Ask a lot of people what you can eat on a keto diet and they’ll say, “Um, meat, avocados, bacon, green veggies, more meat…”
While that answer isn’t wrong, it isn’t complete, either. Remember that a low-carb diet is based not on protein but on the other main macronutrient, fat—and fat carries loads of flavor. In fact, fat is the key to how you can have your low-carb dessert and eat it, too: Think full-fat dairies such as cream cheese, butter, heavy and sour creams, and ricotta cheese.
What’s more, not all carbs are equal. Some, like fiber and sweet-tasting substances called sugar alcohols, are not usable, meaning your body doesn’t turn them into blood sugar.
When you subtract the non-usable carbs from the total carbs, you get the net carbs, the ones that you have to include in your daily carb counts. (Some people need to count carbs more strictly for medical reasons; if you’re one of them, speak to your practitioner.)
Creative bakers have learned how to use low-carb ingredients to create desserts that satisfy the urge for something sweet while allowing you to stay in ketosis.
Adjusting Ingredients in Low-Carb Desserts
It’s important to remember that “using low-carb flours and sweeteners will not give you the same exact results as traditional recipes,” says Hilda Solares, who blogs at Fit To Serve. “However, you can come pretty close.”
When it comes to flour, the biggest difference between standard wheat and keto-friendly alternatives is gluten. Known mostly as an intestinal hazard for some, gluten is what gives wheat-based baked goods their structure and chewiness.
There are plenty of low-carb flour options, however. The best are almond and coconut, but others include hazelnut, golden flax meal, sesame seed and sunflower seed.
As for the sweet stuff, Swerve—a branded combination of the sugar alcohol erythritol and unusable fibers called oligosaccharides—“works really well for me,” says Urvashi Pitre, author of Keto Fat Bombs, Sweets & Treats (HMH).
Other low-carb sweeteners include the herbal extract stevia, another branded product called Truvía and a Chinese fruit called monk fruit.
Additional ingredients help produce keto-worthy desserts.
“Chia seeds are great to help puddings gel, and they’re fabulous for adding texture and crunch to bread,” says Pitre. “They absorb a lot of water and create some bulk in the recipe.” Xanthan gum is another good thickening agent, although using too much can lead to sliminess.
Solares warns that standard baking powder, which contains starch, maybe a problem for people who have to be extremely careful about their carb counts. The other ingredients, baking soda and cream of tartar, are available separately; just be careful when you measure them.
Superfine Flours for the Keto Baker
Flours taken from almonds and coconuts, ground to a superfine consistency, are Urvashi Pitre’s favorites. She calls almond flour “the stalwart workhorse for keto baking” and notes that it is filling, which helps you avoid overindulgence.
Hilda Solares agrees, calling it “the easiest of all low-carb flours to work with.” Make sure you get almond flour and not an almond meal, which is coarser.
Coconut flour is a lot drier than the almond variety, which means you need to use more liquid and/or eggs when baking with it. As Solares notes, “For those who are allergic to tree nuts, coconut flour can be a great option.”
Not only can neither almond nor coconut flour is substituted on a cup-for-cup basis for wheat flour, but the two also cannot be substituted for one another.
Love fruit but hate the carb counts? Berries are your friends: Besides being packed with vitamins and health-promoting phytonutrients, many berries contain healthy amounts of fiber, which lowers their net carb numbers. For example:
- Blackberries—contain 8 grams of fiber with 6 grams of net carbs per cup
- Red Raspberries—provide 8 grams of fiber with 7 grams of net carbs in each cup
- Strawberries—2 grams of fiber for a reasonable 5 grams net carbs in each 1/2 cup (sliced)
“These brownies need to be well-cooled before you start to devour them, as they can be a little soft and fudgy when hot,” says Pitre. “Of course, if you want soft and fudgy, don’t let me stop you!” And don’t let the 21-gram total carb count per brownie stop you either since the net carbs are only 2 grams.
Keto cooking spray
1/2 cup sugar-free chocolate chips
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup Swerve granulated sweetener
8 oz full-fat cream cheese, cubed and softened
1 large egg
3 tbsp Truvía granulated sweetener
1 tsp vanilla extract
Yields 8 brownies
Source: excerpted from Keto Fat Bombs, Sweets & Treats ©2019 By Urvashi Pitre. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.