When thinking about the holidays, the term “diet” doesn’t really come to mind. And the keto diet? Definitely not.
A high-fat, low-carb eating plan, the ketogenic diet allows only 10 per cent of your daily calories to come from carbs, which is roughly 20-30 grams of carbohydrates. Eating more than this could knock you out of ketosis, or fat burning mode.
To put this into perspective, half a cup of mashed potatoes has about 11 grams of carbs, meaning you’ll have to skip many of your holiday favourites.
Yet you can stick to your keto diet by choosing the right foods and spending more time mingling with friends. Stuffing your face with green bean casserole and pie might seem like the point of Thanksgiving, but it’s really not.
Here’s how to survive the holiday season when you’re limited to keto-friendly food and drinks.
Beware of hidden carbs
Turkey drumsticks and pie might seem like high-fat items, but they’re not necessarily keto-friendly. On its own, turkey is great for keto, but if it’s doused in gravy—which is made with flour, you could get kicked out of ketosis. And be cautious of vegetables since they could be prepared with non-keto ingredients.
“Green bean casserole contains 19 grams of carbs, so it’s also out,” explains Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based dietitian and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. On their own, cranberries have 12 grams of carbs per cup–but that number will definitely go up when made into a sugary sauce or relish.
In addition to these deceivingly non-keto foods, you’ll need to stay away from grains, starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes), certain dairy products, legumes, and sweet beverages and cocktails.
Bring something to the table
If you’re worried about breaking keto, bring a dish that’s safe to eat. As a bonus, it doubles as a gift to your host or hostess, too.
Good examples include a simple salad with olive oil, side of non-starchy vegetables (think Brussels sprouts or broccoli), or a keto-appropriate dessert, says Hultin.
“Super keto friendly options include broth-based soups with green leafy veggies, mashed cauliflower (instead of potatoes), big, beautiful, fresh green salads with vinaigrette dressing (no sugar), [and] you can find recipes for no-sugar added cranberry sauce,” she says.
If you’re giving pumpkin pie a keto makeover, you’ll need to forego the crust and sugar. “Use heavy cream or coconut cream and sweeten with a no-carb stevia or sugar-alcohol product,” Hultin says. “Because of the carb count in canned pumpkin, you may need to restrict more from other foods,” she advises.
Keep your meal simple
“For the holidays, you’ll need to keep it simple if you’re on a ketogenic diet,” Hultin warns. Basically, you’ll want to stick to meats–turkey, beef, salmon–and green veggies. Be cautious of sauces and dressings as they likely have added sugar or other non-compliant ingredients.
But you can make your own sauces using olive oil, mayo, or blended avocado as a base. Then, season with salt, pepper and plenty of fresh or dried herbs for no-carb flavour.
Now is not the time to experiment with different foods, and you don’t want to start interrogating the chef or host about what’s inside each dish.
Ignore negative feedback
Your family and friends might think you’re a downer for being keto, or they may not understand your desire to diet during the holidays.
“People you’re eating with may be confused about the new dietary pattern you’re following. You can say something like, ‘I know you care about me but I’m working with my doctor on this diet and it’s prescribed for a specific reason for my health,’” says Hultin.
“With friends and family, let them know all the healthy foods you can eat, like green veggies, fresh meat, seafood, and poultry,” she says.
Ignore the negative talk and stay strong—it’s your body and lifestyle.
Choose your favourite carbs
Spend your net carbs on foods you look forward to each year. Don’t just eat a roll because it’s there—unless bread is your favourite part of the meal. If you love pie or potatoes, measure the serving size so you don’t overdo it–and enjoy every bite.
If you want to drink alcohol, you’ll have to include that in your total carb count. Generally, you’ll want to avoid beer, stick to hard alcohol, which is carb-free, and avoid sugary holiday drinks and mixers.
For cocktails, anything sweet like juice, or cola-based mixers, are out the window. Most clear liquors like vodka, whiskey, gin, scotch, rum, and tequila contain zero carbs on their own,” Hultin explains. Mix these with soda water or plain water and garnish with a lemon, lime, or sprig of rosemary for a keto holiday cocktail.
Focus on non-food activities
Sure, food is pretty damn important during the holidays, but it’s not why we all gather together. Instead, focus on participating in your favourite family traditions. Plus, you can easily eat dinner before enjoying the holiday parties.
You can also start new healthy holiday traditions, like running a race, playing a sports game, or cooking healthier (and keto-friendly) meals with family and friends. Be grateful for people—not food—this year.
By Isadora Baum