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Keto Diet in Korea: 7 Korean Foods to Add to Your Korean Diet [Recipes Included]

Updated: Aug 24, 2023


arrangement of keto-friendly foods

Image Source: Eating Well


In recent years, the ketogenic or keto diet has gained immense popularity worldwide for its potential health benefits and effective weight loss results. The keto diet focuses on consuming a lot of fat, minimal carbohydrates, and moderate amounts of protein to get the body into ketosis, which burns fat for energy, not carbs.


While people from various cultural backgrounds follow the keto diet, its compatibility with Korean cuisine is may seem challenging at first. However, Korea boasts a rich culinary heritage, and surprisingly, many traditional dishes can be enjoyed while adhering to the principles of the keto diet. This article will explore Keto Diet in Korea and uncover eight delectable foods that perfectly align with the keto lifestyle.


What is the Keto Diet?

keto diet food chart

The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that's gained significant popularity in recent years for its potential health benefits. The primary goal of this diet is to get your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.


Ketosis happens when your body, due to the lack of carbohydrates, starts burning fats instead of glucose for energy. The liver turns fat into ketones, a type of molecule that your cells can use for energy. This shift in metabolism comes with a variety of potential health benefits, including weight loss, improved brain function, and increased energy. Always remember, though, that while the keto diet has many potential benefits, it's not suitable for everyone and should be started under the guidance of a healthcare provider.


Here are the 8 foods to add to your keto diet.


1. Kimchi: A Keto-Friendly Staple of Korean Cuisine

korean kimchi in a dish

Kimchi, a famous Korean dish of fermented vegetables, is a must-have on any Korean dining table. This versatile delicacy, predominantly made with cabbage, contains probiotics that promote gut health.


The best part? Kimchi is low in carbohydrates, making it a fantastic keto-friendly accompaniment. Kimchi comes in various varieties, with regional and seasonal differences that add to its charm. The fermentation process gives it a unique tangy flavour, making it a rich source of beneficial bacteria.


As a probiotic food, kimchi supports digestive health, strengthens the immune system, and may even aid in weight management. On top of that, it's a great way to add an explosion of taste to your keto meals without compromising your dietary goals.


2. Bulgogi: How to Make Keto-Friendly Grilled Meat

korean bulgogi with egg

Bulgogi, a signature Korean dish known for its umami-rich and subtly sweet profile, typically features thinly sliced marinated beef or pork. This marinated delight is traditionally prepared with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and a medley of other seasonings, making it a convenient fit for the keto diet.


The challenge of enjoying Bulgogi on a keto diet lies in the marinade's usual addition of sugar. To make it keto-friendly, the key is to adjust the traditional marinade recipe. Replace the sugar with a sugar substitute such as stevia or erythritol, which can provide the same sweetness without the carbs.


Here's a simple keto-friendly Bulgogi recipe:


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of thinly sliced beef or pork

  • 5 tablespoons of soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil

  • 1 tablespoon of stevia or erythritol (or adjust to taste)

  • 3 cloves of minced garlic

  • 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sweetener, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Stir until the sweetener is fully dissolved.

  2. Add the thinly sliced meat to the marinade. Ensure every piece is well-coated. Leave it to marinate for at least 1 hour, or ideally overnight in the refrigerator for maximum flavor absorption.

  3. Grill the marinated meat over medium-high heat until it's thoroughly cooked and slightly charred at the edges.

To fully enjoy Bulgogi while maintaining your keto diet, opt to forego the usual serving of rice. Instead, pair this savory grilled meat with non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, or zucchini. You can also consider wrapping the cooked meat in lettuce leaves, a common Korean practice, for an added refreshing crunch.


"Bulgogi," which translates to "fire meat," signifies the grilling method of preparing the dish. The marinated meat is expertly grilled to result in tender, flavorful pieces that carry a hint of sweetness from the marinade. By making the right tweaks to the marinade and skipping the rice, Bulgogi becomes a delight you can savor on a keto diet without worrying about overstepping your carb limit.


3. Bossam: Keto Adaptation of a Pork Classic

korean pork bossam

Bossam, a traditional Korean dish, showcases tender, boiled pork belly served with various condiments and fresh vegetables. This classic meal, when enjoyed in its original form, is a sensory delight of flavors and textures, but it's not entirely keto-friendly due to the usual accompaniments of rice or steamed buns.


Here's how you can adapt Bossam to fit your keto lifestyle:


The star of the Bossam dish is undoubtedly the pork belly, which is boiled in a pot filled with aromatic spices such as garlic, ginger, and doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste). This process infuses the meat with an array of flavors and ensures it's tender to the bite.


Here is a simplified keto-friendly Bossam recipe:


Ingredients:

  • 1 kg pork belly

  • 10 cloves garlic

  • 2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger

  • 2 tablespoons of doenjang (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the pork belly and place it in a large pot.

  2. Add enough water to the pot to cover the pork belly.

  3. Add garlic, ginger, and doenjang to the pot.

  4. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until the pork belly becomes tender (around 2 hours).

  5. Once cooked, remove the pork belly from the pot, let it cool, and slice into bite-sized pieces.

  6. Instead of rice or steamed buns, the sliced pork belly is served wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves. You can also add sliced garlic, chili peppers, and a dollop of ssamjang (a thick, spicy paste) for an extra flavor kick. If you're watching your carb intake, be sure to choose a sugar-free ssamjang or make your own at home.

By replacing the carb-heavy elements with fresh, non-starchy vegetables, Bossam transforms into a keto-friendly dish that doesn't compromise on flavor. The pairing of succulent pork with the crunch of fresh lettuce and the tangy, spicy kick of the ssamjang creates a harmonious balance that's both satisfying and aligned with your keto diet. Enjoy the pleasures of traditional Korean cuisine while sticking to your dietary goals with this delectable version of Bossam.



4. Bibimbap: A Nutrient-Packed Bowl

keto bibimbap

Image Source: Kirbie's Cravings


Bibimbap is a Korean staple, traditionally consisting of rice, mixed vegetables, meat, and a fried egg. For keto adaptation, we can replace the rice with a low-carb alternative like cauliflower or broccoli rice.


Here is a keto-friendly recipe with "riced" broccoli/cauliflower instead of Korean rice.


Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower or broccoli

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Cut the cauliflower or broccoli into chunks, removing stems and leaves.

  2. Use a ricer or food processor to transform the chunks into a rice-like texture.

  3. Cook the 'rice' in a skillet with olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 5-8 minutes until tender.

Once your base is ready, assemble the Bibimbap. Choose low-carb veggies like spinach, cucumber, or bell peppers. Add your choice of protein - beef, chicken, or tofu. Top it off with a fried egg and a drizzle of sesame oil mixed with sugar-free gochujang (or a milder chili paste/low-sugar soy sauce if preferred).


This keto-friendly Bibimbap lets you enjoy a classic Korean dish, loaded with nutritious ingredients, without straying from your diet. Enjoy this simple, versatile, and vibrant meal any day of the week.


5. Korean BBQ: Grilling Meats, the Keto Way

korean bbq sampgyeopsal

Korean BBQ, or "Gogigui," is a dining experience where you get to cook various meats on a grill right at your table. If you're on a keto diet, opt for fatty meats like pork belly or beef short ribs.


If you're on a keto diet, you have to be careful with Korean BBQ marinades. Many have sugar or sweet syrups, which are not good for a low-carb diet. To keep your meal keto-friendly, choose meats without marinade. Or, ask what's in the marinade before you order. This helps you enjoy Korean BBQ without extra carbs.


When you visit a Korean BBQ restaurant, you're given a selection of raw meats to cook at your own pace. The keto diet encourages high fat intake, making pork belly and beef short ribs perfect choices.


You can also add flavor to your meats with low-carb dipping sauces. A simple yet tasty option is a mix of sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Just dip your freshly grilled meat in the sauce for an extra kick of flavor.


So, Korean BBQ is not just about enjoying delicious food; it's also about the joy of cooking and eating together. If you're looking for a keto-friendly meal that's fun and social, Korean BBQ fits the bill.


6. Yukhoe: Korea's Take on Steak Tartare

yukhoe korean beef tartare

Yukhoe is the Korean version of steak tartare. It's typically made with fresh, raw beef that's thinly sliced and seasoned with various ingredients like sesame oil and soy sauce. The dish often includes a raw egg yolk on top and a side of Korean pear for crunch and sweetness.


For a keto-friendly Yukhoe, you should stick with the lean beef and raw egg yolk. However, you may want to be mindful of the seasonings. Soy sauce is generally low in carbs, but make sure to use it in moderation. And instead of Korean pear, opt for a lower-carb fruit like cucumber for crunch. Be cautious about eating raw beef, always ensure it's fresh and from a reputable source.



7. Hoe: Fresh, Light, and Perfect for Keto

korean hoe

Image Source: Wikipedia


Hoe (pronounced "Hwe") refers to raw fish or seafood in Korean cuisine, similar to Japanese sashimi. It's served with various sides, including soy sauce for dipping and a spicy red chili pepper paste called 'chojang'.


In its simplest form, Hoe is perfect for a keto diet as it's high in protein and virtually carb-free. However, be cautious with the sauces. Soy sauce is low in carbs but should be used sparingly. The spicy chojang sauce often contains sugar, so it's best to avoid it or use a very small amount. As always, be sure your seafood is fresh and safe to eat raw.


Summing Up!


Keto-friendly options in Korean cuisine offer a blend of traditional flavors with the principles of the ketogenic diet. This combination allows for a plethora of dishes, from the spice of kimchi to the savoriness of Bulgogi, the texture of Japchae, and the delight of a bossam wrap.


The enjoyment of Korean BBQ is further complemented by its keto-compatibility, and dishes like Yukhoe and Hoe allow for a high-protein feast.


Adopting a keto diet while enjoying Korean cuisine goes to show that eating healthily doesn't mean compromising on taste or cultural experiences. This balance celebrates the variety in both diet and cuisine while highlighting the richness of Korea's culinary heritage.



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