Indulging in desserts can seem like an absolute impossibility on the ketogenic diet, especially considering the fact that most fruits are shunned on this strict high-fat, moderate-protein, ultra-low-carb eating plan. But keto desserts do exist, and this brownie recipe is delicious proof (scroll to the bottom for the full recipe).
If you’re not already familiar, “this dietary combination aims to shift the body’s metabolism away from burning sugar and carbohydrates as fuel to burning fat in the form of ketones that are manufactured in the liver,” David Perlmutter, M.D., explains of the mechanism behind ketosis and why it can be such a great thing for the body. “When the body is using ketones as a fuel source, we say that person is in ketosis, and that’s the ultimate goal of this diet.”
While the keto diet is high in good fats—like avocados and coconut oil—it’s also very low in sugar and carbs, which can make a keto diet particularly tricky to follow for anyone with a sweet tooth. While, yes, your focus should predominantly be on nutrient-rich, keto-friendly whole foods, there are still ways to enjoy your favorite desserts on special occasions without countering all your progress. And these keto brownies are a delicious way to do just that.
In addition to being keto-friendly, these keto brownies are also gluten-free and low in sugar (keto desserts, which have to be as low in carbohydrates as possible, frequently are), making them a potentially viable dessert option for anyone trying to maintain stable blood sugar. “The idea behind keto is to keep your fat-accumulating hormone, insulin, low by keeping your blood sugar low,” explains Vincent M. Pedre, M.D. “In doing so, you turn on fat-burning genes.”
Keep reading to learn more about what makes these low-carb brownies a smart way to curb sweet cravings on a keto diet.
The ingredients: What makes this brownie recipe keto-friendly?
So, how are these keto brownies sweet and delicious like a traditional dessert without including copious amounts of carbs, which we’ve established are a major keto no-no? It’s all about strategic ingredient swaps.
First, let’s talk about the flour. Traditional brownie recipes call for wheat flour (often bleached white flour, which is devoid of most beneficial nutrients). Our favorite keto brownies, on the other hand, are made with blanched almond flour. Popular among health-conscious eaters of all varieties, almond flour is also high in monounsaturated fats, which help promote overall health and reduce the risk of heart disease, along with antioxidant vitamin E and the essential minerals magnesium and potassium.
Almond flour also contains significantly more protein and fiber than regular flour, the latter of which contributes to healthy digestion and good gut health. (Many other keto brownie recipes also call for the addition of coconut flour, which further boosts fiber content.)
“Dietary fiber keeps you full longer and contains prebiotic nutrients that support a healthy gut flora, creating a win-win for weight loss,” Dr. Pedre explains. “Getting insufficient dietary fiber (yes, I’m talking to you, all-meat carnivore or cave-man diet folks) adversely shifts your healthy gut flora, which will increase inflammation, insulin resistance, fat deposition around the middle, and weight gain.” In fact, a lack of fiber is a major reason many people notice a weight loss plateau on the keto diet, says Dr. Pedre.
Something to keep in mind when you’re at the grocery store: While almond flour is closely related to almond meal, they aren’t exactly the same thing. The difference is that almond meal can be made with whole almonds, while almond flour is only made from ground blanched almonds. Almond flour will have a finer texture, and substituting almond meal for flour in the recipe could affect the texture and consistency of the finished keto brownies.
As with all keto desserts, these brownies contain a good dose of fat, too. But in lieu of melted butter, this recipe features avocado oil, which results in perfectly gooey brownies and delivers a variety of nutrients in the process. Avocado oil is a rich source of healthy fats, especially anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. This oil is also full of carotenoids, the most significant of which is lutein, an antioxidant that provides a protective effect to the skin, helping prevent UV-radiation-induced skin damage.
To achieve that classic sweet taste while maintaining their low-carb status, this keto brownie recipe swaps out granulated sugar for erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol that contains just 3 calories per gram and serves as a sugar alternative. “Along with stevia, these sugar alcohols are still decent options for people looking for natural sugar-free options,” William Cole, D.C., IFMCP, functional medicine expert, told mbg. Sugar alcohols are considered safer than artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet), and saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), all of which may “actually change the bacterial makeup of your microbiome,” said Cole. “This can be a trigger for autoimmune problems, diabetes, and metabolic disorders.”
It’s important to note, however, that sugar alcohols aren’t a great option for everyone. They are known to have a laxative effect if consumed in high quantities and can cause major flare-ups of digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and SIBO. Since your body does not completely absorb sugar alcohols, they’re left to ferment in the large intestine, which can cause gas and bloating. The short version: If you suffer from one of these digestive conditions, you may want to avoid this (and most) keto dessert recipes.
How to incorporate these brownies into your keto diet.
Even though we’ve just raved about what makes these brownies keto-friendly, they should still be considered a treat for special occasions, not for daily consumption. Keto brownies shouldn’t take the place of healthier fare like low-carb, fiber-rich vegetables, nuts and seeds, and quality meats, eggs, and seafood. “If you’re using ketosis for weight loss, you may see initial results, but eating too many calories from any food can stall fat loss or make you gain weight,” says Dr. Pedre.
Leaning too heavily on keto-approved treats can definitely have this effect and undermine your success (as they tend to be calorie-dense and low in nutrients compared to whole foods), but using them strategically—to help you avoid an all-out sugar binge—might just help keep you on track.
And remember, deciding whether or not the keto diet is right for you is a personal decision and one that you should discuss with your health care provider. The diet brings with it a lot of potential benefits, including the ability to reduce insulin levels, reduce inflammation, and aid in weight loss, but it also has potential drawbacks. If you do decide that trying the keto diet is right for you (or if you’re just looking for a healthier alternative to regular, high-carb brownies), you’ll want to bookmark this drool-worthy one-bowl brownie recipe from keto blogger Carolyn Ketchum’s cookbook Easy Keto Desserts.
One-Bowl Keto Brownies
Makes 16 brownies
- ¾ cup avocado oil
- ¾ cup granulated erythritol-based sweetener
- 3 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (50g) blanched almond flour
- ⅓ cup cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup chopped raw walnuts or pecans (optional)