- Most nutritionists wouldn’t recommend the keto diet, but the eating plan has a few good takeaways.
- Cutting down on processed foods is always a good thing, and limiting carbs can help people manage conditions like diabetes.
- Make sure to choose high-quality fats and proteins to offset the lack of carbs.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The keto diet isn’t for everyone. In fact, the high-fat, low-carb eating pattern has been ranked as one of the worst diets by US News & World Report year after year.
“As a dietitian, keto is not the go-to diet that we would recommend for someone who’s trying to improve their overall health,” Alyssa Pike, RD, manager of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council, told Insider.
Critics say the keto diet is too restrictive, “nutritionally incomplete,” and lacks evidence of how it can affect health in the long run. On the other hand, some anecdotal evidence suggests the diet could help people manage diabetes.
While the keto diet principle of eating mostly fats and almost no carbs — a way to force the body into ketosis, a state where it burns fat for energy instead of glucose — may feel too extreme for most people, some aspects of the diet can be applied in more moderate ways.
Plus, we could all benefit from choosing higher-quality carbs, Gabby Landsverk previously wrote for Insider.
Insider spoke with nutrition experts about how to incorporate keto-like eating patterns without going all in.
Start by cutting out processed foods and added sugar
Nutritionist Wendy Bazilian said the first step of starting any diet is to cut out processed foods.
“In a keto-style eating pattern — like any really — I would start limiting the ultra-processed foods, bakery goods, ‘indulgent’ carbs (donuts, cookies, cake), look at added sugars and focus on limiting those,” Bazilian, author of “Eat Clean, Stay Lean,” wrote in an email to Insider.
Eliminating sugary beverages is another way to cut down on unnecessary carbohydrates, Bazalian said. That includes the sweetener you may usually add to coffee or tea — even one tablespoon of honey comes close to the 20 grams of carbohydrate per day allowed in some keto guidelines.
If getting rid of sweets works for you, the next step would be to ease away from bread. The keto diet would prescribe not eating whole grains, either, but other low-carb eating patterns may permit you to eat something like quinoa or farro in moderation.
You can eat some fruit and still maintain a low-carb diet
The true keto diet involves not eating fruits, most vegetables, grains, potatoes, sweets, or any kind of carb-rich foods, Pike told Insider. But so much restriction can be hard for people to keep up in the long term.
Bazilian said while she would encourage someone who is keto-curious to be “selective” about which fruits and vegetables they eat, she wouldn’t recommend eliminating them entirely.
“I think it’s possible to ease into keto, but I know there are plenty of people who would suggest otherwise,” Bazilian said. “But, it’s not really keto either if you have a lot of carbohydrates still in the mix.”
Strawberries and blueberries are both low in sugar and high in antioxidants, and tomatoes and olives can work as savory snacks that are relatively low-carb. Just make sure to avoid eating so many fruits and vegetables that you blow past your carb limits — most keto eating plans will cap carbs at 20 to 50 grams per day.
Eat more healthy fats and don’t forget about plant protein
Since the keto diet consists of mostly fats and proteins, it’s possible to eat keto and become less healthy. Low-carb diets where people rely on saturated fat and cholesterol have been linked to a higher risk of some diseases.
If you do cut back on a certain macronutrient, like carbohydrates, it’s important to make sure you’re eating high-quality foods from the remaining groups, Bazilian said.
Make sure your fat intake includes heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory foods like avocados, nuts, olive oil, and flaxseed.
Many people who try the keto diet increase their intake of animal protein, Pike told Insider. But eating two or more servings of meat per week has been linked to a higher risk of
Adding a plant-based protein, like pea protein powder, can help preserve lean muscle mass without causing bad cholesterol levels to get out of control.
If you like the way you feel, shoot for some keto goals
If cutting back on carbs and eating more healthy fats and proteins works for you, you could work your way up to more strict keto guidelines.
“There are a few different distributions of macronutrients that you could follow if you’re on the keto diet, but one common distribution is eating 5% of your total calories from carbs, 20% from protein, and 75% from fat,” Pike said, adding that such a low amount of carbs doesn’t meet the dietary needs of most people.
Bazilian said she recommends that her clients evaluate how they feel — not just physically, but also mentally — throughout the first month of any diet. And if you’re looking for weight loss or to control blood sugar levels, make sure to track those metrics from the start to see if you’re getting results.