Keto isn’t for everyone, but there are some good habits that you can steal from the popular diet to use on your own.
The ketogenic diet is crazy popular. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat virtually unlimited avocado, amirite? But that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for everyone. While plenty of people have success with the keto eating style, vegetarians, power athletes, and um, people who like eating carbs may be better-served by other types of diets and eating styles.
That being said, there are some key guidelines to the keto diet that basically anyone can benefit from, according to experts. (Related: 8 Common Keto Diet Mistakes You Could Be Getting Wrong)
“The best thing about the keto diet is that it is helping to awaken people from their fear of fat,” explains Liz Josefsberg, author of Target 100 and an expert on The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. Though Josefsberg isn’t a big fan of the diet in general, she says that it can help people understand what types of foods they should be consuming for a more healthful lifestyle.
From egg yolks to cheese to nut butter, people are more willing to include foods that are high in fat in their diets than ever thanks to keto—and that’s a good thing. “Keto has shined a light on the fact that these foods will not ‘make you fat’ as we once believed, but instead will keep you much fuller for much longer for few extra calories,” says Josefsberg. “That helps people snack less, which very easily makes up for the added calories they may have consumed. These foods help stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar intake, which leads to fewer cravings.” So by including fat in every meal, you’re more likely to make it to the next one without feeling ravenous.
#2 Stop buying “low-fat” foods.
On a similar note, there’s no reason to seek out foods that are marketed as low-fat. “Full-fat dairy including cheese, milk, yogurt, whole eggs rather than egg whites, and higher-fat cuts of meat such as dark meat poultry and grass-fed beef are extremely satiating, leading to reduced overall consumption and cravings,” notes Molly Devine, R.D., L.D.N. founder of Eat Your Keto and advisor to KetoLogic. “Additionally, most ‘low-fat’ products contain higher amounts of sugars and other fillers.” In most cases, you’re better off just eating a reasonable portion of the real thing. (Related: Fat-Free Vs. Full-Fat Greek Yogurt: Which Is Better?)
#3 Eat non-starchy veggies with every meal.
People on the keto diet have to choose their veggies strategically in order to keep their carb consumption low. But eating non-starchy veggies (broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) is important no matter what type of diet you choose to follow, according to Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition. “Veggies fill you up by adding volume to your meals, but have few calories.”
Try to have several servings per day, including a handful or two with each meal, says Dr. Axe.
#4 Get familiar with macronutrients.
All foods are made up of varying proportions of three key macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. “It’s impossible to follow keto appropriately and not become more aware of what makes up the foods you’re eating,” points out Julie Stefanski, R.D., a registered dietitian and specialist in the ketogenic diet.
But you don’t have to be on keto or even adhere to the IIFYM eating style to benefit from learning more about macronutrients. “Educating yourself about what foods are high and low in carbohydrates and thinking about what macros you’re choosing on a daily basis can build the base for a more sustainable approach to good nutrition,” says Stefanski.
#5 Learn to read nutrition labels.
People following keto also generally read nutrition labels fully to ensure the foods they’re eating are keto-friendly. Experts say this is a good habit to get into regardless of your eating style. “Look for any type of added sugar (including cane sugar, beet juice, fructose, high corn syrup) and bleached wheat flour,” suggests Dr. Axe. “These are in almost all baked goods, many types of bread, cereals, and more.” (Related: These So-Called Healthy Breakfast Foods Have More Sugar Than Dessert)
Why bother? “Reading labels will help you avoid junk foods that are unhealthy, even if they are low-carb. This includes things such as processed meats (bacon or salami), poor-quality meats from factory farm-raised animals, processed cheeses, farm-raised fish, foods with lots of synthetic additives, and refined vegetable oils.”
#6 Make hydration a priority.
“When people are following a ketogenic diet, there is significant water loss due to several metabolic changes which can result in a real risk of dehydration,” says Christina Jax, R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutrition professor and performance nutrition specialist. Hello, keto flu.
“But focusing on increasing water intake is a key takeaway we can all use from this diet. Your muscles and your brain work at optimal levels when properly hydrated,” says Jax. “Taking in calorie-free water is also a great way to feel fuller longer and help with digestion. It’s the easiest way to work on feeling your best.” (Related: Low-Carb Keto Drinks That Will Keep You In Ketosis)
#7 Ensure you’re getting enough potassium.
One of the key ways keto dieters try to avoid keto flu is by boosting their potassium intake, which probably would be a good idea for pretty much anyone. “Many Americans don’t get enough potassium, yet high potassium foods like green leafy vegetables have been shown in clinical trials to help lower blood pressure and are a cornerstone of the DASH diet,” says Stefanski. (Curious about the DASH diet? Here are 10 DASH diet recipes that taste damn good to get you started.)
Most people can benefit from eating foods that contain more potassium, although Stefanski notes that if you have kidney disease, you should check in with your doctor before doing this.
#8 Pay attention to how the foods you eat make you feel.
“Many of my patients are astounded to realize how much better they feel when following a well-formulated ketogenic diet,” says Catherine Metzgar, Ph.D., R.D., a registered dietitian and nutritional biochemistry expert who works with Virta Health. “As their blood sugar stabilizes, many lose weight and report higher energy levels.” But you don’t have to be on keto to notice how your diet is making your body feel. “People who don’t follow a ketogenic diet should also try to be cognizant of the effect their food choices are having on their bodies,” says Metzgar.
By checking in with yourself after each meal, food journaling, and/or practicing mindful eating, you can really tune into your relationship with the foods you eat and how they affect your body.