Everyone from Kourtney Kardashian to Halle Berry seems to be embracing the ketogenic diet—along with some respected doctors and registered dietitians, too. And with its purported perks of weight loss without cravings, balanced blood sugar, and improved focus, who wouldn’t be intrigued?
But this low-carb, moderate-protein, high-fat way of eating leaves little room in someone’s diet for those carbohydrate-rich foods so many of us love adding to smoothies for flavor and texture (think: bananas, mangoes, pineapple, coconut water, honey). That’s because for a ketogenic diet to work (meaning, for your body to enter ketosis and burn fat for fuel), your daily carb intake should be about 50 grams or less. And that might be hard to swallow—seeing as how a mere cup of frozen mango contains 25 grams of carbs.
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But if you’re a diehard smoothie lover who’s set on trying a ketogenic diet, don’t despair—you still have plenty of options. You’ll just need to adjust your expectations of how a smoothie should taste.
“We’ve become so used to fruit-laden, sugary smoothies that we’ve conditioned our brains to expect something really sweet with that first sip,” says Jessica Beacom, RDN, co-founder of The Real Food Dietitians. “When it’s not, we automatically reject it—even if it’s packed with nutritious foods. It helps to think of a smoothie more as an easy vehicle for healthy ingredients, rather than a treat or dessert.”
But that doesn’t mean your keto smoothie has to taste gross, either. Here are a few pro tips for formulating a healthy high-fat, low-carb blend that you’ll actually enjoy—without resorting to zero-calorie sweeteners.
Start with a fatty base
Use full-fat canned coconut milk as your base, which has a subtle natural sweetness. If you opt for another plant-based milk that’s lower in fat, up the fat content with some nut butter or avocado, recommends Ali Miller, RD, an integrative dietitian who runs a 12-week virtual ketosis class. “Greek yogurt made with whole milk is another good choice if you tolerate dairy,” Beacom adds.
Add some non-starchy veggies
Leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables such as cucumber, bell pepper, and broccoli are low in carbs, high in nutrients, and great for keto smoothies. Beacom recommends using milder greens like spinach and going easy on the kale, which can be bitter and may tempt you to add a sweetener. Starchier vegetables like sweet potatoes are high in carbohydrates and should be avoided.
Include a quality protein source
You don’t need to overload your smoothie with protein (after all, fat is the star on a ketogenic diet), but including some is a good idea for keeping you full and building muscle, especially if you’re downing this smoothie after a workout. Get your protein from a scoop of plain whey protein powder, Miller’s favorite, or collagen peptides if you’re dairy-free. Avoid flavored protein powders, most of which contain artificial sweeteners or added sugars.
Consider a little low-carb fruit
Berries are relatively low in carbs and can be used in keto smoothies in moderation (think: 1/2 cup per smoothie). Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are all great choices, says Beacom. Of course, if you don’t have a problem with more savory smoothies, you can pass on the fruit altogether.
Add flavor and texture boosters
To make your smoothie more interesting without the need for sugar, consider adding aromatic herbs and spices like mint, basil, cinnamon, and ginger; a drizzle of hazelnut or walnut oil for a deep nutty flavor; or hemp seeds or coconut flakes for texture, suggests Kristen Mancinelli, RDN, who specializes in paleo and ketogenic diets.
Resist the urge to add zero-calorie sweeteners
It’s going to be tempting to use a sweetener like stevia in your keto smoothie recipes, but doing so could sabotage your long-term efforts. “Even though these could be ‘less harmful’ [than artificial sweeteners], using any sweetener only perpetuates sugar cravings,” says Miller. “The ketogenic diet should be used as a tool to break up with sugar for good and reset your palate.”
Not ready to create your own blend? Here are six keto smoothie recipes to get you started.