Many people make the mistake of assuming that the ketogenic diet is also a grain-free diet. While you should definitely moderate your grain consumption to control your carb intake, there are certain grains you can enjoy as long as it fits your macros.
So, what grains are keto-friendly and how do you prepare them? Keep reading to find out!
Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates
Before talking about which grains are and are not keto-friendly, you need to understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are made up of just one or two sugar molecules – these can be found in things like fruit, dairy products, candy, sweetened foods, and soda. These are generally empty-calorie foods.
Complex carbohydrates are made up of three or more sugar molecules and their higher fiber content means that they contain fewer net carbs than simple sugars. Complex carbs include things like starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains – foods that are broken down more slowly by the body. Generally speaking, complex carbs are healthier than simple carbs, but are any of them keto-friendly?
Are Any Grains Considered Keto-Friendly?
Whether or not a grain is considered keto-friendly depends on several factors. First, you should know that starches are broken down by the body into glucose which is then utilized as an immediately available source of energy. This means that starches like grains (including wheat, oats, rice, corn, and others) are generally not keto-friendly.
But what about fiber and net carbs?
When calculating your macros on the keto diet, you’ll be tallying your total carb intake as well as your fiber intake. From there, you subtract the fiber (in grams) from the total grams of carbs to get your daily net carb intake. As long as you are under 5% (usually about 20 to 25g net carbs) of your total calorie intake, you shouldn’t have to worry about being kicked out of ketosis.
Tips for Preparing Keto-Friendly Grains
As long as you are tracking your macros and monitoring your carb intake, you might be able to include some low-carb grains in your ketogenic diet. Remember, it’s all about net carbs, so if you can find a grain that is high in fiber, it will help cancel out some of the total carbs.
Here are some of the low-carb grains you may be able to include in your keto diet (in moderation):
• Whole wheat
• Wild rice
• Corn pasta
• Pearl barley
So, now that you know which grains you might be able to enjoy in moderation on the keto diet, how exactly do you prepare them?
Oats can be prepared in different ways depending which type you choose. Whole oat groats need to be cooked for the longest time while steel cut oats can be simmered or soaked in liquid overnight to create a creamy texture. Rolled oats cook very quickly and instant oatmeal is the fastest-cooking variety.
Bulgur is a form of wheat that has been boiled and cracked – you can prepare it in much the same way as dry pasta. Bring 2 parts water to 1 part bulgur to boil then simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until tender. Next comes buckwheat which, though the name is a little confusing, is a gluten-free grain that can be used to make pancakes, noodles, and other recipes.
Whole wheat products are vast and varied from breads to pasta and they are generally quick and easy to prepare. Corn pasta can also be cooked in the same way as wheat pasta and it has a similar cook time, about 7 to 9 minutes. Wild rice is technically a grass seed and it takes longer to cook than brown rice or white rice but it bursts open into a tender grain. Boil 3 parts water to 1 part wild rice then simmer for 45 to 55 minutes until tender and fluff with a fork.
Quinoa is often labeled an ancient grain, though it is technically a seed and it is also gluten-free. This grain can be cooked in a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, brought to a boil then simmered for 15 minutes. Couscous is a pasta-like form of whole wheat. Boil 1 ¼ cups water then stir in 1 cup couscous and let soak for 5 minutes. Pearl barley is a whole grain that works well in soups and stews, but you can also use it in side dishes. Cook it at a 3-to-1 ratio of barley to water, bringing to a boil then simmer for 45 to 60 minutes.
What Do You Need to Look Out For?
In addition to considering the net carb content of any grain, you also need to think about its impact on your blood sugar. The degree to which any food impacts your blood sugar is rated on a scale called the Glycemic Index. This scale goes from 0 to 100 with the foods ranking highest having the most significant impact on blood sugar and foods rated a 0 having no impact. Foods at the high end include things like white bread and table sugar while low-glycemic foods include things like fats and protein.
If you want to achieve the maximum benefit from your ketogenic diet, you need to really focus on sticking to your macros. That means paying close attention to the amount of net carbs you consume and keeping that number as low as possible. But what happens if you accidentally go overboard?
Before you freak out, take the time to figure out just how far over you’ve gone. Unless you eat something in the range of 50g to 100g, you probably don’t have to worry about being kicked out of ketosis – especially if you get right back on track. Stick to your macros very closely for the next few days or consider doing a quick 16- to 24-hour fast. You can also go for a little exercise to burn through the extra glucose, just be safe about it.
The wonderful thing about the ketogenic diet is that it is not extremely restrictive, and you don’t have to count calories. You do, however, need to be mindful of your carbohydrate intake and understanding the carb content of grains is part of that equation.