If you are familiar with the carbohydrate-free diet by now, then you know that it is based on replacing the main and desired source of energy of your body with fat.
With a consistent diet with very low carbohydrates, fat and moderate protein, your body will enter ketosis – which can result in weight loss.
However, a diet may be a little more demanding to maintain than a simple definition allows – especially when it comes to certain food groups, such as dairy products.
From the outside, it may seem that this diet is basically a free pass to eat all the butter, cheese and thick sour cream your heart desires.
But before all of you dairy enthusiasts hop on this trendy train, know that keto isn’t exactly an ice cream-filled dream.
If the dairy food you choose to eat contains a minimum of carbohydrates and does not have added sugar, you can enjoy it.
But if your dairy products contain too many carbohydrates (coming from lactose) or have plenty of added sugar, it can knock you out of ketosis and take you back to square one.
A follower of this diet must be careful, read food labels and be your own detective to stay in ketosis.
Below is everything you need to know about eating dairy products on a carbohydrate-free diet.
Can you eat dairy products on a carbohydrate-free diet?
Yes, with warnings!
Some dairy products are actually excellent sources of protein, fat, potassium and calcium and have a lot of sense for this diet.
But keto is actually a little more restrictive as far as other dairy foods are concerned – and this is mainly due to sugar, which is equivalent to carbohydrates.
Let’s separate some advantages and disadvantages of eating dairy products on the keto diet.
- Fat content is solid. Whether you do keto or not, dairy products contain fat that is digested longer and helps us stay full longer.
- It can help you nibble less. Because most dairy products are capable of supplying the body with valuable protein, fat, and calories, you may be less likely to walk for food between meals.
- You will get calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. Dairy products supply all these three nutrients that are needed not only to maintain healthy bones, but also as an integral part of balanced mood and hormone regulation.
- Sugar content. Dairy products actually contain sugar. That sugar comes in the form of lactose; lactose is then broken down into glucose, which is the sugar your body uses to get you out of ketosis. So you can’t go wild with dairy products.
- Bloating or diarrhea. Some people have a hard time absorbing lactose in dairy products due to lactose intolerance or lactose sensitivity. This can lead to some not very pleasant gastrointestinal side effects.
- It’s easy to overdo it. If you want to eat daily to stay full longer, you’ll need to focus on foods with less lactose like Greek yogurt, hard cheeses, and cottage cheese, instead of jumping straight into milk or ice cream (to avoid potential GI problems as well!).
What dairy foods don’t work?
A brief glimpse into the nutritional facts can help you determine which dairy products might be good and which might not.
For example, high-carb dairy products like ice cream and flavored milk will have a higher sugar content compared to something like cheese or regular milk.
It really comes down to keeping an eye on added sugar. Some sweetened yogurts may contain close to 40 grams of carbohydrates per serving, so they may need to be enjoyed with smaller meals or exchanged for a lower-carb alternative.
So, to facilitate navigation, keep in mind that these dairy products in large quantities are generally not recommended:
- Ice cream
- Flavored milk
- Sweetened yogurts
- Some soft cheeses
- Sugar pudding
Dairy foods you can eat
Butter is an ideal source of fat on the ketogenic diet. This is because it contains zero carbohydrates and about 11 grams of fat per tablespoon.
If you’re willing to include butter (and honestly why not?), buying high-quality grass-fed butter, which is higher in omega-3 fatty acids – an essential, healthy fat for your body and brain – is the best option.
2. Thard and soft cheeses
Cheese gets the green light on the keto diet. But if you’re concerned about lactose intake, you’ll want to choose harder cheeses, like Parmesan cheese, which usually has fewer carbohydrates than soft cheese.
Semi-hard cheeses – like Swiss ones are also keto-friendly. For breakfast, melt a little hard cheese over a few eggs. And while hard and semi-hard cheeses have fewer carbohydrates than soft ones, that doesn’t mean all soft cheeses are banned.
For example, Brie cheese has less than 5 grams of carbohydrates per one cup. Mascarpone and cream cheese are also good options, as they give you a note of extra flavor and creaminess with very few carbohydrates.
General recommendations for keto cheese:
- Parmesan. One tablespoon contains less than a gram of carbohydrates.
- Swiss. Another good choice – there are less than 2 grams of carbohydrates per cup of chopped cheese.
- Brie. It is the perfect cheese for spreading and less than 5 grams of carbohydrates per cup.
- Mascarpone and creamy fraiche. These two are recommended for cheese that will give you a note of extra flavor and creaminess for very few carbohydrates.
4. Whipped cream
Here’s the thing: milk is not a great option on the keto diet. Whole milk has 12 grams of carbohydrates in a cup, and lean or skimmed has even more. And don’t even start with ice cream (too much sugar).
On the other hand, cream – whipped cream or whipped cream – is completely feasible on keto.
Be careful how much you spend. Nutritionally speaking, overdoing it with whipped cream or whipped cream is not a wise decision.
Although delicious and keto-friendly, it is not the most nutritious option, as it is packed with calories, saturated fat and has little valuable protein. It is recommended to hold 1 tablespoon per day.
If you use whipped cream, to add coffee, you should weigh a serving size of 2 tablespoons per day. This is because it generally has no nutritional value and can enhance sugar cravings.
But if you’re really in the mood for a bunch of whipped cream, it might be best to whisk it yourself (one cup of whipped cream has less than 4 grams of carbs and just over 43 grams of fat), since most store-bought versions contain added sugar.
5. Cream cheese
Cream cheese is another food suitable for the keto diet… until you spread it all over the loaf of bread.
But, with just a few grams of carbs per cup you can absolutely enjoy a little spread on celery stalks or halved strawberries – or, if you feel creative, you can add it to any sauce that is slightly creamier (and greasier).
6. Cottage cheese, sour cream and Greek yogurt
All three dairy products are grouped together because they have a similar carbohydrate content – about 11 grams per cup. So this is feasible, as long as you control your carbohydrate content.
However, there is one method that keto dietitians use, and that is making yogurt by mixing one part of sour cream with one part of heavy cream.
This combination will have fewer carbohydrates and more fat than traditional yogurt.
Can you do a keto diet without dairy products?
Absolutely. You can completely be dairy-free and do a carbohydrate-free diet.
You just need to know which substitutes are smart – such as unsweetened almond milk for regular milk to plant yoghurts for the usual milk yoghurt.
But with that said, you still want to make sure you’re looking for unsweetened or no added sugar to make sure the products fit your needs.
Also, it is equally important to compensate for lost nutrients (calcium, protein, potassium) that you may have already taken by consuming yogurt, dairy products and cheese. For calcium, sardines, tofu, kale and fortified almond milk should be considered, and for potassium, avocado, spinach, salmon and unripe soybean seeds.
And let’s not forget about the great keto player – fat! To keep up with those dairy-free products, opt for nuts, avocados, seeds and vegetable-based oils.
Now, not to repeat yourself or anything like that, but just to make sure it’s clear: you don’t need to completely discard dairy products if you want to do keto.
In fact, there are plenty of dairy options that will fit into your lifestyle of 50 grams of carbs a day (or less!).
All foods are basically allowed on a ketogenic diet, it’s a matter of portioning, that means you may have more space for certain dairy products, like butter and full-fat cream, but not so much for others, like milk or ice cream.
On the whole, it’s best to always read labels and nutritional facts to learn the full story of dairy before diving in. The same previously mentioned cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese can quickly become unsuitable for a carbohydrate-free diet if you’ve added sugar.
Don’t let marketing fool you. Be your own detective when it comes to product selection.