With the increasing awareness of the ketogenic lifestyle (finally) and people globally becoming more health-conscious, a wide range of keto, low-carb, and sugar-free food products are popping up on the shelves and online.
But as awesome as it may look, not every product is as Keto-friendly as it may seem by looking at the packaging. If you are still not sure how to spot the good from the bad, follow these 5 easy tips for choosing the right Keto-friendly products in the market.
Small disclaimer: We are not the Keto police (woo-woo) and believe that anyone can and should make their own decisions about what they eat and when they eat it, but we're here to help you make the best-informed decision.
1. ALWAYS check the ingredients list.
You see we really emphasize the 'always'? Good. We're serious about that.
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking ‘but hey, it has 6g net carbs, then it's Keto!’
Net carbs are important but so are the ingredients. Keto is a low carb (and high-fat) diet, but that is also about eating whole foods. The less processed and more ‘real’ a product is, the best it is for your health, metabolism, and for maintaining this lifestyle in the long-term.
There is also a big chance that there are many hidden carbs in these food products, like Maltodextrin and Dextrose. These are not always listed as carbs but fillers, and so you might be getting carbs without noticing and… falling out of Ketosis often.
Now that you know that you have to ALWAYS check the ingredients list, let's go on with what to search for. This way you know what to drop off or put in your shopping cart.
2. Skip sugars (obvious and hidden)
We all know that sugar is a no-no. However, sugar often comes in disguise. Don’t ever assume that "sugar-free" or "no added sugars" labelled products automatically mean green-light. There are over 60 different names for sugar. Some may be obvious but others not so much. That's why it is easy to fall into the sugar trap. How in the hell would you know all these names by heart?! We get the struggle.
The trick is to look out for:
- All types of sugar (Coconut sugar, Brown sugar, Palm sugar, Caramel, etc)
- Syrups (High-fructose syrup, Malt syrup, Maple syrup, Agave syrup, Corn syrup, etc.)
- Fruits and fruit juices (Cane juice, Fruit juice, Dates, Dried fruit, etc.)
- Chemically-sound ingredients (Dextrose, Glucose, Lactose, Fructose, Maltodextrin, Maltose, Disaccharide, etc.)
- What-the-hell-is-that type of ingredients (HFCS, Diastatic malt, Muscovado, Treacle, Barley malt, etc.)
Maltodextrin, for example, is a very high GI (110) sugar substitute but it is commonly used and listed as a filler. So it does not show as sugar on the carb count on the nutritional list. Maltodextrin is present in hundreds of food products and is worse than sugar, so it is important to get to known these hidden junk very well.
2. Skip artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols that are not keto-friendly
Many sweeteners used in sugar-free products can easily knock you out of Ketosis and raise blood sugar. We’ve seen brands claiming they are stevia-sweetened in the front of the package but on the back, you find it is mixed with other sweeteners that are not keto-friendly. So look out for the sweetener traps too.
Some of the sugar alcohols, or polyols, that should be avoided are:
- Maltitol (especially!)
Xylitol (GI 13) is a sugar alcohol that it is technically keto-friendly, and in small amounts (like in gum) may have no impact on your diet.
Some of the artificial sweeteners that should also be avoided are:
- Acesulfame K
Although there is not much evidence that they are bad for you, there's also nothing that says they are good. It's just not worth the risk. They may enhance sugar cravings, which may not be sustainable in the long run.
To make it easy for you, perhaps it is best to know which sweeteners are most commonly approved on the keto diet, which are:
- Stevia (GI 0)
- Erythritol (GI 0)
- Monk Fruit (GI 0)
- Allulose (GI 0)
3. Skip artificial trans fat and highly-processed vegetable oils
Fats are awesome but not all fats are good fats. It is highly recommended to avoid artificially produced trans fats and highly-processed vegetable oils on a ketogenic diet. Unlike olive oil, coconut oil, and other nut oils, most vegetable oils are highly processed and produced with high heat, solvents, and bleach. These artificial fats can cause inflammation and health problems.
Unfortunately, you may find surprising how many products contain them. However, don't mind the small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in whole foods like grass-fed meat and butter. These are fine.
Some types of trans fats to avoid are:
- hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated anything
- interesterified oils.
On the list of high-processed vegetable oils to avoid are:
- corn oil
- soybean oil
- canola oil
- cottonseed oil
- sunflower oil
- safflower oil
The sources of these oils (like corn) are not naturally fatty sources. If you think you can't remember all these names, just think of that: would you ever think of naturally extracting fat from corn or a sunflower? Like squeezing it and literally fat coming out of it? Yeah... I didn't think so.
If you find products that contain these kinds of fats, then say no, thanks! and walk away.
Read more about the healthy and not-healthy fats in our blog The 4 Main Types of Fats: Good vs Bad
4. Skip starchy ingredients
Starchy foods are not keto-friendly because they are high in carbohydrates. You won't be surprised to see many products you never imagined to have starchy ingredients. Some very obvious, other less.
Some of the starchy ingredients to look out for are:
- Grains (Oats, Rye, Quinoa, Rice, Buckwheat, etc)
- Wheat (Bulgar, Burghul, Durum, Bran, White flour, etc.)
- Starchy veggies, flours and fillers (Cornstarch, Tapioca fiber, IMO fiber, Cottonseed, Cassava, Powdered cellulose, Lentil, Sweet potatoes, potatoes, etc.)
These sources of carbs may be in small quantities in certain products, however, if you don't check and eat several products that contain any of these (and other hidden sugars) by the end of the day, this can easily add up.
5. Skip artificial food additives and preservatives
The key is to avoid those types of ingredients that you’ve never heard of before, you can't even pronounce and that doesn't even sound edible. If you don’t know what many of these are, and what they’re made of... skip it for the time being.
As we mentioned, eating Keto is about eating whole foods (and not about only eating bacon and butter). Real Keto-friendly products are made with natural ingredients and without artificial flavours, additives, and preservatives.
But being honest, this is not only about being keto. Just about anyone should not be eating any of these.
Some of the artificial additives and preservatives that are not recommended are:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): used as a flavour enhancer
- Potassium and sodium sorbate: used to extend shelf life
- Carrageenan: used to thicken products
- BHA and BHT: used as a preservative
- Artificial flavours and colourings
You can find a longer list of preservatives to avoid here: Top 8 Food Preservatives to Avoid
Bottom line: Always check the ingredient list… and research!
The bottom line to all this is that as a Keto follower, you need to get used to be the crazy label guy/lady and check everything. Not only you can easily get on the trap of the sugar-free and low-carb, but there are also Keto traps out there. Loads of them.
“It says Keto it must be Keto, right?” Nope.
Calculate the net carbs, double-check the carb/sugar content on the nutritional list, the serving size and read carefully the ingredients list. If you spot a sweetener or a food additive that you don’t recognize or you're not sure about, then don’t buy it. Take your time, do your research and if you’re convinced, then go on!
Usually, when you see a product with an essay of an ingredient list compared with another of 3 or 5, give preference to investigate the latter.
That’s why we 100% transparent with our ingredients list and we do receive a lot of questions about it and we love that you ask it. That’s how it should be.
Bonus tip: Want to dive into all ingredients to avoid on Keto? Check the Diet Doctors' list of Ingredients to avoid