Y’ALL…this post has been a long time coming. For varying health reasons, I’ve had to keep my carbs to an absolute minimum for the past 4-5 months, which basically feels like forever. So I wanted to share my tips for a keto diet (or super low-carb diet).
Basically, how to not lose your mind and hate everyone and everything 🙂
A lot of this came from trial and error, seeing which things actually could help me make good choices. At the end I’ve also shared some of the recipes that have been my go-to’s for this low-carb diet.
I tend to avoid lots of store-bought keto things just due to not knowing/liking all the weird ingredients and stabilizers so generally make things myself. I also just didn’t really use cream cheese…it’s never something I’ve bought or worked with (though am not against).
1. Stock up on produce, & have a shelf life strategy
I am not a meal planner or prepper, and my work life is nuts, so my biggest enemy was time and planning ahead. I knew I needed to eat tons of veggies (the super low carb kind), and so started just buying a ton.
For instance on one trip I bought:
- Zucchini and mini bell peppers
- A bunch of curly kale
- A head of cabbage
- Red and orange bell peppers
- Avocados (I ate sooooo many)
- Mixed greens
- Cauliflower pearls (rice)
- A head of cauliflower
- Brussels sprouts
- Hearts of romaine lettuce, “little gem” lettuce, microgreens
But I do have a bad habit of letting things go bad then having to toss them. So instead I started by figuring out how to use the cauliflower rice, avocados, okra, zucchini, lettuce and greens, because they were going to go bad the fastest.
On the other hand, the curly kale, mini peppers, tomatoes, head of cauliflower, and brussels sprouts could be my “mid”-term options, while things like onion, cabbage, and big bell peppers are much sturdier and can sit around for a while.
2. Know thyself…and thy weaknesses
Unless you’re like my dad who just literally doesn’t care about food, it’s important to really think about your life and your potential weak spots in sticking to this diet. For me I LOVE good food and cocktails, I travel quite a bit (where restrictive diets are difficult), and I often have happy hours with coworkers.
So you need to understand your must-haves or “anchors,” and figure out acceptable substitutes…because that’s where you’re most likely to go wrong. For me, that was my coffee routine, cocktails, and some sweet stuff overall (as you guys know, I love baking!).
In particular, my day is usually bookended by sitting on the couch drinking a delicious homemade latte (with frothed milk and raw sugar) in the morning while I work, and whenever I FINALLY shut down at night having a gin and tonic. And both of these were verboten.
I found okay substitutes for both so I could maintain those “rituals” and not feel like I was giving up *all* the good things in life. More on that in a sec…
3. (Kind of) sweet treats to keep you sane
Okay, maybe more like “not savory”. On the even more restricted diet I was on for the first month, I couldn’t even have natural sweeteners like monkfruit and stevia, but actual keto does allow these.
So for that first month, almond butter (specifically from Trader Joe’s) and homemade macadamia nut butter kept me SANE! You have to make sure the nut butters you use don’t have any sugar in them, so making your own can make sense (and is super easy…you can see the technique in my homemade peanut butter recipe).
Once I was allowed, I tried a couple different natural sweeteners, and have found that monkfruit powder is my favorite overall. Stevia tastes weird to me and didn’t really sweeten either. I use this monkfruit powder for things like my morning coffee, and then this monkfruit syrup for things where a liquid is easier.
I made almond butter waffles quite a lot at first, made with almond flour and no sweetener. I topped them with whipped cream and a couple berries, with a couple drops of monkfruit syrup. I’m also newly obsessed with an almond flour pancake recipe (links to both below).
My morning coffee routine (both because of flavor and I needed the protein/fat blend) involves four shots of espresso, a mixture of heavy whipping cream, an egg yolk, some coconut oil, cinnamon, monkfruit powder, and cacao nibs blended with the immersion blender, and topped with some homemade whipped cream. Yeah, it’s…a LOT.
Because cacao powder, nibs, and paste are okay (not cocoa, cacao), you can use a bit of these in recipes to give the illusion of chocolate and sweet. Also, if you make homemade whipped cream (which takes literally two minutes) and add cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest (and a little monkfruit if you like), it also gives you the illusion of sweet.
Once my diet was less restrictive, I also kept ChocZero Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups around if I really needed a hit of sweet (they’re made with monkfruit, no dairy, etc).
4. Figure out what your easy options are
My one saving grace in this was that I was working from home so that gave me some flexibility, but I was still working crazy hours and it was hard to spend the time needed to make meals all the time. I definitely was fairly reliant on eggs in various forms, since they’re fast.
And in general you need to figure out what your easy and fast options are—and that you LIKE. Because if you like something, it’s easier to choose it when you’re tired, hungry, and cranky.
Cream-fried eggs, basted eggs with avocado, and easy omelets were life savers when I was on a time crunch, with like 10 minutes between meetings to grab lunch. Avocados in general were a great easy option to provide fat and flavor quickly.
I recommend roasting or grilling lots of veggies at a time and keeping them in the fridge, and then can throw them in omelets, scrambled eggs, or wherever you need them. Same for some ground hamburger or Asian ground chicken (I keep some in the fridge to up my protein), and I’d grill up seasoned chicken for all sorts of uses. More on grilling later.
I would whip up some tuna salad (or with salmon) and pile that with raw veggies (carrots, tomatoes) on lettuce leaves as a “wrap” or just throw on top of an actual salad.
And when all else fails and you need something RIGHT NOW, my super easy options were almond butter straight out of the jar, a stocked cheese drawer for an instant protein hit, half an avocado, or an Evolved Keto Cup.
5. Cheese was my saving grace
Most cheeses are low in carbs, so I basically bought ALL THE CHEESE.
I love cheese, so this was another way I could feel like I was having a treat, but also getting protein and fat I needed. And it made a quick snack when I needed something I could grab on the go.
I also used some soft cheeses (like this AMAZING sheep/goat cheese that I’m obsessed with…my Kroger has it) kind of like a sauce or something that helps hold stuff together.
For example I’ll break up that type of cheese in a salad, in a wrap, with scrambled eggs on a cauliflower tortilla, etc. It gives flavor, texture, and moisture.
6. Drink thoughts…especially alcohol
If you don’t drink much then this won’t be as hard for you, but for me I love alcohol in its many guises (and honestly, just…*not* water sometimes). On the specific diet I was on initially I wasn’t allowed to have any at all, but I learned that on regular keto it’s okay to have some alcohol.
Your best bet for keto diet is to have pure distilled liquor like gin, vodka, and whiskey. These don’t have any carbs, but if you start mixing it with stuff then it might. Soda water is fine, add a twist of citrus, etc. (like a gin rickey). Wine is a better choice than beer, but I’d say go easy since there is sugar and carbs in wine. And know that any alcohol *might* affect ketosis.
As I mentioned, the diet I was on initially also required me to entirely cut out alcohol, and recently I’ve also been on an anti-funghal diet to combat candida yeast, so alcohol is a no-no and I couldn’t even have that Lagunitas HOP since it has yeast in it (or kombucha due to the fermentation).
So I’ve been doing a lot of Q soda water with a few drops of monkfruit syrup, and a lime wedge (squeeze the juice a bit) and grapefruit peel twist (the grapefruit peel does add a lot of the flavor here). I sometimes added a few drops of bitters which gives it just a hint of a cocktail taste and balances out the sweetness of the monkfruit.
7. Your grill and air fryer can be super helpful
A grill and air fryer are two tools that I used ALL THE TIME. They both cook things fast, in healthy ways, with minimal cleanup…and in the grill’s case especially, tend to impart a lot of flavor.
I have a whole detailed guide to grilling that includes a ton of grill recipes for chicken, steak, salmon, and veggies. Regardless of whether you have time to marinate chicken ahead of time, or just do a quick 15-minute dry brine, being able to throw some meat and veggies on the grill is a lifesaver.
On the air fryer, I’ll be the first to admit I am hit and miss on using it. But it is perfect for cooking small amounts quickly. In particular I’ve been making little keto chicken tenders coated in egg and then rolled in almond flour and spices.
You could use it for veggies too, though I just throw a big tray of vegetables in the oven to roast (I also grill a big basket of diced veggies).
One other protein option to consider is easy shredded poached chicken (and how to shred chicken in 10 seconds).
8. Finding cauliflower wraps, flatbreads, & pizza were a huge help
One of the difficult things to figure out on this kind of low-carb diet is what to PUT stuff on. Like, if you make tuna salad, or you’re eating cheese, or my fave chicken shawarma (a great keto diet option!), what do you wrap it in or pile it on when most crackers or wraps are full of carbs???
It was tough regardless, but I found a few options that were nice, in addition to just piling filling on firm “little gem” lettuce leaves. I found some cauliflower/egg wraps at Aldi that were great (but yes, thin), and little cauliflower tortilla/flatbread-like things at Trader Joe’s that were AMAZING. I’d grab several bags of those and keep the extras in the freezer
I became a master at homemade cauliflower pizza crust piled high with toppings, since the store-bought ones have all sorts of weird (and carb-filled) things in them…and I even found a “no-squeeze” version that’s super easy! I’ve also been testing out some homemade avocado chips (salty but delicious).
9. Fridge dump salad
This kind of ties back to #1 and #4…if you have a bunch of different easy component parts on hand, you can figure out throwing together meal options that are satisfying and still easy.
As an example, I am decidedly NOT a salad person. They just do nothing for me, and so it’s hard to convince myself to eat them. But in sheer desperation one day I discovered “fridge dump salad” and it’s been a pretty consistent winner (though still…salad).
I had a combo of hearts of romaine, little gem lettuce, and microgreens on hand, so I chopped up a mixture of that and threw it in as the base in a giant bowl. I chopped up baby carrots and halved grape tomatoes. Threw in chopped grilled chicken (or chicken shawarma), diced avocado, and some of my soft cheese.
Salad dressing that was literally drizzling olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and a few drops of monkfruit syrup, plus sea salt flakes and sometimes some pepper and garlic powder. NOM. And that’s as someone who doesn’t like salad. And wow, I was full.
Just look at what’s in your fridge and see what combination of vegetables, protein, and fat you can bring together.
10. Finally, a list of some of the things that made my life easier
Evolved Keto Cups – I’m partial to the coffee flavor
Lagunitas HOP (my Total Wine & More has it)
If you’re doing true keto, I really loved this pure MCT powder
So there are some of my personal tips for a keto diet, and how to stay sane. I’m always looking for more tips and ideas since a semi-low carb diet will be a part of my life for a while, so hit me up in the comments!
Some recipes that can help you on a low-carb diet:
- How to Make Traditional Cauliflower Crust Pizza
- Asian-Inspired Ground Chicken or Turkey…Perfect for Asian Chicken Bowls
- Easy Almond Flour Pancakes (Naturally Gluten-Free, Keto, Low Carb)
- 90-Second Keto “Bread” (No/Low Carb)
- Protein-Packed Single-Serving Almond Butter Waffle (GF, Keto, Low Carb)
- Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Amazing, Flavorful (& Easy) Chicken Shawarma
- The Best Pan-Seared Stovetop Salmon…& How To Cook Salmon Without Oil
- 5-Minute Healthy Breakfast Tacos (with a low carb tortilla)
- How To Baste Eggs: Basted Eggs with Caramelized Shredded Brussels Sprouts
- The Easiest, Juiciest Poached Chicken (& How to Shred Chicken in 10 Seconds)
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