When you first begin the ketogenic diet, it’s easy to get pigeonholed into thinking that you are limited to what types of food you can eat in order to stay in ketosis. Italian food, for example, which is mainly known for pastas and other types of breads seems like a no-go and surefire way to get kicked out of ketosis. However as you will learn every menu has items that are both tasty and keto-friendly.
In this article, we’re going to discuss how to stay in ketosis while still enjoying the best of the best cuisines. Whether you’re meeting friends for Italian, taking your spouse out for Thai, or simply ordering Chinese food, there’s no need to break ketosis.
In addition to menu items, there are also recipes to make these worldly meals at home.
Ordering Italian Food
Most of the main dishes in any Italian restaurant are going to involve heavy sauces and heavy carbs. Most Italian restaurants also offer items like steaks, where you can substitute red potatoes with a side of broccoli. Or, to stay a little closer to the Italian countryside, try to order an antipasto salad with a meat (steak), vegetables, and Alfredo sauce.
All in all, there are plenty of options if you read the menu and play Where’s Waldo with the keto options. For example, you should be able to order chicken, steak, veal, or seafood and then ask for veggies rather than pasta. Avoid the free bread (a and be careful of any carb-packed sauces.
Cooking Italian Food
A low-carb ketosis friendly antipasto salad can also be made at home with the following ingredients:
- Fresh baby spinach
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Ciliegine mozzarella
- Shaved Parmesan
- Artichoke hearts
- Roasted garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Italian antipasti is generally made of meats, cheeses, and vegetables and often served as an appetizer, sometimes pickled of marinated. There are longer recipes, but you essentially just dice and toss together on top of spinach. For a more formal recipe, check out the Sassy Southern Yankee’s website, here.
Ordering French Food
“The French Diet” actually follows a high-fat, cheese, and wine meal plan and the farmers in France have been known to live off high-fat diets (60 Minutes investigates here) while experiencing better heart health. However, the French do also have better portion control so the carbs that hit the plate are minimal.
Regardless, when ordering in a French restaurant, look for items like French onion soup (avoid the crouton or toast), Coq au Vin (drop the potatoes), French leg of lamb, or Boeuf Bourguignon, which is made of beef cubes simmered in red wine, with beef stock, onions, herbs, and garlic.
Cooking French Food
To make your own ketogenic Cog au Vin recipe, simply begin with:
- Brown onion
- Clove garlic
- Red wine vinegar
- Bay leaf
- Sliced white mushrooms
- Butter (or oil)
- Black pepper
- Chicken stock
Generally speaking, the meal is also served with shirataki mushrooms, but that’s certainly not a necessity to mimic the taste. Another tradition involves a glass of red wine, but red wine vinegar is your best bet for ketosis. Without the noodles, this should come to about 12g net carbs but make sure to examine the nutrition labels on your sauces as you cook.
The full “food porn” recipe is on Imgur, but you essentially fry the bacon, onion, garlic, and celery in butter, then toss in the mushrooms. Let that simmer and then cook the chicken, black pepper and thyme. The chicken stock comes last and let is simmer until it reduces down to a less-soupy mix. Enjoy.
Ordering Mexican Food
“I have found Mexican food, swapping out rice for vegetables, to be one of the cuisines most conductive to the slow carb diet,” writes author Tim Ferriss, who also practices the ketogenic diet (the main difference between his “slow carb” diet and keto falls down to fats and legumes, like lentils, black beans, and pintos).
However, this means that there are dozens of options on the menu at any Mexican restaurant if you simply substitute the rice. As comedian Jim Gaffigan joked, “It’s a tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables,” for every item on the menu. Substitute the carbs, be careful with sugary salsas, and dive in.
Cooking Mexican Food
Again, avoid the chips and salsa (surefire way to kick you out of ketosis), and most wraps are out of the question, but everything else is fair game. Let’s try a ketogenic ACP (chicken and rice, no rice)
- Green peppers
- Sour cream
Cook your onions a little longer to get that sweet taste and then toss in green peppers before cooking the diced chicken. Add any other ketogenic veggies you like and then plate. Toss on the sour cream and/or guacamole and/or salsa. Keep it simple and use guacamole or a slice of avocado for bonus fats.
Ordering Thai Food
Thai food is another meal option where noodles or rice seem like the only option, but they quickly be swapped out for veggies. Many Thai restaurants have salad options, like a lemongrass beef salad or you can check the appetizer list for items like a satay chicken or Thai lettuce wrap.
If you’re reluctant about a sugary-sounding sauces, question your server or simply drop the sugar for a spicier sauce. When you’re eating out, there’s no guarantee so try to save some carbs in case they’re hiding in a meal, as many Thai dishes involve some sugar. You can also try Larb Gai or Yum Nua with some Tom Kha soup.
Cooking Thai Food
When making Tom Kha soup at home, feel free to substitute items for more fats or less carbs, but this basic recipe comes from the travel blog, Tasteaholics:
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 10 kaffir lime leaves (or 1 lime)
- 1 inch fresh ginger
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 10 oz. mixed mushrooms
- 5 cups coconut cream
- 1 tbsp fish sauce (optional)
- 1 chili pepper (optional)
- cilantro for garnish
Heat the chicken broth on medium while you cut the lemongrass into 4 1-inch pieces. Toss them into the broth and then add the kaffir lime leaves, grated ginger and sea salt. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes and then strain the solids. Add the chicken thighs and mixed mushrooms and cook another 20 minutes
Take out the chicken thighs and shred them. Add the shredded chicken back into the mix and toss in the coconut cream and fish sauce. Cook a few more minutes and taste to determine if you need more salt and pepper. Garnish in bowls and serve.
Ordering Indian Food
Basically, anything on the menu that doesn’t sound heavy with potatoes, rice, or wheat should be okay in the Indian restaurant and keep you in ketosis. This means avoiding aloo gobi, samosas, and naan, but you can stock up on chicken curry, chicken korma, saag paneer, tikka masala, and tandoori.
If you order something like tandoori chicken, there’s probably going to be about 1/8 cup of yogurt per serving, but that’s a relatively small amount of carbs. The oily spices should be fine for ketosis, but be careful for around the sweet chutneys. Chicken korma is usually better than chicken tikka masala so save your carbs if you are planning to eat the latter.
Cooking Indian Food
This list is a little long, but it’s worth it to make the dish right. This recipe for Indian Chicken Korma comes from the Wanderlust Kitchen:
For the chicken marinade:
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
For the sauce:
- 2 white onions, cut in quarters
- 6 gloves garlic, peeled
- 4 tsp curry powder
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground coriander seed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large tomatoes, diced
- 1 tbsp grated ginger root
- ½ cup ground raw almonds
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 ½ cup plain yogurt
- ½ small red chili, de-seeded, minced
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
Drizzle the chicken with oil and sprinkle on the garam masala, salt, pepper, and curry powder. Massage the meat and let it marinate for at least two hours (let it marinate overnight if you have the time).
Heat a grill pan on medium and grill the chicken for about five minutes on each side, until it’s cooked through. Make the sauce with onions, garlic, and a cup of water into a blender. Puree until smooth. Measure the spices in a small mixing bowl.
In another saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium and then add in the pureed onion mixture. Cook and stir for 2-3 minutes until it starts to look darker in the saucepan. Add the tomatoes, ginger, ground almonds, yogurt, red chili, coconut milk, brown sugar, and mixed spices.
Turn the heat down and let the mix simmer for about 30 minutes. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add them to the pan. Simmer another 15 minutes.
*This is where you would normally add basmati rice or nann, but let’s skip the carbs for keto. A cooked cauliflower (mashed potato style) could be an option here.
Ordering Chinese Food
Unfortunately, there’s no way to scarf down rice and noodles and remain in ketosis, but there are usually lots of great meat and veggie options to substitutes the pasta and carbs. Generally speaking, the more “westernized” a Chinese restaurant appears to be, the more likely you can stick to your keto goals
Most dishes, such as the broccoli beef, kung pao chicken, mushu, or general tso’s chicken will start with some type of soy sauce and sugar base, so be weary about too much sauce on your meal or any type of breaded meat. Those dishes can sneakily kick you out of ketosis. Basically, anything that looks like a gravy on the buffet line will likely be loaded with sugar.
Your best bet would probably be to order something that avoids that sugar-soy base. These meals might include the Mongolian beef or the twice-cooked pork belly with some garlic green beans. Again, this depends on how authentic the restaurant is, but these options are going to look like more of a peppery-liquid base.
Cooking Chinese Food
To better understand the Chinese cuisine, try this Keto Crispy Sesame Beef from Ruled.me for your next dinner party.
- 1 medium Daikon Radish
- 1 lb. Ribeye Steak, sliced into ¼ inch strips
- 1 tbsp Coconut flour
- ½ tsp Guar Gum
- ½ tsp Coconut oil
- 4 tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tsp Sesame oil
- 1 tsp Osyter sauce
- 1 tbsp Rice vinegar
- 1 tsp Sriracha
- ½ tsp Red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp Toasted Sesame seeds
- ½ medium Red pepper, sliced strips
- ½ medium Jalapeno pepper, sliced rings
- 1 medium Green onion, chopped
- 1 clove Garlic, minced
- 1 tsp Ginger, minced
- 7 drops Liquid Stevia
- Olive oil
To make the Daikon noodles for this recipe, you’ll need a Spiralizer so you can create noodle-like strings that are low-carb. Soak the daikon noodles in a bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes during prep.
Chop up the Ribeye steak and place it in a bowl with coconut flour and the guar gum to coat the meat. This flour will act as a form of breading to make the beef crispy, without actually adding flour. Let this rest for about ten minutes. While that rests, cut up all of the other vegetables as listed above.
In a Wok pan or skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Once the oil heats, add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper strips. Fry for about 2 minutes so you can actually smell the aroma, but before it starts to burn. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Sriracha, and Stevia. Whisk together and then allow a few minutes for it cool. Then toss in sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. Stir lightly.
As the vegetables cook, heat another inch of cooking oil in a pot or fryer and let it reach about 325 degrees F. Add the beef strips and make sure not to overcrowd the pot. Fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side until you see a thick brown crust. Then, remove the meat and place it on paper towels to cool, dry.
Toss the dried beef into the wok pan and cook for about two more minutes so the flavors can mix together. Drain the Daikon radish noodles and place them onto your serving plates. Top each with the sesame beef n garnish with jalapeno and green onion. This should make four servings at 31g fat, 5g net carbs, and 24.5g protein.
Ordering Japanese Food
Like Chinese or Mexican food, Japanese food offers a variety of veggies and meats as long as you drop the added rice or noodles. Sashimi can be a go-to as it’s basically just raw fish (if sushi available), which can be mixed with Soy sauce and wasabi
You can also request sushi rolls “naruto” style, which means they use cucumber slices rather than rice to roll the sushi. With raw fish, the fat counts are high and you can find 3 ounces of salmon sashimi will have 22g fat and 34g of protein.
For more westernized Japanese food, where you general get a sliced meat, veggies, and a ton of white sauce, drop the rice and request more veggies or mushrooms. That infamous white sauce (yum yum sauce) has a serving size of 2 tbsp, which equals 7g fat, 6g carbs, and 0g of protein, so be easy on the sauce.
Cooking Japanese Food
Handmade naruto cucumber rolls are tasty, sweet and ketosis friendly. To make your own recipe, take a page from the blog, Peas and Crayons:
- Sashimi-grade tuna
- Sashimi-grade salmon
- ½ English cucumber
- ½ Jalapeno
- 2 stalks Green onion
- Avocado slices
- Chopped Green onion
- Toasted Sesame seeds (or Chia seeds)
*To personalize this dish, or add dippers, consider cream cheese, Sriracha sauce, or Ponzu sauce.
Start by slicing the avocado, green onion, and the Jalapeno (use a green pepper for a milder flavor). Slice your fish into strips and if you decide to add cream cheese, roll a chilled piece into a log with your fingers.
Slice the cucumber into a wrap form (sample video here) and keep it on the thick side to make the process easier on yourself. Then, unroll the cucumber and layer the fish or veggies inside like a standard roll. Line up everything at one end of the sliced cucumber and then start to roll it up.
Grab a sharp knife to create discs with the roll and hold it as tight as you can while you slice. Use toothpicks if you seem to be struggling, but it can also be done without toothpicks or placeholders.
Finally, top the dish with sesame seeds and chopped green onion. Drizzle with your favorite sauce.
Stay in Ketosis Around the World
While it may seem difficult to picture yourself in ketosis while enjoying your favorite foreign foods, hopefully this short guide has proven that you can have your keto cake and eat it, too (metaphorically, that is).
For the most part, you know what you can and can’t eat but there are going to be hidden carbs, especially with sauces or restaurants. Stick with your bulletproof coffee in the A.M. and if you know you’re going out with friends, save your carbs for the social meal, but in general it shouldn’t be too hard to stay in ketosis.
Practice makes perfect, so don’t get down on yourself for a few excess carbs on occasion, but remember to stick with the keto lifestyle to improve your body and mind.