Whether you’ve already committed to the keto diet or are just considering it for the future, you likely already know that the ketogenic diet revolves around the premise of eating more fat and fewer carbohydrates in order to encourage your body to burn more fat.
Because of the lower recommended carb intake for the keto diet, you might have assumed that any and all grains are basically off the table.
After all, aren’t grains mainly made up of carbs?
Well, yes and no. While it’s true that most grains are carb-heavy, there are some grains that have carb-to-fat ratios that can be worked into the ketogenic diet. This can work especially if you’re eating whole grains, not grains that have the more nutrient-dense parts of the grain removed, such as breads made with all-purpose flour.
Moreover, it’s important to remember that keto involves eating fewer carbs – not none at all.
Most people doing keto can still consume up to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, which means that a single serving of higher-fat, lower-carb whole grains per day could work in your ketogenic diet. (If you are following the stricter 20 grams of carbs a day limit, then this list won’t be as applicable.) When adding whole grain wheat to your keto diet, it’s all about serving size and what else you are eating with the grains.
A quick reference chart comparing the carbs of whole grains:
|Grain||Serving Size (approx.)||Carbohydrates (g) (approx.)||Ideas on how to eat|
|Quinoa||1/2 cup uncooked||48g||Combine with veggies for a warm or cold side dish|
|Oats||1/2 cup uncooked||23g||Oatmeal: Use some oats for flavor and texture but substitute most with hemp, flax, and chia seeds in your favorite oats recipes|
|Corn||1/2 cup uncooked||14g||Corn tortillas: Use some cornmeal for flavor and texture but substitute most with almond flour|
|Rye||1/2 cup uncooked||64g||Rye bread: Use freshly ground whole dark rye flour but substitute some with almond or coconut flour (you’ll need vital wheat gluten to help with the rise) to limit carbs and increase protein|
|Spelt||1/2 cup uncooked||52g||Substitute for white rice in soups|
|Millet||1/2 cup uncooked||20g||Alternative to white rice in pilafs or stir fries|
|Bulgur wheat||1/2 cup uncooked||53g||Using sparingly for a high-protein grain addition|
|Wild rice||1/2 cup uncooked||54g||Add to soups or other dishes in lieu of white rice|
|Buckwheat||1/2 cup uncooked||54g||Combine with almond flour for low-carb (and gluten-free) waffles or pancakes|
|Barley||1/2 cup uncooked||52g||Substitute for white rice in soups|
|Einkorn wheat||1/2 cup uncooked||56g||Use sparingly but in place of whole wheat|
|Popcorn||2 cups of popped popcorn||10g||Eat plain or add butter and salt|
One of the best parts about these 12 keto-friendly grains is how flexible they are. Especially if you’re cooking for non-keto family members, you can make a meal more keto-friendly and then adjust your portion to meet your macro goals.
Here are 12 keto-friendly-ish grains to consider.
Quinoa is a type of grain known as a pseudocereal, and it’s very popular with people who are trying to prioritize healthy fats and proteins in their diets without giving up grains altogether.
In a ¼ cup of quinoa (measured while uncooked), you’ll get 24 grams of carbohydrates, which is pretty low for a grain and fits comfortably in the 50-gram daily allowance of carbohydrates per day on keto.
In addition to being low in carbs and high in healthy fats and protein, quinoa is an excellent source of fiber, so it may also help your digestion.
Keto is far removed from the average human diet, and because many common sources of fiber are also high in carbs, people first starting keto sometimes experience gastrointestinal issues. Adding small amounts of quinoa may help with these symptoms due to the fiber content.
Read more about quinoa here.
Many people don’t consider oats to be grains because when most of us think about grains, we immediately think about rice and other similar grains.
However, as a cereal, oats are still grains, and they can be incorporated into the keto diet without going over your carbohydrate limit.
One serving of oats is roughly ½ a cup when uncooked, and in this serving, you’ll get 23 grams of carbs.
That means that although you can eat oats while holding to a keto diet, you have to be careful to not overdo your serving size. This is best accomplished when you combine oats with other seeds and nuts, such as hemp hearts, flax seed, and chia seeds.
Oats also have more oil in them than most grains, which means that they have a higher fat content than other grains.
Read more about oats here.
Like oats, one serving of corn is equal to approximately ½ a cup.
Luckily for everyone on the keto diet, corn is actually fairly low in carbohydrates with just 14 grams of carbs per serving.
You may not have expected corn to feature on this list because most people think of it as a vegetable rather than a grain, but it is actually considered a grain as long as it’s harvested when it’s reached its full maturity and has dried.
And even though you won’t be able to sit down and eat an entire ear of corn on a keto diet, you can plan accordingly and splurge on small amounts of corn. Use it to make cornbread and corn tortillas, substituting most of the corn with almond flour, but still using some to get genuine corn flavor and texture. You can also make a “cornbread” with almond flour but add a small amount of whole corn kernels for true corn taste.
Read more about corn here.
In a keto diet, small amounts of rye can be incorporated strategically into meals to enhance flavor, texture, and nutritional benefits.
Rye-based products like low-carb bread, crackers, or wraps can be found, but most store-bought products will not be keto-friendly. But, rye flour can be used in combination with other low-carb flours, such as almond or coconut flour, to create keto-friendly baked goods like bread and muffins. By mixing rye flour with other low-carb options, individuals can achieve the desired taste and texture while minimizing the impact on ketosis.
Sourcing whole grain rye is tricky as there are currently no U.S. government-standards for what the term “rye flour” actually means. Unfortunately, most commercial mills will remove the bran and germ to increase its shelf life, but it means that you’re making it closer and closer to standard white bread, which is not a good choice for those on a keto diet. I talk more about this here where we look at rye bread and if it’s a good choice for diabetics or not.
You can also read more about rye here.
Spelt has been used for centuries around the world, and it still continues to be popular to this day because of its low carb content as well as the fact that it’s high in protein.
You can use it instead of rice in various dishes, making it a versatile choice.
In every ¼ cup of uncooked spelt, there are 26 grams of carbohydrates. So it’s not the lowest-carb grain on our list, so you’ll need to use it sparingly, but it can definitely fit into a ketogenic diet in small amounts.
Learn more about Spelt here.
Millet has an average serving size of about ½ a cup when cooked.
In that serving, there are 20 grams of carbohydrates, so millet is actually one of the lower-carb grains on this list. Millet is actually a seed and can be substituted in lieu of rice, making it a better choice or pilafs or stir fries.
Millet might not be especially high in fiber or fat, but it does contain 3 grams of protein per serving.
You can read more about Millet here.
7. Bulgur wheat
If you’re looking for a keto-friendly grain that you can have in savory dishes as a rice or quinoa replacement and also incorporate into your breakfast oats, Bulgur wheat is worth considering.
Not only is a single ½ cup serving of cooked bulgur low in carbs with just 17 grams of carbs in total and a net carb total of just 13 grams, but there are also 3 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber in every serving.
In terms of the whole grains available, bulgur wheat is one of the lowest in carbohydrates. Consuming it in moderation could offer you a keto-friendly way to add nutrients available through whole grains.
8. Wild rice
We’ve talked a lot about using other grains as substitutes for rice in this article, but just because you’re sticking to the keto diet doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a portion of rice.
You just need to prioritize rice varieties that aren’t high in carbs, and wild rice is a great example.
Admittedly, compared to other grains on this list, wild rice is not the lowest in carbs. In ¼ cup of uncooked wild rice, there are 27 grabs of net carbs.
Therefore, a single serving will be most of your carb allowance for the day on keto.
However, compared to other rice varieties, wild rice is the lowest in carbs, so it’s the most suitable for keto.
Learn more about rice here.
Buckwheat has pretty much exactly the same carb content as wild rice, with 27 grams of net carbs for every uncooked ¼ cup of the grain.
So, again, it’s not the lowest-carb option overall, but it’s certainly quite low-carb for a grain.
Buckwheat can help to satisfy your carb cravings while you’re on keto because one serving shouldn’t interfere with your macros and it also has a delicious nutty flavor.
Plus, buckwheat also happens to be gluten-free, so even if you’re avoiding gluten on your keto diet, you can still have buckwheat.
Learn more about buckwheat.
Barley is slightly lower in carbohydrates than wild rice or buckwheat, with 26 grams of net carbs per ¼ cup (uncooked).
Because barley is slightly sweet, it’s quite versatile and can be used to add subtle sweetness to savory dishes as well as being commonly used in Asian cuisine and barley tea (learn more about barley tea here).
Bear in mind that barley is not gluten-free, so it won’t be a suitable grain for people with gluten intolerances doing keto.
Learn more about Barley.
11. Einkorn wheat
Einkorn wheat is not as well-known as some of the other grains on this list, but it’s worth knowing about if you want to continue to have some grains in your diet while in a state of ketosis.
A serving of einkorn wheat is around ¼ a cup before cooking, which turns into about ½ a cup after cooking.
In this serving, there are 28 grams of carbohydrates, so Einkorn has the second-highest carb content on this list.
However, as long as you don’t eat many more sources of carbohydrates throughout the day, you can still fit a serving of Einkorn wheat into your keto meal plan.
You can bake Einkorn wheat into keto-friendly bread, but it won’t be gluten-free.
Einkorn is an amazing ancient grain, which you can learn more about here.
In the mood for a tasty snack? Then we have good news for you because popcorn is technically a grain (it’s made from corn, after all), and it’s quite low in carbs.
In fact, 2 cups of popcorn only contains 10 grams of net carbs. Of course, this is after the popcorn has been popped, not before.
The only thing to bear in mind with popcorn on keto is that the carb content will increase if you start loading it with sugary toppings, so it’s best to choose keto-friendly seasonings.
This list of 12 keto-friendly grains just goes to show that you can still have some grains in your diet if you’re doing keto.
You just have to be smart about which grains you cook with to make sure you don’t go over 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Grains like barley, spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, bulgur, einkorn wheat, wild rice, couscous, corn, oats and popcorn can all be incorporated into your keto diet plan as long as you pay attention to serving size.