Simple Low Carb Diet Food List: Ketogenic and Atkins Friendly

This simplified low carb food list is here to provide you with a foundation of what the core foods on a low carb, ketogenic, or Atkins diet look like. I’ve broken the list down into practical food groups and then divided each food group into three tiers.

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Tier 1 Food:
Optimal staples for low carb, ketogenic, and any phase of the Atkins diet.

Tier 2 Food:
Acceptable but not optimal, enjoy them occasionally or in moderation.

Tier 3 Food:
Best avoided by low carb and ketogenic diet beginners and in the early phases of the Atkins diet, these foods can easily knock you out of ketosis or stall fat loss if overeaten. Limit these carefully or avoid entirely and ignore them until at least Atkins phase 3 or phase 4.

Unlisted Food:
For simplicity, this low carb food list is focused more on what you should be eating rather than what to avoid. I’m also not including low carb foods that are overly expensive or uncommon so you won’t see lobster or ostrich eggs here. This list is a great place to start and you can make delicious low carb meals every day with plenty of variety just from this list (like I do).

  • [S] = check for added sugars.

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This food group is sorted into tiers primarily by how lean the food is, ideally you want to be eating fattier cuts because too much protein, especially in the earlier stages of the ketogenic and Atkins diets can prevent or bump you out of ketosis by a process called gluconeogenesis.

For leaner meats, I recommend adding plenty of fat and vegetables as well as keeping the protein portion reasonable. The daily protein range on a ketogenic diet I recommend is 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.

It’s always best to try to get meat, fish, and eggs that come from animals that ate what they should be eating. For example, meat from grass-fed cows, wild caught fish, and eggs from chickens allowed for forage for insects, etc. US Wellness Meats is a great place to get high-quality meat, fish, and dairy online. This shop page has all my favorite US Wellness Meat items.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, etc. (70-85% lean)
  • Sardines
  • Pork Rinds [S]
  • Salami [S]
  • Sausage [S]
  • Salmon
  • Steak
  • Roasts
  • Ground beef (85%+ lean)
  • Ham [S]
  • Tuna ((Tuna is very lean and not something you'd want to eat every day because of its high mercury levels anyway.))
  • Chicken ((Chicken is tier 3 because it's almost impossible to find chicken that wasn't fed on corn, soy, and grain which makes chicken fat too high in omega-6s. Plus it's generally very lean.))
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Low Carb Vegetables

Vegetables are a great addition to ketogenic, low carb, and Atkins diets. Although they aren’t completely necessary and you don’t need to have them at every meal, they add a ton of value by giving your meals extra nutrition, fiber, crunch, and they soak up fats as an easy way to increase your calories.

The most practical approach to vegetables and one that I recommend is based on Dr. Terry Whalsfamous TED talk: Minding your Mitochondria and her book The Wahls Protocol. She divides vegetables into three categories: leafy greens, sulfur-rich, and brightly colored.

Each of these three groups have important nutrients for your mind and body and our goal is to have some from each group every day. Also, Mark Sisson at Marks Daily Apple has a great series on why you should eat leafy greenssulfur-rich, and brightly colored vegetables.

I try to have vegetables as part of at least one meal a day with a mix of each of the above vegetable groups plus seaweed or kelp capsules for iodine and beet root capsules for betalains which are tricky to get with ketogenic friendly vegetables.

If you’re interested in saving some money, check out the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozenand Clean 15 lists to see which vegetables to buy organic and which you can buy non-organic to save some money.

  • [LG] = Leafy Green vegetables.

  • [SR] = Sulfur-Rich vegetables.

  • [BC] = Brightly Colored vegetables.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, etc. [LG]
  • Broccoli [SR]
  • Cauliflower [SR]
  • Red cabbage [SR][BC]
  • Bok Choi [SR]
  • Seaweed [S]
  • Red Onions (Yellow onions count as sulfur-rich but not brightly colored.) [SR][BC]
  • Bell peppers [BC]
  • Tomatoes [BC]
  • Asparagus [SR]
  • Lettuce (cooked vegetables are easier to digest, I only eat lettuce when it's wrapped around a burger)[LG]
  • Mushrooms
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Brussel Sprouts [SR]
  • Artichoke

Fats and Oils

If you’re on a low carb, ketogenic, or Atkins diet then fat is your primary source of fuel. These fats can come from food or stored body fat and is packed with energy at 9 calories per gram as opposed to protein and carbohydrates that come in at 4 calories per gram. Adding fats to your food is also a great way to improve the flavor and texture of a meal.

These fats and oils are sorted by their omega-3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fat ratio, flavor versatility, availability, and suitability for cooking. I’m not going to include fats like soy bean oil, vegetable oils, and margarine because they’re best avoided entirely. Also, you won’t see fish oil here because it’s a better fit for the supplement section.

It’s especially important with fats from animals that they come from animals not fed crap like soy, corn, and grain because it drastically changes the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of the fat in favor of omega-6 which you want to minimize. This means when you can always try to get ghee, butter, tallow, and heavy cream from grass-fed cows, lard from pastured pigs, and fish oil from wild-caught fish.

The Keto Shop Fats and Oils page has the brands that have become my favorites over the years.

  • [X°] = Cooking friendly at temperatures up to X° based on smoke points for fats and oils. (based on Serious Eats and Wikipedia)

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Ghee [450°]
  • Coconut oil [350°]
  • Butter [350°]
  • Grass-fed beef tallow [400°]
  • MCT oil
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil [375°]
  • Lard [370°]
  • Macadamia nut oil [400°]
  • Heavy cream
  • Avocado
  • Cacao butter
  • Chicken fat
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Flavors

Adding the right flavors in the right amounts to your food is the difference between a delicious and sustainable diet and a bland and depressing one which over time can make or break compliance. The two core flavor enhancers you should add to every meal are salt and acid, always start with these two then build from there.

I recommend Real Salt which comes from an ancient sea bed in Utah so you don’t have to worry about modern ocean pollution. It also has a great trace mineral profile (similar to Himalayan salt) and is generally easier to find and less expensive. As for acid, I use apple cider vinegar most of the time, lemon juice for fish and vegetables, and Tobasco Sauce for eggs or when something could use a little extra acid and heat.

Ground beef is a great example of the power of added flavor, if you simply fry it up with some salt it can be hard to choke down, but add the right ingredients and you can make it delicious.

Check out the Keto Shop Flavors page for links to all the low carb brands I use and recommend.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Salt
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Blends [S]
  • Mustard [S]
  • Extracts and Flavor Oils [S]
  • Pickles [S]
  • Jalapenos
  • Hot Sauce (Tobasco, Tapatio, etc.) [S]
  • Sugar-Free Sriracha
  • Lemon Juice
  • Ketchup [S]
  • Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce [S]
  • Salsa
  • Stevia
  • Erythritol
  • Sriracha [S]
  • Tomato Sauces [S]
  • Dry Wine
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Shredded coconut [S]
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Low Carb Drinks

Drinks on a ketogenic diet can add a ton of practical and quality of life benefits. They can reduce snacking by making fasting a breeze, especially those with caffeine because it’s a hunger suppressant. Licorice root tea is my go-to when I’m feeling cravings for something sweet. Plus between vegetables and these drinks, you won’t have to worry about hydration.

Another benefit of hot drinks like coffeeyerba mategreen tea, and licorice root tea is that they all taste great with collagen protein, heavy cream, powdered coconut oil, and powdered MCT oil giving you total control over calories, fat, protein, and even a little glucose for your brain when your body converts some of that protein by gluconeogenesis.

Check out the Keto Shop Drinks page for my favorite brands.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Water (Duh)((including zero calorie sparkling water))
  • Coffee
  • Yerba Mate
  • Tea
  • Herbal Tea
  • Diet Soda((I occasionally like to add heavy cream to diet root beer, coke, or orange soda for a creamy float drink treat))
  • Very Dry Wine
  • Alcoholic distilled, spirits, or liquor.((Example: NorCal Margarita)) [S]
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Nuts, Dairy, Berries, and Chocolate

These all add something extra to a low carb diet, sort of like accessories to the core foods above. Feel like a sweet dessert after dinner? Grab a bar of Chocoperfection. Feel like a snack to tide you over between meals? Have a handful of macadamia nuts or some tea with a splash of heavy cream.

If you’re making a snack plate with deli meats and some cheese but you want something crunchy with it, have a handful of almondswalnuts, or pecans. Or maybe you want to add a little extra savory flavor to your ground beef and veggies so you sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top before you reheat it. This food group can take your diet that last little bit in becoming completely sustainable.

I rarely eat anything from Tier 3 here because they are so easy to overeat that it’s easier for me to just not buy them at the store.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Coconut ((not actually a nut but fits best here))
  • Hard Cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • Moon Cheese
  • 100% cocoa chocolate ((super bitter))
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Pistachios
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
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Supplements

This section is for food and supplements that add something important nutritionally to your diet. They’re intended to fill in nutritional gaps and avoid common deficiencies created by modern living. We’ll start with the biggest bang for your buck in Tier 1, followed by more general blanket supplements like bone broth and liver capsules in Tier 2.

Now it’s always a good idea to get your blood tested so you can take action based on your results and take out any of the guesswork. Wellness FX is great for getting your blood tested, you can pick whichever package is best for you, they offer personalized consultations to go over your results, and give you specific actions to take based on your goals.

The Keto Shop Supplements page has all the brands I use and recommend.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
  • Salt
  • Magnesium
  • Fish Oil
  • Kelp/Seaweed for Iodine
  • Vitamin D3
  • Bone Broth
  • Collagen protein
  • Probiotics
  • Beet Root Capsules ((contains nutrients primarily found in high carb foods))
  • Liver Capsules ((natures multi-vitamin))
  • Branch Chain Amino Acids ((Useful to get the building blocks of protein to your muscles and still maintain the benefits of fasting. Only helpful if you do heavy workouts while fasting.))

Note: This post contains affiliate links that make me a small percentage of the sales at no cost to you. This is currently the best way for me to keep Savage Fuel sustainable and work towards developing and producing original ketogenic products that I wish existed.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Please consult a medical professional before making any medical decisions. These are my personal opinions based on years of practicing the ketogenic diet.

Clay Owen