It may seem counterintuitive, but to burn fat on the Keto diet, most of your calories must come from fat. That’s why healthy fats form the base of the Keto food pyramid.
As you move up the pyramid, you will find proteins, low-carb vegetables, nuts, dairy, and—at the summit—Keto-friendly fruits. When you see all those foods organized in one diagram, the Keto diet suddenly seems less restrictive.
While it may be true that the Keto food pyramid does not promote the consumption of carbs (sigh), that doesn’t mean you can’t have the occasional piece of fruit, dark chocolate, or (everyone's favorite) fresh coconut meat.
If you’re looking for a visually-enhanced guide to eating Keto, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s talk pyramids.
A food pyramid is a visual blueprint for how you should eat. The closer a food is to the base of the pyramid, the more servings of that food you’re supposed to consume.
Remember the original Food Guide Pyramid? Published by the USDA in 1992, it recommended 6-11 servings of bread, rice, cereal, and pasta per day. Fats were banished to the top in the “use sparingly” section.
In 2011, the Food Guide Pyramid was replaced with “MyPlate”—an eating strategy with a smaller emphasis on pasta and a larger emphasis on whole grains. It seems authorities realized that recommending a diet high in refined carbohydrates—which have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease[*]—wasn’t sage advice.
Keto Food Pyramid 101
The Keto food pyramid is starkly different from the Food Guide Pyramid. Instead of relegating fats to the top, fats form the base.
Fat is the main source of calories on Keto. Why? Because fat provides energy without raising blood sugar and insulin levels like carbohydrates do.
Keeping blood sugar and insulin low is the key to releasing stored body fat (a process called lipolysis), burning it for energy (called fatty acid oxidation), and producing ketones in the liver (called ketogenesis).[*] The name for this fat-burning metabolic state is ketosis.
A glance at the literature reveals that Keto is a promising weight loss intervention for various populations.[*][*][*] Not only does Keto have the potential to increase fat burning, but it can also curb hunger hormones.[*] Less hunger, less overeating.
Let’s explore the different levels of the Keto food pyramid now. (Note: serving recommendations are fairly broad for some categories since different people have different caloric needs).
The Base: Healthy Fats
Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, and tallow form the base of the Keto food pyramid.
This doesn’t mean, however, that dinner is a stick of butter. It just means that most of your calories will come from these sources.
This means cooking with coconut oil, dumping olive oil on your salad, making fat bombs, etc. Be creative. Remember you’ll also get some healthy fats from other foods in higher portions of the pyramid, like animal proteins, nuts, seeds, and dairy products.
Serving recommendation: 2-6 tablespoons per meal
Level 2: Proteins
Next up are healthy protein sources like meat, fish, and eggs. Protein is crucial for maintaining muscle, balancing hormones, and supplying the raw materials to build the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.[*]
Protein is also highly satiating. This is probably why high-protein diets tend to be effective for weight loss.[*]
Serving recommendation: 3-12 ounces per meal
Level 3: Low-carb plants
Your Keto meals should be rich in low-carb vegetables and avocados. These Keto-friendly plants supply loads of micronutrients without kicking you out of ketosis.
Here’s a partial list:
- Bok choy
- Green beans
Keep in mind that starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, cassava, and parsnips are largely forbidden on Keto. Too many carbs.
Serving recommendation: 2-4 servings per meal. (Keto veggies aren’t a significant source of calories, so be liberal.)
Level 4: Nuts, seeds and dairy
You can enjoy almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and other nuts and seeds as an occasional Keto snack. They’re rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. However, If you’re trying to lose weight, be aware that nuts, seeds and nut butters are calorically dense and easy to overeat. Enjoy in moderation.
Also, feel free to dabble in dairy products if you can tolerate them. Whey protein, for instance, is high in amino acids like leucine (for muscle growth) and immune-boosting compounds like lactoferrin.[*]
Serving recommendation: 1-2 servings per day
Level 5: Keto fruits and sweets
Atop the Keto pyramid are berries and other semi-low-carb treats. Enjoy these Keto tidbits occasionally and in moderation:
- Berries like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
- Dark chocolate (with a minimum of 85% cocoa solids)
- Citrus fruits
- Coconut meat
Serving recommendation: One small handful per day
The Keto Macros Pyramid
On a Keto diet, you consume 55 to 75 percent of your calories from fat, 15 to 35 percent from protein, and under 10 percent from carbs. Bear our Keto macros pyramid in mind each time you build your plate.
The Keto macros pyramid is a useful tool for structuring meals. It encourages you, for instance, to favor fatty protein sources (salmon, ribeye, chicken thighs, eggs, etc.) because these foods are more ketogenic than leaner options.
What About Drinks on Keto?
If a beverage doesn’t contain carbohydrates, assume it’s Keto-approved. Without calories from carbs or sugar, a drink won’t inhibit fat burning and kick you out of ketosis.
This means that beverage selection on Keto is a fairly binary process. It’s either allowed or it isn’t.
Keto-friendly beverages include:
- Tea (black, green, white, or herbal)
- Lemon water
- Bone broth
- Naturally flavored zero-calorie water or soda
Alcohol is an edge case. While alcohol itself doesn’t contain carbs, most alcoholic beverages (beer, cocktails, wine) do.
And even if you drink zero-carb distilled spirits, your body will still regard alcohol as toxic. More than one or two per day is not recommended.
What about diet sodas? They won’t shut down fat burning, but some evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners like saccharin interfere with gut microbiome health.[*] If you want to play it safe, it’s best to avoid them.
Building Your Keto Plate
To structure your Keto meals, follow these three principles:
- Ensure you’re hitting your Keto macros (i.e., the Keto macros pyramid)
- Favor whole food sources of fat and protein
- Eat lots of non-starchy vegetables for vitamins, minerals, and menu variety
We already talked about number one. Let’s talk about numbers two and three.
You’ve probably heard of a dirty Keto diet. It’s a species of Keto that follows the correct macros but ignores food quality.
Dirty keto is high in processed meat and vegetable oils—and low in nutrient-dense vegetables. It might help with weight loss, but it’s not geared towards longevity.
If you care about your long-term health, it makes sense to adopt a whole foods Keto diet. That’s the operating principle of the Keto food pyramid displayed above.
Just eat whole foods, healthy fats, and plenty of low-carb veggies to satiety. Keto sounds simple when you put it that way, doesn’t it?