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Just because an ingredient is low carb, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Chose healthy ingredients for your keto baking and cooking!
Over the years, I have used many different keto-friendly ingredients for my low-carb baking and cooking. I still get excited when I find a new ingredient that I use for my keto kitchen, but today I’m way more careful about choosing my ingredients.
While my ingredients need to be low in carbs, that’s certainly not the only criterium I go by when writing my grocery lists. I want my baking and cooking to be as healthy as possible (in addition to as delicious as possible, of course), and therefore I avoid certain foods. While I don’t believe that a small quantity of them would do me or my family much harm, I rather use alternative, healthier ingredients. So, take a look and let me know what you think.
1. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds and flax meal or flour are common ingredients found in low-carb baking recipes. I often see them in keto bread recipes. Flax is high in fiber and low in net carbs, so definitely a keto-friendly food. But is it actually healthy? Not so much. The problem with flax is that it’s a phytoestrogen. In fact, it’s the seed with the highest phytoestrogen count. Phytoestrogens are plant chemicals that can act like estrogen in the human body. Say what? Yes, consuming flax seeds can bring your hormonal system out of whack!
Now whether that is a good or bad thing is still being studied. While the consumption of flax seeds is generally accepted to be safe and has even been found to reduce the risk of some types of cancer, I rather avoid any high-phytoestrogen foods. Especially, since there are some good, keto-friendly alternatives out there!
Instead, I rather use almond flour and coconut flour for my keto baking or just leave out the flour altogether, like in my Carnivore Flatbread!
2. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have been proclaimed to be a superfood and I totally went for it. I loved making chia pudding and thought chia seeds are just such a fun baking ingredients. Recently, I learned from keto expert Maria Emmerich that chia seeds, too, are high in phytoestrogens and better to be avoided.
I can still make delicious avocado puddings or old-fashioned vanilla puddings without it! I have also found that gelatin is a great thickener (and a superfood) and love using it for my Keto Mousse and Panna Cotta!
3. Vegetable Oils / Processed Seed Oils
Vegetable oil may sound like a healthy enough name, but it’s really a wolf in sheep clothing. Oils that are a marketed as vegetable oils, are really processed seed oils. Examples are canola (rapeseed), soy, corn, safflower, and cottonseed oils. Unlike the healthy olive oils, they are not actually vegetable oils.
Unfortunately, these processed seed oils are often praised by health professionals in our society because they are low in saturated fat BUT we know better than to be afraid of some good ol’ saturated fats, right?
The problem with “vegetable oils” is twofold: They are prone to go rancid and they are high in omega-6. So, let’s start with the rancidity problem. When vegetable oils are stored in clear plastic containers, exposed to air, or heated by cooking (so any time really!!), they become damaged and form free radicals. These little compounds are highly toxic, promote cancer risk, and can even contribute to pregnancy complications. NO thank you!
Omega-6 is an unsaturated fat that is pro-inflammatory, especially when consumed in much higher quantities than omega-3 fats. It is the high omega-6/omega-3 ratio that’s now so prevalent in our western diet that promotes the development of modern illnesses like cancer, heart diseases, and even autoimmune diseases.
Instead, use some old-fashioned animal-based butter, ghee, lard or bacon fat, or opt for coconut oil, avocado or olive oil. Now these are what I call fatty superfoods! And while you are at it, make sure to try out my Keto Bacon Bread Rolls (made with bacon fat!).
When the government health guides and health officials scared the population of saturated fat, the margarine market exploded. The consensus was butter bad, artificial butter-like trans fats GOOD! Margerine was labeled to be heart healthy, but as so often, we should have just stuck with our grandmother’s advise.
Usually, the closer a food is to nature, the better. And butter is just about as close as it gets. Margarine, on the other hand is made with hydrogenated “vegetable oils” (see my take on vegetable oils above), vitamins (because it naturally lacks any vitamins), coloring, and some other ingredients like flavors to be make this concoction palatable. Does that sound good to you? Yeah, me neither. Instead, try my recipe for Herb Butter made with real butter, of course!
While keto folks are known to avoid wheat under all circumstances, you will find plenty of low-carb recipes that use gluten. That’s because gluten is a protein and by definition low-carb. Keto bakers love adding it to their breads because it gives a beautiful rise and a nice chewy crust. Unfortunately, gluten does more than that.
Not only is gluten dangerous for those suffering from celiac disease, but it actually affects a large cut of the population. As William Davis discusses in his book “Wheat Belly – Total Health,” an estimated 30% of the population suffer from what is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity! Symptoms range from bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and headaches. Certainly, a good reason to cut out not only wheat, but all gluten.
Even without gluten, you can bake wonderful keto breads and even yeast-risen baked goods. I use psyllium husk and xanthan gum to replace the properties of gluten. The results are amazing! Just try my Keto Rustic Bread or Sweet Bread Rolls.
6. Soy Products
Soy products like tofu, soy sauce, soy protein, or soy milk are are often promoted as health foods and quite prevalent in the vegan keto world. Unfortunately, just like chia and flax, they are high in phytoestrogens. Again, studies of phytoestrogens have found different results, but data suggest that soy isoflavones (soy-specific phytoestrogens) are associated with lower sperm concentration in men. That’s why I avoid them completely, especially for my boys’ sake.
There are many great alternatives to soy products. Choose almond or coconut milk instead of soy milk and pick coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Try my irresistible Keto Teriyaki Sauce that’s completely soy-free!
7. Whey Protein
If you have been on low-carb diet, chances are you’re familiar with whey protein. Not that long ago, it was mostly used by muscle builders and in meal replacements due to its high protein content. Nowadays, you will find whey protein powder on many low-carb recipe websites. It’s a very useful ingredient for keto baking, as it provides light-weight bulk and stabilization to gluten-free baked goods.
But what exactly is whey protein and why may it not be a good option for your low-carb weight loss journey? Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese-making process. Whey itself is a liquid that contains water, protein, fat, carbs, and lactose, but after further processing it’s separated into a protein powder (varieties include whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate. This processing breaks down the whey into smaller molecules and allows the protein to be readily absorbed.
While this may be good for muscle building, it appears that whey protein triggers an increase in glucose levels in obese individuals and those with high blood sugar. Further, because whey is derived from dairy it can cause bloating and stomach cramps in some with dairy sensitivity. Egg protein may be a good substitute. Either way, it’s worth being watchful with the use of whey protein. You can still make fluffy baked goods without it, like my soft Keto Cheese Danish!