Medically Reviewed by Dr. Bryan Seigel D.C., P.L.C.
A keto diet is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. Eating this way shifts your metabolism from burning sugar to burning fat. This shift to a fat-burning metabolism—called ketosis—drives the benefits of the keto diet[*].
Sounds simple enough, right?
But as simple as keto sounds on paper, there are many places to go wrong. There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat keto. The right way keeps you moving comfortably towards your health goals. The wrong way moves you away from them.
Doing keto right means avoiding the most common keto diet mistakes. Let’s start with the biggest mistake of all.
Keto Mistake #1: Eating too many carbs
The number one rule of the keto diet is to keep carbs low. For most people, this means keeping carbs below 10% of daily calories.
Keeping carbs low is the key to ketosis. By restricting carbohydrates, you keep blood sugar and insulin levels low. Low insulin, in turn, tells your liver to start burning fat and making ketones[*].
But keeping carbs to 5-10% of daily calories isn’t always easy. Hidden carbs hide in soups, sauces, dressings, and most other packaged foods. To ferret them out, you need to become an expert label reader.
Some vegetables will even stretch your carb limit, if they’re sufficiently starchy. Carrots, yams, and turnips are simply too carby to be keto.
Solving this keto mistake is simple. Download a macro tracker (like Carb Manager or Cronometer) and start logging all your meals. Once you know where the carbs are hiding, you can calibrate accordingly.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to log every bite for the rest of your life. That would cut into your leisure time. A few days of dedicated tracking should be enough. Then you can take off the training wheels.
Keto Mistake #2: Eating unhealthy fats
If you keep carbs sufficiently low, you’re bound to enter ketosis. But keeping carbs low says nothing of food quality.
Heard of “dirty keto”? It’s a keto diet high in inflammatory vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and peanut oil.
Researchers believe excess consumptions of these oils is partly responsible for the American obesity epidemic[*]. Consuming too many omega-6 fats—the type of fat high in veggie oils—creates inflammatory conditions conducive to weight gain.
You don’t want to cook with these dirty keto oils. They break down at high heat, creating compounds called oxidized lipids. These compounds have been linked to accelerated heart disease progression[*].
To avoid this keto mistake, stick to healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, MCT oil, palm oil, and lard. That’s how you eat a clean keto diet.
Keto Mistake #3: Not eating enough vegetables
There are two main reasons to fill your keto plate with low-carb vegetables:
- For the vitamins, minerals, and plant-based compounds
- To aid with digestion
First, non-starchy vegetables like spinach and kale are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They’re high in potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin A, and many other key nutrients. Kale also contains compounds called isothiocyanates that may have anti-cancer properties[*].
Eating vegetables also supplies you with dietary fiber. For most people, getting more fiber is a good thing.
Benefits of dietary fiber
- Keeps you regular
- Feeds beneficial gut bacteria that produce anti-inflammatory compounds like butyrate[*]
- Helps with blood sugar management
One important tip is to favor cooked vegetables over raw vegetables. Cooked vegetables are not only easier to digest, but the nutrients are generally more bioavailable.
The bottom line? Don’t skimp on keto-friendly veggies.
Keto Mistake #4: Not eating enough protein
Most people don’t eat enough protein on keto. This is an unfortunate consequence of how the keto macros are presented. Some explanation will help.
If you’re told to eat a ketogenic diet with 60% of your calories from fat, 30% from protein, and 10% from carbs, it seems like fat will comprise the bulk of your meals. But that’s not true. By weight, you’ll actually be eating more protein.
That’s because a gram of fat contains 9 calories, while a gram of protein contains only 4. Calorically, fat is over twice as dense as protein.
Again, a macro tracker is useful here. Shoot to get 20-30% of your calories from protein to support muscle, hormones, wound healing, and many other functions. And in case you were wondering, higher-protein intakes on keto been shown to be perfectly compatible with weight loss[*].
Keto Mistake #5: Not getting enough electrolytes
Electrolytes are charged minerals that regulate fluid balance and conduct nerve impulses. If you don’t get enough of them, you’re guaranteed to feel and perform suboptimally.
Here’s the thing. Most keto dieters don’t get enough electrolytes.
Why? For one, a keto diet eliminates many electrolyte-rich foods. With fruits and potatoes off limits, you must look elsewhere for potassium. Plus, whole foods contain very little sodium, and most people are too shy with the salt shaker.
The other reason is less intuitive. When you eat a low-carb diet, the resulting insulin suppression signals your kidneys to excrete more electrolytes through urine[*].
Combine these factors and you have a recipe for the headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramps that come along with electrolyte deficiency[*]. In many cases, the keto flu is just the low electrolyte flu.
Dial in your electrolytes by eating electrolyte-rich low-carb foods like avocados, meat, sardines, nuts, and leafy greens. Support these efforts with a keto-friendly electrolyte supplement and you’ll be all set.
Keto Mistake #6: Chasing the wrong metrics
When you eat a keto diet, your liver makes molecules called ketones to fuel your brain and body. You can measure these ketones in blood, breath, and urine. Pretty cool.
But while ketone testing is a useful marker of keto compliance—and a must for therapeutic applications of ketosis—many people get too hung up on it. Instead of focusing on personal health goals, they obsess over ketone levels.
It’s okay to measure ketones, but other metrics should take priority. Ask yourself: Why did I go keto? To lose weight, curb cravings, stabilize energy, feel sharper? All of the above?
These are the health metrics to track. When they start improving, you’ll know you’re on the right path.