Is Keto Hard?Jan 18, 2022
Is Keto Hard? No way! Here is your guide to KETO MADE SIMPLE
People make Keto a lot more complicated than it has to be.
I have had several clients over the years who have never taken out a measuring spoon or cup and who have never ever tracked their food on a paper or digital tracker.
They might look up foods at the beginning of their journey just to educate themselves about counts of things, but for the most part, they eat from the following YES/NO lists and honor their hunger scale (this is blog where the hunger scale is explained).
You can truly tell a friend that, "Keto made simple is possible. I did it!"
Here is your roadmap to this blog:
THE SHORT LIST
Any animal protein (the fattier the better!)
Green leafy vegetables and above ground vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Sugars or processed foods containing sugars
Grains or processed foods containing grains
Legumes or processed foods containing legumes
Starchy vegetables or processed foods containing starchy vegetables
Fruit (except berries) or fruit juice
THE LONG LIST
What follows is the long list of what you can eat.
This list is an amalgamation of any Ketogenic list you can find in any book and any website. It is not a direct copy of any one list.
If it resembles any author's list directly, that is because it is a standard and common Ketogenic foods list.
Keep in mind that if you are coming from a "Standard American Diet" or a cultural diet where you consume a lot of grains and legumes, you will probably lose weight just by cutting out the carbohydrates and sugars.
Beef (all cuts)
Beef deli meats (but check for the carb counts — some have sugar)
Pork (all cuts)
Pork deli meats (but check carb counts — some have sugar)
Beef and Pork "snack" items such as:
Bacon (sugar used in the curing process will burn off but do not have sugared bacon such as maple flavored; just buy plain)
Other meats such as venison
Chicken (preferably dark meat with skin)
Turkey (preferably dark meat with skin)
Eggs (any kind)
Cabbage (all varieties)
Greens (all varieties such as beet, collard, mustard and turnip)
Lettuce (all varieties)
Scallions (spring/green onion)
- All other fresh herbs
Dried herbs can be used but if you are using in excess of 1 Tablespoon in a recipe, be aware that the carbohydrates add up
FIBROUS AND CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES
Celeriac (use sparingly – this is a root vegetable)
Ginger (use sparingly — this is a root vegetable)
Green beans (string beans)
Jicama (use sparingly — this is a root vegetable)
Mushrooms (warning: Shitaki mushrooms are very high carb!)
Onions (use sparingly — this is a root vegetable)
Sugar snap peas
Tomatoes (high carb, be careful to limit — these are actually fruit!)
Turnip (use sparingly — this is a root vegetable)
You might ask here why some root vegetables are included and others are not.
If they are on this list you still have to pay particular attention to the carb count but they are not as high in sugar the way beets or carrots are.
Use full fat ONLY and preferably raw cow, goat, sheep cheeses
This includes hard cheeses (i.e., sliceable like cheddar, gouda)
Semi-soft (i.e., Brie, blue, Gruyere)
Soft (i.e., ricotta, cottage, farmers, cream)
Do not eat processed cheese such as American, port-wine spread, etc.
Use full fat ONLY
Heavy (whipping) cream
No half & half; no condensed or evaporated milk
HEALTHY FATS AND OILS
Please read my FAQ on fats and oils to help you make the best choices.
Coconut oil and coconut butter
Lard, tallow, chicken fat, duck fat, bacon fat
Olive oil and nut oils for cold use (they are unstable when heated)
Bottled dressings are acceptable if the carb count is 1g per serving:
Homemade is best; if you buy Avocado or Olive Oil mayo, make sure it's not really canola or soybean oil!
All berries, but be aware that some are higher in carbohydrates than others. Here are some examples:
- Blueberries: 10.2 grams of carbohydrate per 1/2 cup
- Strawberries: 5.1 grams of carbohydrate per 1/2 cup
- Blackberries: 9.2 grams of carbohydrate per 1/2 cup
Read why berries are allowed on Keto in my blog here.
NUTS AND SEEDS AND THEIR BUTTERS
If you are going to eat nuts and seeds be VERY careful with your measurements and realize that there are also carbohydrates and proteins in these foods.
If you can't control yourself then don't start with them.
Even if you can control yourself be careful!
NO bread & butter or other pickles with sugar
Lemon and lime juice (watch the carb count! 1 TBS = 1 carb)
Yellow mustard (or any mustard with no sugar)
Coconut Aminos (watch the carbs!)
Sugar-free sweet relish
Low carb or sugar-free versions of Ketchup and BBQ Sauce. There are many Keto recipes for these, or you can use the bottled brands based on your own preferences for consuming any artificial sweeteners.
What does your Keto Plate look like?
Here are four examples of what your keto plate might look like without any weighing or measuring.
- For the first one that is chicken breast, you will do well to add that side of avocado (that adds fat) and a sprinkling of the almonds (adds fat) shown on the broccoli. Add a bit of an olive oil dressing to the spinach. To make this a more rounded-out keto plate, I would actually be serving dark meat chicken or put a cream sauce or mayonnaise sauce over the chicken. I would also add some olives for extra fat. Basically, though, it has all the elements of a good "keto plate": fat, protein, a small amount of carbohydrates with the vegetables. Honestly, I wouldn't even count the vegetables toward my carbohydrates! I like that it is an ample serving of protein. (See: How Much Protein Should I Eat On Keto?)
- The second plate is a popular keto breakfast. I want to mention here that no, you do not have to eat bacon on keto, but if you do, enjoy it and don't count it. If you listen to your hunger scale, you won't be eating a pound at a time! Again, a half of an avocado is a very popular way to get your fat in, as well as the small serving of nuts on the side (and fry that egg in butter or oil!). If you do add nuts, this is the one food I would ask you to be careful with in the beginning. You might be served well to measure 1/4 a cup, just until you get good at eyeballing a small portion.
- Who says things need to be fancy? A couple of FULL-fat hotdogs, or kielbasa sausages are a great way to hit both your fat and protein requirements for a meal. That delicious-looking side dish is cauliflower rice. This is a full, inexpensive "keto plate" that does not require much to assemble.
- The last "keto plate" is one of my favorites. This is not a picture of my own, but I like everything in it: lettuce, feta cheese, cooked eggs, colored peppers and what looks to be tuna. You can dress your salads with blue cheese or ranch if you are looking for something other than an oil vinaigrette or what is pictured here, which looks like a mustard vinaigrette.
I recently had a discussion with a client who was working so hard to make her meals keto compliant plate by plate. To answer the question: Is Keto Hard...
- What I told her is that while this is incredibly helpful, it is also okay to look at your meals day by day.
- Consider what you eat in 24 hours.
- If I had that chicken breast for lunch and did not add a high-fat sauce to it, I could plan a fattier meat at dinner or perhaps a cream-based soup.
- The goal should be to make each meal as compliant as possible (low carbohydrate, "moderate" protein, higher fat), but you can always even things out at the end of the day:
- Have a handful of nuts if you are hungry
- Make your own whipped cream and add berries
- Enjoy that half of avocado if you haven't had one with your meals
What does your Keto Day look like?
Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I take a non-tracking approach.
HOWEVER, that being said, you have to start somewhere, and if you think there are as many carbs in a potato (sweet or otherwise!) as there are in a cucumber, then you do have some tracking to do…but just until you learn the carb counts, especially of your favorite foods.
At the very least, to get into ketosis you only have to keep your carbs very low. However, even for myself, when weight loss stalls a little bit, I find it helpful to track for a couple of days. So with that in mind, I tracked all of two days and took some graph pictures as I went along (these are usually part of most tracking programs).
For the fun of it, I tracked my food (FUN?)
For the purposes of this blog, for two days I did put my food into Carb Manager.
- I weighed and measured everything.
- I just ate what I wanted to eat and did not make decisions on the numbers.
- How I did this was eat and THEN put in the entries!
- I have said before that you will get to the point where you can just look at a meal and know whether it is a well-formulated Keto one.
- The picture of the graphic above is a breakfast that I ate.
- I weighed and measured beforehand so I would know what to enter in the tracker but I did not enter it before I ate it — that way I could see if I was, indeed, on track toward making it a well-formulated Keto meal.
- It was 4 tablespoons of heavy cream with coffee (coffee has carbs but few, if any of us, count those!)
- It was:
- 1.5 ounces of hard aged cheese
- 1.3 ounces of uncured Genoa salami
- a small (4 ounce) cucumber from the garden.
- I continued on for the day and The picture at the top of the graphic was a full day of eating and see how it lines up with the breakfast graphic.
If I were a macro counter I would exclaim: "Look at that perfect picture!"
Without using a compass I can tell that it is 5% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 75% fat (green, blue, red, respectively).
More importantly, it shows that once you start recognizing keto plates, meal by meal, your day will look fine, as well.
Macros for carbohydrates, protein and fat
Start with 20 grams of carbohydrates. See my video here of combining net carbs and total carbs for a more comfortable fit if you find counting total carbs too restrictive to start. It doesn’t give you enough rope to hang yourself, but loosens the noose a little bit.
Human beings are not calculators. If we did work that way, dieting wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar business! The point is, we are all individuals with individual input needs and output standards. Mix in metabolic syndrome, hormones, BMI, age, quality of food and any other confounding factors and you can see why you cannot rely solely on calculations, numbers and percentages. For now, start with 20-30 grams of carbohydrates.
Please start by reading my blog on how much protein you should be planning for your day.
You will find many protein calculators on the internet, but some people and programs will tell you not to go beyond 50 grams of protein and to make up the rest in fat.
Others will tell you that 80 grams should be the basement of how much protein you get, but to still moderate it unless you are incredibly athletic or a body builder.
I generally don't eat more than 100 grams of protein because I just don’t feel that good with too much protein because it can crowd out vegetables, which do make me feel good.
A strong, more vocal fight in the Keto community is over how much fat you should eat.
- One side: “If your weight stalls, eat more fat!”
- Why? because
- (a) you don’t want be eating more carbs and protein to make up any calorie deficit, because carbs raise insulin levels as does protein (maybe) and
- (b) plate fat and body fat are not the same and they believe that eating TONS of fat won’t affect your body’s ability to lose weight.
Hold on a minute!
- Even some strong proponents of Keto will say that if your body is busy burning plate fat, how can it burn body fat?
- The answer for getting enough plate fat, but not resorting to eating a stick of butter out of the wrapper when you are hungry, is to eat non-lean meats and make sure to eat the visible fat on them.
- Also, don’t be afraid to butter your vegetables and use heavy cream in your coffee, use full-fat dairy products, and don’t shun mayonnaise, oils, and nuts and seeds.
So we have “eat fat”-“don’t eat too much fat”-“eat protein”-“don’t eat too much protein”. No problem with the “eat fat” and “eat protein” part, but what do we do about “don’t eat so much fat” and “don’t eat too much protein”?
- Keep your carbs low (remember there is no essential carb — you can eat zero if you want)
- Eat to Satiety:
- This usually means getting a sense of what 80% of your fullness capacity is.
- This tends to come to a 1:2 ratio of protein to fat.
- Moderate your protein intake, but eat enough (this is not an all-you-can-eat-till-you-burst steak diet)
- Keep your healthy fats high (and healthy for Keto includes saturated fats!)
- Just because foods are on this list does not mean that you can eat them with abandon.
- At the very least, you must keep track of your carbohydrate totals.
- See Total vs. Net Carb FAQ for my system.
I find that for myself:
- I am usually careful not to go over 20 grams of carbohydrates (well some days I do — but never more than 25 and that is usually on days I eat out and don’t have perfect control over salad sizes, have an extra coffee with cream, etc.)
- I take “normal” portions of protein (i.e., a couple of eggs with bacon, a burger that looks to be around 4–6 ounces, a large chicken thigh or a small chicken quarter, a half-dozen scallops or a can of tuna, etc.)
- I fill in the rest with butter, mayo, salad dressing or oil, etc. that the ratios actually do take care of themselves.
- In the evening I usually have a small bowl (about 1/4 cup) of macadamia nuts or peanuts.
- My day’s eating generally works out to 5% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 75% fat. It is a non-frantic approach to Keto.
It took more than a year to reach this point.
Having been a life-long dieter I have always had someone or some program tell me what to eat, when to eat, how much of something to eat, etc.
I found Keto difficult at first but ONLY because I found it difficult to trust myself and to trust the process.
Eventually though it all fell into place. At this point I have to answer, "Is Keto Hard?" with a resounding "NO" because it isn't!
Remember this when you are starting out:
- You only need to know that you need to keep your carbs LOW.
- Then if you eat non-lean meats and fat to fill in the rest, you will be fine.
- However, if you are like me and after years of being told how to diet and you want more reassurance of your own ability, start tracking your foods in a tracker that has a graphic like this (most do) and just get used to seeing what your meal looks like in red, green and blue.
- If you are on target with each meal, your day will be on target.
The diet industry has taught you that all of the above are not possible, and that is why you must keep spending money on diet plans and all the paraphernalia that goes with it such as food scales, measuring cups and spoons, electronic trackers and such.
THIS IS NOT TRUE! For Keto Made Simple:
- Do these instead:
- follow these very simple lists I have given you
- honor your hunger scale
- learn more about keto (see this blog, What is Keto?)
- You will find yourself on an easy, uncomplicated path to weight loss and better health.
- Honestly, once you learn about the nutritional impact of some of your favorite foods, you are really good to go.
- You can absolutely rely on your own intelligence and judgment
Learn more about this with my book and course:
Book Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb
Course Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success
Here are the steps to work toward making keto simple, and the food lists that will be helpful:
Learn more about the different ways of "doing" keto: