The keto diet has gained massive momentum as one of the trendiest crazes in the health and fitness community. Health bloggers and nutrition buffs swear the diet’s simplicity and efficiency are perfect for anyone looking to lose weight, lower blood sugar levels, decrease blood pressure or change their unhealthy eating habits.

But if you’re anything like the average college student, eating Wendy’s 4 for $4 meals on a Tuesday at 1 a.m. sounds like the best and cheapest option. Strolling into Whole Foods can make any college kid drowning in student loans want to race to the nearest McDonald’s. Believe it or not, young adults want to be healthy too, but at what cost?

The keto diet is not your typical weight-loss gimmick, and it doesn’t have to be expensive either. Here are a few keto hacks for college students on a budget.

What Even Is the Keto Diet?

According to Dr. Kiah Connoly and nutritionist Emmie Satrazemis, the keto, (short for ketogenic) diet is “the lowest carb diet we have – suggesting an intake of only 20 grams of carbs or less per day. Keto also requires higher fat intake.” But it’s not just another low-carb diet — the proportions of daily macronutrient intake are drastically different.

“On a standard diet, most people consume approximately 50-55 percent carbohydrates, 20-25 percent protein and 20-25 percent fat,” Pamela Nisevich Bede, a dietician for Abbott Laboratories, said. “With a keto diet, the breakdown is approximately 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbohydrates.”

What makes the keto diet stand out is that a dieter must achieve a state of ketosis, which means they become fat-adaptive, so the body burns fats instead of carbs as a primary energy source.

This has created a controversial debate in the health and fitness world. For decades, doctors and dietitians have recommended a high-carb intake to stay energized throughout the day, while the keto diet suggests the opposite. Getting into the correct ketosis state is a process that takes a lot of dedication and discipline, but for college students, these hacks focus more on the diet’s basics.

Grocery Hacks

Some of the most inexpensive keto-friendly foods can be found in any grocery store. Make sure to always check the nutrition facts on any item to see the macro counts. If you’re looking for a snack loaded with fats, buy an assortment of nuts; it’ll satisfy your need to consume chips or popcorn. Cheese is another excellent choice because of the fat and calcium it provides.

Most keto fanatics include cheese in almost every meal, but researchers are still trying to see if that’s beneficial. Many keto recipes include some amount of cheese, so it’s a good idea to keep some in the fridge.

What’s a diet without some fruits and vegetables? Hardcore keto gurus stay away from most fruits because they contain sugar. Keto-friendly fruits to try include coconut, lemon, lime, avocados (lots and lots of avocados) and any type of berries.

Fruits like bananas, apples, papayas, pineapples and watermelon are packed with sugar. The most low-carb veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, celery, mushrooms and zucchini. A great place to find inexpensive and fresh produce is your local farmers market.

Even though the keto diet doesn’t have the strictest rules, some OG advocates take their ketosis state to a new level; they only eat grass-fed meat, butter and other products along with organic fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks.

These tactics are beneficial for losing weight and for a person’s overall health, but, unfortunately, purchasing grass-fed poultry isn’t helping your bank account, which is why these hacks lean toward the “dirty keto diet.” This is a more lenient way of living the keto lifestyle. You still have to follow the correct macro proportions, but the food quality isn’t as “clean.”

At the same time, you can’t solely eat greasy burgers and bacon without its carb counterparts and assume you’re healthy, which is a common misconception of the “dirty keto diet.” It’s vital to incorporate the right vegetables and fats, too.

Recipe Hacks

The keto diet is perfect for those who aren’t too fond of cooking. One of the most ideal, and cheapest, keto breakfasts you can make or buy at a diner is classic bacon and eggs with an avocado on the side.

Cook your eggs however you like them. If you choose to scramble, only use two egg yolks and one entire egg. The egg yolk is an excellent source of fats, while egg whites provide protein. This keto-friendly breakfast includes servings of fats, proteins and about one gram of carbs.

Omelets are also a great low-carb alternative, especially with meat, cheese and vegetables, and feel free to drink coffee minus the sugar. Home Goods sells Jordan’s Skinny Syrup, a zero calories, zero sugar and zero carb sweetener that’ll add some flavor to your coffee without ruining your diet.

For lunch and dinner, try an oven-baked chicken (which can be found in most grocery store delis), vegetables with hamburger meat or cauliflower-crust pizza (a keto favorite). Walmart, Aldi and Trader Joe’s sell cauliflower crusts at competitive costs. Be sure to find low-carb tomato sauce and other toppings.

If your sweet tooth starts to hinder your progress, there’s hundreds of keto desserts all over the internet as it’s possible to make desserts with minimal sugar and carbs. By purchasing sugar substitutes, like Truvia, and using almond or coconut flour, making keto sweets has never been easier. Follow these recipes to find the best low-carb treats.

Restaurants Hacks

Going out for a late-night bite with your friends usually doesn’t mean a trip to your town’s healthy (and expensive) hotspot. It’s typically a drive to the nearest fast food chain for a greasy meal, which is the perfect opportunity to ruin your keto plan that you’ve worked so hard to maintain. Stay strong, my friend, it’ll be worth it in the long haul.

It’s as simple as eating a hamburger without the bun because the keto diet’s main restriction is subtracting as many carbs as you can from your meals. If you don’t think you can withstand the temptation of delicious bread in front of you, you can walk into a Burger King and ask for a bun-less burger. They’ll place the patty and toppings in a plastic container instead of wrapping them in foil. Another option is substituting a lettuce wrap for the bun. Most burger joints and restaurants are willing to make this accommodation.

If fries are your go-to guilty pleasure, you’ll have to make a mighty sacrifice if you’re trying to keep it keto. As mouthwatering as Chick-fil-A waffle fries smell, there are healthier alternatives, like a side salad, a granola parfait or a fruit cup. Most restaurants have keto-friendly sides like steamed broccoli or coleslaw. Obviously, a side of fries, potato wedges or hash browns complement any meal, but your body will thank you for resisting the carbs.

Before you head over to any restaurant, make sure to do your research. Find the restaurant’s menu online and choose what meal meets the keto requirements. You won’t feel as tempted to pick an unhealthy alternative by preparing your decision beforehand.

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