The Keto Diet 101
The keto diet, or ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, low-carb diet. It is a diet cycle strategy and a lifestyle, depending on your goals. The keto diet results in weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity and the alleviation of epileptic seizures, according to Healthline.com.
A Brief History of the Keto Diet
The keto diet dates back to the mid-1920s, states The Charlie Foundation For Ketogenic Therapies. Dr. Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic developed the diet in 1924 specifically to treat epileptic seizures. Despite its efficacy the diet waned in popularity during ensuing years when anti-seizure meds became the rage.
The diet has since regained its reputation as a viable, successful anti-seizure treatment, particularly for children who have adverse reactions to powerful anti-seizure meds or do not respond at all to less potent drugs.
Here’s Why the Keto Diet Works
Your body prefers carbohydrates for energy, which it breaks down into glucose. When your carb intake drops, your body taps into its own fat stores. Next, your liver manufactures ketones; this is called ketosis. Your liver also produces fatty acids from your own fat stores. Your brain favors ketones as its form of energy during low-carb periods, while the rest of your body prefers fatty acids.
During this interim, you lose weight as your body continuously utilizes your fat stores. The trick is to lose weight gradually and preserve muscle as you do. The keto diet’s low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein ratio helps your body achieve this goal. Ketones also suppress your appetite, so you don’t feel uncomfortably hungry while restricting carbs.
Types of Keto Diets
The keto diet has evolved in the near century since its creation. There are four main versions:
- Standard Ketogenic Diet
- High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet
Each variation entails a low net-carb, high-fat diet. Net carbs refers to the total carb count minus the fiber. The precise ratios of the macros differs between the types of keto diets as well as when you consume any allowed carbs. Standard is typically 75/20/5 percent of fat/protein/carbs, respectively. High-protein is roughly 60/35/5 percent fat/protein/carbs.
With a cyclical keto diet, you cycle your high-carb days and your strict keto days, interspersing them as needed: five days of strict keto followed by two high-carb “refeed” days, for example. Similarly, targeted keto involves reserving your high-carb intake for pre- and post-workout meals, when your body is most apt to burn lots of carbs quickly and completely, and not store them as fat.
Easing Into the Keto Diet
It’s equally helpful to know what you can and cannot have on the keto diet before beginning. Fortunately, the list of foods you cannot have is significantly shorter than the list of foods you can have.
Foods to Reduce, Eat Occasionally or Avoid on the Ketogenic Diet
- Sugar-free diet foods: These are often highly processed and contain sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols, such as maltitol and xylitol, affect ketone levels and their availability to your brain.
- Low-fat or diet products: These products are over-processed and usually contain lots of sugar and sugar alcohols to make up for their low-fat content.
- Alcohol: Contains carbs which can completely offset or interrupt ketosis. Remember, ketosis signifies fat-burning.
- Unhealthy fats (saturated): Consume processed vegetable oils and mayonnaise in very small amounts or avoid them entirely. For the same reason avoid certain condiments and sauces; many of them contain sugar and processed fats.
- Root vegetables and tubers, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips. They are starchy and apt to spike your blood glucose levels.
- All fruit, grains, starches and sugary foods. This means no wheat-based products, no rice, pasta, cereal or sugary desserts. You’re allowed very small servings of strawberries and other berries.
- Beans or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
Food You Can Eat Freely on the Keto Diet
- Grass-fed red meat: Venison, veal, goat, lamb and beef.
- All poultry
- Organs meats, including sweetbreads: Liver, thymus, pancreas
- Eggs, preferably cage-free
- All fish, especially fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
- Leeks, chives, zucchini, cucumber and celery
- All herbs, fresh or dried
- Cream and cheese (treat yourself to grass-fed)
- Nuts and seeds: Chia, pumpkin, flax, walnuts, almonds, etc.
- Fresh avocados or fresh guacamole
- Healthy oils/fats: Butter, ghee, avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, palm fruit oil, macadamia oil, flaxseed oil, medium chain triglyceride oil (MCT) and coconut oil
Dr. Axe features a full list of approved foods as well as recommended condiments and drinks to help you keep things delicious and interesting. He also explains that your breakdown of macros might agree with the standard keto diet, but it depends more on your age, fitness/health goals, body composition, level of activity and gender.
The three-meal-per-day model is most common on keto, but it’s okay to nosh on keto-friendly snacks between meals. Since ketones suppress your hunger, the desire for between-meal snacks often subsides or vanishes once you enter ketosis.
Sweeten the Deal With Keto Desserts
Abstaining from fruits and sweets is arguably the greatest impediment to successful completion of the keto diet. Luckily you don’t have to abstain at all. You merely have to eat only berries or strawberries, as mentioned above.
For desserts, explore homemade baked sweets prepared with nut flours and dark chocolate (at least 90 percent cacao). The Low Carb Maven has a healthy collection of easy-to-make keto-friendly chocolate desserts that are 6 net carbs or less per serving.
Over at TheNourishedCaveman.com, curated by a certified nutritionist, you can peruse dozens of scrumptious keto desserts with less than 5 net carbs per serving. Recipes range from macaroons and cheesecake to mini tarts and ice cream.
Keto is easier than it sounds and proven to be effective. Once you overcome the initial adjustment period, keto gets easier still, continues to suppress your appetite, energize your body and help you manage your weight. Keto can help control your blood sugar, enhance your mental focus and improve your insulin sensitivity long term. It sets you on a path toward healthier lifelong eating habits.