Keto-Friendly Holiday Foods To Keep You On Track

During the holidays, it's easy to go off your diet. Between get togethers and the mouthwatering variety of foods traditionally served this time of year, sticking to a meal plan is challenging. And while a tiny indulgence like just one homemade cookie might not completely throw off some diets, it could be problematic for someone on the keto diet.

As WebMD explains, the word "keto" is short for "ketogenic." A person on a keto diet limits the amount of carbs they consume, focusing instead on fat and protein. By doing so, their body goes into ketosis where it switches from using carbs (or more specifically blood sugar) to protein and fat for energy. Of course, this doesn't happen overnight, and so even a single holiday cookie could interfere with your body either going into or remaining in ketosis.

If you're considering trying the keto diet, it's important to first speak with a medical professional, especially if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a heart condition (via WebMD). While the diet has been used to help treat health issues like epilepsy, it can raise the chances of kidney stones plus have side effects like exhaustion, headaches, and bad breath. The good news is even if you're on a keto diet during the holidays, there are plenty of foods you can still enjoy.

There are different types of keto diets

Usually when someone refers to a keto diet, they call it "the keto diet." And while that's understandable, it can be a bit misleading. As Healthline points out, there's actually more than one type of keto diet.

For example, you might want to try the Standard ketogenic diet (SKD), per Healthline. To understand how this diet works, imagine everything you eat and drink in a day is divided into percentages like on a pie chart. If you're following the SKD, then carbs usually only make up 10% of what you eat in a day (via the Indian Journal of Medical Research). The remaining 90% is divided between protein (20%) and fat (70%). 

However, if you follow the high protein ketogenic diet, then you consume less fat (60%) and carbs (5%) but more protein (35%) than you would on the SKD. Additionally, there's two other types of keto diets that are typically done by athletes and bodybuilders. The first is the Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD), which cycles back and forth between periods of high and low carb consumption. The other, the Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD), incorporates more carb consumption in conjunction with exercise.

The bottom line is that keto diets can vary in terms of how many carbs you're allowed per day (per Healthline). And this can certainly be a factor when planning and participating in a holiday meal.

Careful about keto-friendly wines

Around the holidays, it's very common to have a toast with wine or champaign. But as Today points out, in the past, there has been debate about whether or not wine was allowed on a keto diet. And while there are manufacturers that have developed wines advertised as keto friendly, you still need to be a conscientious consumer when selecting one for a holiday get together.

Of course, a good place to begin when determining if any company's products meet your health needs is by checking the Nutrition Facts Label and list of ingredients. But when it comes to wines, there's a catch. While grape juice is fermented into wine, some juices are fermented more than others (via Today). Now, remember, grapes naturally contain sugar, and the fermentation process changes that sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. But when the fermentation process is complete, there can be residual sugars, especially if the wine isn't fully fermented. And these residual sugars or RS aren't listed on the label. This is why a dry wine might fit better into your keto diet.

Additionally, Today notes that the body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol before fats, proteins, and carbs, so drinking wine could interfere with how quickly your body burns fat. Therefore, opting for a wine lower in alcohol might be a better choice for someone on the keto diet. But even if you select a low RS, low alcohol content wine, exercise smart portion control.

Put olive oil on your salad

It's not uncommon to have salad at a holiday dinner. But let's be honest. Even a salad filled with a variety of vegetables can be a bit bland. Of course, dressings are a simple way to add a little extra flavor to salad — and extra carbs, which can be a problem for someone on a keto diet.

According to Medical News Today, dressings that you can purchase at places like supermarkets and grocery stores (as well as online), can contain added sugars. This is often the case with dressings categorized as "light" since these are usually high in carbs and low in fat. Additionally, watch out for words that end in -ose like dextrose, fructose, maltose, and sucrose — because they are all forms of sugar. Agave nectar and corn sweetener can also be bad choices for someone on a keto diet. And, of course, sugar sources you'd normally avoid like evaporated cane juice and cane sugar, maple and malt syrups, and honey and fruit juice concentrates are all just as keto unfriendly when in a dressing.

While being on a keto diet can eliminate some dressings, that doesn't mean you have no options. Dressings with high amounts of oil (olive oil comes to mind) can be a good choice for someone on the keto diet (per Medical News Today). You can also just pour olive oil or a combination of olive oil and wine vinegar on your salad.

Opt for ham that's not honey baked or maple glazed

Even if a food is technically keto friendly, its preparation is still very important. Case in point, two common holiday recipes for ham can change it from keto friendly to less keto friendly.

As Good Housekeeping explains, ham (as well as bacon, pork, and to an extent sausages) are all options for keto dieters. And this makes sense since a keto diet typically emphasizes fat and protein over carbs. However, keto dieters might want to pass up honey baked ham. Now — so there's no misunderstanding — honey can be a healthy addition to a meal plan because of its antioxidant properties (via Medical News Today). However, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) points out, 100 grams of honey can have more than 80 grams of sugar. Also, maple glazed ham can be a no-no for a keto diet. Remember, 100 grams of maple syrup packs around 60 grams of sugar (via USDA).

Of course, a portion-controlled serving of either maple glazed or honey baked ham isn't going to have 100 grams of either honey or maple syrup. But when you're calculating carbs, everything needs to be taken into consideration. So, if you're planning to serve ham at your next holiday get together, you might want to use keto-friendly herbs and spices to add flavor and save your carbs for other parts of the meal.

Flavor foods with herbs not carb-filled sauces

If you tend to use sauces to add a little extra flavor to a meal, then there's some not great news. Depending on sauce ingredients, it might not fit (or at least fit well) into a keto diet. But that doesn't mean there aren't keto-friendly options to make food less bland.

Before we go any further, let's explore more about herbs and spices because even though they're often used together, there are some differences between them. As Britannica explains, they are actually three categories for herbs and spices: 1) herbs, 2) spices, and 3) spice seeds. And while spice seeds come from the fruits (yes, fruits) and oil-bearing seeds of certain plants, herbs are made from the leaves. And according to Ketogenic, there are a number of herbs that are not only good for a keto diet but also have other potential health benefits. For example, parsley, mint, cilantro, and different types of basil are all sources of vitamin A. Also, cilantro and mint, as well as rosemary, all contain antioxidants. Plus, basil, rosemary, and cilantro might help with inflammation.

Although herbs can be a keto-friendly way to enhance a holiday meal, there are some things to keep in mind. As Ketogenic points out, sometimes herbs and spices have fillers that could add carbs to food. This is why checking their ingredients is still important. So, if you have a choice between whole herbs or herbs that contain maltodextrin or dextrose, opt for the whole herbs.

Fish can be good keto options

If you're looking to add some variety to your keto diet, then you might want to put fish on your menu. Not only are there many kinds to choose from, but as WebMD points out, fish are keto-friendly. With that said, there are some things to keep in mind.

First, however, let's talk about the potential health benefits of eating fish. According to the Washington State Department of Health, fish has high quality protein, and protein is certainly something keto diets emphasize. What's more, fish contain nutrients like iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, zinc, and riboflavin. And while fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish aren't high fat foods, which is something you need to calculate into your fat consumption when you're on a keto diet. Plus, when choosing a fish, you should take into consideration whether it came from a natural body of water like the ocean (aka wild-caught) or farm-raised, per Colorado State University.

To be clear, both wild-caught and farm-raised fish can have contaminants like mercury (per Colorado State University). But there is data showing that farm-raised fish can have larger amounts of contaminants than wild-caught fish. Also, the Washington State Department of Health advises that children, mothers who are nursing, pregnant women, and women who might become pregnant shouldn't eat fish like King Mackerel because of its mercury content.

Go for the dark meat on chicken and turkey

Eating chicken and turkey around the holidays is common. In fact, turkey is often the centerpiece of the table during a holiday meal. And if you're a fan of either of these dishes, then good news — they both can be part of a keto diet. But there's something to remember.

According to Women's Day, if you're on a keto diet, you should opt for the dark meat of turkey and chicken instead of the white meat. The majority of the muscles in a chicken are a combination of white fibers and red fibers. It's the muscles that have more red fibers than white fibers that are the dark meat. What makes the dark meat so keto friendly is because dark meat has a higher fat content than white meat. And this makes sense since the red fibers get their fuel from fat (via the Master Class).

Besides having a higher fat content, the dark meat of chicken also tends to be packed with more nutrients than white meat, according to the Master Class. These include minerals like iron and zinc, as well as vitamins like niacin, pyridoxine, and vitamin C. Plus, dark meat like the kind found in a chicken's legs (which is made up of roughly 50% red fibers) tends to have more flavor and is juicier than meat with a lower red fiber content.

Make your own keto-friendly gravy

If you can't imagine having poultry or beef without gravy, then there's good news and bad news. As U.S. News & World Report notes, flour, which is used in some gravies, isn't keto-friendly. However, there is a way to adjust your favorite gravy recipe, so you can still enjoy it at your next holiday meal.

The reason why flour is part of a traditional gravy recipe is because it gives gravy that thick, appetizing quality. However, xanthan gum can also thicken gravy and is allowable on a keto diet since it doesn't add carbs like flour does (via U.S. News & World Report). Even if you've never heard of xanthan gum, you've probably consumed it at some point since it's a very common food additive found in such products as soups, salad dressings, sauces, ice creams, and bakery products, explains Healthline. And there has been research supporting xanthan gum's potential to help with health issues like improved bowel regularity and decreased cholesterol. However, there are some potential downsides.

As Healthline explains, it's possible to have an upset stomach because of xanthan gum. Also, if you're severely allergic to corn, dairy, wheat, or soy, you might not want to add xanthan gum to your diet (or certainly only eat it in small amounts). Other precautions include people who take oral medications (via WebMD).

The sweet potato question

Sweet potatoes can be a nice change of pace from regular potatoes, especially around the holidays. But can they be on the menu for someone on a keto diet? The answer is there's a number of factors to consider.

As Healthline explains, sweet potatoes have a large amount of carbs, making them not very keto-friendly. In fact, it's possible to use up close to your whole carb daily allotment (depending on which keto diet you're following) by eating just one sweet potato. And, remember, you're probably also consuming carbs from other sources. So, if sweet potatoes are a holiday favorite of yours, it's going to take some careful planning and portion control to include them in your holiday meal. First, you'll need to consider how many carbs you're allowed for that day. Second, you'll need to consider all the other foods you're eating not just at that meal but also over the course of the day. And finally, you'll have to calculate how much of a sweet potato you can consume without going over your carb count.

Additionally, you want to avoid sweet potato recipes that contain other carb sources like maple syrup, fruit juices, or brown sugar (via Healthline). However, that doesn't mean you have to eat them totally plain. For example, you have the option of eating them with butter or melted cheese. Again though, planning is key.

Enjoy keto-friendly side dishes

Often at holiday gatherings there are carb-rich foods around the table like traditional breads, stuffings, and pastas. And while passing these items up is a smart move on a keto diet, having only protein on your plate can feel like not enough of a meal. However, there are plenty of keto-friendly side dishes that can give you more variety.

Let's start with salad. The basis of many salads is lettuce, which is keto-friendly (via Medical News Today). Spinach, another food allowed on keto diets, is also a popular salad ingredient (as well as a cooked side dish) and has both iron and calcium. Celery also contains calcium, as well as potassium, making it a healthy keto option. So are cucumbers, which have vitamin K, although if you really want to consume less carbs, eat them without their peels. Additionally, asparagus is rich with vitamin C, potassium, and iron, plus is a keto-friendly option.

Although the above foods are both keto friendly and have potential health benefits, there are some precautions. According to Harvard, spinach has vitamin K, which can interfere with the blood thinner warfarin. So too can cucumbers because of their vitamin K content, explains Medical News Today. This is why it's important to speak with a medical professional about topics like what foods in what amounts are safe to eat when taking medications.

Try sparkling water with your holiday meal

There are many words that might come to mind when describing water, ranging from "cool" and "refreshing" to "bland" and "boring." But probably a word rarely used to describe H20 is festive, so the idea of making keto-friendly water your holiday drink of choice might not sound appealing. However, plain water isn't your only option.

As Health Insider notes, sparkling water is allowed on the keto diet. What's more, there's more than one kind to choose from like seltzer water, soda water, and club soda. But no matter which kind you choose, sparkling water can have health benefits like helping you stay hydrated, which can help with weight management. In fact, sometimes when your body is signaling that you're hungry, you're actually dehydrated and need fluids. Plus, if you experience issues like fatigue, dry mouth or headaches, these could be signs of dehydration, so drinking sparkling water might help (of course, these can also be signs of other health problems, so you should have them checked by a medical professional).

Additionally, sparkling water might help with indigestion and constipation (via Healthline). However, sparkling water can also cause gas and bloating. You also need to check the ingredients on particular brands of sparkling water since they can contain added sugars. This is not only important for someone on a keto diet but is also important for your oral health.

Have a little fruit for dessert

Imagine this: You're at a nice holiday dinner where you've managed to stay on your keto diet. You carefully chose your side dishes, avoided sugary drinks, and passed up the breadbasket. And then your host brings out the desserts. Now what? Being the only one at the table not eating is going to be awkward. Fortunately, you do have an option.

According to Live Science, it's possible to have berries on a keto diet as long as you keep the portion small and plan it into your carbs for that day. For instance, half a cup of blackberries have only around 3 grams of carbs and are loaded with other health benefits like fiber and antioxidants, as well as nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium. Other berries like raspberries and blueberries are higher in carbs than blackberries (around 7 grams of carbs per cup for raspberries and a little under 9 grams of carbs per half cup for blueberries). But both have potential health pluses like containing vitamin C. So, having mainly blackberries with some raspberries and blueberries can be a way to keep your carb count in check.

In addition, strawberries can also be a healthy dessert choice for a keto dieter, but you do need to be careful about their carb content (via Live Science). A cup of strawberries has roughly 9 grams of carbs. So, again, plan ahead and exercise good portion control.

Keto-friendly coffee creamers

While some like their coffee with nothing in it, others find coffee without cream unappetizing. But if you're on a keto diet, then you might think you don't have a choice. But that's not necessarily the case.

Atkins has their own keto diets called Atkins 20® and Atkins 40® — both highlight eating protein, healthy fats, and low-carb foods. And according to the Atkins' website, not only is coffee approved on these diets but also certain creamers. These include milks made from nuts like almond milk, as long as they aren't sweetened with carbs (via Atkins). Coconut cream and coconut milk are also good choices with coconut cream containing larger amounts of fat. 

Okay, but what about a light cream or half and half? Well, technically you could use them, but you might want to swap these out for heavy cream since it has less carbs. In addition, collagen creamers are allowed and might help with other health concerns like joint pain and energy issues. Plus, adding collagen to your diet might be good for your nails, hair, and skin.

Besides these creamers, another option for your coffee is MCT powder, which is usually made from coconut and palm kernel (per Atkins). But just be careful. Some people do experience digestive issues from MCT powder. And one final note: Before starting any Atkins diet, speak with a health care professional.

Avoid less obvious sources of carbs

Sometimes, it's easy to tell which foods are not keto friendly. For instance, a classic triple layer chocolate cake covered with sugar-rich icing isn't advisable for someone trying to keep their carb count low. But just because there are obvious foods that are high in carbs served around the holidays doesn't mean there aren't less obvious ones as well.

While there are a number of keto-friendly foods, some have notable carb content like peas and parsnips (per Medical News Today). You also might want to skip potatoes and yams. But wait, aren't yams and sweet potatoes the same thing? Actually, they're not, according to Britannica – although sweet potato growers in the United States tend to use the name "yam." The bottom line is, sweet potatoes do have carbs (just less carbs than yams) so you should be careful about consuming them. 

Besides vegetables, it's important to be careful about specific fruits if you're on a keto diet (via Live Science). These include grapes, which can have as much as 25 grams of carbs per cup. A medium-size pear can have close to 20 grams of carbs, and a medium-sized apple is even higher with around 23 grams of carbs. Additionally, a medium-sized banana has the same amount of carbs as a cup of chopped mangoes — a whopping 26 grams.