The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a weight loss plan of increasing popularity among athletes, celebrities, and health enthusiasts. Like most diets, keto promotes the idea that if you eat the correct foods in the correct amounts, you’ll lose weight. In this case, the ketogenic diet focuses on a high-fat, low-carb ratio to put the body into ketosis- thus, the name “keto diet.”
Interestingly, the keto diet wasn’t originally developed for weight loss. It was designed and frequently employed in the 1920s to treat patients with epilepsy. Since then, the keto diet has been analyzed for its seemingly idealistic approach to weight loss. It appears to restructure the body’s systems so that they burn fat for fuel instead of glucose.
Want to learn more about the keto diet to see if it might be right for you? Keep reading to find out more about keto, including rules, recipes, and recommendations for getting started.
What is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet taps into the body’s natural process of ketosis by denying it carbohydrates. Typically, Americans get about 50% of their calories from carbohydrates. The body converts carbs to glucose which it uses to fuel everything from your thoughts to the movement of your pinky toe.
The keto diet uses a high-fat, low-carbohydrate ratio to compel the body to use fatty acids and ketone bodies for energy instead of glucose. This process is called ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural process in the body to make up for a lack of carbohydrates in the diet. First, the blood sugar drops which triggers fat to be released from the body’s cells. The fat goes through the liver, which turns it into ketone bodies that the body can use as fuel instead of glucose.
The result? Fat and weight loss across the body.
Keto Diet Benefits
The keto diet has been around for almost a decade. It started as a treatment for epilepsy and then evolved once nutritionists realized the effect it had on the body. In recent years, weight loss seekers and sports enthusiasts have claimed it as their own, bringing it into the mainstream.
The reason it became a popular treatment for epilepsy, especially in children, is that it decreases the chances of having a seizure by 30 to 40 percent.
Keto diet benefits also include weight loss and helping manage certain illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
Most people who go on the keto diet these days are doing it to lose weight, but modern science does not always agree about whether or not it works.
Some experts believe that the keto diet weight loss that many people experience in their first year is due to carbohydrate and calorie restriction. Keto also depletes the body’s glycogen stores which tend to hold onto water. Fewer glycogen stores mean less water weight and bloating.
One of the most promising aspects of the keto diet is that the high amounts of proteins and healthy fats seem to suppress production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin alerts our brain when we need nutrients, but it can also be triggered by hormonal imbalances or start to restrict calories. It’s what makes you “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a long time.
People who eat high fat and high protein diets tend to feel more full after a meal since protein lowers their ghrelin levels. It also increases your metabolic rate after you eat.
When it comes to cardiovascular disease, most people would think that a diet focused on meat and animal-based products is not the healthiest option. However, some studies show that the keto diet improves triglyceride, HDL (good cholesterol), and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
Long-term studies are still needed to determine if these benefits last long-term.
People with type-2 diabetes may also benefit from the keto diet. Some studies seem to indicate that by improving the body’s control of glucose, diabetics need less medicine to regulate their blood glucose levels. It may also help reduce A1C and improve insulin sensitivity.
However, most experts agree that more evidence is needed before keto is recommended for diabetes patients.
Keto Diet Rules
The keto diet rules are relatively straightforward. Your diet should consist of 60-80% fat, 10-30% protein, and no more than 5-10% carbs daily.
You also do not want to eat more than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. For this reason, highly processed foods and trans fats are best avoided.
Best Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet
Focus on finding healthy sources of fats and proteins. It may feel counterintuitive to eat fat while dieting, but your body needs it to replace the glucose you get from carbohydrates.
Here is a list of the BEST keto diet foods:
- Meat: steak, bacon, chicken, turkey, sausage, ham
- Fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout
- Heavy cream
- Cheese: cheddar, goat, blue, mozzarella, etc. (unprocessed when possible)
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, chia seeds, walnuts, pecans, flaxseeds, etc
- Healthy oils: extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil
- Vegetables: greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cauliflower, cabbage
- Fruits: small portions of berries, apples, pears, coconut, and watermelon (limit fruit where possible)
Some foods you can eat in unlimited amounts, such as vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Others require some limitations, like fresh or dried fruit.
Worst Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet
Most foods on this list are high in carbohydrates and, therefore, should be avoided.
Here is a list of the WORST keto diet foods:
- Grains: pasta, rice, cereal, etc.
- Fruit: especially tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, banana, and dried fruits like dates
- Sugary foods: soda, cake, candy, cookies, fruit juices, etc
- Beans: peas, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc
- Root vegetables: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, etc
- Diet products: products with titles like “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” and “lite” in the title including mayonnaise, salad dressing, condiments, and sweeteners
- Unhealthy fats: processed oils, mayonnaise, etc
- Certain condiments: especially those high in sugar, like ketchup, honey mustard, barbecue sauce, etc
One useful tip when starting a new diet is to make a small list of the foods you are used to eating but now need to be limited. It will help hold you accountable and remind you which foods you are trying to avoid.
Keto Diet Tips for Beginners
If you are new to the keto diet, these four keto diet tips will help you get started. It may also be helpful to download a fitness and meal planning app to keep you on track.
- Cook for yourself. You will probably want to cook most of your food until you get the hang of what you can and cannot eat! Eating out at restaurants can be stressful, especially if are afraid to ask for the modifications that you need. Restaurants also tend to add ingredients that do not always make it to the menu. Start your diet at home until you think you have the hang of it before braving the outside world.
- Stick to the outside walls of the grocery store when shopping. This food rule from Michael Pollen keeps you away from the aisles where processed, unhealthy foods are often found. The idea is to stick to simple, single-ingredient foods, which are mostly located on the outside edges of the store.
- Take it one day at a time. Do not beat yourself up if you cannot follow the diet in its strictest form right away. Altering your diet is a marathon, not a sprint, and a mental game above all else.
- Listen to your body. If you start to feel ill or exhausted, the keto diet may not be the right meal plan for you. Practice body awareness as you start the keto diet and stop if you start to become unwell.
Above all, do your research before you start the keto diet to make sure you are getting all of the vital vitamins and minerals your body needs to function. When you change your diet, you may find that you are struggling to eat enough calories because you are unsure of what to eat. You need to make sure you are still giving your body the minimum amount of fuel it needs to function so you can continue to live your life.
Three Easy Keto Recipes for Beginners
Starting a new diet can be intimidating. Thankfully, keto’s popularity has made “keto-friendly” foods more accessible than ever. Many well-known health food brands even label their food with a keto-friendly stamp.
Below you will find three keto diet recipes for beginners to help you get started.
When you are starting a new diet, you do not want to skip the first meal of the day! New diets already require extra effort to make sure you are eating the right foods. Try these simple five-ingredient keto pancakes to start your day on a high note.
Fluffy Keto Pancakes
- 4 eggs, large
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4 oz cream cheese
To make the pancakes, mix all of the ingredients (except the butter) together in a bowl. Heat a frying pan to medium heat and add the butter. Cook the pancakes until golden brown on both sides. Serve with pureed berries or a low-calorie sweetener of your choice.
This recipe makes 10 small pancakes.
This recipe is a healthy alternative to a typical burrito and will satisfy a lot of cravings. The wrap on this keto burrito is made from cabbage and is the most involved part of this easy recipe.
Keto Beef Crunch Wrap
- 1 whole cabbage
- 1 lb ground beef
- 4 tbsp taco seasoning (search for a keto-friendly version)
- 2 cups lettuce
- 1 tomato, cut into small cubes
- 1 avocado, cut into slices
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup sour cream
Core the cabbage and then place it in a pot of boiling water. Wait two minutes, then start removing one leaf at a time using tongs. Continue removing leaves until you have 12. If you have trouble pulling the leaves off, wait a few more minutes before removing them. After you have all 12, remove part of the hard cabbage stems with your knife.
Preheat over to 400 F. Heat a pan on the stovetop to medium-high and cook the ground beef with the taco seasoning. Sprinkle cheddar into 4″ circles on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes, or until they start to brown around the edges.
Using three cabbage leaves per serving, start assembling the burrito wraps. Start with the cheese, then beef, followed by vegetables, and finally the sour cream. Wrap the cabbage leaves around the filling, and you are ready to serve.
This recipe makes four keto beef crunch wraps.
Different combinations of protein and vegetables are the easiest keto-friendly dinners. This simple beef and broccoli recipe might just become your all-time favorite.
Keto Beef and Broccoli
- 1 lb flat iron steak, thinly sliced against the grain
- 1/2 lb broccoli, cut into small florets
- 1/4 cup coconut or avocado oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce or coconut aminos
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 cloves garlic, diced chopped
Start by marinating the beef in the aminos, ginger, and garlic for one hour in the fridge. Drain the meat but keep the liquid- you will use it later. Steam the broccoli for a few minutes. It should still have some texture as it will continue to cook in the skillet.
Heat the coconut oil in a cast iron over medium-high heat. Cook the beef until browned- it should only take a few minutes. Remove from the skillet and put to the side. Add the broccoli to the pan and cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add the marinade and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the beef, fish sauce, and sesame oil.
This recipe makes four servings.
Does the Keto Diet help you lose weight?
Proponents of popular diets tend to put forward the idea that if you just follow the rules, the diet will work. The reality is not quite so simple.
Yes, the keto diet puts the body into ketosis. However, it takes two to three weeks for your body to burn fat instead of glucose. Therefore, weight loss results will not be instantaneous.
Studies also show little difference between weight loss on a ketogenic diet versus a higher carbohydrate diet in the long term. Most keto benefits are not fully visible until 12 months of consistent dieting. Keto is especially restrictive for Americans whose diet consists mainly of carbohydrates, and the average person will not be able to maintain it for a long time.
What is the Keto Flu?
The keto flu usually appears in the first two to seven days of starting the keto diet. Symptoms include headache, brain fog, fatigue, irritability, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and constipation.
Medicine does not recognize keto flu as an illness. However, anecdotal evidence shows a consistent appearance of these symptoms in people new to the keto diet. Some people do not experience it, while others may have it for up to a month.
Keto & Diet Culture
Controlling your diet may seem like the quickest route to weight loss, but modern diet culture tends to put appearance ahead of health. Following a popular diet like keto because your favorite athlete or celebrity raves about it is not necessarily the wisest choice. Understanding your own body and listening to it as you change your diet will keep you healthy and happy longer than following the rules and restrictions of a diet.
If you want to try keto, do your research and take care of yourself as you explore a new way of eating. Do what feels right for your body, and weight loss will follow.