It feels like the keto diet has been around forever at this point, with tons of people still singing its praises on the reg (hi, Halle Berry!). But it doesn’t exactly seem like the easiest diet to stick to. That mostly comes down to the fact that, if you’re following a traditional keto diet, the amount of carbs you’re consuming is pretty low.
Typically, a keto diet calls for 70 to 80 percent your daily calories to come from fat, 10 to 20 percent to come from protein, and 5 to 10 percent from carbohydrates. For a 2000-calorie-per-day diet, this translates to about 165 grams of fat, 75 grams of protein, and 40 grams of carbohydrates, although hardcore keto dieters can go as low as 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, says Los Angeles-based nutritionist Mona Sharma.
The goal of eating so few carbs is to get your body into ketosis, the state in which it burns fat, instead of carbs, as fuel. Eating too many carbs can take you out of ketosis, lowering your chances of those dramatic weight-loss results you’ve seen. That’s why a lot of people who are following keto will nix fruits and veggies altogether. But that’s actually not a great idea.
“Most people on a strict keto diet remove all fruits, with the exception of berries in moderation,” Sharma explains. “However, I advise clients to eat an abundance of nutrient-dense, colorful, whole foods like vegetables and fruits in moderation daily. Lack of fiber from a variety of fruits and vegetables is detrimental to our gut microbiome.” (Keto constipation is real, guys.)
Essentially, you need some fruit and veg in your diet, as well as non-starchy carbs, in order to get the vital fiber and nutrients you need. So what kinds are best when you’re keto? As compared to rice and other grains, foods like squashes and sweet potatoes are better bets in terms of the quality of the carbs. But you still can’t load up on them you way can on other diets. Here’s what you need to know about eating sweet potatoes when you’re keto.
So, are sweet potatoes actually keto-friendly?
Well, technically, no. “On a standard keto diet, sweet potatoes are considered too high in carbohydrates, and are excluded because they make it difficult to remain in ketosis,” says Sharma. On average, a medium sweet potato has 27 grams of carbs, which would make up over half your allotted daily carbs on a traditional keto diet.
The thing is, there are different types of keto diets, and some of them may allow more carbs than others. For instance, the cyclic keto diet allows for one to two days a week of higher carb days—about 140 to 160 grams per day. This type of keto diet does take you out of ketosis temporarily, but it’s often followed by athletes who need a higher-carb day after intense activity in order to properly replenish their energy stores.
Another carb-friendly version of the keto diet is the targeted keto diet, where dieters consume 20 to 50 grams of carbs around 30 minutes before working out, with the assumption that even though this may put them out of ketosis temporarily, the additional carbs are burned off immediately and won’t get stored as body fat.
If you’re trying one of the more carb-friendly keto diets, you can easily incorporate more starches like sweet potatoes into your daily routine. If not, it’ll be a little trickier to enjoy sweet potatoes—however, there is a way that you can.
How can I eat sweet potatoes on a standard keto diet?
A lot of people on the keto diet don’t just keep track of their overall carb consumption, but also the amount of net carbs they’re consuming. The concept of net carbs was popularized by the Atkins diet; they’re the amount of carbohydrates leftover in a food once you subtract the fiber and sugar alcohol from the total carb count. Essentially, the theory is that since your body can’t digest most of the fiber and sugar alcohols, they don’t need to be counted.
Tracking net carbs instead of total carbs makes it a little easier to fit sweet potatoes into your 40 grams of allotted daily carbs on the keto diet. For a basic medium-sized sweet potato, you’d remove the fiber content (3.8 grams) to get an average of 24 net carbs.
It’s also important to note that you don’t have to eat the entire sweet potato if you want to keep your carb count low. Just cut the portions. “Consider adding in sweet potatoes or your favorite vegetables according to the net carbs appropriate for your activity levels,” says Sharma. Basically, if you’re working out a ton or at a super high intensity, you can easily have more carbs and burn them off without totally throwing off your keto diet.
What’s the most keto-friendly way to prepare sweet potatoes?
Sorry to break it to you, but your favorite maple sweet potatoes are off the table on the keto diet. “Essentially, anything made with sugar isn’t sustainable on the keto diet, since sugar is a carb,” says Sharma. However, you can definitely add some yummy savory options, like cheese, sour cream, or avocado oil.
“Cooking with a lot of oil helps shift the macros of the dish toward being more fat-dominant,” says certified nutritional consultant Ariane Resnick. “I don’t recommend frying because of that creates unhealthy trans fats.”
Roasting with a hearty amount of an oil that won’t oxidize at high heat—like avocado oil—would be the most keto-friendly approach, Resnick says. “If you want them mashed, adding lots of high-fat dairy like butter, heavy cream, and/or sour cream will also shift the macros to being more fat-heavy.” Okay, yum!
The bottom line: While sweet potatoes aren’t a food to incorporate on a standard keto diet due to their high carb content, preparing them to be more fat-dominant or reducing the amount you consume means you can add them to your diet.
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