Eating LCHF / Keto On A Budget: Dairy & Seafood
By: Todd Gamel, RN
January, 3, 2017
If you are new to the low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) or Ketogenic (Keto) lifestyle, I am going to encourage you to do one thing for the first three or four months until you have developed good eating habits, and that’s follow the ‘KISS’ principle. Of course ‘KISS’ is normally an acronym for ‘keep it simple stupid’, but I also like to think of it as meaning ‘keto is simple stupid’. Now, before anyone gets riled up, the point is that following a keto eating program is really easy if you purchase the correct foods and prepare them properly. My advice is that if you are just starting out eating LCHF or Keto, then stay away from the LCHF and Keto dessert recipes as much as possible as overeating of these so called “fat bombs” and other low carb treats can blow you right out of ketosis if you have poor impulse control. Once you have the basics of the Keto lifestyle down and have been doing it for several months, then slowly start adding some “treats” to your eating plan.
In my previous article, ‘Eating LCHF and Keto On A Budget: Red Meat, Pork and Poultry‘ I talked about the best ways to buy meats and poultry on a budget. In this article we are going to be examining what to buy, and why in order to keep you from blowing your LCHF food budget and help you to stay “keto strong”.
When it comes to LCHF and Keto, all milk is a “no go”. Milk simply has too many milk sugars (lactose) which will blow you out of ketosis big time. So what’s a guy or gal gonna put in their coffee? Well heavy whipping cream of course, full of fat and with few carbs it is a workhorse of the LCHF and Keto diet. Eggs, butter and cheese (almost all types) are also an important part of your LCHF and Keto eating regimen. So remember, when it comes to dairy, make sure you purchase the full fat varieties of butter, heavy cream, sour cream, cream cheese, Greek yogurt and hard or soft cheeses. So let’s a quick look at some of the best choices you can make to keep your food budget intact.
Butter – You will go through large quantities of butter when you start on your LCHF or Keto journey. While organic butters made from grass fed cows are quaint, do your wallet a favor and buy plan old unsalted butter. Grass fed organic butters do not help you lose weight any faster, however they do make your wallet a little lighter. You can go hormone free, grass fed later, but when you are on a budget, buy the store brand. Personally, we buy Great Value unsalted butter, it tastes great and is easy on the budget.
Chef’s Note: If you visit any of the Keto blogs you will have heard about Kerrygold butter. Kerrygold seems to be the golden child when it comes to butter in the LCHF and Keto community. Just in case you do not know what Kerrygold butter is, it is an Irish butter that is made from grass fed hormone free cows. Imported from Ireland, it is simply to expensive (about $16.00 for 8 ounces). While craft butters like Kerrygold taste great, they are a not for anyone on a budget.
Cheese – Not all cheeses are created equal. While most types of cheese have few carbs, some have more than others. When it comes to hard cheeses, per 1 ounce (about 1 slice), Monterey Jack has the least carbs 0.2, cheddar (sharp or mild), 0.4 grams, Gouda, mozzarella and provolone 0.6 grams, Colby and blue cheese 0.7 grams, Parmesan and asiago 0.9 grams, feta 1.2 grams, and swiss 1.5 grams. So while adding cheese to your LCHF and Keto eating program can be acceptable, you need to take care or you can consume too many carbs eating cheese.
When dealing with shredded cheeses, volume measurements are not equal to weight measurements. For example, while a ¼ cup is 2 ounces of volume, a ¼ cup of shredded cheese is approximately only 0.9 ounces in weight. The size of the grated cheese may make some difference, but in general the following measurements will help you to determine the approximate weight when using shredded cheese.
- ¼ cup is 25 grams, or 0.9 ounces.
- ½ cup is 50 grams, or 1.8 ounces.
- ¾ cup is 75 grams, or 2.6 ounces
- 1 cup is 100 grams or 3.5 ounces
When buying cheese, you generally get the best deals when you buy whole blocks and either slice, grate or cube it yourself to add to your meals. If you buy pre-shredded in bulk (2 to 3lbs) you may be able to get it at about the same price as block cheese if you buy the store brands, but overall it is still more expensive. Because we use such a large amount of cheese in our meal planning, we buy the pre-shredded 2lb bags of mozzarella, cheddar, and cheddar jack cheese at Walmart and try to save elsewhere on our budget. Both the Great Value or American Heritage brands of shredded cheese tend to be pretty good values.
Chef’s Note: The so called “American Cheese” in sliced form is really a cheese product and not an actual aged cheese like the other’s mentioned in this article. Because it is generally made with whole milk it contains 2 carbohydrates per slice. So do you and your family a favor and choose another real cheese for your LCHF eating program. BTW, Velveeta is not a cheese either, stay away from it.
Cottage Cheese – Cottage cheese which is a staple for many people on a low fat diet, really has too many carbohydrates (1.25 carbs per ounce), to be used as a staple for strict LCHF or Keto eaters. It may be used in combination with other ingredients to lower the overall carbohydrate count, but it should be eaten sparingly, if at all. If you have to have cottage cheese, then buy they store brand, my personal recommendation is to use it sparingly if at all in your ketogenic diet.
Cream Cheese (Plain) – Cream cheese is another great fat that is used quite a bit in LCHF and Keto recipes. And while it is our recommendation to purchase the least expensive cream cheese that you can, you need to be sure to check the label as some cream cheeses contain more carbohydrates than others. So try and purchase the least expensive cream cheese with the least amount of carbs. Philadelphia, Challenge and Great Value’s plain cream cheese each contain 2 grams of carbs per ounce (16 grams in a 8 ounce block), whereas Hahn’s plain cream cheese contains 3 grams of carbs per ounce (24 grams in a 8 ounce block). That’s 33% more carbohydrate’s in Hahn’s, so while Hahn’s is cheapest option, it is not necessarily the best buy.
Cream Cheese (Neufchatel) – In order for it to be labeled cream cheese, the USDA regulations state that the product has to contain 33% milk fat. Neufchatel actually has less milk fat, somewhere around 23%. Therefore it is technically not a cream cheese. Having said that, you can use Neufchatel in place of plain cream cheese or in combination with cream cheese. Just make sure you check the label for carbohydrate content. The nutritional label on Kraft Philadelphia brand indicates it is < 1 carb per ounce, the Great Value brand still has 2 carbs the same as their plain cream cheese. Both of these brands contain 6 grams of fat per ounce, while their cream cheese counterparts contain 9 grams each.
Eggs – As with everything, organic free range eggs cost more, they do however taste better. We are lucky we raise chickens and have fresh eggs on our small homestead. There are times however when we have to purchase eggs as we go through about 3 dozen a week. When we have to buy eggs, we only buy what is on sale, and no we do not buy organic or free range, at $3 – $4.00 a dozen, they are simply to expensive. If you are on a budget like we are then the smartest choice is to buy plain old large eggs, preferably on sale. Using the ‘Flipp’ app on our smart phones, we have never paid more than $0.99 for a dozen of large eggs over the last four months. If we can do it so can you!
Greek Yogurt – A lot of people love flavored Greek yogurt, the problem is they are loaded with sugar making them a high carb food (3.62 grams per ounce for vanilla with no fruit, or 18.1 grams per 5 ounces). However, plain Greek yogurt has only 1.12 carbs per ounce or 5.6 carbs per 5 ounces. So if you like Greek yogurt, purchasing the plain variety and adding your own zero calorie sweetener and flavoring extracts can reduce the total carbohydrate count by 70%. So skip all of the fancy brands and buy the store brand, the Great Value brand of plain yogurt ($3.78 for 32 ounces) tastes the same as Oikos ($4.94 for 32 ounces), or Fage ($5.98 for 35.3 ounces) and is 24 – 37% cheaper. Yogurt should be eaten sparingly when on a LCHF or Keto diet, but if you have to have it, then you need to make your own in order to get the best benefits. You can find out how to make your own flavored Greek yogurt’s in our article ‘Mixing Your Own Greek Yogurt‘.
Heavy Whipping Cream – Another essential fat source for those of us on the LCHF and Keto diets. It lacks the milk sugar (lactose) that all milks have making it great for your morning coffee, no churn ice cream, making your own flavored coffee creamers, and high fat cream sauces, as well as helping your scrambled eggs stay nice and fluffy. As with most of our purchases, you guessed it, we buy the least expensive store brand. Still, heavy whipping cream is not cheap at $4.14 for a quart at our local Walmart. While it is expensive, it is one of those items that you cannot really do without when you are eating LCHF or Keto. Save some money on other items, but do not skip on purchasing heavy cream even when you are one a budget. See how to make your own LCHF flavored coffee creamers in my article ‘Make Your Own LCHF Flavored Coffee Creamers‘ on our blog.
Chef’s Note: Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream are very similar, but not the same. The carbohydrate count for both products is the same, the only difference between the two is the percentage of fat that each product contains. Heavy cream contains 36 – 39% fat, whereas heavy whipping cream contains 30 – 36% fat. Our local supermarkets only carry heavy whipping cream, so buying heavy cream is not an option for us. If you have the option, most Keto books and advocates recommend that you buy the heavy cream.
Sour Cream – Like many diary products, it contains milk and milk sugar which makes it about 1 – 2 carbohydrates per ounce depending on the brand. Use sparingly in sauces and in combination with other ingredients to lower it’s overall carbohydrate count, but it should be eaten sparingly. Like cottage cheese, if you have to have use it, then buy they store brand.
Ricotta Cheese – If you are going to make LCHF or Keto zucchini lasagna you will need ricotta or cottage cheese. Of the two ricotta is a better choice as it only has 2 grams of carbohydrates per ½ cup (4 ounces) or 16 grams per 32 ounce container. Whereas cottage cheese has 5 grams of carbohydrates per ½ cup. Again it is one of those dairy products you need to eat in moderation.
These are your basic recommended dairy products available to you when you start on your LCHF or Keto journey. They will compromise about 95% of the dairy that you will consume. While some should be eaten more sparingly than others, when used in small amounts as part of recipe they are perfectly acceptable. I am sure I may have overlooked a few things, but for the most part this is a good place to start. As always do your research and check the nutritional labels of all the products your purchase.
Fish and Seafood
When it comes to seafood, all fish and shellfish are acceptable, but not optimum options when eating LCHF and Keto. As with diary products, the higher fat options are general better choices. You obviously need to stay away from pre-breaded products as they are high in carbs, so “no” you cannot eat Gorton’s battered fish fillets, sorry. While I enjoy fish, my wife does not particularly care for it, and seafood is probably the most expensive type of food on the LCHF and Keto diets, especially if you do not live in a coastal city. If you shop at one of the big box supermarkets (Walmart, Target, Kroger, etc…) you will most likely have have limited fresh seafood choices. The other issue with eating seafood on a budget is that dollar for dollar it costs more to purchase quality seafood than it does beef, pork, or chicken.
Canned Tuna – I debated whether or not to include canned tuna in this article, but because it is budget friendly I decided to do so. If you are going to buy canned tuna while eating LCHF or Keto, my recommendations is to buy albacore tuna packed in oil (twice the fat content). Like most seafood options, it is a low fat food (5 grams per 142 grams or 5 ounces of weight) with a decent amount of protein (24 grams per 5 ounce can). It is cheap ($1.00 per 5oz can at Dollar Tree), portable, and shelf stable. However, it needs to made into a good tuna salad with mayonnaise, or added to a cream sauce to make it a good LCHF or Keto meal. Just in case you were wondering, $1.00 for 5 ounces makes canned albacore tuna $3.20 per lb. But because of it’s portability and long shelf life, everyone on a LCHF or Keto eating plan should have some in their pantry.
Catfish – If you live in the south, then you know that catfish has been a staple in southern cuisine ever since people settled in the southern part of the United States. Sustainably farm raised catfish can be found in almost every supermarket in my local area and in most major supermarket chains across America. It has a moderate fat content (4.5 grams per 159 grams of weight) and is a good source of protein (26 grams per 159 grams of weight). Sam’s sells U.S. farm raised catfish fillets in 3lb bags for $17.63 ($5.87 per lb). You can buy the same 3lb bags of Catfish ‘nuggets’ for $8.97 ($2.99 per lb) which saves your 50%. The nuggets are smaller pieces or fillets of catfish. No matter which your purchase, just remember, no battering or deep frying as it adds way to may carbohydrates. My favorite way to cook it is seasoned with blackened spice and served with a high fat ‘Yvette’ cream sauce with spinach.
Cod – Atlantic cod is one of the mildest tasting species of white fish. Like tilapia, it is a low fat variety (1.5 grams per 231 grams of weight). The only place I can find cod locally is in the frozen section of my local Walmart or Sam’s where a 2.5lb bag sells for $13.98 ($5.59 per lb). I personally like cod a lot even though it is a low fat food source. However, tilapia is less expensive and it is higher in protein gram per gram of weight than cod. Cod needs to be sautéed in olive oil, coconut oil, or butter to increase the fat if you are not serving it with a high fat cream sauce.
Salmon – When it comes to high fat nutritious seafood, salmon is probably on the top of the list (27 grams of fat per fillet that weighs 198 grams). The problem is that it is expensive and not very budget friendly. Packaged in a variety of different sizes and types. When I purchase salmon I have found that for my personal tastes the wild caught Atlantic salmon is best. High in omega-3 fatty acids, if you can afford it salmon is a great fish to add to your LCHF and Keto eating program. You will find your best value purchasing the individual cryo-sealed portions in your freezer section. Having said that, even when purchased at Sam’s 3lb’s of Atlantic salmon is $23.98 ($7.99 per lb) making it one of the most expensive seafood options you could purchase.
Shrimp – High in protein (24 grams per 100 grams of weight) like most seafood, it is a low fat food with only 0.3 grams of fat per 100 grams of weight. It is best sautéed in butter or served with a butter or high fat cream sauce to increase the fat content when eating LCHF and Keto. I love shrimp, the problem with shrimp is that it is expensive. Even at Sam’s a 2lb bag of jumbo frozen shrimp is $13.98 ($6.99 per lb). For $6.99 a lb, you can buy a whole lot of beef or pork, heck, even New York strip steak is only $4.99 a lb at my local Kroger. My recommendation, spend your money on another source of protein, shrimp is simply to expensive if you are eating LCHF or Keto on a budget.
Tilapia – Is a fresh water fish, and is farmed many places throughout the world. Usually found in the frozen section of your supermarket in 2 to 3 pound bags. It is a low fat fish (about 2.3 grams per fillet that weighs 87 grams), so it is not generally considered a high fat food option. Having said that, I sauté tilapia in butter to increase the fat intake simply because I like it. If you want seafood on a budget, it is not a bad option, as a 3lb bag of frozen fillets is $10.98 ($3.66 per lb) at Sam’s. Tilapia is a sustainable fish as it is farm raised, although some people have expressed concerns about the conditions in which they are raised as most tilapia is imported from countries such as Vietnam. If you have concerns look for U.S. farm raised tilapia, just keep in mind that it may cost a little more.
There are a lot of other seafood options that I have not discussed in this section of the article. Mostly because they are not available to most people, and or they simply cost to much if you are eating LCHF or Keto on a budget. The majority of fish that we buy is frozen. When purchasing frozen fish, look for those that are individually cryo-sealed packages as they will stay fresh for a long in your freezer and are not susceptible to freezer burn. While I enjoy fish and seafood, it is not something we eat on a regular basis simply because you can purchase red meat, pork or chicken that has a higher fat and protein content for a whole lot cheaper.
I am sure you have noticed a re-occurring theme in this article and that is we recommend that you buy the store brands when you are on a budget as they can save you a significant amount of money. Of course, if you can find the name brands on sale for the same price, then purchase which ever you like best. When it comes to dairy, there tends to be very little difference it taste and quality if any at all, as most dairy products are strictly regulated by the USDA for fat, water and or salt content.
The regulation of seafood is somewhat different. Many farmed types of fish are imported from countries from in southeastern Asia like Vietnam, Thailand, or China as it is quite a bit cheaper. While many have expressed concerns regarding eating seafood imported from these countries, you will have to do your due diligence and decide for yourself. Remeber, we are advocating that you and your family eat frugally, not recklessly. As always, I hope that you have found this article informative and beneficial for you and your family, if so please take the time to share it with your friends so that they can benefit as well. Until next time, stay keto strong my friends.