How to Do the Keto Diet If You Can't (or Don't) Eat Meat

It's possible to stick to the keto diet even if grass-fed meat isn't an option for you.

April 27, 2020


Photo by: Claudia Totir/Getty Images

Claudia Totir/Getty Images

Going keto takes some adjustments — but once you have it down, it’s not that difficult to maintain. Planning meals and shopping wisely go a long way toward helping you stay on track. That is, until you get thrown off. Maybe you can’t make it to the store for a week, or the butcher is out of grass-fed meat, or you’re traveling. The good news is, even when you can’t get the high-quality meat you may be used to, you have other options for managing those macros.

Strategy: Eat more vegetables.

Somewhere along the way, the idea that you can’t eat vegetables and maintain a keto diet solidified, but functional medicine expert Dr. Will Cole, author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum, says it’s a myth.

“The reason a lot of people shy away from vegetables while on a keto diet is often due to a fear of accidentally going over [their] carb count for the day,” he says. “But in reality there are a lot of non-starchy vegetables that are low-carb like dark leafy greens, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. These are actually filled with important nutrients that our bodies need to thrive, which are often missed in the conventional ‘bacon and butter’ keto diets.”

Instead of leading with meat, “you just shift your staples to healthy plant-based fats like avocados, olives, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut cream, nuts and seeds,” Dr. Cole says. “I’m a big fan of roasted cauliflower tacos wrapped in lettuce and topped with extra guac. Another great option is a zoodle noodle bowl made with nut cheese and olives for added healthy fats.”

Strategy: Incorporate other proteins.

Beef, chicken, eggs, bacon, salmon — all of these are mainstays on a keto diet. Consider bringing in some others, says Dr. Ryan Lowery, PhD, CEO of

“One thing I really like is low-carb Greek yogurt, there are a couple of brands making that right now, like YQ from Yoplait,” Dr. Lowery says. “I’ll put in Coconut Manna [coconut butter] to add a fat source to it, and it’s a delicious combination.”

He also recommends getting creative with protein powder. “I’ll use a whey protein, but you can use egg protein or hemp, if you want to. People think of those powders for drinks and smoothies, but I like to incorporate them into recipes. I’ll make high-fat pancakes with coconut flour and almond flour, but use less of the flours and add some protein powder instead as a binder.”

Mix things up with plant sources, too. “Chia and hemp — which is a complete protein — are great options for plant-based protein,” Dr. Cole says. “I also love walnuts, almonds, and nutritional yeast.”

Dr. Lowery likes to incorporate seeds for protein as well. “You could make a salad and use the low-carb Greek yogurt to make a dressing, then sprinkle pumpkin seeds or another seed on top,” he notes. “You can do that and hit the protein threshold you need for muscle growth” while staying within your keto macros.

Strategy: Don't forget shelf-stable proteins.

There are always going to be situations where you can’t get the freshest or best or most optimal food, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well.

“I like to say, ‘Don’t mess up good for perfect,’” Dr. Lowery says. “Keep things around that you can use any time, like canned chicken, nuts, sardines. People get so stressed out about using the best thing all the time — but the stress will cause more negative consequences than using a less-great brand or less-great food.”

For those moments that you can’t get the grass-fed beef or pastured poultry, stock up on these:

  • Canned Salmon: Make sure to buy wild caught, such as Safe Catch
  • Tinned Sardines: Look for ones that are packed in olive oil for more healthy fats, such as Wild Planet
  • Cheese Crisps: Be sure it’s 100% cheese, such as Moon Cheese
  • Beef Jerky: Aim to buy brands that are made with 100% grass-fed beef and no added sugar, like Keto Carne
  • Game Meat Sticks: Think outside traditional beef, chicken and fish. Look for convenient meat sticks made from nutrient-dense game meats, such as Chomps Salt & Pepper Venison or EPIC Bison Bacon Bites

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