Decades of research indicates that the high-fat, low-carb keto-friendly foods that we once thought were destroying our health may be doing just the opposite. Studies upon studies on the ketogenic diet have been finding benefits for people with all types of conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease.
How could a diet filled with so much cholesterol and fat be so good for us? Becuase many of the foods that we once thought were the problem — like eggs and meat — are actually the solution.
Below, we explore some of the healthiest keto foods.
Let’s start off our top 10 list with a cholesterol-packed food that would make your mother gasp — eggs. Eggs are one of the healthiest and most versatile foods on the planet. Many experts even identify the egg as one of the only true “superfoods.” The reason behind this profound claim lies in the egg yolk, not the white.
In fact, most of the beneficial nutrients in the egg are found in its yolk, including thirteen essential vitamins and minerals and the eye-protecting antioxidants known as lutein and zeaxanthin. They are also one of the best sources of choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient and methyl donor involved in many vital physiological processes.
Although egg yolks are high in cholesterol, consuming them doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels in most people. Eggs have even been shown to modify the shape of LDL in a way that reduces the risk of heart disease.
Egg consumption has also been found to increase the feeling of fullness and keep blood sugar levels stable, leading to lower calorie intakes for up to 24 hours. This could mean that eggs are the weight loss boosting superfood you’ve been waiting for.
On top of that, one large egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs and fewer than 6 grams of protein, making it the perfect keto-friendly health food.
If you’d like to find the healthiest eggs possible, seek out egg farmers that give their chickens access to pasture — a place where they can eat plenty of insects and soak up the sun. Studies have found that chickens raised in this way tend to lay eggs that are filled with more omega 3s, vitamins, and minerals.
2. Olives and Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil and olives contain numerous health-promoting compounds. One of the most studied compounds is a phenolic compound called oleocanthal.
Oleocanthal possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties as ibuprofen, which makes olives and virgin olive oil a great addition to the diet for anyone who wants to reduce pain and inflammation.
A one-ounce (28-gram) serving of olives contains 2 grams of total carbs and 1 gram of fiber. This works out to a net carb count of 1 gram for 7–10 olives, depending on their size. If you don’t like olives or don’t want the net carbs they contain, then olive oil is a great option as well. Although you won’t get all of the benefits of olives by consuming olive oil, you will still get plenty of healthy fats and health-promoting compounds.
Keep in mind, however, that some of the fats in olive oil can become rancid when exposed to temperatures higher than 375 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, it is best to cook with it at low temperatures or eat it in its raw form. Try putting it on your salads and vegetables to add some healthy fats your meal and increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from those veggies.
3. Meat, Poultry, and Seafood
We commonly hear about how meat, poultry, and seafood are a high-quality protein source, but did you know that they contain essential nutrients that cannot be found in plant foods?
For example, vitamin B12, a highly-absorbable form of iron, creatine, taurine, carnosine, and DHA all carry huge health benefits, but they can only be found in animal products.
Fresh meat and poultry are packed with B vitamins and several minerals, including potassium, selenium, and zinc. They also contain varying levels of creatine, taurine, carnosine, and an easily absorbable form of iron.
Even the fats in these meats are beneficial for health. One study in older women found that consuming a diet high in fatty meat led to HDL cholesterol levels that were 8% higher than on a low-fat, high-carb diet. This study also provides us with a deeper understanding of why the ketogenic diet has been found to improve cholesterol levels.
To get the most health benefits from your meat, it is best to have 100% grass-fed pasture-raised red meat and pasture-raised poultry. Meat from animals that are raised in this way has been found to have healthier ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 fats and contain more antioxidants than 100% grain-fed animals.
However, no land mammal can compete with the amount of anti-inflammatory omega 3s that you’ll get from fish and shellfish. Salmon, sardines, mackerel and other fatty fish are the highest in omega-3 fats, which is why many studies have found frequent fish intake to be associated with improved mental health and decreased risk of disease.
Shellfish are extremely beneficial as well — providing us with an excellent source of zinc, copper, and vitamin B12. Despite how healthy they are, it is important to be mindful of how much shellfish you eat on the ketogenic diet. Some shellfish may contain more net carbs than you might expect.
Here are the carb counts for 3.5-ounce (100-gram) servings of some popular types of shellfish:
- Clams: 5 grams
- Mussels: 7 grams
- Octopus: 4 grams
- Oysters: 4 grams
- Squid: 3 grams
- Crabs: ~ 0 grams
- Shrimp: 0 grams
Another important caveat for keto dieters is that having too much meat or seafood at any given meal can decrease your ketone levels. For this reason, it is best to split up your protein consumption equally between meals if you want to maintain or increase your ketone levels.
4. High Fat Dairy (Cheese, Butter, and Cream)
Earlier we explored how the fats in fatty meats may help promote cholesterol levels and heart health — the same goes for the fats found in cheese, butter, and cream as well. In fact, some studies suggest that a moderate consumption of high-fat dairy may even reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
High-fat dairy also contains high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and conjugated linoleic acid (the fatty acid that has been found to promote fat loss). The combination of these nutrients is essential for maintaining strength and function as we age. By adding just 7 ounces of ricotta cheese to their daily diet, for example, the older participants of a recent study were able to increase their muscle mass and muscle strength. In other words, ask for extra cheese, please.
There is no need to be cheap with the cheese, cream, and butter on the ketogenic diet either. Due to the low-carb content of high-fat dairy, you can get away with using a reasonable amount in each meal without having to worry about getting too many carbs.
5. Dark Chocolate
This guilty pleasure may be as pleasureful for you as it is for your body. The cocoa in dark chocolate contains many flavanols that decrease blood pressure, heart disease risk, and insulin resistance.
In fact, cocoa is known as a “super fruit,” because it provides at least as much antioxidant activity as any other fruit (including keto-friendly berries).
However, this doesn’t mean that you have a free pass at eating as much dark chocolate as you’d like, especially on the ketogenic diet. Many chocolate products contain enough net carbs to kick you out of ketosis.
When buying chocolate or any cocoa product, read the label to make sure it has no added sugars and a minimal amount of carbs per serving.If you don’t like the taste of dark chocolate, then look for chocolates that derive their sweetness from healthy low-calorie sweeteners.
Most fruits are too high in carbs to include in the ketogenic diet, but some berries are a delicious exception.
There are hundreds of types of berries in the world, and all of them contain different anthocyanins, which are flavonoids responsible for their distinctive colors of red, blue, and purple. These flavonoids also have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Wild blueberries, for example, have been found to improve memory in older adults, and other research suggests that they protect the brain from inflammation. Raspberries and blackberries are loaded with antioxidants that have been credited with reducing inflammation and protecting against disease as well.
On the ketogenic diet, however, it is best to consume berries in moderation due to there relatively higher net carb content.
Here are the carb counts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of some keto-friendly berries:
- Blackberries: 10 grams of total carbs (5 grams of net carbs)
- Blueberries: 14 grams of total carbs (12 grams of net carbs)
- Raspberries: 12 grams of total carbs (6 grams of net carbs)
- Strawberries: 8 grams of total carbs (6 grams of net carbs)
7. Garlic, Onion, and Other Allium Vegetables
Garlic has been used for centuries as a prophylactic and treatment for many diseases. It is rich in organosulfur compounds, which give it its potent flavor, taste, and health-promoting properties.
Garlic, onions, leeks, and other vegetables from the Allium family all contain allicin. This is a potent plant compound that activates anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative activities throughout the body, protecting us from brain damage and disease.
Although they tend to be higher in net carbs than other low-carb vegetables, it is difficult to consume too many allium vegetables. Feel free to use them in your cooking to enhance the flavor of your keto meals.
If you’d like to know exactly how many carbs are in allium vegetables like onion and leeks, read through our guide on the best low-carb vegetables for the ketogenic diet.
8.Broccoli, Kale, and Other Cruciferous Vegetables
All low-carb vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that are essential for all aspects of our health. Cruciferous veggies, however, come with an extra health boost.
Although they contain more vitamin K and A than many other vegetables, this isn’t why we put cruciferous vegetables on the list of top 10 keto foods. What gives crucifers like broccoli and cauliflower an edge over every other veggie is sulforaphane.
Sulforaphane is a compound that is created when we crush or chew cruciferous vegetables. Once it is digested, sulforaphane activates a cytoprotective (cell-protecting) pathway that protects the cells from oxidative stress and removes toxins from the body. This is one of the main reasons why cruciferous vegetable consumption is linked to improved cognitive function and decreased cancer and heart disease risk.
The best part is that you won’t have to climb to the top of a mountain or scavenge the Amazon jungle to reap the benefits of sulforaphane. All you need to do is eat popular veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage.
Cruciferous vegetables are a saving grace for ketogenic dieters as well because they make great substitutes for higher-carb foods and stand-alone side items and snacks. For instance, cauliflower can be used to mimic rice or mashed potatoes and kale can be turned into crunchy, delicious chips.
9. Coconut Oil
The clearest evidence of why saturated fats aren’t bad for us can be found in the studies on coconut oil — one of the most saturated fat dense foods that you can consume.
Take a recent high-quality randomized, double-blind, clinical trial that compared coconut oil and soybean oil for example. In this study, the researchers found that coconut oil promoted a reduction in abdominal fat and kept blood lipids under control, while soybean oil caused an increase in total cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol.
What’s even more fascinating is that coconut oil was also found to help obese adults lose weight and belly fat. One study, in particular, found that supplementing the diet of obese men with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day lead to an average loss of 1 inch from their waistlines.
One of the reasons for the health-promoting effects of coconut oil is that it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike long-chain fats that you’ll find in fatty meats and dairy, MCTs are taken up directly by the liver and converted into ketones or used as a rapid source of energy.
For this reason, MCTs and coconut oil can help decrease calorie consumption, increase energy levels, and improve brain function. In fact, the MCTs in coconut oil can even improve the quality of life and cognitive function of people with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders.
10. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a healthy addition to any diet.
Many studies have found frequent nut consumption to be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression, and obesity. Nuts and seeds also contain plenty of fiber, which increases the feeling of fullness and reduces calorie consumption.
Seeds come with many unique benefits as well. Flaxseeds, for example, are the richest dietary source of lignan precursors, while sesame seeds offer the highest amount of phytosterols of all nuts and seeds. Both lignans and phytosterols are helpful in reducing inflammation and heart disease and cancer risk.
Consuming nut and seed oils on their own, however, is strongly advised against because the contain unhealthily high levels of inflammatory omega 6s. For this reason, it is best to consume whole or freshly ground nuts and seeds.
On the ketogenic diet, you will find a lot of recipes that call for almond flour and flax meal, which are healthy low-carb flour alternatives. Make sure, however, that you are aware of how much of these low-carb flours you are using. An over-reliance on these nut and seed flours can unknowingly cause you to consume too many calories, carbs, and inflammatory fats.
Although all nuts and seeds are low in net carbs, the amount varies quite a bit among the different types.
Here are the carb counts for 1 ounce (28 grams) of the most widely consumed nuts and seeds:
- Almonds: 6 grams total carbs (3 grams net carbs)
- Brazil nuts: 3 grams total carbs (1 gram net carbs)
- Cashews: 9 grams total carbs (8 grams net carbs)
- Macadamia nuts: 4 grams total carbs (2 grams net carbs)
- Pecans: 4 grams total carbs (1 gram net carbs)
- Pistachios: 8 grams total carbs (5 grams net carbs)
- Walnuts: 4 grams total carbs (2 grams net carbs)
- Chia seeds: 12 grams total carbs (1 gram net carbs)
- Flaxseeds: 8 grams total carbs (0 grams net carbs )
- Pumpkin seeds: 5 grams total carbs (4 grams net carbs)
- Sesame seeds: 7 grams total carbs (3 grams net carbs)