The Keto Food Pyramid: Understanding What You Should Eat on Keto

Do you remember when you were in school, and learned about the food pyramid?

Carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, grains and pasts formed the based layer, with fruits and vegetables above it, followed by proteins and dairy, and then topped at the point of the pyramid with fats.

Since 1992, this tool (developed by the USDA) was used to teach us what a ‘healthy’, ‘balanced’ diet looked like. It was updated in 2005 – still with a very heavy weighting on grains, breads and cereals.

In 2011 the ‘pyramid’ was redesigned to the MyPlate diagram.

As you can see – it is divided into four quadrants (each a different size). Fruits and vegetables take up half the space, and grains and protein take up the other half. The vegetables and grains portions are the largest of the four. Even in this simplified version of the pyramid, carbohydrates and sugars form a very large part of the recommended diet.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding these guidelines shared by the USDA. And that isn’t even counting the heavy focus on carbohydrates.

For one – the design of the pyramid was heavily influenced by the meat and dairy industry. Additionally, the guidelines are very vague. The recommendation 2-3 servings of protein is a maximum, whereas the 2-4 servings of fruit is a minimum.

The guideline for fat is another problematic area. It is placed at the very top of the pyramid, with the instruction to eat as little as possible of it.

However – avoiding fat as much as possible can lead to health problems, as fat is essential to maintaining the body. Research has shown that unsaturated fats reduce the risk of heart disease, aid in weight loss, lower blood sugar, and even lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Additional, healthy fats help the brain to function.

How can we switch this around and have a food pyramid that places more emphasis on healthy fats, and less on carbohydrates and sugars?

The Ketogenic Diet Food Pyramid

The ketogenic diet is not just a weight loss diet. It was developed in the 1920s as a way for doctors to treat patients with epilepsy – to try and control the seizures.

Patients would follow a meal plan that consisting of 60-75% fat, 15-30% protein, and 5-10% carbs with the goal of ‘starving’ their body of blood sugar. The body would go into a state dubbed ‘ketosis’, where the body breaks fat into organic compounds called ketones. The ketones are then used for energy.

The ketones seemed to have an anti-electrical effect on the brain, which helped prevent seizures.

Weight loss was a side effect discovered during the studies of the keto diet on epilepsy sufferers. Fast forward to now – and it is currently one of the most popular weight loss diets around.

(If you don’t know much about the keto diet, read here for The Ultimate Guide for Keto Beginners)

Understanding the concept of splitting your calories into 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates is easy. But how do you implement it? How does it actually look?

Completely flipping around how you have been eating for most of your life is difficult.

That is where the Keto Bootstrap Keto Food Pyramid comes in.

keto food pyramid

It is a visual representation of the breakdown of your food for the day. Not every meal has to have the breakdown of 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates – as long as by the end of the day you end up with the correct ratio.

It will help you plan your keto diet in a simple, healthy way.

Using The Keto Bootstrap Keto Food Pyramid

The five tiers show the different food groups on the keto diet. Healthy fats form the largest part of your calorie intake, so they naturally form the base of the pyramid.

Remember – the keto diet is based on percentage split based on calories, not volume. So, non-starchy vegetables would fill most of your plate, with your fat only taking up a small portion of your plate. But the bulk of the calories you will be eating, will come from that fat. The vegetables will provide important nutrients and fiber.

As you make your way up the pyramid, you should be including less of these foods.

Now let’s go into a bit more detail for each layer of the pyramid.

Healthy Fats

The keto diet and the low-carb diet are often used interchangeably – many people think they are essentially the same thing.

There is one key difference, though – the keto diet emphasizes adding more healthy fats to your diet, whereas a low-carb diet doesn’t. (Low-carb diets tend to have a higher amount of protein.)

As we’ve discussed, fat is the cornerstone to the ketogenic diet. The high fat and low carbs is what puts your body into ketosis, and burns through body fat.

Beginners to the keto diet often struggle with eating the right kinds of fat, and eating enough of it. There is still a lot of misunderstanding out there about the role that fat plays in the diet.

If you are worrying about over-eating when it comes to fat, know that it will likely not happen. Fat is very satiating – unlike carbohydrates. You will feel satisfied very quickly. Learning to listen to your body, and knowing when it has had enough, will help.

To get more healthy fat into your diet, use whole, full-fat dairy (ignore low-fat and fat-free), choose fattier meats and fish, cook your meat and veggies in natural fats such as butter, duck fat, or olive oil, and top your food with dressings containing fat

To read more about the role of fat on a keto diet, read our Guide To Healthy Fats On Keto.

Managing Your Protein Intake

As mentioned above, the keto diet is different to a low-carb diet, because there is an emphasis on fat. Protein intake on the keto diet is moderate – only 20-25% of your calories will come from protein.

A common mistake with beginners of the keto diet is consuming too much protein. If you eat too much protein, you won’t enter ketosis.

You can get your protein from fatty cuts of meat, lean cuts of meat, fish, eggs, and some seafood.

Staying Within The Carb Allowance

Your carb allowance on the ketogenic diet is minimal, and will come from low-carb vegetables.

A ‘quick and dirty’ guide to knowing is whether a vegetable is low or high carb is:
If it is grows above the ground, it is low carb (spinach, broccoli, cauliflower). If it grows beneath the ground, it is high carb (potato, carrots, parsnips).

There are some exceptions, of course, but this is a good guideline to get you started.

The keto diet uses the concept of ‘net carbs’ rather than counting total carbs. This is because fiber forms part of the total carb count. But fiber isn’t consumed, and makes its way through your body. To work out net carbs, subtract the fiber count from the total carbs (total carbohydrates – fiber = net carbohydrates).

What About Nuts And Berries?

Fruit is generally quite high in sugars, which is why it is avoided on the keto diet.

Berries are some of the best fruits to consume on the keto diet, as they are lower in net carbs than other fruits. But eat them sparingly, as they do have some sugars.

Nuts are rich in fat and/or protein, but they do have some carbs, so take care not to go overboard. Macadamias are the best choice for the keto diet.

Ketosis Is What Your Body Wants to Be In

Ketosis is a natural body state and is not something new. Our ancestors survived due to ketosis and it can help change the lives of people today.

However, without understanding of what ketosis is and its benefits, as well as what you actually eat on keto, many people will still scoff at the idea of limiting carbs in their diet.