The Ultimate Guide to the Keto Food Pyramid
Keto Beginners Series

The Ultimate Guide to the Keto Food Pyramid

The Ultimate Guide to the Keto Food Pyramid

Posted a year ago

Brian Stanton

Brian Stanton

Author

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

Expert Approved

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. 

Food 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:

  • Avocados
  • Kale
  • Spinach 
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Lettuce
  • Bok choy
  • Cabbage
  • 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:

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:

  • Water
  • Coffee
  • 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:

  1. Ensure you’re hitting your Keto macros (i.e., the Keto macros pyramid)
  2. Favor whole food sources of fat and protein 
  3. 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?

Comments 21

  • MarvellousMacadamia484800

    MarvellousMacadamia484800 a month ago

    Great helpful information. Thank you

    • SimoneOwns

      SimoneOwns 2 months ago

      I have a sensitive stomach and need coffee with a lot of milk; the base of the milk makes the acidity of the coffee tolerable for my stomach. How much does this impact my carb intake (I do not put sugar in my coffee)? I drink a lot of lattes that I make myself. Any suggestions are welcome.

      • Rocky Cushions

        Rocky Cushions 2 months ago

        2 weeks ago I started replacing coffee with chocolate protein shakes in the morning and it actually makes me feel more awake and energetic. For about 12 years, I used to "need" coffee daily. My stomach feels so much better now.

    • MarvellousRadish316911

      MarvellousRadish316911 4 months ago

      I'm new into the KETO Diet, 4 weeks in lost 4 lbs but my energy is pretty low. Looking forward to higher energy and loosing more weight. Any suggestions how to boost my energy?

      • FantasticMacadamia588302

        FantasticMacadamia588302 3 months ago

        Leafy greens and plant protein to start. If you think you are already eating enough greens, you probably aren't. And for some reason, light exercise like walking the dog gives me energy. Try it!

    • ExcellentAvocado836506

      ExcellentAvocado836506 4 months ago

      Do MCT oils need to be logged in like olive oil in daily totals

      • FavorableMacadamia594311

        FavorableMacadamia594311 4 months ago

        Very informative. Thanks.

        • Maigrichonne

          Maigrichonne 5 months ago

          Really helpful! Thanks!!

          • 165bound

            165bound 6 months ago

            This is definitely a great read!

            • StellarRadish225069

              StellarRadish225069 6 months ago

              Thanks so helpful!

              • IncredibleAvocado250478

                IncredibleAvocado250478 9 months ago

                Great info, Thank You!

                • SaraDean4

                  SaraDean4 10 months ago

                  This was very helpful - love the visuals! Thank you 😊

                  • FortuitousKale392095

                    FortuitousKale392095 a year ago

                    How do we figure out macros.

                    • MarvellousRadish316911

                      MarvellousRadish316911 4 months ago

                      Type exactly what you consumed. For Breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a space to do so. It calculates it for you.

                  • MirthfulMacadamia802101

                    MirthfulMacadamia802101 a year ago

                    Can I print or share this article? Great info!

                    • OutstandingRadish596662

                      OutstandingRadish596662 a year ago

                      I like this article for info of the best foods to eat however, I am looking for the best way to gain weight. I have lost too much weight because I am not hungry through the day and need to know if I eat more carbs will that help. I believe eating more fat is working the opposite of what I need to do.

                      • Khenry

                        Khenry a year ago

                        This was helpful ❤️

                        • Hummingbirds02

                          Hummingbirds02 a year ago

                          New here, this was very helpful! Thanks

                          • Burning Machine

                            Burning Machine a year ago

                            Very helpful. Thanks!

                            • Heni

                              Heni a year ago

                              Thank you for the useful explaination.

                              • OutstandingRadish596662

                                OutstandingRadish596662 a year ago

                                This is a great article, how can I share it to my family who are not eating healthy