‘Tis the season for keto.
The holidays are difficult for any diet. This time of year is filled with food-centered festivities, holiday parties, and time-honored eating traditions – and with the holidays often comes stress.
The popular keto diet, which features high fats and moderate proteins with few carbs, comes with a diminished burden on calorie counting (yay!) but requires a fastidious approach to eating.
Here are tips from experts on how to maintain your keto diet during the holidays and avoid weight gain.
1. Plan Ahead
It can be meaningful to discuss your keto eating needs ahead of time with whoever is hosting the holiday event or preparing the food. Family and friends should be supportive and happy to help you!
Keto-friendly, low-carb recipes are available for many holiday staples such as pumpkin pie, latkes, gingerbread cookies, and even eggnog – giving a new twist to traditional food that would disrupt your diet.
“Mashed cauliflower, sugar-free cranberry sauce, nut flour stuffing, low-carb pumpkin pie, and countless other keto takes on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve food are all great options for staying in ketosis during the holidays,” says Sofia Norton, RD and keto expert for Kiss My Keto.
Where many diets involve restricted eating, keto is all about eating the right balance of ingredients, generally about 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbs.
Holiday favorites may still fit within your diet, it’s just important to ensure the right ingredients are being used.
And the keto versions of your favorite foods are so tasty, they may just become your new holiday tradition.
“Cauliflower mash and cauliflower rice are both fantastic as a low-carb side dish that’s easy to make and great to share,” Norton said. “If you have leftover keto bread, make low-carb stuffing as you would with regular bread.”
You can also use leftover keto bread to make breadcrumbs for stuffed mushrooms and keto casseroles! And for apps, deviled eggs are a great way to sneak in some MCT oil.
“Pumpkin pie is easy to make low-carb by swapping sugar for non-nutritive keto sweeteners and using an almond flour crust and Christmas cookies are also easy to make with a combination of almond and coconut flours,” Norton says.
If it’s not possible to adjust your party’s food options, you could bring your own pre-made ketogenic food or eat before the event to ensure that you’re maintaining your diet.
2. Keep Things Simple
Sticking to low-carb whole ingredients is a smart decision when food is being passed around the dinner table.
“When making choices remember our goal of regular amounts of protein, think of a palm size piece of meat as an example,” says Randy Evans, RD. “When it comes to carbs, on keto, we are mostly targeting complex or non-starchy carbs which are often leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and they are pretty easy to find on most tables.”
Traditional holiday meals that have few carbs are:
- Roasted turkey
- Roasted Brussels sprouts
- Roasted ham
- Whole roasted cauliflower
- Fish stew
Green veggies can be paired with pasture butter, extra virgin olive oil, raw nuts, or seeds. If you don’t know the type of fat being used, you could add fat on your own like adding MCT oil shots to coffee.
3. Know What to Avoid
Some holiday staples will not work with your diet, such as potatoes.
“You will want to avoid the starchy veggies, which is usually the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes,” Evans said. So, instead of a helping of grandma’s famous sweet potato casserole, go for a side of green beans or Brussels sprouts instead.
Other types of foods to skip include most fruits, processed foods and grains. And while you might enjoy listening to Nat King Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song” with its opening line “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” pass on the chestnuts – they’re high in carbs – and grab a handful of pecans instead.
4. Drink Lots of Water – and Limit the Booze
Water is king. It flushes out toxins and fights inflammation, which can lead to weight gain and swelling. It also fills you up and fights dehydration.
This comes in handy during the holidays for sure! Evans suggests drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day but also before, after, and during meals. So, before the big meal, drink a glass or two of water. And take sips of water throughout, pausing between bites.
While you might be inclined to drink alcohol this holiday season, be mindful of how it will impact your keto diet.
“The worst offender of weight gain by far is alcohol consumption during the holiday season. Not only does alcohol consumption pause your ability to burn fat for 48-72 hours, but it also initiates poor decision making with respect to food intake,” says keto expert and Nutrition Scientist Christine Hronec.
Alcoholic drinks are typically low in protein and higher in sugar and carbs, especially if they feature sugary mixers like tonic water or soda.
If you want to have a drink or two, make sure you’re sticking to low-carb recipes or dry wine.
5. To cheat or not to cheat?
You should talk with your dietitian about how much you can stray from your diet.
Dieters on a less strict ketogenic diet could have small amounts of fruit or unsweetened sweet potatoes “and still not be too far off from ketosis,” Evans said. “I have some patients who only see good ketone levels when super limiting carbs, maybe 20g per day but I also have athletes in the 80 to 100g of carbs range on a ketogenic diet who still see good ketone levels.”
Chef Elisa, Head Chef and Nutrition Expert at WarriorMade.com, says it’s important to plan the dishes you expect to eat – as well as your recovery if you sway from your diet for a day.
“Whether it’s fasting, doing a tougher workout before your festivities, or just getting back into your normal low carb routine the next day, cheating isn’t about all or nothing, it’s about you getting to make your own rules and knowing what you need to do to get back on track,” she says.
6. Enjoy Yourself
The holidays can be a stressful time! It’s important to cut yourself some slack – and focus on doing the best you can.
“Remember stress has a huge impact on our health and for the most part we have no way to measure its impact other than by measuring the damage it can cause. If you are doing well on the ketogenic diet over time and have a meal or a day that is not perfect, how about we enjoy it, lower our stress level, then get back on track the next day,” says Evans.