What are the best keto snacks?

If you are trying to reduce your carbohydrate intake, consider keto-friendly snacks that are nutrient-dense.
best keto snacks

Low-carb (“keto”) diets have become popular over the past decade, and for some individuals experiencing overweight or obesity, or with diabetes, keto diets have proven effective. A keto diet involves reducing the daily intake of carbs to 5-10% of your daily intake (to about 50g per day) and increasing the consumption of protein and fat to supply the body with energy. This means eliminating sugars and starches — which includes most fast food, junk foods, most fruits and several common vegetables. Many individuals who partake in the keto diet end up eliminating most of the processed, packaged foods and added sugars that they weren’t aware they were consuming; and, by substituting those foods with healthier nutrient-dense alternatives, they end up losing weight and more easily managing blood glucose levels. However, a strictly followed keto diet has its downsides, including a too-low carb intake, too little fiber and too much saturated fat. Therefore, for most of us (including those with diabetes), a “modified keto diet” (which doesn’t eliminate all healthy carbs and moderates the intake of unhealthy saturated fats) may be preferable. Having keto-friendly snacks at the ready becomes helpful for daily dietary adherence to this strategy. 

Modifying the keto diet: because carbohydrates are still important

While the keto diet can help you lose weight, and offers a clear-cut way to reduce consumption of unhealthy carbs such as added sugars, it’s a difficult diet to follow and has some downside risks associated with it. Therefore, most major medical organizations recommend that, if you’re interested in keto, you practice a modified version of the diet that includes some of the fiber-rich, non-starchy vegetables and other carbohydrate foods (like certain fruits) that provide essential nutrients and fiber.

Humans need a minimum of 50 grams/day of carbohydrates for basic functioning. When carbohydrate intake falls below this level, insulin production decreases, which signals your body to release fatty acids stored in adipose tissue in order to provide your body with the energy it needs. These fatty acids travel from your bloodstream straight to your liver, which results in the formation of acidic compounds called ketone bodies (also known as keto-acids). Ketone bodies are produced because the brain and other cells in the central nervous system are not able to derive energy from fats. When this occurs, your body enters a state called ketosis.

As articulated well in the article, “A skeptical look at popular diets: how ketogenic should you go?”, Stanford Professor of Medicine, Randall Stafford, a ketogenic diet can produce some favorable changes in metabolic patterns, potentially reversing several forms of early chronic disease, such as high blood pressure and prediabetes. However, consistently resorting to fatty acids for body fuel and the inevitable development of high levels of ketones in the blood can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Thus, keto diets may become dangerous for diabetics if their daily carb intake falls too low, which decreases insulin production and activates the body’s process of sourcing energy from fatty acids.

Following the diet strictly has some other medical risks, including the following:

  • Eliminating many sugars and starches (including pasta, bread, and almost all fruits) benefits blood glucose levels, but cutting out all carbs means you’d be skipping out on some of the foods and food groups that are widely considered to be healthful, such as vitamin- and mineral-rich carrots, beets and fiber-rich legumes and whole grains.

  • A high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet (like the keto diet) is typically low in fiber, and low-fiber diets are associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) and type 2 diabetes (T2D).

  • In addition, the high saturated fat content typical of many keto diets unfavorably increases LDL cholesterol, which is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD).

  • The unusual stress that ketosis places on the body can result in long-term problems, such as kidney stones and kidney disease.

  • The body recognizes a lack of carbohydrates as “starvation mode,” and when this happens, muscle is also used as an energy source — and loss of muscle mass is a problem. 

  • Furthermore, with not enough carbohydrates, people can experience fatigue, body aches, and headaches. These symptoms are often temporary, but only if the diet is strictly followed and ketosis is maintained.

Thus, for most of us, even those with diabetes, it may be beneficial to control carb consumption, but not completely eliminate it. Carbohydrate intake is especially important if you’re physically active. 

The keto diet is also contraindicated (according to Cleveland Clinic) for certain groups of people — including those who have a history of eating disorders, are pregnant, or people with chronic conditions such as type 1 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or issues with fat malabsorption.

The basic guidelines for the best keto snacks

Whatever dietary guideline or strategy you are following, when eating meals or snacks, it’s always important to incorporate all three macronutrients —carbs, proteins and fats — to improve nutrient absorption and slow digestion, keeping you fuller for longer. So even when you feel you need a small snack, think of it more as a well-rounded “mini-meal.” The best keto snacks are minimally processed, meaning they have:

  • Little to no added sugars
  • No refined grains
  • No trans fats
  • Low amounts of sodium
  • More plant-based fats (like oils) that are more nutrient-dense than animal-based fats and contain no saturated fats (to avoid a rise in LDL, or bad cholesterol)
  • Enough fiber: start with a low-carb vegetable base, add your protein and then add in the fats. 

Be wary of keto snacks that are high in:

  • Calories: simple as it sounds, weight gain is due to eating more calories than your body burns in a day. Many keto snacks are calorically dense, so it’s important to be aware of how many calories you’re consuming. 
  • Saturated fats
  • Protein: eating excessive amounts of  protein provides no nutritional benefits. The excess protein leftover after your body utilizes what it needs for cell repair, maintenance and growth is excreted in urine and converted into glucose, undermining the ketosis you’re working hard to attain with a keto diet. To know how much protein you need each day, read our Macronutrient Guide.

To reiterate, we recommend “modified keto dieting” over a strict keto diet because the latter does not include certain carbohydrate foods (such as grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables) that are rich in nutrients and fiber that cannot be found in the animal proteins and fats

Keto-friendly snack foods

Keeping the following list of nutrient-dense, low-carb foods on hand allows for easy snacking. Think about different ways to cook these foods, such as dehydrating, air frying, roasting, grilling and more. Be sure to mix it up throughout the day because eating a variety of foods is critical for gut health; you can get creative or find inspiration across the internet. 

  • Meat: chicken, turkey and other lean meats 
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, mackerel and trout
  • Eggs
  • Dairy: grass-fed butter and cream; unprocessed cheeses like goat, mozzarella, cheddar and plain greek yogurt
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flax, chia, pumpkin and hemp seeds
  • Low-carb fruits and veggies: avocado, greens, berries, peppers, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, green beans
  • Healthy oils: plant-based oils such as olive, avocado, flaxseed, walnut and more 
  • Herbs and spices to add complexity and flavor

Many grocery stores offer lists sorted by dietary preference, but be sure to look at the nutrition labels and stay clear of highly processed, high saturated fat and sodium snacks.  Whole Foods and Thrive Market offer keto friendly snack lists.

6 healthy keto snacks

  1. Eggs with diced or shredded chicken, bell pepper, spinach, avocado, tomatoes, cilantro and hot sauce

One large egg contains 70 calories, 6.3g of protein and not even 1g of carbohydrates. Chicken breast has less than 200 calories with over 30g of protein, so adding in a half a chicken breast to your meal pumps up the protein and satiety level without increasing the carb load or adding too much fat. A cup of raw spinach has about 25 calories with almost 3g of fiber; and every cup of avocado chunks contains 100 calories and 4g of fiber. Incorporating more veggies heightens the fiber and nutrient content of this snack while keeping you full and satiated. The cilantro and hot sauce can be replaced with sugar-free condiments of your choice. 

  1. Low fat cottage cheese with a handful of berries and nuts

A rich source of probiotics and calcium, cottage cheese is also high in protein and so can slow down your digestion and mitigate blood sugar surges. Add texture and flavor to the cottage cheese with mix-ins of your choice: a variety of nuts and seeds (such as flavored pumpkin seeds) or a handful of berries. 

  1. Roasted cauliflower bites smothered with a primal kitchen sauce (or keto-friendly sauce of your choosing) 

A medium head of cauliflower offers more than 11g of protein and 11g of fiber with less than 150 calories. But be sure to eat this in moderation: a medium head contains nearly 30g of carbohydrates. Exploring ways to cook cauliflower through an air fryer, roasting, grilling, sauteing with different flavors can keep this snack exciting. 

  1. Celery sticks with peanut (or any nut) butter

    Peanut butter is a high-protein food paste rich in healthy fats. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain more than 7g of protein and 12 grams of unsaturated fatty acids. It also happens to be a great source of essential vitamins and minerals including magnesium, folic acid and vitamin E. However, many jars of peanut butter are processed with some less-than-healthy ingredients, so look for a brand that is high in protein and low in sodium, saturated fats and added sugars. Paired with celery sticks, which are low-glycemic and fibrous carbohydrate foods, this combo makes for a good snack that will hold you until your next meal.
  1. Low-fat Greek yogurt or Skyr with nut butter and berries.

Low-fat yogurt is one of the healthiest ways to incorporate dairy food into your diet without the higher levels of saturated fats (associated with cardiovascular risks) that certain other dairy products (cheese, whole milk) contain. An added benefit: the probiotic content of yogurt may help promote a healthy gut microbiome, although the research to date is mixed on the benefits of probiotics for those that do not suffer from gastrointestinal disorders or infections. Yogurt also is high in calcium, an important nutrient, especially for people with diabetes, as it can help protect against osteoporosis. Research also suggests that calcium may improve insulin sensitivity. However, be wary of yogurts flavored with added sugars. Learn more in Yogurt for Diabetics: Real vs. Unproven Benefits

  1. Tuna salad on cheese crisps or bell pepper slices

Canned tuna is a high-protein (around 25g per serving), low-fat, low-calorie option for those who enjoy fish. There are a number of takes on a keto tuna salad using either a classic mayo, avocado or greek yogurt base. Try adding in celery and eating it with bell pepper slices or a keto-friendly cracker (like a cheese crisp) to add texture. You can try this with any type of protein. 

Key takeaways

Keto snacks may be suitable for those with diabetes, and all of us, as long as the overall focus is on carb control — and not total avoidance — of healthy, nutrient-dense, high-fiber carbs, while also containing healthy fats and high-quality protein. For a healthy gut and decreased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer, consuming enough fiber is a critical part when building out your meal plan, which is why a modified keto diet (including non-starchy, prebiotic vegetables) is recommended over one that avoids healthy carbs. Keto snacks can be beneficial because they eliminate packaged and highly processed foods ripe with preservatives, additives and added sugars and replace them with whole, nutrient-dense and low-sugar foods. To make snacking stress-free, consider snacks the same way you do meals and keep your macronutrient proportions consistent and balanced. Keep a variety of keto-friendly foods at hand and mix up the flavors, cooking method and types of foods to get joy and excitement from every time you eat. 

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