So perhaps you've read of the keto diet or heard someone praise the associated weight loss and other health benefits. But what is keto? And how does following a ketogenic diet help you?
Learn more in this guide to keto basics.
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet, short for the "ketogenic diet," is a specific nutritional plan that causes the body to burn fat for fuel. It is a low-carb high-fat diet aimed at weight loss and several other health benefits.
Most of the time, the average person is receiving nearly all of their bodily energy from carbohydrates and other sugars.
Because our eating habits are high in carbs, the body doesn't need to use the fat we eat. Instead of becoming energy, it gets stored away all over the body.
What does it do?
The keto diet reverses this. By removing nearly all carbs from the meal plan and replacing that caloric energy with good fat (and protein), the body must burn those fats for fuel, making the ketogenic a good way to lose weight.
This metabolic state is called ketosis, where fat is converted by the liver into ketones, energy molecules that then power the muscles and brain.
Why would I eat a ketogenic diet?
While in ketosis, health benefits can be observed on both sides of the ketogenic process.
Burning body fat for fuel can lead to weight loss. This is simply because the natural body fat stores are being depleted.
Even though you are eating more fat than you would on a high carb diet, the body in a state of ketosis needs to use this fat for energy, ultimately using more fat than it can store if you meal plan correctly.
Once the body is running primarily off of ketones, myriad other benefits to health and wellness appear. Research shows that ketosis is beneficial to those afflicted with type 2 diabetes, helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
Therapies for epilepsy have included fasting dating back thousands of years, but recently, medically reviewed studies have found that the ketogenic diet may reduce seizures.
Side effects of the ketogenic diet
While the health benefits and potential weight loss are alluring, the keto diet is more complicated than a cure-all. It may not be for everyone, and prolonged ketosis may have negative risk factors.
When the body is first adjusting to ketosis, many have found a series of flu-like symptoms develop. They are expected to pass swiftly once the body adapts.
Research suggests that prolonged ketosis can increase an individual's risk of developing cardiovascular disease and LDL cholesterol buildup.
Eating more animal products puts increased stress on the kidneys, leading in some cases to kidney stones.
Switching to keto diet foods without thorough planning can remove key nutrients from the diet. Adding a multivitamin may be a good idea, and it is always best to consult your healthcare provider or registered dietician before radically altering your diet.
Low carb, high fat: how to eat keto
You've considered your options and you want to try a ketogenic diet. Here are the essential principles as you go about planning your new mode of eating.
The macros: 70% fats, 25% protein, 5% carbs
This ratio represents the standard macronutrient breakdown for a keto diet per day. Some variation is acceptable, but this is a good rule of thumb for food intake.
What do I eat on keto?
Beyond the numbers, let's address the foods you'll be eating within these categories.
The cornerstone of the ketogenic diet, healthy fats are where you'll get the majority of your caloric energy each day. Counter to much of the propaganda surrounding high-fat low-carb diets, keto requires full-fat ingredients (you need it to replace those carbs). These sources include but aren't limited to:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- MCT oil
- Animal fat (eg. bacon)
There's so much to be explored here. You can cook with different fats, and finish dishes with fats.
Fry those eggs in butter, and top that salad with olive oil!
Great fats can be found in salad dressings and sauces, adding immense flavor to the protein and vegetables you'll eat on this diet.
Being a deliberately high-fat diet may sound strange to our ears, but the results speak for themselves.
Not all fats are made equal
Those listed above are saturated and largely unprocessed fats. That's key because fats in processed junk foods are different. Polyunsaturated trans fats are extremely unhealthy and should be avoided scrupulously.
Remember, you're getting most of your calories from fats, so in a sense, they've just become the most important part of your diet!
Resist the urge to start shoveling protein when you switch to a keto diet. In fact, 25% represents a typical quantity of protein for an average person. This is something that sets keto apart from, say, the Atkin's Diet. An excess of protein can actually stall you outside of the desired metabolic state.
That said, choosing good proteins is still a priority. Whenever you can, choose grass-fed and organic.
Look for other sources of protein intake as well! Many vegetables have appreciable amounts of protein. Select nuts and seeds can have protein and healthy fats (though watch how many net carbs they contain!)
Here's a quick list of great proteins for your consideration:
- grass-fed beef
- fish (like wild salmon, which contains great omega-3 fats)
It bears repeating, one of the most important tenets of the ketogenic diet is reducing your carb intake per day to near zero. Most carbs become simply sugars in the gut, providing only short-term energy and contributing to negative health factors in the long term. So, let's get specific...
What can I not eat on keto?
Many items are prevalent in our food culture. No bread, pasta, or rice. Nothing prominently featuring cereals or grains. No starchy vegetables or tubers (sorry, potatoes).
Even most fruits contain too high a quantity of carbs to eat regularly on a keto diet. For example, a singular average banana contains the full quota of carbohydrates acceptable per day (~25 grams).
Nuts and seeds can have great protein and fats but are often too high in carbs to be a keto mainstay.
You'll have to avoid many foods that aren't "keto-friendly" if you want to stay on track to lose weight or experience the positive effects of ketosis.
Items with unnecessary sugars, like ice cream, are not usually keto, though an increasing number of foods are tailor-made to keto-friendly.
This will certainly be challenging at first, so don't be surprised if your body takes some time to adjust. It is literally switching fuel sources from carbs and sugars to burning fats for fuel.
Net carbs and its relation to weight loss
Here's an important concept when you're evaluating your carbohydrate intake. Fiber is a carb, but it is processed differently by the body. The nutritional information of your foods will display the total carbs and the carbs from fiber.
To find your net carbs, subtract the carbs from fiber from the total carbs. This lower number is your net carbs.
This is why almonds, despite containing 6 grams of total carbs per serving, are only worth 3 grams of net carbs because of the 3 grams which come from fiber.
Brussels sprouts are a similar case, containing enough dietary fiber to find their way into keto-friendly recipes.
So you can see, there are big limitations to what you can eat on a keto low carb diet. But these limitations are the impetus for creativity! Kevin's has been working hard to craft keto meal options that are not only delicious and keto-friendly but exceedingly simple to make using Kevin's products.
We've covered the basics. The ketogenic diet is a low-carb high-fat meal plan, designed to induce the metabolic state known as ketosis, which burns fats for fuel, producing ketones. The process can lead to weight loss without starvation, as well as several other boons to health and wellness.
If you're trying to lose weight, or are otherwise interested in the effects of ketosis, the keto diet may be for you.
Take a look at Kevin's Natural Foods keto meal recipes for some inspiration! There are tons of options for meat-lovers, vegetarians, and everyone in-between.