Just getting started with going lower carb or Keto? Or just working on cleaning up your dietary act and want some guidance?
Here is my comprehensive guide for what to eat for optimal health, based on what I have found to be the most health-promoting, disease-reversing food guidelines, for just about everyone.
I have used these guidelines successfully with 1,000s of patients over my 25+ years as a holistic doctor, so it is with great confidence that I make these recommendations! 👍
First, Fats and Oils
On a healthy low carb or Keto diet, your main source of fuel, and the majority of your calories, will come from dietary fats, so choosing the very best quality, healthiest fats can vastly improve your experience with and outcomes from going on a low carb or ketogenic diet.
Saturated and mono-unsaturated fats are the healthiest high fat foods (and poly-unsaturated are the least healthy), and since they are more stable and have more Omega 3 and less Omega 6 than other sources (including other nuts and seeds), they are less inflammatory and thus more health-promoting.
Make these types of fatty foods into sauces and dressings and add them liberally to all meals to increase healthy fat content and satiety, and to boost energy and well-being! 😊
The Healthiest Sources of Fats and Oils (in alphabetical order):
- Avocado & avocado oil
- Butter or ghee, from pastured cows
- Chicken fat, organic
- Chocolate, 85-90% dark, small quantities
- Coconut oil, coconut butter and coconut cream
- Duck fat, organic
- Lard, from pastured pigs (non-hydrogenated)
- Macadamia nuts & oil
- Mayonnaise (zero carb, made with macadamia, avocado and/or olive oil and pastured egg yolks)
- Olives and olive tapenade (no sugar added)
- Olive oil, extra virgin (EVOO)
- Red Palm oil (non-hydrogenated)
- Seed and nut oils (walnut, almond, sesame, etc.) – limited use, and don’t heat them
- Tallow, from pastured animals
Fats and Oils to Avoid or Minimize
Avoid hydrogenated and trans-fats (such as margarine), and refined vegetable oils (canola, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, soy, corn, cottonseed and peanut oils), as these are highly processed, and high in inflammatory Omega 6 fats. This means that they go rancid quickly (often before they even leave the processing plants), and thus lead to free radical formation in the body, which accelerates inflammation and aging. Also, again because of higher inflammatory Omega 6 content and faster rancidity, minimize the use of nut and seed oils such as walnut, almond, and sesame, do not heat them, and store them in the refrigerator.
For high heat cooking such as grilling, broiling, frying and sautéing, use avocado or coconut oil, or pastured lard, tallow or ghee, since these have higher smoke points (meaning they do not get damaged and and become inflammatory as easily as other oils when heated). Olive oil and macadamia nut oils have medium high smoke points; these are best used for low to medium heat cooking.
Sources of Protein
For a healthy low carb diet, fattier cuts of meat are best, especially when first transitioning to low carb, as they are more nutritious and more satisfying. (Once your body is good at fat burning, then reducing fat intake can help shift your body towards burning off more excess body fat, if needed.)
Fun fact: just about every human culture throughout history (that we know of) preferentially cooked/cooks their meats bone-in – it makes them tastier, and more nutritious!
Choose pastured or wild animal products as these are the most nutrient-dense and least inflammatory. Visit www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.org to find local sources. The proteins below are good choices:
- Meat: beef, lamb, veal, goat and wild game
- Pork: pork loin, Boston butt, pork chops, ham. Watch out for added sugar in hams.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, quail, Cornish hen, duck, goose, pheasant
- All seafood: anchovies, calamari, catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, herring, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, sardines, scrod, sole, snapper, trout, tuna, etc.
- Canned tuna and salmon are fine as long as they have no additives besides salt and oil (Wild Planet is a good quality brand)
- Shellfish: clams, crab (NOT imitation), lobster, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, and oysters
- Whole eggs from pastured poultry: Nature’s perfect food!
- Bacon and sausage: check labels and make sure they’re very low in carbs (<1g per serving) and don’t contain additives such as soy or wheat
Wondering if you’re getting the right amount of protein? Check out my article How Much Protein Should You Eat?
For a fairly complete list of the best veggies to have on a low carb diet, visit my post Low Carb Vegetables. In general, most non-starchy, above-ground-growing vegetables are low in carbs, especially leafy greens and brassicas. When eating veggies, make sure to serve them with healthy fats – butter, olive oil, mayo/aioli, fatty sauces (ex. hollandaise, béarnaise, lemon-garlic butter) or keto-friendly dressings (ranch, vinaigrette, etc. – and make sure they are made with healthy oils and have no sugar added)
To optimize health and fat burning, avoid all starchy vegetables completely during the first few months of shifting to low carb. This includes avoiding peas (English, snap, snow), potatoes (sweet, blue/purple, white, yellow), root vegetables (including carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips), all winter squashes, and corn, as they are all high in insulin-stimulating, blood-sugar-raising, fattening carbs.
Please note that dairy products are inflammatory, allergenic, and very insulinogenic (meaning they cause a strong insulin response), and are problematic for most people (sorry!). So if you are dealing with any health issues, and especially inflammation, immune system problems (including allergies), hormonal imbalances, and/or low energy, are having trouble losing weight, and/or are having trouble getting into or staying in fat-burning mode, avoid all dairy products (except for butter and ghee), at least until you’ve reached your goal weight (= ideal body fat %), balanced your hormones, restored your insulin sensitivity, boosted your immune system, and minimized your levels of inflammation.
If you are having dairy, raw or lower-heat-processed dairy products are preferable. And, dairy from goats, sheep, yak, etc. (not cows) tend to be better tolerated by most people. Dairy from pastured animals is a must, as it is the healthiest, most nutritious and least inflammatory form of dairy. And full fat dairy products are the best for health and satiety:
- Heavy whipping cream
- Full fat sour cream with no fillers (ex. Green Valley Organics)
- All hard and soft cheeses (1 ounce is typically about 1 carb)
- Cream cheese (count each 1 ounce portion as 1 carb generally)
- Mascarpone cheese
- Double cream / Devonshire cream
- Clotted cream
Nuts and Seeds
As with dairy, nuts and seeds are problematic for many people, as they are inflammatory and immune and gut irritating. Phooey! However, these problems can be mitigated somewhat by soaking nuts and seeds overnight in filtered water and then – if you want to go for the gusto – sprouting them briefly (1-2 days) to more fully remove their gut-irritating anti-nutrients and make them more digestible and nutritious.
Now, something that can’t be changed about nuts and seeds is that, except for macadamia nuts, they are higher in carbs per serving than the other protein sources listed here, and have more inflammatory Omega 6 oils. Plus it’s very easy to go nuts on eating nuts! 😜 So always limit your consumption of nuts and seeds and their butters to a small handful of nuts, or two tablespoons of seeds, or 1 tablespoon nut/seed butter, per day, max. And if you are dealing with any health issues, avoid nuts and seeds and their butters completely, at least for a while.
Beverages – all unsweetened
- Clear broth, bone broth (preferably homemade, or Kettle & Fire brand)
- Decaf or regular coffee or espresso (organic and certified mold-free coffee is ideal – LifeBoost is excellent)
- Decaf or regular black or green tea
- Herbal tea – watch out for ones with hidden sugar, such as those containing “natural flavor”
- Filtered water
- Flavored (unsweetened) or plain seltzer water or mineral water
- A squirt of fresh lemon, lime, grapefruit juice or apple cider vinegar in water or seltzer
- Coconut milk (unsweetened, canned, full fat, with no additives – such as Trader Joe’s or Let’s Do Organic)
- Low carb organic wines, occasionally, in small quantities – Dry Farm Wines are the BEST! Check out their new low-alcohol wines, great for those who are sensitive to wine but would still like to enjoy some once in a while without feeling crappy the next day. 😊🍷
All sweeteners, even non-caloric ones such as Erythritol and Xylitol, and natural ones such as Stevia and Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo), can stimulate an insulin response, especially in those with insulin resistance (which we are trying to fix!). So consuming sweeteners will impede progress, period. Avoiding sweetened foods altogether will not only help “reset” your taste buds (and it doesn’t take long, I promise!), but will aid you in getting into and staying in fat burning mode, which helps everything in your body work better.
But, in the beginning of transitioning to a healthier, cleaner WOE (way of eating), sweeteners can be used in small amounts to help ease the process! Just know that at any point, if you feel like you want to make faster progress, taking these out altogether will help.
Best sweetener choices:
- Monk fruit (aka Lo Han Guo)
- Erythritol (caution: can be gut irritating)
- Maple syrup (in tiny quantities, very occasionally)
- Honey (in tiny quantities, very occasionally)
- The staff of life. NOT. Given the impaired state of metabolic health that most of us are in these days – due in large part to processed flour products – bread is not a good choice for us. It’s really sad, because – I know! – bread is so yummy. And this one aspect of eating healthy – giving up bread – is a major stumbling block for many, many people, and sometimes it is THE biggest stumbling block, because bread is incredibly tasty, and addictive, and easy, and it is EVERYWHERE. It can be a total deal-breaker for some, without some planning ahead and preparing oneself. But the effort is well worth it, as bread is very inflammatory, causing long-lasting damage to our digestive systems, aggravating our immune systems, and speeding up aging. Blech!
- So, here are some options to help you in your journey towards better health and life, without bread. (And no, gluten-free breads aren’t any better for you, so don’t go there).
- First, don’t let yourself get hungry, as that’s when you’re most likely to cave to bread’s siren song.
- Second, especially at first, you must plan ahead, and be ready with good healthy options on hand, such as Dr. Emily’s Macadamia Nut Bread
- Crackers and cookies and cakes, oh my. Like with bread, these goodies are sooo… well… good! And quick, and easy, and everywhere you turn. But also incredibly inflammatory, insulin stimulating, gut damaging, immune aggravating, and all around not good for you. So if these are the types of treats you tend to reach for… same deal as with bread, don’t let yourself get hungry, and plan ahead and always have healthier options on hand to keep you from caving.
- Note: The following options are not perfect, but while you transition to a cleaner, low carb Paleo WOE, these can be lifesavers in helping you avoid grain-based flour products, which are so much worse for you! Don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress.
- Ah, fruit. So beloved… And so modified in our modern times to be as sweet as possible, that it is no longer the wonderfully healthy option that it once was. Instead, with all that extra sugar in it now, fruit messes with our blood sugar and our liver function (contributing to fatty liver with its fructose content), stimulates cravings for more sweets, exacerbates mood swings and weight (fat) gain, and all around isn’t our friend when we’re trying to achieve and maintain optimal health. Such a bummer!
- So, it is best to avoid fruit altogether, especially when you are first working on lowering insulin and inflammation, and getting into ketosis (fat-burning mode), and while you continue to actively work on improving your health.
- After you’re solidly in fat burning mode and happy with your progress towards your health goals, then organic fresh or frozen unsweetened berries can usually be enjoyed occasionally in small amounts (1/2 cup) without detriment, as they are relatively low carb, and very nutrient-rich. Aim to only have them just after dinner to minimize excess consumption, and to mitigate their effect on your blood sugar. And please don’t eat non-organic berries – they are full of nasty chemicals!
- Berries include:
- Zucchini noodles, Shirataki noodles (such as Well Lean or Miracle), and Palmini (hearts of palm pasta) are all decent noodle substitutes that are very low carb
- Cappello’s products are pretty much all Paleo-friendly and delicious, but keep in mind that they are NOT at all low carb or keto-friendly, and they are also somewhat inflammatory due to being made with almond flour (those pesky Omega 6 fats again…). So use these as very occasional treats, or for those who you’re hoping to coax towards Paleo (ex. kiddos).
Dippers and Crunchy Foods
One of the first things – after carbs – that many people miss with a keto/low-carb way of eating, is crunchy foods. So, here are some great options to satisfy that urge to crunch, and also the desire for something to scoop into tasty keto-friendly dips and sauces:
- Jicama sticks
- Celery sticks
- Baby carrots (only a few though – they’re carby!)
- Radish slices
- Turnip slices
- Pork rinds (aka pork skins) – what?? Yes, seriously. These are very low carb and keto-friendly, contain plenty of good protein, are mild in flavor and have lots of great crunch, and are excellent with dips (and also, ground up in the food processor, work amazingly well in place of bread crumbs) – Epic brand are good quality
So, now that you’re armed with all this great info and guidance, you’re ready to go forth and conquer your new, healthier lifestyle. You got this! 🤩
Questions? Come visit us at Facebook.com/DrEmilyFranklin for support and camraderie. 😊