keto carb swaps:
Zucchini – Zucchini is a non-starchy vegetable that is packed with potassium, manganese and antioxidants like vitamins C and A. It is also quite concentrated with water, which can help you feel full without adding calories. One of the most popular ways to enjoy zucchini is to spiralize it and toss with olive oil. In fact, almost any recipe that calls for pasta noodles, you can easily swap for spiralized zucchini.
Cauliflower – Though a plain-colored vegetable, cauliflower is a surprisingly nutritious choice. Per cup, it only has 3 grams of carbs, but it also supplies ample amounts of vitamins B6, C and K, plus folate. Look around, and you’ll see that this low-carb veggie has become a social-media sensation, thanks to its far-reaching versatility. You can mash it for a faux mashed potato, grind it for a rice substitute or blend and roll it like dough to make cauliflower pizza crust. The options are endless!
Almond meal – You already know the health benefits of nuts. But if you’ve only experienced almonds in the form of raw nuts or nut butter, it’s time to expand your palate. Almond meal is a fine mixture of almonds that can be used in place of bread crumbs or regular wheat flour. As with other grain-free flour, you may need to make recipe adjustments to achieve the right consistency. Once you’ve figured out the ratios, you can enjoy almond meal as a crispy crust for fish or swapped into your baked goods for a low-carb, gluten-free treat.
A Note on Weight Loss
Remember that not all weight loss is healthy. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines “healthy weight loss” as losing one to two pounds per week through diet and exercise. More specifically, this means eliminating 500 to 1,000 calories from your daily diet, all while adjusting the quality of your foods through variety and balance. This is the recommended strategy for weight loss, whether you follow the ketogenic diet or not.
Over time, anyone who changes their eating habits with long-term success in mind will be able to sustain healthy weight loss. Of course, individual needs can vary greatly from person-to-person. If you’re not sure what changes you might need to make, consult a registered dietitian before restricting your energy intake. A professional will be able to recognize your individual nutritional needs.