Fact or Fiction: Keto is an expensive diet. Spoiler alert: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE

One of the push backs against the keto diet that I frequently get is that it is too expensive! I understand how that notion can arise, especially when the images of keto food like bacon, broccoli, mushrooms, cheese, beef, heavy cream and so on come to mind. Here’s the thing: even the standard diet comprising the so-called “balanced meal” with carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and fats can be expensive! It all boils down to what you choose to buy and consume, even on the keto diet.

Keto on a budget

I’m going to share how I do keto on a budget here in Jamaica. Some of our pricing may not be equivalent to what exists in other countries, and that’s expected as we import quite a bit. But I think that some of the principles about doing this diet on a budget will hold true, regardless of where you live. The keto diet may be expensive at first, but it gets cheaper over time because you eventually end up  eating less! Yup. For this first couple of days, perhaps even a few weeks, you’ll be eating and eating. Your body is in transition, and it’s not a good idea to allow yourself to get hungry as hunger and deprivation are the surest routes to failure.

Before I share my own tips for managing the initial feasting that is likely on a budget, let me explain how you’ll come to be eating less. As your body switches metabolic pathways from burning glucose for energy, to burning fat for energy (this is what happens when you eat keto), your feelings of satiety (fullness) become regulated. You’re no longer flooding your body with insulin which is released whenever you eat carbs, and in the absence of insulin, your body’s off-switch where hunger is concerned, starts to work efficiently again! Simply put, you feel fuller in a shorter space of time. The second thing is that a ketogenic diet is low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) and consuming larger amounts of healthy fats like butter, coconut and olive oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, makes you feel fuller for longer. So as you become fat adapted, you end up eating less. Dead serious. And if you add intermittent fasting to your LCHF way of eating, then you’ll easily be skipping at least one meal a day. (I share here about my own foray into intermittent fasting. It is easier to progress to IF once you are totally fat adapted. So do keto for a few months before layering on another new habit.) Bingo! Less food overall.

Keto on a budget: buy veggies that are in season

Buy vegetables that are in season. In Jamaica we are blessed to be able to get fresh produce, grown only hours away from our points of purchase. We get fresh lettuce, cabbage, tomato, pak choi, sweet peppers, onions, escallion, thyme, hot peppers, callaloo, carrots, pumpkin, cho-cho, string beans, zucchini, turnips, squash, okra and egg plant to name some of them from the bread baskets of St. Elizabeth, St. Ann and parts of Portland in particular. Of course, some of those are more expensive than others, depending on cost of production, relative demand and whether there’s a glut or scarcity depending on rainfall (or lack thereof). But there are a couple that are perennially relatively affordable. I challenge myself to find new and exciting ways to use those, and treat them as staples.

Affordable Keto Approved Veggies in Jamaica

Callaloo (its a green leafy vegetable like spinach), cucumbers and cabbage are staples on my grocery list. Check out the ways I’ve been using callaloo on my own keto journey. Cho-cho and okra are also relatively cheap. I use cho-cho the same way that people use potatoes. I drop them in peeled and cut up into stews and soups or stir fry them with okra and string beans (with onion and pepper and garlic of course) finishing them up in a curry or coconut kind of simmer-down. Yummm! The other more expensive (here in Jamaica) veggies like mushrooms and imported Brussels sprouts and even locally grown cauliflower and broccoli I treat as occasional additions to my meals.  String beans and cucumbers tend to be relatively affordable in Jamaica as well.

Jamaican keto food: Callaloo with feta and salted cod with tomato and onions
Jamaican keto food: Callaloo with feta and salted cod with tomato and onions

For those of you outside of Jamaica, my advice to you would be to shop sales. Yes, veggies don’t store for long, but if you see frozen riced cauliflower on sale, stock up! Same for frozen spinach and broccoli for example. 

Crust-less Callaloo Quiche
Crust-less Callaloo Quiche
Okra and chayote curry
Okra and chayote curry

Keto on a Budget: Canned fish is life!

If I liked sardines more, life would be so much more affordable! A can of sardine with a squeeze of lime juice and little hot pepper eaten with a couple of cucmber slices is a tasty, protein packed breakfast or snack that comes in at less than JMD 200.00! Where can you get a healthy breakfast for that in Jamaica?

I do love tuna though. A can of tuna packs a walloping protein punch of 13g of proteins and zero carbs! I squeeze on a bit of lime juice, add my onions and pepper and eat tuna just so. If I have time, I add it to a small salad. Again, we’re talking less than JMD200.00 for a can of tuna. And they come in all kinds of flavours now if you want to simply pop the top and enjoy. I avoid the variants with corn though, and with added sugars. Read your labels and know what you’re putting into your body.

Canned salmon is great too, though more expensive than tuna and sardine. And canned mackerel, the ones packed in brine (not the red tomato sauce…that sauce is carb rich!) are versatile and affordable. You can get a 15oz can of mackerel in brine for less than JMD400.00. You can make that into run-down (simmer in coconut milk with sauteed aromatics like garlic and onion) or simply fry it up with onions and tomato and serve over stir fried cabbage for dinner, TWICE! Delicious.

I know that tuna both in the can and pouch are relatively affordable overseas as well. Dig in! your pocket and your body will be eternally grateful 🙂

Tuna spread on low-carb bread
Tuna spread on low-carb bread

A note on canned meats…

Corned beef in the can (affectionately known as bully beef here in Jamaica) I eat occasionally. I’m not a fan of all the sodium nitrate they put in the stuff. The fat I have no issue with. Fry that up with onions and cabbage and enjoy with a slice of avocado.

Corned beef and cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage

Canned chicken is convenient and relatively affordable too. You can add to a salad, make into a spread just as you would with tuna, or whip up with eggs and a little almond flour and make into fritters.

An egg (or three!) a day is great on keto

Eggs remain one of the most affordable sources of protein around. Eat the whole damned egg. This low-fat nonsense that has seen the world getting fatter and fatter and the ignorance around cholesterol have seen us ditching the best part of the egg over the last couple of years. Eat the whole damned egg! You can boil eggs and store them in the fridge for days at a time. Two hard boiled eggs will keep you full for hours. You can chop them up and add mayo and onions and mustard for a delicious egg salad. You can make a two egg omelette and add left over veggies you may have, or some of that canned fish or some cheese. You can simply scramble them in butter with onions. You can make a veggie frittata in the oven and have for dinner. Stumped as to how else you can enjoy this affordable protein source? Google! The possibilities are endless and well worth the time to research if you are serious about keto on a budget.

Deviled eggs
Deviled eggs

Budget Friendly Animal Proteins (cheap meat)

Salmon, steaks, bacon, lobster and shrimp are expensive. So treat them as treats.

But minced beef isn’t. And you can do a heck of a lot with regular minced beef. You can make crack slaw, that staple of almost ever keto dieter (if you are in the dark where crack slaw is concerned, click on the link…your life will never be the same) You can make a beefy frittata with eggs. You can make meatballs and you can simply fry it up with onions and garlic and have with a boiled egg or two for dinner.

Chicken is one of the more affordable animal proteins here in Jamaica. Shop at a meat shop instead of supermarket for better pricing.

Buy cheaper cuts of beef like chuck steak and cook for 2 or 3 occasions in your pressure cooker or slow-cooker.

Some supermarkets and meat shops sell something called “bacon cuttings“. Ask for it. It’s bacon that was not sliced and presented like the packs of bacon you’re accustomed to. Its ends and irregularly shaped bacon, but it’s bacon! All the flavour and fat at a fraction of the price. I buy this bulk and store in my freezer. It’s perfect in southern fried cabbage (subscribe to my blog to get that recipe!) and in omelettes and egg scrambles. You were gonna cut up the regular bacon rashers anyways!

Bacon and cuttings stir fry
Bacon and cuttings stir fry

One of my faves is a 100% pork sausage available locally called Bad Dawg. These sausages have great flavour, no fillers, no  artificial ingredients. Four come in a pack for under JMD500.00. You can have a full dinner with 2 of these sausages fried up with cabbage and simmered in coconut milk for example. They’re great breakfast foods with eggs.

Imported fish has made fish more accessible. Who doesn’t love a fresh snapper pulled from our Caribbean sea? But at over JMD600.00 per pound, sometimes that’s a treat rather than a regular menu item! But imported fish filet (Basa and Banga Mary which I personally do not like, I  like butter fish filet) and sliced fish like trout and King Fish are affordable, and can be seasoned well with a good fish spice and baked in the oven in mere minutes, finished with a little lime juice, garlic and butter. Serve that with steamed callaloo or cabbage or cho cho and you’re in business!

Sliced fish and spinach in meal prep
Sliced fish and spinach in meal prep
Sliced fish and zoodles
Sliced fish and zoodles

Bone Broths are Good for you and cheap too!

Beef soup bones in the supermarket or meat shop are dirt cheap. Drop them in your slow-cooker with lots of garlic, some fresh escallion, thyme, pimento, a noodle-less dehydrated soup base for quick added flavour (Maggi vegetable is good, although it has MSG) and let that just sit there cooking all day. You can enjoy that broth guilt free! It’s my favourite way to break a fast. It is filling too.

You can also use chicken backs and chicken feet to make broth. Those you can boil stove top with all the stuff I mentioned above. So delicious.  

Rotisserie chicken in our supermarkets is almost the same price as an uncooked chicken. They’re pretty tasty too! One chicken can do for 4 meals. Serve with a salad, or make a veggie stir fry and you’re in business. Convenience, affordability, and health all wrapped up in one.

My advice to those living outside of Jamaica remains consistent: shop sales! Buy chicken thighs which are normally cheaper than white meat overseas, and perfect for keto dieters. You call minced beef “hamburger” and I know that even overseas it is a very affordable option. 

Balancing the budget and enjoying keto at the same time

Stocking up on the more affordable staples leaves room for those other not so cheap keto must haves:

  • Cauliflower (twice per week)
  • Butter (don’t go for the cheaper margarine. You’ll end up spending later on when your cholesterol shoots through the roof! Trans-fats are poison)
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil (same reasoning as butter. Refined vegetable oil is poison)
  • Use coconut milk instead of heavy cream and regular cows milk and the more expensive almond milk.

A quick note on BREAD and keto

My advice to you is this: wean yourself off the need for bread. Keto dieters eat breads made from almond and coconut flours. Those are very expensive in Jamaica. I do buy both, and I’ve evolved a pretty good recipe for a low carb bread made from a blend of these 2 flours that I make every now and then. (I also take orders for the bread locally, so hit me up if you’re interested 🙂 )

Low-carb bread
Low-carb bread

Almond flour is used in small quantities in other bread like substitutes like mug bread and fat head dough. So a little goes a long way. Remember to subscribe to my blog in order to get recipes for mug bread and fat head dough.

Other tips for stretching your dollar on keto

  • I buy my cheese at our local shopping club, PriceMart. Way cheaper there.
  • Use your oven. Instead of frying and stewing, use your oven. You automatically cut down on your need for oil for browning and searing.
Boneless chicken thighs and veggies sheet pan meal done in the oven
Boneless chicken thighs and veggies sheet pan meal done in the oven

Look at what you’re saving on by going keto

Beverages – you could buy the occasional diet soda, but think about what you’re saving by not buying sodas and fruit juices and milk the way you used to.

Cereal – no need for that over-processed imported (and hence expensive) item on your grocery list any more!

Snacks: All those chips and crackers and buns and cakes and ice cream add up. You don’t eat those any more!

Alcohol: While low-carb alcohol exists, alcohol kicks you out of ketosis. So if weight loss is your goal, avoid alcohol. Simple. That’s a huge chunk of savings right there if you were a heavy drinker like I was.

Flour, sugar, rice, peas, beans, potatoes are no longer on your shopping list. You now buy callaloo.

Pastry and ice cream: you no longer buy those. You can splurge on a coffee with heavy cream and sugar free flavoured syrup instead for half the price.

So you see, you can absolutely do keto on a budget. Plus your health is worth it. What are some of the ways you save money while doing keto? Please let me know!

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13 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction: Keto is an expensive diet. Spoiler alert: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE”

    1. We have choices, Evan. And if we really want something, we’ll find a way. The truth is, keto is absolutely doable on a budget.

  1. Thank you for all the practical tips. Very interesting. I’m finally happy to try this lifestyle change now that I can see how it applies in a Jamaican context!

  2. I was so happy to find a Jamaican article on keto! What about portions? I definitely will start this diet soon

    1. Hi Donna:
      Happy you found me 🙂
      The great thing about keto is that the body naturally regulates itself over time. So cut the carbs, eat when you’re hungry. Eat up! Then watch the magic happen.

  3. This was so helpful! Thank you. I’m just starting out on keto and I was wondering if you could suggest brands of coconut oil, butter and coconut milk that are keto friendly in Jamaica.

    1. Good fats are as follows:

      Butter (not margarine). Kerry Gold is best. I use Anchor simply because I prefer the taste 🙂
      Coconut oil (Grace virgin coconut oil is best, I use Miracle because of cost). Stay FAR from any corn, vegetable, soyabean oil. They’re as bad as sugar in terms of how they impact the body.
      Extra virgin olive oil (not a blend) is great to put on salads. Don’t cook with extra virgin olive oil.

      And of course, eat high fat natural foods like pear (avocado), limited portions of nuts, eggs, heavy dairy cream in your coffee/tea if you like.

      BUT…. The biggest bang for you buck from the keto diet is not about making sure that you get all those fats in. Focus on cutting your carbs out. Prioritize protein from animals: eggs, fish, chicken, beef. pork, etc. You will see all the benefits you want. Cut carbs, eat more protein. Let veggies simply be your side dish. Eat all the meat, with the skin and fat left on it (naturally occurring fats) and eggs and canned fish.

  4. Thank you so much for this great read. I’m also Jamaican and whew! I need to purchase storage containers to freeze callaloo etc. Canned fish is saving my life! Just bought some Broccoli and froze as well. Using Bulgar to substitute rice. Now, I want to use cabbage etc instead of Bulgar.
    I wrote down your tips and just subscribed. Thanks!

    1. Hi Roxanne! Glad you found it useful, and thank you for subscribing. Yes, bulgar is wheat and not at all low-carb. All the best!

  5. Very useful and informative read . Been trying to shed some lbs but find myself bingeing a lot. Going to try using the tips given .
    Just subscribed!

    1. Thank you for subscribing!
      Some people find the route to freedom from bingeing and craving to be total abstinence…
      The approach of “all things in moderation” just doesn’t work for many… kinda like how an alcoholic can’t drink in moderation. We’d never tell a recovering alcoholic to have 1 beer would we. That’d just trigger him and a drinking binge would ensue!

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