Is the Keto Diet a High Protein Diet?

The other day I ran into a reader at the grocery store who thanked me profusely for my recipes. She said they were easy to throw together, used healthy ingredients, and regularly turned out well, pleasing her guests every time! I was beyond humbled as the conversation continued, given my goal to serve others and make their lives as easy as possible with my recipes and health tips!

As we continued to chat, she thanked me for putting together my Keto Diet Recipes page and said that she had just started the keto diet. We talked a bit about what she was eating, and she said mostly a lot of chicken. As our conversation continued I let her know that it would be important to add more fat to her diet if she wanted to go into ketosis.

Although there is evidence that points to the use of the ketogenic diet since Greco-Roman times, there are many misconceptions surrounding it. That’s why I’m providing this critical information. To help you understand that the keto diet is a high-fat diet, and refute the somewhat common misconception that the keto diet is a high-protein diet, because it’s not.

Classic Keto Diet

The classic keto diet is a diet that has twice as much fat as protein and carbohydrates combined. That’s right. In terms of macro-nutrients, a classic keto meal could have somewhere around 60 grams of fat, 20 grams of protein and 10 grams of carbs. I did follow that type of keto diet for a while, though I altered it so that instead of 2:1 classic keto, it was 1.5:1. I did not enjoy weighing everything, especially my kale and broccoli, so I stopped. I made up my own version which was more intuitive and did not include weighing food and tracking my macro-nutrient consumption.

High Protein Diets

As I mentioned, the keto diet is not a high-protein diet. So the reader that I ran into in the grocery store who was eating a lot of chicken had made a critical error. Though she had removed grains and sweets and her new diet was quite an improvement over her previous vegetarian diet, it was not going to get her into a state of ketosis.

Can you eat too much protein on the keto diet? The answer is yes. What happens if you do so? That protein will be converted to glucose by the body.


What is gluconeogenesis? It is a metabolic process that takes place in your body when you eat too much protein on the keto diet, or any diet. An excess of protein is turned into sugar and stored as fat in your body. Making glucose from non-carbohydrate substrates is not a good thing when your goal is ketosis. Gluconeogenesis is the opposite of glycolysis which is the extraction of energy from carbohydrates.

We don’t want either of these processes on the keto diet. We want to get our primary energy source to come from fat on this diet, which is converted into ketone bodies.

What is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet. Most of your calories will come from fat on a keto diet, while you consume moderate amounts of protein and very low amounts of carbohydrates. The consumption of macro-nutrients in this ratio allow the body to become metabolically flexible and burn fat rather than carbohydrates.

In essence, the human body is like a hybrid vehicle. It relies on starches or fats for energy. Unfortunately, for the most part, it cannot utilize both fuels at the same time. You are primarily either a carbohydrate burner or a fat burner. By consuming a large amount of fat, the body becomes accustomed to, and efficient at, burning fat, therefore tapping into hundreds of thousands of calories of stored fat that were essentially trapped by carbohydrate metabolism.

The Low-Carb Diet is Not a Keto Diet

Low-carb diets are fantastic. Those eating the Standard American Diet are consuming far too many carbohydrates, and eliminating extra carbohydrates from unhealthy sources is great. However, reducing carbs is not enough to get your body into ketosis. To do that, you must add fat. That doesn’t mean you have to eat a lot of butter or heavy cream, though those fats will get you into ketosis if you eliminate carbohydrates.

It means you will need to supplement your diet with some sort of fat. That could be MCT oil, or it might be coconut oil. Whatever it is, remember, you need to eat around 2 times as much fat as protein and carbohydrates combined to go into ketosis. So if you are going to go for the classic 2:1 keto diet, and eat kale chips, you would want to dip them in olive oil, which is another good source of fat on the keto diet.

The Keto Diet is a Low-Carb Diet

If you do wish to count your carbs on a keto diet you will find that many people like to keep them under 50 grams per day, some folks that are very strict keep carbohydrates under 20 grams per day while following a keto diet. Remember though, that while a low-carb diet is not necessarily ketogenic, a keto diet must be low in carbohydrates. Eating too many carbohydrates will throw your body right out of ketosis or prevent you from going into it.

How Many Carbs to Consume on the Keto Diet?

Everyone is different. We are all bio-chemical individuals with different metabolisms and varying needs for energy and calories. Personally, I do not want to count my carbs for several reasons. First, if I exercise more one day, I will likely be hungrier than if I am sedentary. My caloric needs will shift and I will be able to increase carb consumption a bit and stay in ketosis, though I could supplement calories with protein or fat instead.

Further, I do not want to restrict good carbohydrates. Everything is a trade, and I’m willing to kick myself out of ketosis if I want to eat more salad, kale, or other green vegetables, as I find the benefits of those nutrients are extremely helpful in terms of the array of health issues that I am dealing with.

However, if the keto diet is being used to treat a child with epilepsy and it is critical to keep the child off of drugs, seizure-free, and in a state of ketosis then counting carbs is a must!

I hope this post helped you to better understand the basics of the ketogenic diet. Stay tuned for a future feature that will teach you how to figure out whether or not you are in ketosis. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite dairy-free keto recipes for you!

Elana you are AWESOME! Thank you for this article and this amazing body of work. Beautiful, delicious, sustainable, creative. I'm smiling.


41 responses to “Is the Keto Diet a High Protein Diet?”

  1. I really hope you’ll answer…
    I’ve been transitioning to the keto diet for a while now. I’m struggling – and not because of bread or sugar – but because I love vegetables too much (and not even the starchy ones!).
    I am dealing with Lyme and a no-sugar low carbohydrate is helpful. Also…I have chronic candida.
    My main concern right now though is with depression. Do you know if keto addresses mental illness?
    I am in such a dark hole. I’m drowning.

    • Monika, I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. I have found the Keto Diet super helpful with a number of issues. According to research I’ve read, low-carb high-fat diets lead to an increase in BDNF which is very helpful to the brain and may even help mood. That said, many people I know on the Keto Diet allow themselves to go over their macro-nutrient ratios if it is to eat green veggies. You might like to try that if the idea is suitable for you. I hope you’ll stop back by and keep me posted on how you’re doing. xoxox

  2. Do you eat much grass fed butter? How often do you include full-fat dairy in your keto diet? And lastly, do you eat any “fat bombs” which are popular among keto dieters?

  3. Have you ever used an exogenic ketone product (like Prüvit) to help you with ketosis? I was at Paleo f(x) in May and Mark Sisson talked about using a product like this and I was introduced to Prüvit there as well. I’ve used it but have never really noticed a difference. Do you have any insight?

    • I tried Pruvit but didn’t see great results. I’ve recently been experimenting with Perfect Keto which seems to work much better – it raised my blood ketone levels to 1.5mmol from 0.1mmol.

      That plus some fat bombs in the morning seem to work best for me!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing all of your valuable information and fantastic recipes !! I have eczema and followed the ketone diet successfully for eight months then had a hugh allergic reaction to coconut oil, eggs, almonds, ect! Now thinking about trying the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. Any thoughts on this?

    • Doris, thanks for your comment. So sorry to hear about your allergic reaction. I make sure to rotate foods on the keto diet so that I don’t eat the same food each day :-)

  5. Hi Elana,
    Thank you so much for all of your posts and recipes! I love them! Have you ever thought of doing an
    APP for smart phones? I would totally love it if you did :)

  6. I agree, Elana! I have adapted the keto diet as you have as well. I also incorporate super foods and throw myself out of ketosis because of the rich nutrients found in them. I have found this diet to be the best for fibromyalgia, and I have had no problem tweaking it at times to incorporate healthy foods that I love.

    • Elana can you please tell me what you would eat for a day on this fiet. Also how long does it take for you to go into ketosis and how do you know. Will it help me lose weight as I have about 5 to 10 lb to shed. Thsnks

      • Myrtle, Typically I eat meat and a green salad with a hearty does of oil based dressing. Bacon and eggs too. Plus bone broth. There is nothing magic about this diet when it comes to weight loss, like all diets it requires caloric restriction to shed pounds. However, since fat is more satiating than carbs it alleviates hunger during the process of losing weight :-)

  7. Thanks so much for this info! I need a little help though – if I’m not a cheese eater, beyond eating avocado for every meal, how can I get enough fat? Every time I try Keto I end up high protein, because I don’t know what else to eat as the main part of my meals!

  8. Hello Elana,
    When you say we must eat 2x as much fat to protein and carbs combined is that a measure of calories? Should we eat 2x as many fat calories as carbs and protein calories combined? How did you figure this all out… is there a good book out there that can guide us through this way of eating.
    thank you for all you do…

    • Angela, I am referring to the macro-nutrient ratios in grams of fat/protein/carbs in the foods we eat when I discuss the breakdown above. I will be writing a lot more about all of this in the future :-)

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