You have probably wondered whether dairy products can be consumed on a keto diet and might have read conflicting information on the topic. You might have asked yourself these questions before: “Is cheese keto-friendly?” or “Can I drink milk on a keto diet?”
After all, cheese is very high in fat, while containing almost no carbs, and heavy cream can make an excellent substitute for the milk in your morning coffee. This means that dairy and keto should be a great combination, right?
The answer is not so simple. It depends on the product, the quantity, your goals, and your specific sensitivities, such as lactose intolerance.
In this guide, you’ll find detailed information on the different dairy products, the best options to choose from, their advantages and drawbacks, and the things you should consider when consuming them.
If you want a full food list of what to eat on keto, check our keto grocery list.
Let’s start with the basics.
Is Dairy Keto-friendly?
As far as its carb content goes, dairy can range from very keto-friendly (for example, ghee, butter or most hard cheeses) to not keto-friendly at all (such as yogurts with added sugar or condensed milk).
There are a lot of products that fall somewhere in the middle, such as milk, for instance.
For those who just follow a low-carb diet (not a strict keto), you could probably adjust your daily macros in a way that would allow for 100 ml of milk (5 g net carbs), but the main questions you would need to answer are, “Is it worth it?” and “How does it benefit me?”
We don’t recommend milk on keto at all because it’s such a poor choice of nutrients. Additionally, cow’s milk is very inflammatory for some people. This can negatively affect your keto diet by making metabolic processes in your body harder, such as digestion, absorption, and metabolism.
Additionally, 5 g of net carbs would be better spent on green veggies that contain lots of healing nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. You can eat more vegetables per serving to get 5 grams of net carbs, which makes it a better choice than drinking only a splash of milk. For example, a 3 ounce serving of spinach contains 1 gram of net carbs. This means you could eat so much more of it to get your 5 grams of carbs in.
What Are the Best Types of Dairy for a Keto Diet?
Butter and Ghee
Butter and ghee contain almost exclusively fat, which makes them ideal for cooking. In fact, ghee is clarified butter, where the water and milk solids have been removed, leaving only the fat. It has a higher smoking point than butter, so you don’t risk burning it as easily, and has a specific nutty taste.
People who have lactose sensitivities generally tolerate ghee better than butter. Both can definitely be used on a ketogenic diet, and, as with other types of fats, they should be tracked accurately, especially if your goal is weight loss.
Cheese is usually quite low in carbs, but the specific macros will depend on the exact type of cheese, and sometimes on the brand. That’s why we recommend always checking the label before buying a new kind of cheese that you’re unfamiliar with.
Cheeses that are typically low in carbs (less than 1 g of net carbs per 1 oz / 28 g) are Parmesan, Gouda, cheddar, brie, Camembert, goat cheese, and mozzarella, among others.
Feta is a Greek-style white cheese that is also a good option for keto, and you can use it to prepare excellent Greek salads with it.
Specialty cheeses with added fruits or other ingredients that aren’t ideal for keto will be higher in carbs, so you might want to avoid these completely, depending on their macros.
Cheese is also usually quite high in fat, which makes it very caloric and tasty, as we all know. It’s a good source of fats for keto.
To avoid slowing down your keto progress, you will need to make sure you don’t overindulge and also weigh and track your cheese accurately. Eyeballing cheese (or any food, for that matter) is not a good strategy, as people tend to underestimate the amount they’re eating.
Half & Half and Heavy Cream
These foods are used by a lot of people in the keto community as a substitute for milk in their coffee, and can also be used for various recipes, usually desserts. They are relatively low in carbs for the quantities in which they’re normally consumed: 1 tbsp of half and half contains 0.6 g net carbs at 19.5 calories, while the same amount of heavy cream has 0.4 g net carbs and 51 calories.
Many people avoid half-and-half and choose heavy cream because it’s a better option for keto. When given a choice, go for real heavy cream, unsweetened and ideally at 40% fat.
People who have even mild dairy intolerances will benefit from avoiding them completely, but apart from that, if consumed in moderation and properly tracked, most people tolerate them rather well.
This type of yogurt is relatively low in carbs (3.3 g per 100 g), and can be consumed in moderation. It can help with appetite control, as it will help you feel full for longer periods of time (1).
Greek yogurt is also relatively low in whey, which means that you might be able to consume it even if you have sensitivities to other dairy products.
The full-fat version is generally better for keto, as it has a well-balanced macro composition (7.3 g protein and 5.3 g fat per 100 g), and will feel more satisfying.
What Does Dairy Contain?
Dairy contains the following main components in different proportions: lactose, casein, whey and fat.
Lactose is a sugar, and some people lack the enzymes necessary for digesting it, which means that they are lactose intolerant. Casein and whey are complete proteins, and protein powders are often made of either one of these two.
Whey protein is metabolized much faster than casein, which is why it is often referred to as a “fast” protein – it is absorbed in about 20 to 40 minutes, while casein takes about 3 to 4 hours to be metabolized.
Most people that have some sort of dairy sensitivity are either intolerant to lactose or to one of the proteins in dairy, whey or casein. Allergy (for example, casein allergy) is not to be confused with intolerance, as its symptoms can range from mild to severe and potentially life-threatening, while intolerance is generally associated with intestinal discomfort.
Fat in dairy can range from 0% (in low-fat products) to around 80% (in butter), and up to almost 100% (in ghee). It is made of different fatty acids, which makes it a very complex type of natural fat, and both saturated and unsaturated fat is present.
The link between saturated fat and an increased risk of heart disease, once regarded as clear and direct, is now questioned by many leading scientists. Saturated fat is now believed to be even potentially beneficial for heart health. It may also raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, so you do not need to fear it.
In addition to these four main components, dairy contains a lot of other micronutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, and potassium (which is particularly important on a keto diet).
A note about Eggs on Keto
Eggs are not dairy, although you can often see dairy and eggs grouped together (in the supermarket, for example, or in different articles). Mayonnaise is therefore not dairy either, as it contains mostly eggs and some sort of oil.
Eggs are an excellent food to consume while following a keto diet. Go with organic, pasture-raised eggs if possible as this ensures that the hens have access to sunshine and room to roam, which yields a healthier, more nutritious egg!
Dairy and Weight Loss
As previously mentioned, cheese is very easy to overeat, as it is very calorically dense (it can range from 200 to 450 kcal per 100 g), so if you don’t measure it properly, you risk accidentally eating too much without knowing it.
Heavy cream and half/half pose a similar problem, so you need to make sure that you’re tracking what you are consuming.
Additionally, a lot of people in the keto community notice that limiting dairy for a couple of weeks can help them break a weight loss stall. If you haven’t tried that yet, it might be worth considering.
Limiting dairy will free up calories that you could use elsewhere, and with some strategic planning it could help you achieve very good results.
Is Dairy-Free Keto Diet Possible?
Can you follow keto without eating dairy products? This could be a good option to consider. It does not need to be long term (if you do not have a dairy sensitivity, at least), but experimenting with it might give you valuable insight into how your body is reacting to different foods.
Even if going dairy-free helps you break a stall or if you discover that you weren’t digesting all types of dairy very well – you can slowly reintroduce dairy as you progress further in your weight loss journey.
For example, once you reach your goal weight, you might add some types of dairy back to your diet, and see how your body reacts to them.
In order to not gain back the fat, you need to have some weight management system in place. Try tracking your calories for a while (at maintenance levels), to make sure that you’re not systematically going over them and that you know what your maintenance is. Or switch to a less restrictive but similar diet, such as low-carb, primal, or another one.
Dairy can definitely be a part of a healthy lifestyle, and it’s not inherently fattening. You just need to see how you feel with it, and how (and if) your body weight fluctuates when you eat different types of dairy.
If you don’t digest some types of dairy very well, going dairy-free will also help you after that slowly reintroduce them one by one (by giving yourself a few days between each new product you try) to see what are the right types and quantities of dairy for you and your digestive system.
For example, you might discover that 20 grams of hard cheese is completely fine, while 50 is too much, or that you digest parmesan better than gouda, and so on. The only way to know is to try it out, and to pay close attention to the way your body is reacting.
Going on a dairy-free diet could be something you might want to try, especially if you are:
- Having a difficulties to become fat adapted
- Having a stall and trying to breakthrough weight loss plateau
- Trying to balance an autoimmune condition
- Dealing with digestive issues such as diarrhea, or having skin problems, ear infections or inflamed sinuses..
- and more…
Many people have sensitivities to dairy and they don’t even know it. If you’re constantly bloated, gassy, or have acne, then an underlying dairy issue could be to blame. Dairy-induced inflammation may also be the reason why you feel hungry all the time as it may impact your ability to absorb certain nutrients.
Frequently Asked Questions
Half-and-half is okay for a low-carb diet but not recommended on a strict keto because it is made with milk and contains more carbs than just cream.
Yes, as long as they are full-fat and no sugar or fruits added. You also need to watch your portion size to stay within your carbs limit.
It’s best to avoid cow milk on keto. For a list of milk substitutes, try these nut milks.
Yes, some of the keto-friendly cheeses are Cheddar, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Gouda, blue cheese, and other kinds of hard cheese.
You can try nut milks such as almond milk, and coconut milk as long as they don’t have added sugar and other non-keto ingredients. For a list of low-carb milk, read this guide!
Yes, you can eat keto without dairy by simply substituting dairy products for non-dairy products. For example, you can use olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil in the place of butter and ghee. We have many dairy-free keto recipes that you can follow.
It’s still possible to follow keto when you have dairy sensitivity or intolerance by doing a dairy-free ketogenic diet as we explained in detail above.
Dairy is accepted for a standard ketogenic diet. If you are already achieving great results with dairy, then continue doing what you are doing.
However, if you experience a weight loss stall, or any of the issues above, maybe try dairy-free keto for a few weeks and see how you feel.
For more reasons why you are not getting the results you want on keto, check our article Top 14 Ketogenic Diet Mistakes and Why You Are Not Losing Weight.
If you want a dairy-free keto meal plan, check our friend Leanne Vogel’s Balanced Keto Meal Plan.