Going to the grocery store is a hard enough task without the added work of shopping for specific items because you’re adhering to a very particular food plan. If you’re following the keto diet, navigating the aisles in search of items that the high-fat, low-carb lifestyle allows can be even trickier.
Ahead, Kristin Mancinelli, RDN, author of The Ketogenic Diet: A Scientifically Proven Approach to Fast, Healthy Weight Loss, shares the ingredients and keto diet staples to include on your grocery list. Her tips will make following this plan as easy as opening your fridge.
"Nearly all the calories in an avocado come from fat, and one whole fruit has less than 3 grams of digestible carbohydrate — traits that make it a perfect keto food right off the bat,” Mancinelli says. Plus, avocados are high in fiber, which is missing in a lot of keto diets, a lack that can lead to constipation, she adds. Bonus? That dose of fiber helps you feel full, longer.
Try adding avocado slices to your salad or just eating on its own. Mancinelli recommends cutting one open and sprinkling with sea salt before digging in.
Spinach and Arugula
Unlike some other high-protein, low-carb diets, large quantities of leafy greens are not fair game on a ketogenic diet, Mancinelli says. Instead, they get counted along with any other carbohydrates that you incorporate. But you’ll want to include them on your keto shopping list because the plan allows for 20-30 grams of carbs per day or less to stay in ketosis, and greens can fulfill that quota.
Mancinelli says she likes to make keto-compliant salads with a mix of spinach and arugula (kale also works). "Each has less than half a gram of net carbs per cup, so a 4-cup salad has less than 2 grams of net carbs,” she says. (Net carbs are determined by subtracting your total fiber intake from your total grams of carbohydrates.)
Tuna, Salmon, and Sardines
High in omega-3 fatty acids and a high-quality source of protein, canned sardines are a tasty keto staple. Plus, Mancinelli points out that they also often come canned in olive oil, providing a healthy dose of fat. She adds: "They’re ready-to-eat — a claim that few keto foods can make!” Toss a couple on top of that salad you’re working on, and voila: a keto-friendly meal.
Then again, if the mere idea of sardines makes you cringe, salmon or tuna may be a palatable alternative. "Fatty fish are an important contribution to any diet because of their uniquely high omega-3 fat content. This is especially important to a ketogenic dieter who gets most of their calories from fat,” Mancinelli says.
Mancinelli says it’s true that coconut oil is the "darling of the keto diet” as a result of its high MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) content, but olive oil shouldn’t be overlooked. Almost 75 percent of the fats in olive oil (and olives) are the monounsaturated kind associated with good heart health.
"The great thing about olive oil is there are so many varieties of olives used to make it, so the flavor profiles of different oils vary widely,” she says. For example, there are herbaceous olive oils, ones with earthy flavors, and even some that are spicy. "A ketogenic diet can tend to lack flavor variety, so these oils can be used to spice up a dinner plate and add fat at the same time.”
If you’re looking for a super convenient way to squeeze in healthy fats from oils, then you might want to check out FBOMB oils. These single-serving packets of olive, MCT, and avocado oils make it easy to add your oil while eating on the go.
If you’re about to embark on a keto journey, then don’t count on fruit being a staple. As Mancinelli points out, the only "fruits" appropriate for a strict ketogenic diet are avocado and olives because they’re both rich in fat (especially the healthy monounsaturated kind mentioned earlier).
"That said, most people following a ketogenic diet are more lax with their carb intake and will include berries in their diet,” adding that one cup of blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries has approximately 7 to 9 grams of net carbohydrates.
While starchy vegetables are a no-go on the keto diet (say goodbye to carrots and sweet potatoes), low-carb vegetables (that are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals) are keto-approved.
Here, a few Macinelli suggests adding to your keto grocery list:
- Bell peppers
Meat and Poultry
When shopping for meat, Mancinelli suggests looking for well-marbled cuts, like a ribeye or a NY strip. And the reason for this one is pretty simple: "When you’re eating a ketogenic diet, it’s often hard to get enough fat and avoid overeating protein.” That way, she adds, you’ll be able to eat a smaller portion of meat because the fat throughout the cut will contribute to your feeling of fullness.
If you aren't a fan of red meat, here are some other popular protein sources on the keto diet to add to your shopping cart:
- And, you guessed it... bacon.
Eggs are another budget-friendly way to get in your protein on the keto diet. One large egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs and fewer than 6 grams of protein — so be sure to add a carton of eggs to your keto grocery list. For a quick breakfast, scramble up some eggs for breakfast with your daily serving of greens or low-carb veggies, or opt for hard-boiled eggs for a great on-the-go snack.
"If you’re already on a ketogenic diet, then you know it can require a good deal of cooking since there are so few keto-compliant prepared foods,” Mancinelli says.
Enter nut butters, like almond, cashew, or sunflower butter: A keto lifestyle staple that "rescues many a keto dieter from the work of meal prep,” according to Mancinelli. For a great snack in a pinch, try putting in on celery sticks for some added crunch, she suggests. "Two tablespoons of almond butter (one serving) provide 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein and only 3 grams of net carbs.”
Dairy and Cheese
That’s right — unlike other popular diets, like the Whole30, dairy gets the green light on the keto diet. But that doesn’t give you a free pass on all dairy. Mancinelli points out some guidelines for choosing dairy, especially because "the carb content of dairy products can range dramatically — from zero grams to 45 grams per serving.”
She suggests reading labels carefully and choosing only unflavored, full-fat dairy items. "Skim or low-fat items often contain sweeteners added to replace some of the texture and flavor lost with the removal of the fat,” she says.
A sure thing? Using heavy cream in your coffee in place of milk or powdered creamers. Mancinelli says heavy cream has less than .5 grams of net carbs per fluid ounce (i.e. two tablespoons), whereas whole milk has 1.5 grams of net carbs for the same amount. She adds: "For people who drink coffee a few times a day, that can really add up!”
When it comes to cheese, Mancinelli recommends opting for harder, aged cheeses, like Parmesan and Gouda. And use caution with yogurt, which can have five grams of carbohydrates or more per serving, "and much more if there’s a sweetener added,” Mancinelli says.
If you are going keto, then Mancinelli says you can expect to miss one thing during your meals — crunch.
"If you think about it, most crunchy foods are high in carbohydrates (e.g. tortilla chips and crackers), and most fatty foods have a smooth, silky texture (e.g. avocado, mayonnaise),” she says. "If you’re seeking crunch, find yourself some flax crackers. These crackers have 1 to 2 grams of net carb per serving and are made entirely from flax seeds.”
Note: Make sure not to choose flax crackers that also include wheat and other ingredients. Popular keto brands include Flackers, which are made with flaxseed, apple cider vinegar, and sea salt. Thankfully, nuts and seeds can kick in the crunch factor you’re sorely missing. Mancinelli suggests topping with keto-friendly ingredients, like avocado, cheese, or cucumber.