Keto is far more than bacon and cheese. If you’re committed to the diet, you need to stock up on these keto pantry essentials.
The ketogenic (keto) diet sounds like a diet dream come true. After all, you’re eating loads of meat and cheese. Bacon is A-OK in the keto diet book, as is mayonnaise, salad dressing, and nuts.
All of these foods are ultra-low-carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are common in almost every food—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all off limits with keto—and they’re the body’s preferred source of energy. The goal of the keto diet is to put your body into a state of ketosis by eliminating carbs almost entirely. Ketosis occurs when your body uses stored fats instead of sugar and carbohydrates for energy. When you eliminate carb-heavy foods and instead focus on fat, you can help your body tap into stored fat for fast weight loss and greater energy.
The possible ingredient lists may be short, but creative keto cooks can find plenty of ways to meet their nutritional goals while eating well on this popular diet. If you’re building up your keto pantry, this list of keto-approved foods may help you prepare for cooking, snacking, and surviving in the low-carb, high-fat realm. Each keto diet is different—you may count total carbs instead of net carbs—so these foods may not fit perfectly into your plan. Take these as inspiration and adjust to your specific tastes and meal plans.
Most of the options on the condiments aisle are welcome in the keto diet. Some, like ketchup, can find a place with a few minor adjustments.
- Mayonnaise - Read the label and avoid any with unnecessary ingredients or added sugar. Sir Kensington’s is surprisingly flavorful. It has a pinch of lime and black pepper.
- Mustard - Most all mustards, even the flavored varieties, have zero grams of carbs. I keep horseradish mustard and spicy brown mustard on the ready.
- Ketchup - Tomatoes are high in carbs, so it stands to reason a tomato-based condiment would be, too. One tablespoon has one gram of carbohydrate. That might not seem like a lot, but when you have just 20 to spare in a day, it adds up. Look for a no-sugar-added ketchup if you can’t live without this condiment, and use sparingly.
- Buffalo sauce - Wing sauces and buffalo sauces get the keto thumbs up. Just be sure to read the label to make sure sugar isn’t added. For an easy dinner, I toss grilled chicken tenders in wing sauce, add to a bed of spinach, and sprinkle with a hefty hand of tangy blue cheese.
- Salad dressing - Almost all full-fat salad dressings, save any sweetened ones, are keto approved. (Light salad dressings typically remove fat and replace it with sugar, so skip those. Plus, with keto, the more fat, the better.) This includes ranch dressing, balsamic vinaigrette, and more.
Keto eating is heavily focused on getting lots of fats—the healthy ones specifically—into your daily diet. Sometimes the fat goal may be so high, you can’t reach that number without adding some doses of fat into your daily meal plans. For example, bulletproof coffee is popular on the keto diet. With the boost of fats from butter and coconut oil, you may help quash cravings while boosting your daily fat amount.
For keto eaters, however, not all fats are created equally. Here are the ones to focus on:
- MCT oil - Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are derived from coconut and palm kernel oils. These saturated fatty acids are used and burned quickly by your body instead of being stored. They’re also converted into ketones, which helps boost your body’s fat-burning capabilities. Add MCT oil to your coffee, drizzle it over salads, blend it into smoothies, or stir some into salad dressings or healthy dips.
- Coconut oil - Slightly sweet coconut oil is great for frying up keto pancakes, adding to coffee, or blending into smoothie. It also happens to make a really luxurious lotion and moisturizer for dry skin.
- Cooking oils - Avocado oil, sunflower seed oil, and grapeseed oil all have high smoke points, so you can use them for sautéing, roasting, and stir-frying. They also have a neutral flavor so they can be used in baking.
- Non-cooking oils - Some oils, such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and pistachio oil don’t do well with heat—they break down too quickly and may burn—but they’re delicious in salads, soups, or drizzled over avocado toast.
It may throw off your diet sensibilities, but butter is welcome on keto. Toss everything from asparagus to shrimp in a bit of butter to add a hint of saltiness and a coat of rich fat.
Ghee, or clarified butter, imparts a rich nuttiness that you can’t get from ordinary butter. It’s so yummy you could eat it by the spoonful—and you might if you need the extra fat. Use it to pan-fry vegetables or meats.
Some keto eaters also use lard and tallow, but I think ghee and other oils are more than enough for the average keto eater, especially if you’re a beginner.
WATCH: Ghee vs. Butter
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans—they’re all great sources of healthy fats. They also have a fair number of carbs and plenty of fiber. If you’re tracking net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), you can afford a few extra of these crunchy snacks in a day. If you’re tracking total carbs, you may have to limit yourself to a quarter cup to not burst your carb goal.
No matter how you count carbs on the keto diet however, nuts and seeds are a great addition as snacks, toppers to salads, and even blended up into smoothies.
Green and black olives are rich in heart-healthy fats. That makes them an ideal way to pack more fats into your day. You can eat them as snacks, add them to salads, or warm them up with marinara and serve over zoodles. However you like olives, they’re a worthy keto-friendly food. Some companies offer snack-size single-serve packs you can keep in your bag.
Look for an olive bar at your local grocery store, too. Marinated and flavored options can add variety to your snacks and let you try small quantities until you find flavors and olive types you prefer.
Most conventional peanut butter has added sugar. Unsweetened peanut butter is becoming more common as keto eaters and sugar avoiders look to enjoy this food without the heaping teaspoons of the sweet stuff. Unsweetened almond butter is also available. Don’t be afraid to make your own if you have the time. You can add no-carb flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, or cardamom for an unique twist.
Use these spreads in smoothies, as a dip for carrots or celery, or with soups. Unsweetened nut butters also frequently form the base of keto fat bombs, semi-sweet or savory bites that are meant to deliver a heaping dose of fat with few carbs.
Some keto eaters prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners entirely; others choose to embrace them. If you do like the idea of having a stack of pancakes with a blueberry syrup from time to time, keep keto-approved sweeteners like stevia, sucralose (Splenda), monkfruit, and erythritol (Swerve) on hand. It’s difficult to use conventional recipes with these sweeteners, however, as they are many times sweeter than granulated table sugar and don’t always bake well. Look for keto-friendly baked goods recipes if you decide to cook with these products.
Snacking can feel impossible when it seems everything in the store is loaded with carbohydrates. However, if you know where to look, lots of great keto-friendly options exist:
- pork rinds
- cheese crisps (baked or dehydrated cheese bites)
- meat snacks, including mini pepperonis, meat bars, and meat sticks
- jerky, including biltong
- pili nuts
Flours and Thickeners
Traditional all-purpose (AP) flour is out with a keto diet, but you can still bake. Almond flour, almond meal, andcoconut flour are both high-fiber, low-carbohydrate alternatives to AP flour. They also happen to have a great nutty flavor, too. That makes them ideal in keto pancakes, muffins, waffles, or even keto cookies.
Likewise, where you once used AP flour, you can now use almond and coconut flours to thicken soups, sauces, and stews. You can also look to xanthum gum and guar gum, two high-fiber thickeners that can do almost everything AP flour can for texture and viscosity.
Keto dieters need salt. I’m not talking plain Jane table salt. You need the good stuff.
As your body adjusts to burning fat, you may face some electrolyte swings; salt can help ease that. Then, when you’re fully in ketosis, your body doesn’t have reserves to hang on to water, so you will find that you’re frequently urinating. That means you’re losing more sodium and electrolytes than the average person. You need to replace it with salt, so why not have a little fun in the process?
Add a variety of flavored salts to your keto arsenal. Smoked salts are great for hard-boiled eggs or sprinkled onto meats. Herbes de provence salt is delicious sprinkled over a soft goat cheese or stirred into a simple vinaigrette. Start with a variety pack of quality salts and try each one to find what you really love.