The ketogenic diet or keto diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate way of eating. It allows for moderate amounts of proteins, natural fats like coconut oil or butter and vegetables. It enforces a 4:1 ratio of fats to proteins and carbohydrates. The Atkins Diet is similar to a keto diet, the difference being the amount of protein eaten.
We have been told for years that eating fat is bad for you. This is simply not true! The body needs healthy fats to absorb nutrients and minerals (think vitamins). More about this later.
Did you know the standard American diet (SAD) contains 45-65% of calories from carbohydrate-rich food? That’s why there is an epidemic of obesity and health-related illnesses. Are you guilty of choosing to eat a diet high in carbohydrates? Or are you ready to try something different?
Foods high in fat like nuts, coconut milk, and butter are encouraged. The diet forbids the consumption of pasta, bread, sugar, and grains. This results in the ketones replacing glucose as fuel for the body, particularly the brain. This fat metabolism reduces the systemic inflammation that can cause epilepsy and other diseases. It’s also, what encourages the healthy weight loss process as your body draws on its fat stores around your belly, hips, and thighs.
Now, before you jump into this way of eating you need to know what the keto diet actually is, the pros and cons of the diet, and if it is a good fit for you. It does have some drawbacks and it might not be for everyone. We’ll take a closer look at these later.
Additionally, there are certain foods that you want to avoid and rules you should know. I will dig deeper into what to put on your plate.
Let’s get started.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
You are probably excited to get to the meat, so to speak, of what you can and cannot eat. But first, let’s discuss what a ketogenic diet is.
It’s any diet that forces the body into a process called ketosis. This is the process where fats are burned for energy instead of using carbohydrates for energy. Doing it correctly, the keto diet asks the dieter to consume high amounts of fats, moderate amounts of protein and very low amounts of carbs.
With a traditional diet, our bodies normally turn carbohydrates into glucose that’s sent throughout the body as a source for energy. On the keto diet, we enter ketosis by limiting our carbohydrates causing our livers to start breaking down fat cells into fatty acids and ketones to be used as energy.
- Ketogenic comes from the ketones naturally produced in the body. These are formed when your body uses fat as energy.
- On a normal or traditional diet, we eat mainly protein, carbohydrates, and some fat. The extra fat is stored.
- On the ketogenic diet, you eat mainly fats, very few carbohydrates, and just enough protein to maintain growth.
- When the body is producing ketones, fat is being used for energy. When you eat carbohydrates, the body produces glucose or blood sugar.
- The body enters a state of ketosis when on the keto diet. Ketosis is an energy state where the body uses alternative fuel to provide energy. This means it begins burning fat instead of using carbohydrates for fuel.
- You attain ketosis when you eat a very low amount of carbohydrates, which will depend on the plan you are following and the stage you are in. Generally, it’s 20 grams a day, to begin with. Your diet will consist of mostly fat, protein and green vegetables.
The keto diet, like many low-carb diets, is not a new fad. It became more popular in recent years thanks to Dr. Robert Atkins following the release of Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution in the 1990s. It’s easy to follow a plan that is highly effective, without feeling hunger or experiencing cravings.
Another reason for its popularity is the possibility of losing weight without exercising. Those who are severely obese have disabilities or injuries that prevent them from any type of regular exercise find this diet helpful in weight loss.
Ketogenic Diet Traditional Use
But before we get into the way you can benefit from it, I want to give you a little history on the diet.
The keto diet has been in existence for over 90 years. It was designed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic. Traditionally used for effectively treating epilepsy, it fell from use after the surge of new anti-seizure medicines in the 1940s became popular.
It was later found that the ketogenic diet was helpful in treating epileptic seizures, often in cases where no other medicine helped.
Traditionally, the ketogenic diet for epilepsy is about 75% fat, 5% carbohydrates, and 20% protein.
It’s been used for a variety of medical conditions with success. Giving up carbs or sugar helps the body in many ways including weight loss.
The keto diet is effective for weight loss but has many other benefits to your health including:
- Doctors usually recommend the ketogenic diet for children with epilepsy when their seizures have not responded to different seizure medicines.
- There is evidence from some uncontrolled clinical trials and studies in animals that the ketogenic diet can help in a broad range of neurological and neurodegenerative disorders including
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- It may also help in cases of traumatic brain injury and stroke. (Source: NCBI.nlm.nhi.gov)
- Sugar can feed cancer cells causing them to multiply. Eliminating sugar and carbs may be effective in reducing or fighting cancer.
- Improves cardiovascular risk factors
- New research is showing the keto diet may be helpful in treating Autism. (Source: NCBI.nlm.hmi.gov)
- Recent work in the last decade shows that the therapeutic effects of the ketogenic diet in many pathological conditions such as diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, acne, neurological diseases, and the amelioration of respiratory disease risk factors. (Source: NCBI.nlm.nhi.gov)
There you have it. The benefit of the keto diet is more than simply losing a few pounds. Even though the diet was traditionally used for the treatment of epilepsy, it has many other benefits from which many people will benefit.
Discover the Secret of Why it’s Used for Fat Loss
Carbs are devastating for the brain. ~ Dr. David Perlmutter
We’ve already seen the health benefits of a keto diet. But why is it popular as a weight loss diet? The answer is simple, really.
The reason the ketogenic diet for fat loss is so popular is that it’s very effective. It uses the body’s natural behavior to burn off fat. It doesn’t leave you feeling hungry or experiencing cravings or those annoying side effects of low-calorie diets.
As mentioned before, on the ketogenic diet you will lose weight even if you can’t exercise. It’s not recommended you don’t exercise unless there is a medical reason though. You will get better and faster results if you do exercise while on the keto diet.
How does the ketogenic diet help with weight loss?
The secret to why the keto diet is used for weight loss is in the type of food you eat. The keto diet puts your body in a state of ketosis, where the body is using fat as a source of fuel. Our bodies are designed to use either carbohydrates or fat for energy.
Carbohydrates are stored, for a while in your muscles as sugar, and are the first choice of fuel by your body. What isn’t used is then stored as fat, which leads to weight gain.
If no sugar or glycogen is available, the body then uses the reserved fat as fuel. Forcing the body to go into ketosis by limiting the number of carbs you eat leads to your body burning fat. This means you are actually burning the fat that has caused weight gain. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to lose weight when your body is in this state.
- On the low carb diet, your blood sugar levels will stabilize so you don’t experience the cravings for sugary foods or the ups and downs associated with fluctuating blood sugar.
- People feel consistently energetic and healthy when following a low carb diet.
- They have smaller appetites than they did before when on a keto diet. This means they eat less without even thinking about it.
- The ketogenic diet is easy to follow. You eat fresh, whole foods found in any store or restaurant. Most processed foods are out as well as sugary foods.
- Fat and protein make up the diet, making it high in flavor and very satisfying.
- Many people find it easier to control hunger on a ketogenic diet. Since carbohydrates are reduced in a keto diet, blood sugar is controlled and insulin level spikes are minimized. When our blood glucose levels rise rapidly, our insulin spikes and we feel hungry. By eating a low carb diet, our blood sugar remains steady. For us seasoned people, it is important that we discuss a keto diet with our doctors.
Undoubtedly, the secret to losing weight on the keto diet isn’t really a secret at all. Decreasing your carb intake, increasing your fat and protein intake and eating fewer calories is why many people are using the ketogenic diet to lose weight.
Ketogenic Diet Plans
There are a number of ketogenic diet plans available, both paid and free. Do your research as well as talk to your family doctor or nutritionist.
List of keto plans:
- 21 Day Keto Diet Plan by My Keto Coach
- Whole30 Program
- Atkins Diet
- 30 Day Ketogenic Diet Plan by ruled.me
- 2 Week Ketogenic Plan by the KetoDiet Blog
- A Ketogenic Diet for Beginners by the DietDoctor
As you can see, there are all kinds of keto diet plans as well as cookbooks, meal planners, and other resources online.
I am most familiar with the Whole30 Program by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. Their “Whole30“ book was a New York Times bestseller. It is a 30-day guide to total health and food freedom. Their “It Starts with Food” book provides the science behind the Whole30 program.
One of their most quoted lines about the Whole30 Program is:
“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard? Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
My favorite Melissa Hartwig line is:
“The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options.”
This was a big eye-opener. All food impacts your health and body one way or another. It is my choice. And it is your choice.
Follow the Keto Diet Rules
Every diet has rules. The ketogenic diet is no different. Of course, it would be great if we could eat whatever we want, whenever we want and still lose weight. But that’s probably not going to happen. In order to make the keto diet work for you, you should follow a few simple rules.
Check the label for carbohydrate counts and the “per serving” sizes on pre-packaged foods. It should contain 2 grams or less for meat and dairy products and 5 grams or less for vegetables.
Choose one of the following foods when you are hungry. Once hunger dwindles, stop eating.
- Choose grass-fed meats such as beef, pork, veal, lamb, bison, and wild game. In processed meats, like sausage, read the label to ensure there aren’t any added sugars or honey.
- Opt for poultry such as chicken, turkey, quail, duck, Cornish hen, or pheasant. Skin-on is preferable to add to the fat content. Do not bread or batter when cooking. Instead of roast, stir-fried, deep fry, bake, grill or barbecue.
- Get fish, seafood, and shellfish. Choose fresh and wild caught. Canned fish should be free of added sugar. Do not bread or batter when preparing.
- Eggs will become a staple in your ketogenic diet. They can be prepared in many ways including deviled, fried, hard-boiled, omelets, poached, or scrambled.
Eat one or two cups of salad greens every day. You should eat one cup of fibrous vegetables each day as well.
- Salad greens
- all varieties of greens
- Fibrous vegetables
- Alfalfa and bean sprouts
- Bamboo shoots
- Bell pepper
- Bok choy
- Black beans
- Brussel sprouts
- Green beans
- Snow peas
- Sugar snap peas
- Wax beans
- Water chestnuts
Eat these foods in limited quantities:
- Cheese – limit to 4 ounces a day. Most types including hard, aged like Swiss and cheddar, Brie, mozzarella, Gruyere, cream cheese and goat cheese. Avoid processed cheeses. Carbohydrate count should be less than 1 gram per serving.
- Dairy Cream – limit to 4 tablespoons a day. This includes heavy and light cream and sour cream. Do not use half-&-half or milk.
- Mayonnaise – limit to low-carb brands. Read the label for carb count.
- Fatty vegetables like olives and avocados should be limited. Olives – serve up to 7 per day. Avocados – up to 1/2 an avocado per day.
- Condiments can include lemon or lime juice, a small amount of ketchup, and soy sauce.
- Pickles – restrict to 2 servings a day. Dill or sugar-free is best.
- Snacks and miscellaneous foods including pepperoni slices, ham, beef or turkey spread with cream cheese, deviled eggs, pork rinds, macadamia, almond or other nuts in a small amount, coconut butter.
- Drinks include unsweetened tea, unsweetened decaf coffee, herbal tea, water, flavored water (unsweetened), almond milk, coconut milk.
- Commercial spices usually contain sugar so check the labels and restrict the amount you use when possible. Many spices have carbs as well. Choose basil, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, cilantro, coriander seeds, cinnamon, ground cloves, cumin seeds, dill, ginger, mustard seeds, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and turmeric.
Choose good fats and oils
Most kinds of oil, butter, and cream can be used in cooking including:
- Beef tallow
- Organic butter
- Chicken fat
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Red palm oil
For salad dressings, choose avocado oil, almond oil, macadamia oil, mayonnaise, and most nut oils. I like a combination of extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar!
Keto Diet Tips
Just imagine you have been following the keto diet for a while when suddenly you find it hard to stick to the rules. You want to add some carbs. Or you are tired of the same old meals. Or maybe you aren’t getting any support from those around you.
Here are some tips to help you stick to the diet.
Get support. Join online groups and forums where others are following the same diet. Encourage friends and family to join you on the ketogenic diet.
Focus on the good things. Focus on what you have already achieved. Do you feel more energetic? Has your sleep improved? How do you feel compared to before you started the Keto diet?
Get back on if you fall off. If you do slip and eat a slice of cake or drink a beer, don’t give up. It’s unrealistic to expect you won’t fall for temptation occasionally. The point is to get right back to choosing healthy choices. Remember though, that when you eat a certain amount of carbs your body comes out of ketosis. That means it will take you a couple of days to get back into it.
Be prepared. Get the supplies, books, and the foods you need before you begin the diet. Clean out your pantry of all the things you shouldn’t be eating so you are less likely to be tempted.
Set up an accountability system. Get someone to hold you accountable for sticking to the plan.
Add exercise. After the first month, add a high-intensity exercise program. It can be as simple as a fast walking routine. Add weight training once a week as well to help with fat burning.
When exercising, you may need to change your Keto diet to a targeted or cyclical plan. The cyclical ketogenic diet means adding a carb-load on the weekends and following a normal keto diet during the week. A targeted ketogenic diet plan means eating a few extra carbs before you work out.
Be patient and don’t cheat. It will take time for your body to begin burning fat and to get into ketosis. Stick to it and be consistent with it. Don’t weight yourself every day. Weight varies between 2 and 4 pounds every day due to water intake and absorption.
Track your progress and eating habits. Use a written journal, electronic notepad or a mobile phone app. Measure and write down what you eat. Keep track of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrate intake. I blogged about my daily experiences with the Whole30 program.
As you can see, you aren’t alone in this journey. There are many ways to get support when you feel like stopping. Being patient and consistent with the plan is the first step. It gets easier and the more support and accountability you have, the more likely you’ll stick it out.
Measuring Progress and Your Results
No doubt, one of most motivational things about losing weight is being able to see and measure your results. I mean, you look in the mirror and see a leaner you and your clothes are getting looser.
Can you imagine how great that feels? Those are great feelings to be sure. But, you need to measure your progress truly to get the reassurance you need that the keto diet is working. There are different ways to monitor your success on this plan.
One way is by measuring ketosis. The way this is done is by testing the bi-product ketones of the process that are released from the body. They come out in your breath, sweat, and urine. Self-testing urine strips for testing your urine allows you to see when your body first goes into ketosis and that you are staying in ketosis. The strips are neutral in color and change to shades of pale pink to deep purple during ketosis. The darker the color the more ketones you are burning. Later on, you can purchase a blood ketone meter.
Another option is to have a complete blood chemistry test done before you start and then 1 month into the diet. This will show your cholesterol and blood sugar changes.
You can measure weight loss by weighing yourself once a week, preferably at the same time. During the first week, you will likely see a significant change. But, don’t be fooled. Some of it will be a fat loss but some is also retained water loss.
Measure yourself as a way to keep track of weight loss. If you are working out while on the diet, you may gain weight through lean muscle mass. To measure that you are losing weight you need to see if you are losing inches.
Measuring and tracking your weight loss while on the ketogenic diet is an easy process and will help keep you motivated to continue.
The Choice is Yours
The fact is millions of people have successfully used a type of low carb diet including the ketogenic diet as a way to lose weight. It’s a popular way to lose weight since it is highly effective. It uses the body’s natural fat burning ability to burn fat without leaving you hungry, experiencing cravings, or suffering from the negative effects of too few calories.
Will it work for you? Maybe or maybe not.
You will be the one who has to decide. Are the side effects more than you want to deal with? Is the fast weight loss worth giving up your favorite carbs for?
With those questions in mind, take a look at some of the pros of the diet.
We’ve already seen that the ketogenic diet has been used in the treatment of epilepsy. It’s now being used for many other health issues as well including reducing cardiovascular risk, cancer risk, the treatment of many neurological issues. The health benefits include weight loss, which in turn can alleviate all sorts of health issues from joint pain to risk of stroke and diabetes.
You should be aware of the cons as well.
- One of the major problems with ketosis is the risk to high-level athletes and people with high-energy jobs in not getting enough energy to work.
- It’s a very restrictive way to eat. Many people have trouble sticking to the diet especially if they enjoy social functions and eat out a lot.
- Another drawback is that some people may cut out all fruit and vegetables. These foods are essential for providing vitamins and minerals for good health.
- Also, a long-term, low-carb diet may damage the metabolism, particularly when combined with a low-calorie diet and excessive cardio exercise. This is why you should discuss a keto diet with your doctor.
- I don’t know about you, but consistently following rules stresses me out!
A normal or traditional carbohydrate-rich diet allows us to eat larger amounts of protein and carbohydrates than we do fat. The body burns the sugar from the carbs for energy and stores the extra fat.
The ketogenic diet though is almost totally opposite. It encourages us to eat much higher levels of fat with very little carbohydrates and some protein. The body burns or uses fat for energy from the ketones produced on the diet.
Potential Drawbacks of the Diet
Before you make a decision to jump into the diet, you should know that without a doubt there are criticisms against the ketogenic diet. I mean, with every type of eating there are those who believe one way or another about it. For example, the ketogenic diet has many myths associated with it. Let’s dig deeper into some of them, shall we?
Ketosis may lead to hypothyroidism and possibly adrenal fatigue
The belief for this is that the lower level of glucose from the diet can lead to a diminished capacity for T4 to convert to T3. This can lead to hair loss, cold hands and feet, general sickness and low thyroid function symptoms.
According to Dr. Ron Rosedale, a “lower number does not necessarily mean lower function…often it means better function.” The thyroid levels return to a desirable level, which could be lower when the body is operating optimally.
Oftentimes people confuse diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) which is bad with nutritional ketosis which is actually a good thing. Dr. Peter Attia has a great explanation of both on his The Eating Academy blog.
As for adrenal fatigue, while rumors abound and studies are still being done, many medical professionals suggest that chronic stress is the #1 cause of adrenal fatigue, not your diet. However, if your body is not working at peak proficiency, you need to address those issues prior to beginning any diet or exercise regimen.
In addition, when you first start going into the metabolic state of ketosis, you may feel sluggish, have brain fog and fatigue. But once the body gets used to it, you’ll actually experience higher levels of energy, more clarity and better performance overall.
It says to eat fat but I thought fat is bad
Many people are afraid to try the ketogenic diet plan because of their fear of increasing the amount of fat they eat, especially saturated fat. We’ve been told for over 30 years that fat is bad.
The reality is a high carb diet increases your blood sugar and insulin levels. These are what cause inflammation and heart disease. A ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbs so it reduces inflammation. (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Use healthy fats and oils in your diet and you can lay this fear to rest.
No carbohydrates can lead to nutrient deficiencies
During the no-carb phase of the diet, carbohydrates are very restricted which may lead some people to believe that you want your daily recommended amount of certain vitamins and minerals. However, this can be remedied by taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement each day. In addition, during the high-carb phase of the diet, you will want to eat plenty of healthy carbs such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, squash, and whole-wheat pasta.
Your gut health will suffer
Gut health has been in the news in recent years. Many people believe that we need certain dietary fiber to feed our gut microbiome. And they believe we can’t get that without eating certain foods.
Dr. William Davis has said that people on a ketogenic diet can get an adequate amount of indigestible fibers to feed their gut flora. The fiber content of non-starchy vegetables is enough to feed the microbiome.
In addition, you can improve your gut health by supplementing with probiotics, resistant starch such as raw potato starch, some fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and raw full-fat plain yogurt (Fage is my favorite Greek yogurt), ketogenic amino acids such as leucine and lysine and coconut oil or Caprylic acid.
There are some side effects of the ketogenic diet as well. When making sudden and dramatic changes to your daily diet you might experience mild but temporary side effects like the following.
- Headaches and dizziness. Sugar and caffeine both have addictive effects so when you give them up in the induction phase of the Keto diet, you have withdrawal symptoms. They will only last a few days. You can counteract this by drinking some salty broth, dairy foods, green leafy veggies, and avocados.
- Leg cramps. You may experience cramps in your legs especially at night. They usually occur during the early phases of the diet. The lack of potassium in the diet is the cause. It’s recommended to take a multivitamin containing potassium while on the diet. Also look for keto diet approved foods that are also high in potassium such as avocados and raw green leafy vegetables. Drinking more water and adding some extra salt helps.
- Constipation. Constipation can come from not getting enough fiber. Make sure the carbs you are eating are from green vegetables and you are drinking plenty of water.
- Sugar cravings. As your body is moving from burning sugar to fat, there will be a period of 2 to 10 days when your carb cravings will be worse. Eat 4 ounces of protein if you are hungry. Try to wait it out as they do eventually disappear. Fortunately for me, I drink coffee black!
- Bad breath. Your body burns fat to use for energy when you are on the ketogenic diet. This is known as ketosis. The byproduct of this process is the release of ketones that are released through your breath and urine. To get rid of the smell chew fresh mint, parsley, or use sugar-free gum or a breath spray. At least, you will know the keto diet is working!
Like any diet, change there will be some side effects. The good news is that on the ketogenic diet they are temporary and don’t last long. Being aware of what they are and what to do about them will help you get through them.
All things considered, if you are interested in beginning the ketogenic diet, you need to weigh the pros and cons and get expert opinions on whether this is the right diet for you.
Before starting a diet, discuss your plans with your doctor.
Ketogenic Diet Summary
Hopefully, you have enough information on how to start a ketogenic diet for weight loss. To recap:
- Talk with your doctor
- Understand the benefit and risks
- Do your homework
- Eat limited amounts of carbs
- Eat quality proteins
- Eat plenty of veggies
Note: I have been reading and researching about the Whole30 Program. I intend to start after discussing with my doctor. I have an appointment with my doctor in a week for my annual physical. I will discuss my dieting plans with him. I am writing about my experiences on this blog as events unfold. Also, I am considering writing my own weight loss program based on previous experiences as to what worked or didn’t work. What did not work was sticking to programs with lots of rules. But the good news for me was the fact that I lost 25 pounds in 90 days.
If you have comments, any questions or wish to share your experience, please share by leaving a comment below.
For more information about keto and low-carb diets, Tuit Nutrition is a good resource.