So, you’re thinking about trying a keto diet. But, with fewer carbs in the mix, what can you actually eat?

Before we get into food, here’s a refresher on how the keto diet works and whether there are any risks to consider before you start.

The keto diet explained

In simple terms, the keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that’s become a popular option for weight loss and, for some, a lifestyle choice.

In more scientific terms, it involves eating no more than 50g of carbs per day, with moderate amounts of protein and a very high fat content. The aim of the diet is to send the body into a state called ketosis where fat is turned into something known as ‘ketones’ by the liver. Usually, the body gets its energy from glucose (a sugar found in carbohydrates) but, by cutting down on these, the body burns fat instead and uses ketones for energy. 

Are there any risks to the keto diet?

The long-term effects of the keto diet aren’t known, so it’s only recommended as a short-term option for two to six months. It’s often followed by transitioning to a more moderate low-carb diet. 

Some people may experience a range of side effects known as the ‘keto flu’ in the first few weeks, including:

• Low energy levels

• Brain fog

• Cravings and increased hunger

• Sleep problems

• Nausea

• Digestive discomfort

• Bad breath

• Leg cramps

• Poor exercise performance

The diet can be safe but requires careful planning and does involve restricting a food group (carbohydrates). This means it can be difficult to get the right amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre. You may want to consider taking supplements to support you during the keto diet.

As with any diet, it may not be suitable for you and it’s not appropriate for those including:

• People who are pregnant or breastfeeding

• Children

• Anyone with a low BMI

• Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition that interferes with normal protein and fat metabolism, particularly kidney and liver disease

Before you begin the keto diet, you should speak to your GP to make sure it’s okay for you.

What to eat on a keto diet

You might be wondering how a high-fat diet came about. After all, fat isn’t usually the number one recommendation for healthy eating. However, the keto diet isn’t an excuse to over-indulge in pastries and fried fatty foods. Instead, you should focus on healthy sources of fat where possible and eat meals rich in vegetables, along with drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

“It’s important to carefully plan your meals and snacks in advance to help you stay on track and stick to a healthier keto-friendly way of eating,” says Boots’ nutritionist, Vicky Pennington. “A weight loss diet can only be effective if it’s nutritionally sound, supports a deficit in calories and can be maintained over time.”

Here are the main low-carb foods eaten on the keto diet:

• Meat

• Fish and seafood

• Eggs

• Cheese

• Low-carb green vegetables/salad such as kale, spinach, broccoli and asparagus

• Natural fats including olive oil, coconut oil, lard, butter and cream

• Nuts, seeds and avocados

• Berries such as blueberries and raspberries in moderation

What not to eat on a keto diet

The keto diet involves avoiding highly processed food and foods rich in carbs including:

• Grains such as cereals, bread, pasta and rice

• Legumes such as peas and beans

• Milk and milk products

• Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, parsnips and beetroot

• Most fruits (excluding berries in moderation)

• Fruit juice

• Sugary drinks

• Sweets, cakes, biscuits, pastries and ice cream

And there you have it, your guide to what to eat and what not to eat on a keto diet. Remember, even if the keto diet works for someone else, it may not work for you. If you have any concerns whilst following the diet, speak to your GP.