How To Start A Keto Diet On A Budget
The keto diet is a dieting trend that gained popularity among fitness enthusiasts around the world. It has shown to be a very effective weight loss regime, although it is also one of the strictest diets you can go on.
For Malaysians and also most of Southeast Asia, we grow up with rice and noodles as our staple food so trying to cut these from our diet seems like a losing battle. Plus, carbohydrates like rice and noodles are also among the most affordable items to put on the table if you are on a tight budget.
It may seem like an impossible goal but it is possible with some planning and common sense to eat keto on a budget in Malaysia. But first, you need to know the basics of the keto diet.
How keto diets work
As mentioned above, the keto diet seeks to cut out most of the carbohydrates, replacing it with fat instead. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies, with the majority of it coming from staple foods such as rice, wheat, bread, potatoes, sugars, etc.
With a lack of carbohydrates, the body will instead break down fat into ketones and ketoacids in the liver. These are alternative fuel sources that will put the body in a metabolic state of ‘ketosis’, which is a kind of ‘fat burning’ mode. This is a very energy efficient state that will lower blood sugar and insulin levels, on top of also improving heart health. But the main big reason why people are turning towards the keto diet is the potential for incredibly efficient weight loss over a relatively short period of time.
So what should I be eating?
A keto diet is not easy. In fact, it is incredibly strict, as even a slight deviation from the diet can lead you to having to start over. The key is to maintain the state of ketosis, which can be easily disrupted by the intake of carbohydrates and glucose. For us Malaysians, this will be an ordeal as we are forced to refrain from our favourite delights such as Nasi Lemak, Laksa, and Roti Canai. If you want to really get into a keto diet, you should start limiting your daily intake to these kinds of food:
- Natural fats
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Nuts and berries
Foods to avoid includes things such as:
With that out of the way, we’ve put together a small list of food items that are fairly cheap, easy to cook, and perfect for a keto diet.
Shirataki noodles are great replacements for carbohydrates in a keto diet. These noodles are made primarily of konjac yam and contain less than 1 gram of net carbs per serving. It contains glucomannan, a water-soluble dietary fibre that has a number of health benefits such as decreasing blood sugar spikes.
Shirataki noodles tend to not have that much flavour of their own. However,when you make them at home, they will take on the flavour of whatever you mix them with, so have some fun experimenting in the kitchen. Toss them with the sauce and toppings of your choice and discover new flavours for a unique experience.
Coconuts are technically fruits right? While the keto diet generally avoids fruit due to their high concentrations of carbs, coconut water is high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates, though you might want to restrain yourself from drinking too much coconut water. Regardless, unsweetened coconut milk, coconut flakes, and coconut cooking oil are all great additions to the keto diet. Coconut flour is another gluten-free and keto-friendly option often used in baking as a substitute for wheat flour. Though you should note that it doesn’t rise quite the same as wheat flour and absorbs more liquid than other types of flour.
Fish and shellfish
Let us reiterate, keto diets are strict, but that does not mean you have to go full vegetarian or vegan. For proteins, fish & shellfish are very keto-friendly. They are packed to the brim with vital minerals and vitamin B. Best of all, they are excellent proteins that are low on carbs.
Salmon is a great choice for the keto diet as it is not only delicious, but is also high in omega-3 fats. However, since salmon can get quite pricey for us Malaysians, sardines, tilapia, and mackerel can serve as alternatives.
To add some variety, you can substitute fish for shellfish. These include shrimps, mussels and squid. These shellfish contain little to no carb content. Mussels tend to have the most carbs, but it contains so little it might as well be negligible.
Now that there is a new price ceiling in place for eggs, we can expect prices to be a little higher. However, eggs are still an affordable way to supplement your keto diet. Although some of us may observe the myth of not eating the egg yolk, we would recommend consuming the entire egg as the yolk is where much of its nutrition comes from. The eggs can be prepared as the main or a side to other dishes. Egg frittatas go especially well if you are not in the mood for meat. Speaking of meat…
Delicious, delectable, savoury meats. Just because you are on a diet doesn’t mean you need to give up on meat. In fact, keto diets tend to favour meats as they are a great source of protein and fat while containing relatively little in the way of carbs. The best cuts to go for would be the red meats. These are your beef and lamb, preferably grass fed animals. They tend to produce more omega-3 fats and are higher in antioxidants compared to their grain-fed counterparts. In a Malaysian context, these meats can be fairly expensive, especially if they are grain-fed.
While chicken may not be as effective for the keto diet, it is still a cheaper and viable option for those trying to minimise their food budget. For our non-muslim friends, pork is also a decent option.
Meats are also quite easy to prepare and cook. One simple mouth watering recipe includes marinating your steak with garlic powder and olive oil and popping it onto an air fryer, flipping it every 15 minutes or so. Simple yet perfect!
Cheese and yoghurt
Afraid to snack during your diet? Don’t be! As mentioned before, keto is a rather strict diet and is rather difficult to maintain. During the initial stages of the diet, you will tend to feel weak and low-energy. This is normal as the body is attempting to switch over to burning fat as opposed to carbs. Getting a few bites of a fat and protein filled snack is all well and good to ensure you feel full in the process. A 100 gram of cheese is practically made out of fats, making this a great addition to any ketogenic diet. Cheese in general is not the cheapest snack you can find in Malaysia. However, you should be able to find some cheddar cheese for a decent price
On the other hand, yoghurt is an excellent choice, especially with our hot and humid climate. Once again, you might think that dessert foods such as yoghurt have no place in a diet. However, with the keto diet, yoghurt is absolutely welcomed because it is low in carbs, generally having almost double the amount of proteins. Unfortunately, the Indian curd yoghurt that is common in Malaysia might not work as its carb content might be a little too high for the keto diet. You will want to look for natural or Greek yoghurt instead.
Going keto in Malaysia
In daily practice, it’s probably not realistic to expect that we can all prepare our meals from scratch using the ingredients above. Are there quick shortcuts to an instant keto snack that is widely available in the local supermarket? The answer is yes but in moderation.
For example, a jar of peanut butter, a can of tuna, even a pack of mayonnaise or cream for a quick sauce or add flavour. While some of these ingredients may cost more upfront in Malaysia, you can spread the cost over multiple servings. For those of you who have to grab lunch or dinner outside due to your schedule, the simplest way is to avoid ordering noodles or rice. Load up on vegetable servings and tasty meat, egg or bean curd portions instead. You can also look for eateries that offer keto-friendly menu choices although they may not be budget-friendly. If you are ordering takeaway, there are online services that focus on keto-friendly meal deliveries.
With these few pointers, you should be all set to begin your keto journey in an easy and affordable manner. Remember, a keto diet is not about eating less. In fact, you should not be worried about having your fill. The lack of carbohydrates does not mean that you will feel lethargic and weak. Eating plenty of protein and high-fat meals will ensure that you will have the energy to get through the day, as well as keeping your body in the fat-burning ketosis state.