Starting the ketogenic diet can be overwhelming. The keto beginner is often bombarded by conflicting information regarding the “right” way to follow the diet and enter ketosis.
Though experts may not agree on the exact details of a “perfect” keto diet, there are several low-carb food groups that are widely accepted as healthy keto staples. To give you a visual representation of what these foods are, we decided to create a keto-friendly food pyramid for you.
This keto food pyramid will look similar to the original USDA food pyramid, but with one crucial difference: We feature food groups that help promote health and ketosis.
Along with the keto-friendly food lists and resources that follow, the keto food pyramid will provide you with the info you need to get started right away (in a way that is also right for you). Let’s begin by exploring the two foundational principles of keto eating.
The first rule of keto is to eat the right amount of carbs, fat, and protein. These are the three primary nutrients we get from food (also known as “macronutrients” or “macros”).
By eating different ratios of carbs, fat, and protein each day, we can manipulate what our body uses as fuel and gradually change our body fat %.
On the ketogenic diet, we must limit carbs low enough to shift our primary fuel source from carbs to fat and promote ketosis (i.e., when our body consistently produces ketones for fuel). In contrast, by eating too many carbs, we prevent our body from being in this fat-burning, ketogenic state.
In practical terms, the macronutrient ratios needed for ketosis will be around 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrate.
That said, being in ketosis and burning fat for fuel isn’t all that matters on keto — It’s simply the first step.
If we solely focused on macros, the keto food pyramid would feature pure fats and oils as the base. (Unfortunately, this is how most keto food pyramids look, and it is quite confusing).
For example, an “ideal” day from a keto macro perspective would feature a stick of butter garnished with ground meat and a small side dish of plain spinach dressed with olive oil.
Though meals like this will promote ketosis, they also increase the likelihood that we over-consume fat, gain weight, and become deficient in essential nutrients.
This is why we advocate for a whole foods keto approach, where minimally-processed low-carb foods serve as the basis of your fat, protein, and carb consumption. Not only will this approach provide you with the right keto macro ratios, but you’ll get more flavor, nutrition, and satiety from each bite.
To see what this looks like, check out the keto food pyramid below.
Upgrade fat content of meals with 1-2 tbsp of high-quality fats/oils:
Upgrade flavor with:
Upgrade food quality for optimal health:
Keto drink staples:
The other side should feature foods and drinks to avoid on keto:
As a shortcut, here’s a graphic that includes all of the information above:
When you’re looking to plan your keto meals, start from the bottom and prioritize those fattier cuts of meat/fish and eggs. As an example, you want to opt for the budget-friendly skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs rather than the over-priced chicken breast, the pork shoulder instead of the pork tenderloin, and so on.
Not only will these simple swaps significantly increase the fat content of your meal, but you’ll also get a well-rounded source of fatty acids, minerals, and proteins (including collagen).
Next, you’ll add another high-fat, low-carb food (like avocado, olives, and cheese) to boost the fat to around 70% (if necessary) and incorporate a low-carb veggie to up your fiber, vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant intake.
This whole foods keto approach will help you create a well-balanced keto-friendly meal with plenty of health-promoting nutrients. Additionally, these foods can also help you breeze through the keto flu and any other symptoms that may occur as your body adapts to carb restriction and ketosis.
Now, with our keto foundation set, let’s take a closer look at each level of the food pyramid: Starting at the base.
This category of low-carb foods is often the feature ingredient of keto entrees.
As a general rule of thumb, each meal should have roughly 1-2 palm-sized portions (i.e., between 3 and 6 ounces) of foods from this category.
To fit into this group, the food should contain at least 50% fat and less than 5% carbs. For a better idea of what foods to look for, we’ve included an extended list of keto-friendly choices below.
List of the Fattiest Fish and Seafood for Keto
List of the Fattiest Cuts of Meat
And of course, don’t forget this keto staple:
Other high-fat options that almost make the cut (Between 40 and 50% fat)**:
** Add a high-fat cheese, high-fat fruit, or melt a tablespoon of butter on top to increase the fat content above 50%.
When fattier cuts aren’t available, leaner options can still be good for keto as long as you keep these two things in mind:
To give you an idea of what fits into the leaner cuts of meat/seafood category, we’ve included a list below. In general, these cuts have less than 40% calories from fat:
Keto-friendly plant foods will be your secret weapon. Not only are they packed with health-promoting nutrients, but they will make your keto transition as smooth as possible.
For this reason, we recommended incorporating at least a handful of low-carb veggies or high-fat fruits into each keto meal.
A list of the best low-carb vegetables and fruit for keto:
Don’t forget to add more flavor and nutrition to meals with a small amount of alliums (onion, garlic, chives, etc.), mushrooms, and herbs.
For a complete list of keto-friendly vegetables and recipe ideas, check out our guide to keto vegetables.
Most keto recipes will call for at least one of these three dairy products:
Why? For two main reasons:
However, there’s a catch: Keto dairy products are easy to overconsume.
In fact, one of the most common culprits of keto weight loss plateaus is adding too much cheese and butter to meals.
This is why we recommend keeping your intake of keto dairy within 1-2 servings per meal or less. (That being said, you don’t have to eat dairy to get results with the keto diet. Read our dairy-free keto guide if you’d like to find out how.)
Another crucial consideration with dairy products is to read the serving sizes, nutrition info, and ingredients carefully. When you first start keto, you may find them to add much more fat and carbs than you’d expect.
For a comprehensive list of cheeses and other dairy products that are good for keto, check out our guide to the best and worst low-carb dairy options.
As with keto dairy products, nuts and seeds tend to have a deceivingly high amount of fat and carbs per serving.
For best results, consume only one palmful per day of low-carb nuts and seeds as a high-fat snack or as an addition to keto meals.
The best nuts for keto are:
And keto-friendly seeds include:
For specific guidelines, recipes, and nutrition info, check out our complete guide to keto nuts and seeds.
To cap off our keto food pyramid, we feature low-carb fruits (that are also low in fat).
Though these aren’t necessary for a successful keto diet, they are often used to add flavors and health benefits that you can’t get from other low-carb foods.
That being said, it is crucial to keep your servings sizes in mind because their net carbs can add up quickly.
The best low-carb, low-fat fruits for keto include:
You can typically fit a palmful or less of these fruits into your keto diet daily. However, I highly recommend reading through our guide to low-carb fruit before adding them in.
As you’re crafting your keto plate, you may notice that it’s either too low in fat or lacking some flavor. The easiest fix for this is to dress your meal up with high-quality fats/oils and keto-friendly flavor enhancers.
To upgrade the fat content of your meals, try adding 1-2 tbsp of high-quality fats/oils:
Need fat and flavor? Try these keto options:
If the fat content of your meal is high enough but it still lacks flavor, try these low-calorie flavor enhancers:
Staying hydrated on keto is crucial, especially as your body sheds excess water weight during your first week of carb restriction. Your go-to options will be water (still or sparkling), black coffee*, unsweetened tea*, and bone broth.
If you want something with more flavor to it, stick with zero-carb options, such as diet soda, flavored sparkling beverages, and water flavor enhancers.
When choosing a flavored drink, however, pay close attention to ingredients and the nutrition label. Opt for zero-carb choices that feature natural sugar-free sweeteners.
Regarding alcohol, the lowest carb alcoholic drinks will be dry wine, low-carb beer, unsweetened spiked seltzers, and unflavored hard liquor. Despite being low in carbs, these should only be consumed in moderation because alcohol consumption impairs our ability to lose fat.
For a complete list of keto-friendly drinks and what to avoid, check out our comprehensive guide to what you can drink on keto.
*Caffeine caveat: As long as you consume less than 500 mg of caffeine (or roughly 5 cups of black coffee) per day, the caffeine will not have a dehydrating effect.
Think back to the base of the USDA food pyramid. There, you’ll find what is known as the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group.
Ironically enough, these are the exact foods you should avoid on keto and low-carb diets. (Even just one serving of this food group can kick us out of ketosis.)
Other foods to look out for include high-carb fruits, starchy veggies, products with added sugar, sweets, pastries, and baked goods.
To give you a better idea of what to avoid on keto, here is a list of the most common high-carb culprits:
Since it’s nearly impossible to find and categorize every food into its respective keto food pyramid group, we’ve included a quick process you can use to see if a particular item is good or bad for keto:
Look at the nutrition facts label or search for the information online. The best indicator of how much a food will impact ketosis is its net carb content.
You can find the net carbs in each serving by subtracting total dietary fiber from total carbs (click here for an example calculation).
Is it possible to fit that food within your daily net carb limit (which is typically 25 grams)?
As a general rule of thumb, any food with 10 or more grams of net carbs per serving will be difficult to fit into a keto diet. (In other words: If the net carbs are in the double digits, it’s usually bad for ketosis.)
After you’ve found a food that is low enough in carbs, let’s figure out its fat and protein ratio:
For example, let’s take a closer look at bacon:
Note: If you’d like to find the specific protein percentage as well, multiply the grams of protein by 4 (not 9). This will give you the calories of protein per serving, which you can then divide by the total calories per serving and multiply by 100 to get the percentage of protein.
For a more in-depth look at how to find out what foods are keto-friendly for you, check out our comprehensive guide to the best and worst foods for keto.
In general, here is what each day of keto eating will look like according to the keto food pyramid:
Each meal will contain:
**Need to add more fat to your day?
Add flavor with:
Remember to hydrate with these keto staples:
Avoid these high-carb culprits:
The keto food pyramid is meant to give you a general guideline of what to eat, how much to eat, and what to avoid for better health, weight loss, and ketosis. For many first-time keto dieters, this will be all that’s needed to get started and achieve results.
Though this is possible for you as well, we must also consider what to do if things don’t go as planned. For the most part, these are the three most common keto speed bumps you might run into:
If any of these occur, the first step is to take a closer look at your keto eating and fine-tune your food choices and portion sizes.
In other words, it’s time to tailor your diet to your specific needs, goals, and preferences. To do this yourself, follow this three-step process:
To dive deeper into each step, read through our guide on how to start keto. There, you’ll find the information you need to fine-tune your diet and create a healthy keto lifestyle.
If you were to simplify everything from this article, you’d end up with the following three steps to getting started and creating your own keto lifestyle:
Though implementing these steps will be time-consuming at first, they will set the foundation for a healthy keto lifestyle that helps you to get the results you want and maintain them for life.
In fact, this step-by-step approach to keto is what we used to create our new keto meal planning app. If you’re looking for the easiest solution for your keto goals, this app will do all the calculations and planning for you so that you can get started right away.