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By the author of The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Living and What to Eat When You’re Broke
The ketogenic diet, or “Keto,” has gotten more and more popular of late, and for good reason. People are seeing complete reversals in their health while eating enjoyable foods, having improved mental states, and losing weight. This article is not to persuade you to eat any certain way. You know what’s best for your body. Instead, it’s some suggestions for ways to eat a cheap keto diet when you’re broke.
I’ve been eating keto for months now at the recommendation of a doctor, and not only have I lost weight, but I feel better mentally and cognitively. The brain fog of Long Covid is beginning to lift, and so is my mood, as I give my brain the healthy fats it needs.
What is Keto?
This article is also not meant to tell you all the ins and outs of the ketogenic diet. I assume you’re reading it because you’re already on Keto or have been wanting to try it. But, here are the basics.
You eat a diet high in fat – including animal fat – while restricting carbohydrates. There are all sorts of calculations for net carbs, which means you subtract the fiber from the carbohydrate count. But I prefer to just count carbs in general.
Percentages of macros vary depending on the expert you talk to. Mine are 65% fat, 25% protein, and 10% carbs. This varies from day to day. Sometimes, you have to eat at a restaurant, sometimes, you make a special meal for someone’s birthday, and sometimes, the day goes sideways, and you aren’t in total control of every bite you eat. I’ve found that as long as I watch my carb intake and never let it go over 15%, I stay on track.
There’s a ton of research out there on the benefits of the ketogenic diet. It’s been used clinically for people who have epilepsy for years. It’s also been proven beneficial for those with diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2. Some therapists are now recommending it for people with “untreatable” depression that doesn’t respond to medications. It’s used in the brain injury world and for people who have had strokes. A common side effect is improved mental clarity so this makes sense.
You can easily do some Googling and find pro-keto content and anti-keto content. This is not meant to be a persuasion piece – do your own research to see if it seems like something you’d like to try.
The cheap Keto rules
Please note that I am using the word “rules” loosely. I’m not really a rulesy kind of girl.
1.) Get a free MyFitnessPal account. I really like their food tracker. It has loads and loads and loads of entries – tens of thousands – so that you can find the macros of whatever you want. I briefly had a paid membership during a free trial and I didn’t really find it that beneficial. You can go in and set your macro percentages however you want in the free version. I like to use the percentages instead of the grams. Tracking your food is essential so that you can make sure you’re getting enough fat and that not too many carbs are sneaking in.
2.) Forget all those super expensive “keto” foods. Just like any diet, when it becomes popular enough you’ll see all sorts of processed foods that fit (or say they fit) the plan. These things are E X P E N S I V E. I don’t get keto candy or keto cheese or keto anything. Seriously, you don’t need it. And half the time, it’s not really keto anyway. I’m not eating ONE PIECE of candy that is half my carb allotment for the day. Eat real food, not processed food.
3.) Ditto on forgoing the fancy ingredients. Sure, if I were rolling in money, I’d eat nothing but grass-fed beef from much-loved cows that were groomed daily with brushes dipped in lavender oil while soft music played. But, I’m not. So I get regular 80-20 beef, the bacon that’s on sale, olive oil, conventionally grown avocados, and plain old ordinary salted butter. My goal is to get results, and fortunately, even with the lower-quality ingredients, results are happening. Are these “perfect” ingredients better? Probably. Are they absolutely essential for success? Absolutely not.
4.) Follow people who practice what you practice. If you only follow people who are preaching the gospel of grassfed everything and adding organic MCT oil to each meal, you are just going to feel like you’re failing. I love Stephanie Laska, the author of the Dirty Lazy Keto series of books. She’s very down to earth and understands we can’t all spend $500 at the grocery store each week. On YouTube, I follow KetoGinja, who is really funny. (Sometimes she swears a little, if you’re bothered by that. I’m not bothered.) Stephanie, who I mentioned above, also has a channel and is a lot of fun.
5.) Have some easy go-to meals. One of the meals I eat constantly is spicy cajun chicken (I just fry it up on the stovetop with loads of Slap Ya Mama seasoning) and a coleslaw positively bathed in mayo. It takes 15 minutes from fridge to plate, and I always keep the ingredients on hand. I also have a few crockpot meals in my rotation that leave me with scrumptious leftovers. You need to find some meals you really enjoy that are fast to make.
6.) Keep snacks on hand. Find some reasonably priced snacks for when you want to eat something but you don’t want to blow your diet. For salty snacks, I have cheddar cheese cut into cubes that I eat with a couple of slices of good cappacuolo. For sweet snacks, I zap sugar-free pudding or Jello mix with whipping cream and cream cheese in my food processor. Let it set in the fridge for a few hours and a heaping tablespoon or so is a rich, delicious treat. If you want a “crust” you can simply crush up some pecans or walnuts. Find one salty snack and one sweet snack that fits into your budget and keep it in the fridge at all times.
7.) Eat at home more often than you go out. I mean, we’re thrifty people, so we probably don’t eat out that much anyway, right? But particularly when you are on a diet like Keto, eating out is a minefield of temptation and hidden carbs. I eat out max once a month now, whereas I used to go out more often.
8.) Makeover your favorite foods. Do you have a junk food that you crave regularly? Make it over! I have found some great hacks on Pinterest. I love Egg Roll in a Bowl, Big Mac Bowls, taco bowls, and all sorts of delicious stuff. Nothing is off the table if you make it right. The key here is not to get sucked into their fancy ingredients. I don’t use expensive paleo mayo – I use Dukes because I am southern, and there are correct mayo and incorrect mayo. Simply watch your carbs and be creative.
9.) Focus on specific whole foods. My grocery cart is filled with beef, chicken, bacon, butter, eggs, a few bags of coleslaw mix (for speed), lettuce, broccoli, frozen cauliflower, cheese, nuts, sugar-free Jello mix, half-and-half, heavy cream, and cream cheese. That’s basically it. Aside from the Jello, it’s whole foods. This means I’m NOT spending money on cereal, grains, high-carb veggies, and processed food.
If there’s a will, there’s a way, even if you’re on a budget! Don’t let an urge for “doing it perfectly” stop you from doing it at all. If we wait for the perfect time to make big changes, we’re never going to find it. We’ll never make those changes. Just get started and work within your means.
What about you?
Do you eat a ketogenic diet? Have you ever? Is it something you’re considering? Do you have any cheap keto hacks to share with us? Any YouTubers or books to recommend?
Let’s talk about it in the comments section!
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.
Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand Survival.com You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.