Written by Lisa Wartenberg, MFA, RD, LD on January 7, 2022 — Medically reviewed by Adrienne Seitz, MS, RD, LDN, Nutrition
The keto diet is an extremely low carb, high fat diet.
The goal is to achieve a metabolic state of ketosis, in which your body burns mostly fat instead of carbs for energy (1, 2, 3, 4).
While controversial and not for everyone, the keto diet has been linked to weight loss and potential short-term health benefits like improved blood pressure (5).
If you’re looking to begin or maintain ketosis, there are some foods to avoid — specifically, foods that are too high in carbs.
The structure of carb molecules is simple, making them easy for your body to break down. Thus, they’re an efficient source of energy. If your body is provided a lot of carbs, especially at once, it will do what’s most efficient: use carbs instead of fat for energy (1, 2, 3, 4).
On the keto diet, carbs are typically restricted to 20–50 grams per day. Generally, this total doesn’t tally the portion of carbs made up of dietary fiber, as these aren’t digested by your body (5).
On a 2,000-calorie diet, a keto diet will typically be composed of 55–60% fat, 30–35% protein, and 5–10% carbs (2).
Here are 16 foods to avoid or limit on the keto diet, some of which might surprise you.
Eating refined high carb foods like white bread, pasta, rice, and pastries could prevent a ketogenic state if you end up getting more than your daily carb allowance.
Here’s the carb count per portion of these starchy foods (6, 7, 8, 9):
While these are fine to eat in moderation if you’re not following a low carb diet, those looking to achieve or maintain ketosis will need to limit them.
Try mashed or riced cauliflower as a substitute, or experiment with low carb bread made from eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Beer, liqueurs, and mixed liquor-based drinks have a high carb and low nutrient count, which makes them foods to avoid on a keto diet. For example, here’s the carb content of some popular options (10, 11, 12, 13):
Keep in mind that most of the carbs in mixed drinks like vodka tonic or rum and coke are from sodas, juices, purees, and liqueurs (14, 15).
Instead, lower carb drinks — like dry red or white wine or hard liquor — will be your best bet if you want to imbibe a drink, as these provide around 5 grams of carbs or less per standard serving (14, 15).
It’s worth noting, though, that most alcoholic drinks provide little in the way of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Generally, it’s wiser to save your sparse daily carb allowance for nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains (10).
In fact, if you’re restricting carbs, the carbs you do eat should boast plenty of nutrition. This can help ward off the risk of nutritional deficiencies that are associated with keto diets long term (16, 17).
It’s also worth noting that there is little research on the effects of alcohol on the liver while following a ketogenic diet.
Honey and syrups like agave or maple are concentrated sugar. They contain little else and can easily increase your daily carb count — without otherwise providing significant nutrition.
Honey, for instance, packs 17 grams of carbs into 1 tablespoon (21 grams), while maple syrup has 13 grams per tablespoon (20 grams) (18, 19).
While these contain antioxidants and other nutrients, they can cause blood sugar spikes and flip you out of ketosis (2, 17, 20, 21).
While boasting more vitamins and minerals than honey and syrups, juice is still high in naturally occurring sugar. It also lacks dietary fiber. This is problematic, as fiber is needed for proper digestion and can be tricky to get enough of on the keto diet (22, 23).
Fiber is important, as it slows down the transit time of food along your digestive tract, thereby assisting with blood sugar control (22).
If you want to maintain ketosis, it’s important to avoid consuming high carb, low fiber foods like juice and associated blood sugar spikes (1, 2).
Sodas are essentially bubbly sugar water that provides zero nutrition and a high carb count.
One 12-ounce (372-mL) can of Coca-Cola, for instance, packs a whopping 39 grams of carbs (24).
Depending on your daily carb allowance, just one drink can easily get you over the limit (5).
If water won’t cut it, you can enjoy a sugar-free soda without being knocked out of keto. While the long-term health effects of these drinks are controversial, an occasional one likely isn’t harmful (25, 26, 27).
You can also try sparkling water or still water infused with mint, lemon, or cucumber.
Ketchup, barbecue sauce, and sweet chili sauce are a few examples of sugar-packed condiments that don’t provide much in terms of nutrients or fiber (28, 29, 30).
These condiments can range from about 3 grams of carbs for ketchup and 4 grams of carbs for barbecue sauce per 9-gram packet. Sweet chili sauce has 15 grams of carbs per 35-gram serving (28, 29, 30).
While some of these aren’t as high in carbs as other foods on this list, it’s easy to eat a lot of them. Eating more than small portion sizes could quickly make them non-keto-friendly.
Instead, reach for hot vinegar-based sauces like Tabasco or the spice jar if you want to add more flavor to your food without adding to your daily carb count.
Fat-rich mayonnaise or whole grain mustard are also good options. Just remember to check the carb content on the label.
Honey-baked ham is a bone-in ham usually baked with a honey-butter blend slathered on top and in between slices. After cooking, a dry spiced sugar mix is applied to the outside of the ham and broiled until it forms a crackling glaze (31).
Glazed ham is similar, but baked with a thick sauce made of a sweet and pungent element like maple syrup and mustard or fruit jam and vinegar.
While delicious, the sugar baked onto or infused into these sweetened hams can keep you from reaching or maintaining ketosis.
Instead, opt for regular deli ham, which has less than 1 gram of carbs per slice (13.5 grams) (32).
Light or low fat margarine is a staple in some weight loss diets. While it’s low carb, it skimps on the fat — your main source of fuel on the keto diet.
Because you need more fat to reach and maintain a ketogenic state, reach for unsalted butter or moderate servings of regular margarine instead.
Here’s how light margarine compares with regular margarine and unsalted butter (33, 34, 35):
Note that while margarine is higher in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat than butter, some types also have more trans fat, which has been linked to detrimental effects on the heart (36).
To limit trans fats, avoid margarine with “hydrogenated” written anywhere in the ingredients list (36).
When fruit is dried, its sugar is concentrated into smaller serving sizes.
For example, a single pitted Medjool date (24 grams) has 18 grams of carbs, 2 of which are dietary fiber (37).
While dates are nutritional powerhouses, they concentrate too much sugar to reasonably be part of a keto diet.
Similarly, mixed dried fruit packs 31 grams of carbs per 1/4 cup (40 grams), which can easily put an end to ketosis (38).
These are often blended into trail mix, which also often includes chocolate chips, candies, or sugar-coated nuts. This is another food to avoid, as it can easily put you over your carb allotment for the day.
Instead, aim for fresh berries to satisfy your sweet tooth. These are fairly low carb, with less than 4 grams of carbs per 1/4 cup (38 grams) (39).
Foods marketed as low fat tend to be higher in sugar to compensate for the lack of fat (40).
Therefore, it’s a good idea to watch out for these items. Read the nutrition label carefully so that you can account for carbs in your daily totals.
Common reduced fat foods that are instead high in added sugars include (41, 42, 43, 44):
- low fat or fat-free yogurt
- low fat or fat-free mayonnaise
- low fat salad dressings
- reduced-fat peanut butter
- reduced-fat or skim milk
Also, keep in mind that the keto diet aims to be high in fat to provide your body with energy. Therefore, full fat options are the better choice.
While good sources of vitamin C, potassium, and dietary fiber, white and sweet potatoes ought to be avoided on the keto diet because of their high carb content (45, 46).
Other nutritious but high carb vegetables to limit include peas and corn (47, 48).
Starchy vegetables with slightly fewer carbs per serving include beets and carrots. You may be able to include modest amounts of these if they fit your daily carb allowance (49, 50).
If you’re craving starchy vegetables, try lightly grating them onto a salad or bowl rather than making them the main feature of a dish.
You can also swap these for small or moderate portions of jicama, which is naturally slightly lower in carbs, at less than 3 grams of carbs per 1/4 cup (33 grams) (51).
Mashed or riced cauliflower can also be a good substitute for starchy potato-centered recipes.
As a rule of thumb, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumber, and celery are generally better suited for your keto goals.
Natural yogurt and dairy products can vary in their carb content.
When adding dairy to your diet, steer clear of flavored or sweetened varieties, which will add to your carb count. This is especially common in flavored yogurt and cottage cheese.
Whole milk has 11 grams of carbs per cup (244 mL). While you can enjoy it occasionally, know that unsweetened almond milk has just 3 grams of carbs in the same serving size, making it a more keto-friendly substitute (52, 53).
Aim for plain full fat yogurt or cottage cheese. Strained varieties like Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr are a good fit. For example, 1 tub (156 grams) of Greek yogurt has about 6 grams of carbs and 16 grams of protein (54).
Unsweetened coconut milk-based yogurts can also be a good option. Because they’re made from coconut milk, they generally have more fat and fewer carbs, around 16.5 grams of fat and 7.5 grams of carb per 3-ounce (85-grams) serving (55).
Be mindful of what you pair with these foods. Nuts, MCT or coconut oil, or unsweetened peanut butter can make this a filling keto-friendly snack, while granola or fruits can increase their carb count.
Fruits like mangoes, bananas, and grapes are naturally higher in carbs. While delicious and nutrient-dense, they could keep you from reaching or maintaining ketosis.
Although these can’t be staples in a keto diet given their high carb content, they still boast an array of nutrients and dietary fiber, which is good for your digestion and heart health (22).
As such, you may choose to use them occasionally and sparingly on top of Greek yogurt or a salad. Just be mindful of your portion sizes and daily macronutrient targets.
Here’s the breakdown of each fruit’s carb count (56, 57, 58):
If you’re still craving more fruit, reach for raspberries, strawberries, starfruit, unsweetened açaí puree, or coconut, as these are lower in carbs (39, 59, 60, 61).
Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas may be challenging to incorporate into your keto diet (62, 63, 64).
Still, they boast dietary fiber, protein, calcium, and other micronutrients. As such, fitting in small portions might be worth the effort.
Green beans and black soybeans are the lowest in carbs. Try pan-frying them to use sparingly as crunchy toppings on keto-friendly salads or bowls (65, 66).
Here’s the carb content for popular legumes for reference (65, 66):
Processed legumes could fit into your keto diet in modest portions, too. For example, in the form of hummus, which is made from chickpeas and tahini, a type of sesame butter. You can also try non-bean-based dips like baba ganoush or guacamole.
While loaded in nutrients, grains like quinoa and millet are too high to become a staple in your keto diet.
For example, 1/2 cup (93 grams) of cooked quinoa packs 20 grams of carbs, only 2 of which are dietary fiber (67).
If you still want to include quinoa in your keto diet, consider it a garnish rather than a central part of your meal.
Dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 70% can be part of your keto diet in small amounts (68).
Meanwhile, milk and white chocolates aren’t keto-friendly, given their added sugar content (68, 69, 70):
Look for chocolate that has more than 70% cacao and is low in added sugar. Or opt for dark chocolate made especially for keto diets.
The keto diet is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbs. It aims to put your body in a ketogenic state, in which fat is used as fuel instead of carbs.
Its long-term health effects aren’t as well understood, and in the short term, it could put you at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
When following the diet, avoid high carb foods like dried fruits, refined carbs, sweet sauces, and reduced fat diet foods. These can provide too many carbs or not enough fat and inhibit ketosis.
Also, limit your portions of healthy, higher carb fruits, vegetables, and grains. While these can be suitable on occasion, you still need to watch your serving size and your total carb count for the day to stay within your keto macro targets.
While you’re the expert on how your own mind and body feel, keep in mind that there are no long-term studies on the health effects of a keto diet.
The diet can keep you from nourishing your body with healthy legumes, nutritious fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — preventing the proven long-term health benefits they confer. Limiting these can cause digestive issues and even micronutrient deficiencies (2, 3, 71, 72).
Therefore, following a keto diet is not recommended at this time.
Instead, aim for small, meaningful changes for sustainable success and health.
Last medically reviewed on January 7, 2022