How cool is it that we can manipulate our metabolic pathways to work for us, improve energy, and optimize performance, all by choosing the right type of fuel for our machine?
Every good cook knows the key to great food is great ingredients. Check out our Master Keto Food List with 100+ keto foods mapped out for you!
Guess what? Cooking is all about science, too.
Whether you are new to cooking or a seasoned pro, figuring out how to adapt favorite recipes to fit your new lifestyle may feel like you are entering uncharted territory. We understand. Here's a quick guide to keto-fy just about anything... except maybe a tasty craft beer.
Keto Sweetener SubstitutesBefore we go there, let's first talk about sugar and sugar substitutes.
As a Registered Dietitian, I'll be the first to tell you to get rid of added sugars in your diet. Beyond being toxic, these can cause systemic inflammation and become addictive.
Whenever I recommend eliminating sugar, I am usually immediately asked about sugar substitutes.
Sure, they are a better alternative to the hard stuff because they won't cause blood sugar or insulin spikes, but they are like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Here's why: Non-nutritive sweeteners (Splenda, Truvia, Equal, etc.) are 200-700 times sweeter than their "natural" counterpart (1,3). When we replace natural sugars (table sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, and the like) with these substitutes, we don't train our taste buds to adapt to a less-sweet product. Instead, we cause our taste buds to crave even sweeter foods, making our sugar addiction even harder to break. While we may be decreasing the physiological addiction to the sweet substance (sucrose which breaks down to glucose), we aren't addressing the psychological component of the sweet craving.
What about sugar alcohols? These guys aren't as super-sweet as non-nutritive sweeteners, but they do still produce a small effect on blood sugar levels and insulin response (2,3), which we want to avoid on a ketogenic diet. Another downside to sugar alcohols is that they can cause bloating and diarrhea when consumed in excess (3), especially in individuals predisposed to food sensitivities and gut imbalance.
Bottom line: sugar substitutes are ok to use in dessert recipes when you have a hankering for something sweet, but these foods should still be thought of as "treats" and not staples in your day-to-day diet. Moderation is the name of the game! Try experimenting (food science!) by reducing quantities and adding in spices such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of a sugar-free sweetener, try halving it or replacing it with a spice or two. As you become fully keto-adapted, your body naturally reduces cravings for carbohydrates and sugars, so help your taste buds adapt with the rest of the new you.
Now onto my tips and tricks for "keto-fying" your favorite dishes. These are my best and favorite keto recipe hacks!
Gluten Free?Instead of panko or breadcrumbs as breading on fish or meat, TRY:
- Crushed pork rinds mixed with Parmesan cheese
- Sesame seeds mixed with ground flaxseed and unsweetened shredded coconut
- Coarsely chopped nuts (almond, macadamia, hazelnut) with 1-2 tablespoons of almond flour or coconut flour
- Crushed Keto Crackers (made with almond flour or coconut flour, butter, baking soda, and spices)
- Almond flour (for a more neutral taste) or coconut flour (if the taste is complementary) mixed with xanthan gum to thicken
- Ground flaxseed or chia mixed into a small amount of water or almond milk
- Bragg’s liquid aminos (no carbs)
- Gluten-free tamari sauce (2g carb/Tbsp)
- Brown rice miso paste (4g carb/Tbsp)
- Coconut aminos (4g carb/Tbsp)
- Fish sauce (1g carb/Tbsp)
Dairy Free?Instead of cheese, TRY:
- Cashew cheese
- Pureed silken tofu with a pinch of salt (for a softer cheese)
- Avocado mashed with olive oil for a spread
- Silken tofu
- Full-fat dairy-free plain yogurt (Ripple or Coconut)
- Ghee (all the dairy proteins have been removed through heat)
- Avocado mashed with olive oil for a spread
- Olive oil for baking
- Avocado mashed with olive oil and salt
- Coconut cream (top layer of a can of coconut milk)
- Coconut milk (cream mixed in)
- Pureed silken tofu
- Almond milk mixed with coconut or emulsified MCT oil
- Collagen powder
Craving a favorite carb-heavy dish?Instead of pizza, TRY:
- Pounded chicken thighs or pork chops topped with store-bought pesto, tons of gooey cheese, and chopped tomatoes
- Zucchini squash cut in half length-wise, seeds scooped out to create a hollow, filled with cheese, bacon, and chopped basil
- Thinly sliced eggplant topped with a thin layer of sugar-free tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and chopped fresh oregano
- Mashed steamed cauliflower, mixed with butter, sour cream, roasted garlic, and spices
- Cauliflower Rice fried in coconut oil and drizzled with sesame oil (all you need is a food processer)
- Spiralized zucchini, daikon radish, or turnip (enjoy in moderation – 1 medium turnip has 6 net carbs)
- Shirataki noodles (found in the refrigerated produce section of most grocery stores)
- French green beans (the long skinny ones) - once you pour a yummy sauce over these, you won’t miss the carb-heavy pasta!
- Egg beaten with 2 tablespoons flaxseed, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, salt and pepper, cooked in olive oil as you would a large pancake. Once cooked, toast to make crunchy. Top with avocado, olive oil and a fried egg for a heartier meal.
- 1 scoop vanilla KetoLogic® KetoMeal®, 1 egg, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ¼ cup almond milk, cinnamon to taste
References1. https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm397725.htm 2. https://www.ynhh.org/services/nutrition/sugar-alcohol.aspx 3. https://www.andeal.org/vault/2440/web/JADA_NNS.pdf