If you’ve tried the ketogenic diet, no one has to tell you that the high-fat and very-low-carb plan is restrictive. But for all of the oatmeal, potatoes, apples, and carrots you’ve given up (not to mention desserts, bread, rice, and pasta) in the name of the so-called keto diet, you may have stuck with it because you’ve noticed improvements in your health or weight loss.
But even if you’ve gotten the results you want, it may be time to transition out of this diet. While some people have success staying on keto for an extended period of time, “the long-term research is limited,” says Jill Keene, RDN, in White Plains, New York. Keene recommends staying on keto for six months max before reintroducing more carbs to your diet. Indeed, Scott Keatley, RDN, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City, agrees: “The science hasn’t gotten to the point where I would be comfortable recommending it as a forever diet,” he says.
Transitioning out of the keto diet has its benefits. One, the keto diet generally advises eating 20 to 50 grams (g) of net carbohydrates per day. (Net carbs are total carbs with fiber subtracted.) To meet that goal, people have to cut out even healthy sources of carbs, like whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, fruit, and most dairy (such as yogurt and milk). Because of this restriction, many people will find that they can’t stay on keto for long anyway. What’s more, because there is such a long list of banned foods on keto, “long-term ketogenic diets can result in nutritional deficiencies,” says Keene. (Fiber is one that many followers fall short on.)
It will be an adjustment period, but you can approach it in a smart way. If you get to your health or weight goal on keto then jump right back into the way you were eating (for instance: a standard American diet, which is high in sugar and saturated fat), you will snap back right to where you started, says Alyssa Tucci, RDN, nutrition manager at Virtual Health Partners in New York City. “As you transition off the ketogenic diet, start to slowly decrease your fat intake while upping your intake of lean proteins, vegetables, and wholesome carbohydrates, like fresh fruit, whole grains, and beans,” she says. White refined grains and sugars should still be limited.
While you should still eat the healthy fats you’ve become accustomed to (like avocado and olive oil), decreasing the amount is key, otherwise you may wind up eating an excess of calories. You’ll no longer be imperiling your cholesterol by covering a chicken breast in butter just to meet your fat quota, for instance.
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Then there’s the fear about if you’ll gain weight when you go off keto. It’s no secret that the tough part about weight loss is keeping it off, says Keatley. “The key to keeping weight off post-keto is to adopt some of the healthy behaviors you developed on the diet,” he says.
3 Expert Tips for Easing off of the Keto Diet
For guidance in weaning yourself off the keto diet, follow this expert advice for a successful transition into keto result maintenance:
1. Gradually Increase How Many Carbs You Eat
You’ve been counting carbs like crazy, and you’re probably an expert in it by now. This is not the time to completely stop counting. Add in an additional 10 g of carbohydrates per day for the first week, says Keene. Grab a pad of paper, and track your weight and how you feel. Increase that number weekly or every other week depending on your goals, she says.
2. Find Your Desired Carb Range
The number of carbs recommended is different for everyone, and differs depending on things like your goals and activity levels. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all amount, aim to get back to a number of carbohydrates that allow you to eat a greater range of foods so that you “don’t feel restricted but can maintain your weight and feel good,” says Keene. If you’re not sure what range is right for you, find a registered dietitian in your area who will be able to help you meet your personal goals.
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3. Add More Protein to Your Plate
Consider increasing lean proteins (think: skinless chicken, fish, lean cuts of red meat), says Keatley. “This will help you take the advantage of the thermic effect of food, [which is the number of calories it takes to digest food],” Keatley says. It takes about 20 to 30 percent of the calories in protein to digest a food, compared with about 5 to 10 percent of the calories in carbs.
10 Foods to Add Back to Your Plate After the Keto Diet
Next, you get to plan what you’ll add back in. Here are 10 healthy foods to begin adding in again on your keto maintenance plan:
You may have been able to get away with eating a very small amount (we’re talking ¼ cup) of berries, such as strawberries, to get your fruit fix on keto. Now you can eat enough to make it an actual snack. One cup of strawberry halves contains 12 g of carbs, along with 3 g of fiber (12 percent of the daily value) and 89.4 mg of vitamin C (149 percent DV).
2. Baby Carrots (or Any Carrots, for That Matter!)
This vitamin A–rich finger food is great for dipping into hummus. Ten baby carrots contain 12 g of carbohydrates.
3. Black Bean Soup
A ½-cup serving has 10 g of carbohydrates. Top with diced avocado. Not a fan of soup? Plain, cooked black beans will also do!
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Next time you grab sushi, don’t be shy about ordering these soybeans as an app. Two-thirds of a cup of shelled edamame has 11 g of carbohydrates. Not to mention, edamame is also an excellent source of fiber, protein, iron, and vitamin C.
One vitamin C–packed kiwi contains just 12 g of carbohydrates, making kiwi a perfect snack to nosh on post-keto.
6. Butternut Squash
When you started on the keto journey, you may not have realized that many types of squash were likely off the menu. But with portion control it can be back on. In fact, ½ cup of baked butternut squash — rich in eyesight-friendly vitamin A — supplies 11 g of carbohydrates.
A super hydrating fruit (it’s mostly water), 1 cup of melon has about 12 g of carbs and just 46 calories.
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For the most part, on keto it’s likely you gave up all legumes, an unfortunate reality since they’re packed with fiber. Top a salad with ¼ cup of lentils for 57 calories, 4 g of protein, 10 g of carbs, and 4 g of fiber.
On keto, you may have dabbled in “noatmeal” (it’s made with hemp seeds, flaxseed, and chia seeds) but now it’s time to bring back the real deal. A ½-cup serving of cooked oatmeal has 14 grams of carbs. Choose old-fashioned or steel-cut oats for the healthiest varieties. Top with a dollop of nut butter or sliced nuts and blueberries.
10. Sweet Potatoes
Some of the last things you should add back into your post-keto diet are carb-rich whole-grain bread, brown rice, and potatoes (including sweet potatoes), says Keene, because it’s easy to pack in a lot of carbs at once with these foods. One-half of a medium sweet spud has just 57 calories, but 13 g of carbs. So when you add them back, remember to keep portion size in mind.
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