It seems like we can forget all about our nutrition 101 class that we painstakingly sat through in the fifth grade.
The basic rules seemed to have changed.
If you remember studying the traditional “food pyramid” you might picture in your head a shape full of equal parts veggies, proteins, fruits, and grains, with a sprinkle of dairy on top.
Food pyramids have been around for a long time. For the last ten years, the USDA has updated their nutrition advice to include a bit less dairy but has not capitulated on the high amount of fast-digesting carbohydrates that comprise a large percentage of a recommended diet.
More recently, in October 2021, the Food Compass introduced a nutrition profiling system (NPS) that got a firm thumbs down from the keto community.
But starting with what works rather than some ideal version of a diet means we keto dieters follow a different food pyramid all together.
Fundamentals of Keto
If you have stumbled onto this article unknowingly, here is a brief recap of the keto diet. Unlike traditional diets (and traditional nutritional pyramids) that recommend heavy amounts of carbohydrates for energy, the keto diet eliminates glucose dervived from carbs and instead converts fats into fuel.
The body enters ketosis when it chooses to burn fats over carbohydrates and produces byproduct amino acids called “ketones” that give the diet its name.
These ketones have been shown to provide incredible benefits including increased mental health, weight loss, and healthier skin and organs.
The Keto Food Pyramid
Let’s go over the breakdown for the keto food pyramid. For our loyal readers, you would have heard us say this before.
Keto starts differently for each person, so while understanding the keto food pyramid is important, it may be necessary to ease into the diet slowly. All recommendations we give below are based on our research and our experience.
While you may see variations in this, it is normally recommended to stick to a macronutrient keto ratio that breaks down like this:
- 70% Fats
- 25% Protein
- 5% Carbohydrates
Fats (70%) – Control Your Hunger
Our goal is to make fat our primary energy source, so it is no surprise fatty foods should comprise the largest part of a keto diet – 70%.
The good news is that fats are slow to digest and so keep you feeling full for longer.
There are three main types of fat: (poly and mono) unsaturated, saturated, and trans fat.
The differences in these types of fat come in their molecular structure which can provide an easier or harder mode of digestion.
As a general rule, trans fat and saturated fat are deemed worse for your health, leading to potentially harmful effects such as cardiovascular disease. Glucose is stored in all of these fats.
To maintain ketosis we should be focusing on healthy fats and oils, and staying away from saturated and processed fats. Some of the best sources of healthy fat with the keto diet are:
- Coconut Oil
- MCT Oil
- Fatty Cuts of Grass-Fed Beef
- Fatty Fish such as Salmon, Tuna or Sardines packed in oil
- Grass-Fed Butter
It’s important to understand where your food is coming from, as many types of meat, fish, and even dairy can include a significant amount of sugars, hormones, and preservatives added during processing.
Proteins (20%) – Set Your Target
One of the most common mistakes new keto dieters make is going too hard on the protein to maintain their caloric intake. While it might seem like a good idea (and more convenient) to supplement your lower carbs with more protein, it can actually have a negative effect on keeping your body in ketosis.
When the body is starved of glucose from carbohydrates, it sometimes chooses to revert to a process called gluconeogenesis in which glucose is converted from amino acids found in proteins. These metabolic processes will actually decrease the number of ketones in the blood, effectively negating the result of the keto diet.
When starting out, try to stick with 20-25% protein intake, and supplement cravings or hunger with fat instead. The best protein sources to stick to on keto are:
- Lean Fish (Cod, Halibut, Mahi-mahi)
- Lean Meats (Pork, Lamb, Beef)
- Cured Meats (Salami and Pepperoni)
As a general rule, limit your protein intake to avoid falling out of ketosis. Consumer healthy fats to indulge cravings and suppress your appetite. Check out some keto meal replacement ideas in order to ease the transition to the diet.
Carbohydrates (5%) – Know Your Limits
Carbs make up the base of the traditional food pyramid. So are carbs necessary at all when we are on the keto diet?
Studies show that we could in fact have a 0% carb intake, and that our body will create sufficient enough energy from converting fats. However, there are certain types of food that contain small amounts of carbohydrates along with important nutrients. Consuming these low-carb foods not only provides important nutrients such as fiber, but also gives texture and flavor to the keto diet.
These non-starchy vegetables should be consumed in small amounts in order to benefit from their nutrients with only a negligible addition of carbohydrates.
The keto pyramid is just that. By eliminating a large number of carbohydrates from our diet, we allow the body to become “fat-adapted”, favoring converted fat for energy over carbohydrate-derived glucose.
Common Questions on the Keto Food Pyramid
What about Dairy?
For cheese lovers like us, you may be wondering why dairy is not on the list. The good news is, many dairy products are high in healthy fats and fit well with our 70% fat recommendation.
That being said, dieters must be careful to find dairy high in fat, but low in carbohydrates. Many processed dairy products such as milk and cheese contain a large number of carbs, and should be avoided.
If you must, stick to these options to ensure you’re staying in ketosis.
- Grass-fed butter
- Full Cream Dairy
- Full-Fat Cheeses
Can I Eat Fruits and Nuts on Keto?
In many modern diets, fruits and nuts are often praised as great snacks to quell cravings and settle appetites, especially during the summer months full of hiking and camping adventures.
For keto dieters, it’s important to understand that nuts and fruits are often chock-full of carbohydrates and should be consumed sparingly. If you consume too much of these foods, you can fall out of ketosis without even knowing it. Remember, we want to limit our carbs and ensure we don’t go past that limit.
The most “keto-friendly” nuts and fruits (high fat, low-carb) are:
- Macadamia Nuts
- Almonds (check the label)
What Foods and Drinks should I Avoid on Keto?
Anything high in carbohydrates can kick you right out of ketosis, undoing all the hard work you did in gettting there.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid “beige” (light brown) colored foods, in other words things that are wheat-based, starchy or sugary. Some examples of these are:
- Anything baked (bread, biscuits, cakes etc)
- High carb drinks (most sodas fall into this category)
- Starchy foods such as rice, potatoes and beans
- ALL sugars and honey
How do I Know if I can Eat a Certain Food on Keto?
Lists of what to eat and what to avoid on a keto diet are all very well, but in real life not everything is on a list. And even if you have a list it can be a pain (and embarrassing) to have to stop and go through it when you’re at the supermarket or out with friends.
So here are some tips.
Is it “beigy”? Remember that advice on avoiding beige-colored foods? Anything without a strong or vibrant colour is likely to contain starch or carbohydrates.
Look at the label. If it’s in a packet, the label is the best place to start. Take a look at the macro nutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrates) – do they match our magic ratio of 70:20:5?
So there you have it, the keto food pyramid explained.
As a general rule, we want to limit our carbohydrates, set a protein target and stick to it, and supplement healthy fats to control hunger.
If you stick to these main guidelines, you will be in ketosis heaven.
Florence, aka Flo, is the lead editor at keto.fm. Obsessed with nutrition, Flo used the keto + a one meal a day (OMAD) diet to lose 50lbs in under half a year.
After experiencing the benefits first, both mentally and physically, he became one of the many keto ambassadors online.
He is currently working towards becoming a NASM Certified Nutrition Coach.