It seems impossible to open a blog, listen to a podcast, or see a magazone cover in the grocery checkout without seeing something about the trendy . But for people on the keto diet, the menu choices get even more limited. That’s because the low-carb, high-fat eating plan has very particular macros that can limit your food options (sorry, but pasta and rice are totally out the window).
The typical keto diet macros are: 75% to 80% of calories from fat, 15% to 20% from protein, and only 5% to 10% from carbs. People might play with those macros depending on their particular health goals and needs, or on their particular interpretation of keto; the “Ketotarian” diet, which advocates for a more plant-based approach, allows for up to 15% of calories from carbs.
Why the intense focus on macros? Basically, this is the ratio of fats to carbs that allows a person to achieve ketosis—when the body switches from burning carbohydrates to fats as its primary source of energy. Ketosis “unlocks” keto’s main potential health benefits, from effective weight management to balanced blood sugar, reduced inflammation, and increased mental clarity. So, how you build your plate at mealtime is key to ensuring you stay in ketosis and maintain adequate nutrition.
Done correctly, a healthy keto diet will consist of lots of well-raised animal proteins (grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken and wild-caught seafood), healthy fats (Natalie’s avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, olives, coconuts, etc.) and non-starchy vegetables for fiber and micronutrients.
1. Portion out your plate
If you’ve just started keto or you’re thinking about it, you need to portion out your favorite veggies, carbs (whatever you can eat), protein, and fats to satisfy your hunger and burn those ketones. The plate should look like it consists of ¼ fat, but keep in mind that your veggies will be topped with fat and your meat may also have fat. So really, fat is dispersed across your plate rather than just in one spot.
In terms of healthy fats, some great options include avocado oil, coconut oil, avocados, coconut, olives, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed ghee or butter, and grass-fed, organic animal fats. Use these for dressings and cooking techniques, as well as high-fat choices for proteins or protein toppers (think avocado on a burger). You can also snack on fats for snacks, like nut butter or MCT oil in a smoothie.
2. Load up on vegetables
On keto, non-starchy veggies should take up half your plate. Think lots of leafy greens, bok choy, cucumber, zucchini, cauliflower, asparagus, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Vegetables contain vital micronutrients like fiber, folate, B vitamins, calcium, as well as antioxidants. However: keep in mind that even though veggies may take up half your plate, they are not calorically dense and therefore don’t actually amount to much of the macronutrient distribution. Therefore, you’ll need to add fats and proteins to adequately fuel up. Top your vegetables with (or cook them in) healthy fats like avocado oil, ghee, or extra virgin olive oil for extra fats to burn ketones and to keep you fuller longer.
3. Keep your carbs to a minimumThe only carbs you eat on the keto diet should come from vegetables (think sweet potatoes and other starchy options). You can also get carbs on occasion from low-sugar fruits like blackberries or apricots, provided they don’t push your allotted carb macros over their daily limit. For that reason, there isn’t a precise set ratio for carbs, but rather a carb count within your half-plate of veggies, however it may fit.
4. Don’t go overboard on protein
There’s a common perception that the keto diet involves massive amounts of steak, bacon, and other fatty meat. In reality, up to ¼ of your plate should be protein. The type of protein depends on preferences, but it’s always recommended to source the best quality you can afford. Since those following a keto diet may be eating higher fat meats, it’s particularly important to aim for high-quality meats, since things like hormones, antibiotics, and toxins end up in the animal’s fat. Load up on eggs, avocado, nuts, and tempeh if you’re on keto but limiting meat intake.
To recap, a very generalized example of a healthy keto plate would be half vegetables, a fourth protein, and a fourth healthy fats (with more fats incorporated throughout).
Some sample keto meal ideas: Fill your plate with sautéed mushrooms, bok choy, and asparagus cooked in grass-fed ghee, then add 3oz grass-fed sirloin steak cooked in a pat of pastured butter (or swap the beef for skin-on chicken thighs). Breakfast could consist of a veggie omelette with some cheese, cooked in olive oil or grass-fed, organic butter.
The plate can stay consistent for all meals, since the macros are the same whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some people may practice intermittent fasting and not eat breakfast, but that still doesn’t impact what their plate looks like when they do eat. Consistency is key for achieving and maintaining ketosis—which hopefully should make things easier for meal prep, too.
Jacqueline Corbett, MS RD LD
Registered Dietitian, #NKFitSquad Dietitian
Women's Health & Fitness Specialist.