Fad diets may come and go, but doctors have been using the principles behind the keto diet for decades. First used to treat specific medical conditions like drug-resistant epilepsy, the ketogenic diet gained popularity in the 1970s thanks to the Atkins Diet, and it has endured as part of many weight management strategies ever since. If you’ve been interested in learning more and wondering if the keto diet might be a good option for you to try, we’ve put together this guide to help answer some of your questions.
The Science Behind the Keto Diet
Your body typically likes to fuel itself by converting carbs to glucose. By cutting back on carbohydrates in your diet, you reprogram your body to break down stored fat instead, converting it through ketosis into ketone bodies. Ketone bodies then generate the energy to keep you going, a transition that typically takes two to four days.
If your goal is short-term weight loss, research shows it works. As the body burns fat for energy, your BMI (body mass index) drops while lean muscle mass is left intact. Blood sugar levels go down as well, and what carbs you do consume are processed more efficiently. Research suggests that the diet helps lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
On the keto plan, you don’t have to watch calories as closely as carb counts. If you’ve had enough of food journals and calorie counts, this can be a huge plus. Fats and proteins tend to keep you feeling full for longer, too.
Because the keto diet has been proven effective in reducing seizures, especially in children, some believe it can be beneficial for treating brain disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, and more. (These theories haven’t been extensively researched, though.)
Despite weight loss benefits, the keto diet is not for everyone. The restrictive carbohydrate intake can be too difficult to maintain for many people, and following a keto plan can lead to consuming too many unhealthy fats and salty, processed foods.
The plan may also cause fatigue, especially when combined with increased exercise that often accompanies any weight management plan. You may need to adjust by backing off your workout intensity at first and allowing more time for recovery. Expect to be more prone to dehydration as well. Other side effects can be bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and sleep problems.
There’s evidence that the rapid weight loss people experience on keto in the short term slows over time as your body adjusts to the absence of carbs. Also, the keto plan is not recommended for people with kidney disease as it can cause your condition to worsen.
What You Can and Can’t Eat
Dietary guidelines advise us that between 225 and 325 grams of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates. On the keto plan, your goal is to reduce carb intake to 20 to 50 grams per day, a level that sends your body into ketosis. On the keto diet, your total daily calorie breakdown should be about 70 percent fats, 25 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs.
Meats, poultry, eggs, cheeses, fish, nuts, butter, oils, and fibrous vegetables make the list of allowed foods. (Bring on the bacon, butter, and cheddar!) Low-carb veggies like asparagus, cucumber, celery, mushrooms, leafy greens, and peppers are also in the yes category.
Breads, milk, yogurt, fruit and fruit juices, starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes, and sweets are a firm no. Even foods that are considered good for you on other diets, like oatmeal, bananas, and beans, are off the keto list.
Breaking away from the traditional carb-heavy diet to go keto isn’t easy, so it’s best to hit the grocery store armed with a meal plan. Stock your pantry and fridge with tasty proteins and fats and get rid of carb-heavy foods that will tempt you in the days to come.
Start with a 70/20/10 goal for each meal—70 percent calories from healthy fats, 20 percent from protein, and 10 percent from carbs—so you won’t consume all your carbs in one sitting. Meal frequency is up to you, just as long as you’re maintaining energy levels and feeling satisfied. Keep keto-friendly snacks like full-fat Greek yogurt, herbed cream cheese and celery, ranch dressing and cucumber slices, pumpkin seeds, almonds, bacon-wrapped avocado slices, and BLT cheese roll-ups on hand for the between-meal munchies.
Beverage options range from sparkling water, seltzer, and unsweetened tea to coffee with cream and unsweetened almond milk. Drink lots of water throughout the day, flavored with mint, lemon peel, or a keto-friendly drink mix like Everly. Although alcohol is generally off the menu, vodka or tequila with soda is a great low-carb happy hour option.
Here are some meal ideas to get you started:
• Spinach, feta, and mushroom omelet
• Unsweetened, full-fat Greek yogurt with a few berries, chia seeds, and walnuts
• Avocado halved and baked with egg, diced tomato, and bacon crumbles
• Oven-baked salmon with broccoli
• Salad with bacon, avocado, cheese, a few grape tomatoes, and high-fat dressing
• Low-sodium lunch meat like ham or chicken wrapped around cheese and pickle slices, a few almonds and a hard-boiled egg
• Caesar salad with grilled chicken
• Sauteed beef and sliced onions in low-carb tomato sauce over spiralized zucchini or beet noodles
• Grilled salmon with eggplant, squash, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini sauteed in olive oil with coconut cream sauce
As you can see, the meal options on a keto diet can be quite tasty, but they do take some planning. The key to success is making the commitment ahead of time so that you have the necessary ingredients when you’re ready to eat. Give it some time and see how your body reacts. For many people, it’s a change that can make a big difference in their lives.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with Everly.