The complete keto swap food list
Table of Contents
We know that when starting out a new diet or lifestyle, making changes can be difficult — especially when it comes to swappin one thing out for another. Adding new foods, removing old ones, never mind substitutions. It can all be challenging, frustrating, and frankly a little bit overwhelming. With Nutrita, however, we are here to guide you through the process of transitioning to a ketogenic lifestyle to hopefully take some of that frustration and confusion away.
One of the most basic things to understand on a ketogenic diet is what’s keto and what’s not. If you haven’t checked out our complete guide to going ketogenic, check it out here. And even if you have, here’s a quick recap of some of the foods that fall into the keto diet and others that don’t.
Keto friendly foods
Animal-based products — Animal foods are often associated with the protein component of the ketogenic diet, but they can also contribute to your fat intake. Specifically on the keto diet, it’s important to choose cuts of meat that are on the fattier side as opposed to lean cuts (generally speaking). Things like dark cuts of poultry, fatty steak like ribeye and roasts, or pork belly are all great options to provide both adequate protein and fat. Seafood is another good option. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, oysters, and mussels are some examples that provide not only protein and fat, but are also excellent sources of micronutrients and essential fatty acids.
Vegetables — As a rule, most vegetables are keto friendly. However, it is important to check the carb count as some are higher in carbs than others. To help you remember which vegetables are keto compliant, stick to those grown above ground. That is, things like leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, chard, dandelion), asparagus, green beans, cabbage, broccoli, cucumber, and peppers. Certain root vegetables are permitted in moderation like rutabaga, pumpkin, celeriac, parsnips, carrots and turnips. Remember to keep tabs on net-carb counts to stay within your specified limit.
Fruit — Fruits are a little more difficult to work with as they contain natural sugars. This therefore gives them both a higher carb and net-carb count. Fruits like berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries) are fine in small amounts. However, stay away from very concentrated fruit sources like dried fruit and fruit juice in particular. Their carb count, insulin index and glycemic index are all usually quite high.
Nuts and seeds — Nuts and seeds offer a good source of both protein and fat, but it’s key to remember that they also contain carbs. Some of the best nuts to consume on keto are macadamia, almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, and walnuts. If you’re looking to use nut flours as substitutions for grain flour, keep in mind that they have different properties, so you’ll always want to check the recipe.
Dairy — Dairy products can be a hit or miss with people. Dairy intolerance is common and if you have any negative symptoms after having some it – regardless of being keto or not. However, if you find yourself reacting well to eliminating and then reintroducing dairy, it’s okay to have some. It’s best to avoid overly processed and/or low-fat products. Some good options include heavy cream, ricotta or cream cheese, mascarpone, mozzarella, gouda, brie, blue cheese and even parmesan for the lactose intolerant.
Fats — As the ketogenic diet is high fat, healthy fats will make up the caloric bulk of your diet. Now, not all fats are created equal, so it’s important to know the difference and recognize which you’re consuming. Check out our article on Good Fats vs. Bad Fats for more information on the types. There is an abundance of healthy fats you can consume frequently on the keto diet — olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are all great, as well as olives, nut butters, ghee, avocado and even mayonnaise! This is mayonnaise made with olive oil or avocado oil mind you, not seed oils.
Spices — Adding spices to your meals is a great way to ramp up the flavour without adding a ton of bulk or calories. Both fresh and dried herbs and spices are keto-compliant, but like everything else, in high amounts they do contain carbs. Try things like fresh parsley, cilantro, rosemary, or thyme, or add some dried basil, cinnamon, oregano, nutmeg, or curry to some of your dishes. Bonus, fresh herbs are also highly nutrient dense, too!
Condiments — Condiments are another way to give your meals flavour, but they often come with a hefty tag of unhealthy extra calories. However, there are some options that are keto-friendly, like mustard, horseradish, hot sauce, mayo or soy sauces that don’t contain lots of added sugars/starches and seed oils. You can even try out a home made recipe for your favourite ‘sweet’ sauce like ketchup and BBQ sauce without using added sugar. And even homemade mayo from olive oil.
When using condiments you may have a doubt as to whether they’re keto or not. Refer to our Ultimate Keto Guide for Beginners for examples and make sure search for them in our food search engine to get their Keto score or Insulin index.
When going keto, you may initially think that eliminating everything from your diet will leave you eating meat and salad for the rest of your life – and there’s nothing wrong with that! But it doesn’t have to be the case. Even though your diet may change drastically, the majority of foods can be replaced with some low-carb counterparts. They tend to be either equally delicious and frankly much more nutritious or, lets be honest, simply ‘less bad’.
Keto swap: FLOUR for nut flours
If flour has been a staple in your diet for quite some time that will need to change. However, we’ve got a swap for you when baking the occasional treat. While it may not act in the exact way white or whole wheat flour does, nut flours are a great when it comes to easy-to-bake flour substitutes. When it comes to health benefits, almond flour is quite different than coconut flour. Almond flour is much higher in net carbs and contains a significant amount of concentrated, fragile omega-6 fats. They are also likely oxidized and thus even more inflammatory. Out of precaution, eating almond flour products regularly products isn’t advisable.
Coconut flour however is much lower in net carbs and has nearly no fragile omega-6 fats. As it’s mostly fiber, coconut flour has a minimal impact on insulin levels. Do note, however, that nut flours don’t have the same texture as regular flours, so be prepared to adjust your baking somewhat. Follow the recipe if you’ve never used them before.
Keto swap: SUGAR for all natural low-carb sweeteners
When it comes to removing sugar from the diet, there are quite a few keto-compliant options to replace it. It’s important that when looking at the ingredient list, you know how to identify sugar, as there are over 50 different names for it.
Some of the keto options available include stevia, erythritol and monk fruit. The two latter options can generally be replaced 1:1 for sugar, but stevia is significantly more concentrated, which means less is more. These sweeteners can come in liquid, powder, and crystal form so they can be used as a direct replacement for sugar, without impacting blood sugar.
Keto swap: RICE, GRAINS, POTATOES for non-starchy vegetables
Rice, grains and potatoes are staples in diets all over the world, but not in the ketogenic diet. While they are quite tasty, the carb count of them makes them not a suitable part of keto. However, there are several substitutes that you can use in place.
A great low carb option to rice is substituting cauliflower rice. Not sure what that is? Cut some cauliflower into florets and pulse in your food processor until it resembles rice. Not only does it have significantly fewer carbs than rice, it’s also is a good substitute in terms of texture. We’ll give you a warning, however. It doesn’t taste exactly like rice (obviously), but when combined with other components, it makes for a great low-carb alternative!
In place of potatoes, you can also use cauliflower. Sounds a little bizarre, we know, but mashing cauliflower is a fantastic replacement for mashed potatoes, and even tastes similar! If you’re making a soup or stew that calls for white or sweet potatoes, trying adding rutabaga, turnip, or celeriac instead. You can still get that all that earthy goodness with way fewer net carbs.
Keto swap: BREAD for keto bread
Bread is one of those foods that people often have a really hard time giving up. “If I can’t eat bread, what am I going to eat?!” No pizza, no sandwiches, no pastries. But giving up bread doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. There are plenty of low-carb keto options for breads, buns, etc. Most of these recipes use coconut or almond flour, psyllium husk, and low-carb sweeteners to be keto compliant. Be warned, many aren’t keto let alone healthy, and may cause digestive distress. These certainly shouldn’t be staples. However there flour substitute products that are considerably better than others. Buyer beware.
Are you a fan of burgers? Consider using a lettuce wrap instead of a bun. Functionally, it does the job of holding all the toppings in place! As a bonus, it won’t leave you with that unpleasant sickly feeling of having eaten too much low quality calories!
Keto swap: PASTA for spiralized vegetables
We know it’s not exactly the same, but pasta can easily be replaced with spiralized veggies. Zucchini, turnip, carrot, or rutabaga, they’re all great options to replace high-carb pastas. You can use spiralized veggies in fritters, casseroles, and even hashes to replace pasta or potatoes.
Here’s a unique idea that maybe you’ve never heard before: mozzarella noodles. Mix 1 ball of mozzarella with 2 eggs, blend, and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake for a few minutes then cut into noodle shapes!
Keto swap: DAIRY (if intolerant) for nut alternatives
Dairy doesn’t necessarily fall into the non-keto group, but for some people it’s a no-go. Some people are lactose intolerant or have some kind of inflammatory immune reaction. If this is the case for you, there are many alternatives to replace dairy. Full fat coconut milk and coconut yogurt are keto-compliant alternatives. Do, however, pay attention to the carb count, as some of these drinks do contain moderate amounts of sugar.
If you still want to eat cheese but can’t eat dairy, try either buying or making nut cheese made (usually) from cashews! It comes in many flavours and types, without leaving you feeling gassy or bloated from the lactose.
If you snack, at least snack keto
Snacks are an area of keto that can be a bit tricky to navigate. Even if you don’t really consume processed foods, a lot of go-to snacks can be carb-heavy — take fruit, for example. Even though it’s a whole, unprocessed food, the sugars in fruit rack up the carb content and can bump you out of ketosis.
Here are some good, keto-approved options that are great to have handy when a hunger rush comes on:
Nuts — Nuts and seeds make great options for keto snacks. They’re often low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in fat, making them a good bang for their buck. However, some nuts are better than others on a keto diet, as they have fewer carbs so they don’t spike insulin as much. Stick to macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, and pine nuts.
Jerky — Beef, chicken, turkey, or pork jerky are all good choices for an on-the-go snack. It provides an adequate source of both protein and fat with minimal carbs. If you’re buying it, however, pay attention to the ingredients and sourcing of the product. It’s best to opt for ones without lots of added sugars and many preservatives besides basic ones like citric acid. If you have a dehydrator at home, try making your own! That way, you can control the entire process.
Canned fish —Tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring, or any other canned fish are a quick and versatile snack option when you’re in need of a little energy boost. Opt for choices that are packed in water or olive oil to avoid unnecessary ingredients or unhealthy fats. Want to spice them up a little? Throw in a few spices and a little mayo to make a quick seafood salad that can act as a meal.
Some other quick and simple snack options include:
- Boiled eggs
- Dark chocolate (over 85% cacao)
- Full-fat cheese
- Low-carb veggies (cucumber, celery, radish, etc.)
Often times with keto, consistent hunger diminishes due to balanced blood sugar levels that keeps hunger cues at bay. However, the options we’ve given you for snacking are all great ways to satisfy your hunger while keeping you in ketosis.
Keto side dishes
Your standard plate of meat, vegetables, and potatoes sounds pretty healthy, but it might not always be keto, especially if there’s a carb component.
Keto side dishes are not just low in carbs, but they’re highly nutrient dense and can be packed full of flavour!
- Roasted or grilled vegetables (peppers, zucchini, broccoli, etc.) with salt, pepper, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- Salads — There are many different combinations you can make for salad. Try using a variety of greens (arugula, kale, romaine, spinach, chard) and mix with nuts/seeds, cheese (if tolerable) and a dressing of your choice.
- Mashed cauliflower, rutabaga, or turnip — Add in some roasted garlic and butter to give your dish a punch of flavour. Alternatively, add in any combination of herbs and spices you like.
- Cauliflower rice
- Celeriac oven fries
- Keto buns or tortillas
- Zucchini or other vegetable noodles (cucumber, pumpkin, etc.)
Going keto doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite foods. It simply means that you might have to make some swaps. If you take a look at any keto recipe book or website, you’ll see that often times, the recipes are packed full of both flavour and nutrition. So while you may not be able to dip that loaf of French bread in your bowl of soup, why not give a keto lettuce-bun a try instead. You’ll see that the keto-compliant alternatives are just as tasty, if not better!
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Written by Sarah Neidler, PhD
Sarah Neidler did her PhD in cancer research at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow. She has a strong interest in nutrition and the ketogenic diet and believes that they are beneficial for the treatment and prevention of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. She loves cooking, reading, sewing, Yoga, and CrossFit.