Now that the ketogenic diet, or keto for short, has been around the diet track a few times, you may have mustered up the courage to try it. Or maybe you're giving it a second go-around. Either way, meal planning is key to sticking to this high-fat, moderate-protein, super low-carb diet.
How to Meal Plan for the Keto Diet
On keto, you should aim to get 5 to 10 percent of your total calories from carbs, 20 to 25 percent from protein and 70 to 80 percent from fat. Because your body turns to stored fat for energy instead of its preference — carbs — cutting carbs and adding fat is the secret sauce that makes this diet work.
If you start the keto diet cold turkey and fail to plan, you might reach for any snack in sight when hunger hits. The result? You may get kicked out of ketosis, the state in which your body burns fat instead of carbs for fuel. That's where meal planning comes in.
Your first step in ensuring your journey on the keto diet is a successful one involves understanding which foods are allowed and which foods you should avoid (so study our grocery list below diligently!). Since you probably don't have all of the keto-friendly foods you need just hanging out around the house, you'll need to go grocery shopping and plan your meals in advance.
Keto Diet Grocery List
- Meats: chicken, beef, fatty fish, pork
- Full-fat, grass-fed dairy: plain yogurt, butter, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese
- Oils: olive, canola, flaxseed, avocado, coconut
- Olives and pickles
- Nuts and nut butter
- Flaxseeds and chia seeds
- Low-carb, non-starchy vegetables: mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, leafy greens, celery, cruciferous veggies
- Unsweetened tea
- Black coffee
- Bulletproof coffee
Foods to Limit on Keto
- Most fruits: bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes, papaya, pineapple
- Starchy vegetables: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, peas, corn, parsnips
- Beans and legumes
- Grains: bread, cereals, bagels, rice, oats and oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, barley
- Sugar and sugary beverages
Here's the deal, though, you can't just eat bacon and butter all day long. Why? You'll likely end up with some significant nutrient deficiencies, not to mention digestive woes.
While you'll want to pay attention to your total carb count, you should also aim to get as much fiber as you can. Since fiber is a carb that goes undigested, it doesn't affect your blood sugar or ketosis. Ideally, women should get 25 grams of fiber per day and men 38 grams, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Understanding the difference between net and total carbs can help here.Your total carb count includes fiber, sugar and starch in a food. Net carbs are the grams of carbs coming just from sugar and starch. Subtract fiber from total carbs to calculate your net carb amount.
Since keto focuses mainly on fat and shuns carby foods, it can be hard to get enough fiber in. However, incorporating enough non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruits will help you hit your fiber goals.
"Use non-starchy vegetables as vehicles for healthy fats. Roast vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus in batches, then top with generous amounts of olive or avocado oil," Shannan Bergtholdt, RDN and founder of Revolution Dietitian, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Add the roasted vegetables into an egg scramble or pair with lean proteins at meals throughout the week."
You'll have to be picky about your oils, too. "Oils that are highest in omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids are your healthiest choices," Jean LaMantia, RD, says. "These include olive, canola, avocado, flax, hazelnut oils as well as sunflower and safflower oils that are labeled 'high oleic.' Oils to limit include corn, grapeseed, sunflower and safflower (that aren't labeled high oleic) and cottonseed oil." When you're buying packaged foods, check the ingredient lists to make sure your product contains the better-for-you oils.
And if you're reaching for nuts to snack on, note that nuts and nut butters have carbs, so be careful not to go overboard. However, they do provide you with much-needed fiber.
7-Day Keto Diet Meal Plan
- Breakfast: Simple Southwestern Egg Scramble (3 grams total carbs)
- Lunch: Tangy Tuna Salad in Collard Wrap (23 grams total carbs)
- Dinner: Creamy Tequila Lime Chicken, Pepper and "Fettucine" Skillet (13 grams total carbs)
- Snacks: Guacamole (made with half an avocado) with one cup of sliced radishes (10 grams total carbs)
Total carb count for the day: 49 grams
Total carb count for the day: 34 grams
Total carb count for the day: 45 grams
Total carb count for the day: 49 grams
- Breakfast: Rocket Fuel Chocolate Breakfast Smoothie (14 grams total carbs)
- Lunch: Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Goat Cheese Plate with grilled chicken (20 grams total carbs)
- Dinner: Chicken Sausage and Zucchini Hash (11 grams total carbs)
- Snacks: One cup of zucchini noodles with one tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper (3 grams total carbs)
Total carb count for the day: 48 grams
Total carb count for the day: 38 grams
Total carb count for the day: 39 grams
Things to Keep in Mind Before Going Keto
- Give yourself time to adjust to this diet. Feeling sick soon after the starting the diet is normal and refereed to as the "keto flu." This usually goes away after a few days, but it can be understandably worrisome.
- Track your macros with an app. If you're worried about staying on track and keeping your nutrition in check, it might be helpful to get a keto-friendly diet app such as MyPlate to make sure you're hitting your macro goals.
- You can't cheat. To be fully immersed in keto and have it work correctly, there is no cheating allowed. This type of diet plan doesn't allow you to fall off the bandwagon and start back up again tomorrow. Once your body gets into ketosis, it needs to stay there to work effectively for weight loss.
- The keto diet isn't very restaurant-friendly. Be prepared to pack your own food with you and let your friends and family know about your new diet to avoid feeling out of place when you need a bite.
- It can be expensive. Although keto is a fat-heavy diet, it's also higher in animal proteins — and that means shelling out more money at the grocery store. Buy in bulk when you can to save some cash.
People with pancreatic, thyroid, liver or gallbladder issues, or those with a history of eating disorders, should not try the keto diet, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics cautions. Speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure the keto diet is right for you.