To get your health back on track, you’ve decided the keto diet will work best for your needs. Carrots and hummus are healthy substitutes for chips and salsa, but are they keto-friendly? The answer might surprise you. Eating "healthy" is defined differently on a keto diet.
But first things first. What even is a keto diet? According to the Harvard School of Medicine, a keto diet allows the body to release ketones into the bloodstream. Generally, our cells prefer to use blood sugar, which typically comes from carbohydrates. Since a keto diet limits carbohydrates, it is forced to break down stored fat into molecules, commonly called ketosis. A keto diet limits carbohydrate intake and relies on proteins and fats. Meats, eggs, cheeses, certain nuts, some oils, and fibrous vegetables are all fair game on the keto diet.
A keto diet has shown to have a long list of benefits. Studies show it can reduce the risk of heart disease, slow down the progression of cancer, reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and can possibly lessen the impact of traumatic brain injuries (via Healthline). With all these potential health wins, it might be a good idea to overhaul what you’re eating on a day-to-day basis to determine how to embrace a keto-friendly diet. liHowever, foods you’d have commonly consumed on other diets might be off-limits on the keto diet. Here’s a look at some foods you’d probably assume are keto-friendly but actually aren’t.
Popcorn might be al light snack, but it isn’t keto-friendly
How many times have you reached for a small bowl of popcorn as a healthy snack in between meals? Nevertheless, popcorn isn’t a keto-friendly food. The main goal of the keto diet is to limit carbohydrates. Since popcorn is made from corn and because it is a grain, it is considered a higher-carb food. Even if you make popcorn at home and take every precaution to prepare it in a healthy way, it will generally not pass the keto-friendly test. And, usually, you are likely going to go for that second handful of popcorn, especially if it is family movie night at home.
A cup of air-popped popcorn contains 6 carbs, or 5 grams of net carbs, registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo told Men’s Health. If you stick with a single serving of plain popcorn, it can fit into your diet, but most people have a tendency to add a topping like butter, caramel, chocolate, or another high-sugar topping and then it quickly becomes too many carbohydrates.
As a general rule, keto dieters should limit their calories from carbohydrates. And if you choose to eat popcorn and top it with anything at all, you likely won’t have any room to accommodate other foods with carbs.
Sweet potatoes might seem like a good substitute, but there’s more to the story
Sweet potatoes are a go-to for many dieters because they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar and are loaded with nutrients as well as vitamin A. There are plenty of sweet potato options on the market too — everything from fries to casseroles to chips. Just because sweet potatoes are vegetables, however, that doesn’t make them an automatic fit for a keto diet. Nutritionist Mona Sharma told Women’s Health, "On a standard keto diet, sweet potatoes are considered too high in carbohydrates, and are excluded because they make it difficult to remain in ketosis. On average, a medium sweet potato has 27 grams of carbs, which would make up over half your allotted daily carbs on a traditional keto diet."
The goal of keto is to seriously limit carbohydrates, and that can’t happen when you load up on starchy foods like sweet potatoes. According to Women’s Health, sweet potatoes can be a good fit for other diets and ways of healthy eating, but they’re not ideal for achieving ketosis. If you’re unclear about carb counts, there are guides that offer comparisons between different foods, as well as meals you can make to actively lower your intake of carbohydrates.
Are cauliflower crusts the perfect pizza solution for keto dieters?
As you’ve walked through the frozen food aisles of your local grocery store, you’ve likely noticed a number of pizzas with cauliflower crusts. It’s tempting to lull yourself into a false sense of eating keto because so many are touting the nutritional and low-carb aspects of these vegetable crusts. And it is a welcome reprieve since white flour isn’t necessarily nutritious, right? But you’re going to want to eye the nutrition label before adding these pizzas to your cart and your keto diet.
In an interview with Health Digest, Michigan-based registered dietitian and nutritionist Holly Klamer explained, "Some cauliflower pizza crusts or wraps may be keto-friendly, but most are not. Often commercially made cauliflower pizza is not low enough in carbohydrates to be considered keto. Even if cauliflower pizza crust is labeled as gluten free, it does not guarantee it will be keto-friendly."
Dried fruit may seem like a safe snack, but it is loaded with sugar
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends people on a 2,000-calorie diet eat 2 cups of fruits every single day. Some might try to meet this requirement by eating dried fruit. Common options include mango, cranberries, cherries, and apricots. These dried fruits already contain natural sugar, but that’s not to say companies don’t add more.
It’s a good idea to look at the label to identify if additional sugars have been added to the dried fruit. Registered dietitian Danielle Gaffen advised Shape that you’ll want to check the label for added sweeteners (the label might say dextrose, cane sugar, sucrose, or glucose). The most nutritious dried fruits are the ones without added sugars.
Even if you eat dried fruits that don’t contain additional sugar, it isn’t necessarily the best fit for a keto diet. Since it is easy to overeat fruit once it has been dried (per Time), your body will likely kick itself out of ketosis because of the sugar content.
Cantaloupe is a nope
Eating a melon, like a cantaloupe, seems like an excellent alternative to ice cream, right? And on most diets, it is considered a nutritious and healthy choice. Registered nutritionist Emily Ziedman explained in an article for Perfect Keto that melons are a rich source of vitamin C and are packed with antioxidants. Plus, cantaloupe supports lowering blood pressure. This fruit is also a great source for folate, potassium, vitamin K, and beta carotene (via Healthline). Even with all these benefits, though, the key to keto is to reduce your carb intake.
Per serving, cantaloupe has about 14.4 carbs. Ziedman explained that it might be possible to sneak a few pieces of cantaloupe into your keto diet occasionally, but it cannot be a staple because of its high sugar and carb content. Those on the keto diet will have to be especially careful regarding portions — it can be too easy to eat one more servings of cantaloupe without realizing that "last" piece might throw you out of ketosis. Bitter melon is typically a better alternative for a keto diet.
Coconut oil isn’t the best choice while eating keto
There has been a recent trend to cook with vegetable oil alternatives, like avocado, olive, and coconut oil. However, that doesn’t quite mean you should consume copious amounts of these oils — especially when it comes to coconut oil.
Everyday Health reported that "coconut oil has been credited as a panacea for health ills — thus given the general go-ahead to consume as much as you want. But that’s not exactly the case." As registered dietitian nutritionist Jill Keene told the publication, "There’s a controversy with coconut oil because of its high levels of saturated fats, which are the ones that clog arteries."
A tablespoon of coconut oil has 121 calories, 14 grams of fat (11 grams of saturated fat), and 0 carbs. Despite the lack of carbs, though, Everyday Health recommends limiting the amount of coconut oil you consume on the keto diet. "Eat healthier unsaturated sources of fat first, and moderate amounts of these saturated sources," the site continued. This is also a cautionary tale that even healthy trends cannot be followed mindlessly and there needs to be due diligence on whether a certain "good" food is best for the keto diet.
Oranges seems like an optimal snack, but they’re high in sugar
There are certain fruits that are recommended on a keto diet, but unfortunately, oranges — even though they are high in vitamin C — aren’t a great fit. As the goal of going keto is to limit carbs, even just one orange can put you on a path to going over your allotted carbs. According to Medical News Today, a medium orange of this size contains 14 grams of carbs. Instead of reaching for an orange, other fruits, like blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are all good alternatives. Even though these berries are on the approved list, large quantities of any fruit should be generally avoided on the keto diet.
In an article for Diet Doctor, physician Andreas Eenfeldt explained, "On a keto diet you can have some berries every so often and it won’t likely take you out of ketosis. You might even be able to eat a few cherries or a small plum. Be careful, however. And if in doubt, you may want to measure your ketones to learn how fruit affects you."
What about quinoa?
When you think of carbs, you may picture rice. And when going keto, you might think of using quinoa as a healthy substitute. There are benefits of eating quinoa since it is gluten free and rich in nutrients. Nevertheless, quinoa is still a grain. As such, it might not be the best option for the keto diet.
According to Healthline, "Quinoa is considered a fairly high carb food, as it contains 21.2 grams in a cooked 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. This gives it roughly the same number of carbs as millet. Depending on the type of low carb diet you follow, a single serving of quinoa may exceed your daily carb allowance."
This might be disappointing news to some, but there is a silver lining. If you’re following the keto diet, you can include quinoa if you reduce the serving size (via Healthline). Make certain you don’t eyeball the measurement because you might overestimate portions and take yourself out of ketosis.
Not all nuts are a good fit for the keto diet
Nuts are often recommended as a good go-to snack, but be careful of the ones you choose to consume on the keto diet. Almost every nutrition website or fitness magazine recommends eating nuts as a way to curb hunger. However, as Delish explained, "Some nuts are heavy on carbs, which makes them not so great for keto; others pack plenty of fat with fewer carbs, making them a good choice."
Registered dietitian Scott Keatley told the publication, "Nuts contain healthy fats and a little bit of protein, so when trying to hit your macros, they can make a good addition to the [keto] diet." Cashews, pistachios, and almonds generally have a high carb content and should be avoided on the keto diet. Instead, Keatley highly recommends pecans as they "pack the most fat with the fewest carbs." Brazil nuts are another excellent choice.
Can you eat watermelon once you’ve gone keto?
Watermelon seems like a safe choice on a keto diet, but in reality, it isn’t a great substitute for an afternoon snack or evening dessert. This is because watermelon has a high amount of natural sugar.
"This amount of sugar and carbs can raise blood sugar and insulin levels and shut off ketone production," registered dietitian Sarah Koenck, member of the clinical team at Virta Health, told Popsugar. "To maintain nutritional ketosis, most people need to stick with around 50 grams of carbs or less. Given the high-carb content in watermelon, it is not a good option to include in your ketogenic meal plan." She explained that a bite (or maybe two) of this fruit may not throw you out of ketosis, but it can be difficult to limit yourself to such a small portion.
Blueberries aren’t thought of as a superfood among keto dieters
"Eat berries" is a popular piece of advice for many dieters, and these small fruits are recommended as a popular and healthy breakfast add-on or snack. Blueberries, in particular, are considered a superfood and antioxidant. However, there is a reason you can’t stop eating once you’ve had a few. These berries taste sweeter than other types, and it’s partially because they contain more carbohydrates. Beth Warren, registered dietitian, told Health that a cup of blueberries contains 17 carbs. Although that’s significantly higher than even some other berries, she explained that people on the keto diet can eat them — as long as they stick with no more than a half-cup.
Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries have the lowest carb content — and so it makes more sense to have handful of these mixed berries rather than a bowl of blueberries when doing keto (via Diet Doctor).
Hummus and carrots seem like a good idea, but chickpeas are high in carbs
How many times have you heard that hummus is a great diet-friendly snack? You’ve likely heard dipping your carrots or red bell pepper sticks in hummus can hold you over until your next meal. Although it’s true hummus can be a healthy alternative, this choice won’t work on the keto diet. Why?
Robin Foroutan, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics told Health magazine that hummus is made from chickpeas. And just a cup of chickpeas has 45 carbs. "When those beans are made into hummus, that number goes up to 49.5 grams of carbs," the site revealed. However, it is possible to eat hummus if you limit the quantity, though that’s easier said than done. "While you could fit in a small amount of hummus, it wouldn’t make it satisfying," Foroutan continued. Instead, she recommends keto dieters to get carbs in the form of veggies like asparagus and dark leafy greens.
Most beans aren’t considered keto-friendly
You think you’re making a healthy choice when you ask for a side of black beans with your meal. Beans are indeed packed with protein, nutrients, and are generally considered beneficial to the body. But as registered dietitian and nurse Keri Gans reminded Woman’s Health, "A keto diet is a very low carbohydrate diet. The goal is to put your body into ketosis, and that is achieved by reducing your carb consumption to around 20 to 50 grams per day, depending on your size."
Eating beans, however, will likely use up your carb allotment for the day. If you choose to eat beans and still maintain a steady state of ketosis, then all of your other food choices must adhere to strict portion control. There are two types of beans that you can eat more freely on the keto diet, though. "The only beans that are super keto-friendly are green beans and black soybeans," Gans revealed. "A 1/2 cup of black soybeans provides only eight grams of carbs, 11 grams of protein, seven grams of fiber, and six grams total of fat."