What is the Keto Diet?

The word, “keto,” is short for ketogenic. Essentially, the ketogenic diet is comprised of a diet very low in carbohydates and high in fat. The main goal of the Keto diet is to switch one’s body into a metabolic state called ketosis. What this means is switching from being a glucose burner to a ketone burner.

Glucose is essentially is a simple sugar that your body uses to burn as energy, whereas ketones are acids that are made when your body is burning fat rather than carbohydrates as fuel. 

When you reach the state of ketosis, your body becomes very efficient at using the fat consumed as energy, rather than carbohydrates. It requires one to maintain a very low carbohydrate diet, allotting the rest of the diet to be both fat and a moderate to low amount of protein.

To know when you are in a state of ketosis, you will need to test your breath, blood, or urine for the presence of ketones. Ketones in either of these 3 represent that the body is in ketosis.

Who is the Keto diet meant for?

The Keto diet was originally developed to help those who struggle with epilepsy, and has shown to be quite useful in reducing seizures in epileptic children. However, it has since become more popularized in today’s culture as a means to help with diabetes or prediabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and weight loss, among others. 

While both men and women follow the Keto diet, it is sometimes inadvisable for women to follow this particular regime. Following the Keto diet as a woman and when not under a doctor’s care can potentially put too much stress on the body, causing a spike in cortisol and thus leading to an imbalance in hormones and amenorrhea.  It also may be less suitable for elite athletes or those who are struggling to gain weight.

With that being said, always consult your doctor prior to trying any diet.  In fact, there are several different types of Keto diets:

Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs

Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): 5 SKD days, followed by 2 high carb days

Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): the same ratio as the SKD, except you may add carbs around workouts

High-protein ketogenic diet: 60% fat, 35% protein, 5% carbs

To make sure that you are hitting your macronutrients, you can download free calorie counting apps, such as My Fitness Pal, or rely on the help of a nutritionist or Registered Dietitian, as tracking macronutrients leads to unhealthy behaviors and can trigger eating disorders in some.

What are the benefits of the Keto diet?

There are many benefits to the Keto diet if followed correctly. These benefits include improving:

Weight loss

Heart disease

Cancer

Alzheimer’s disease

Epilepsy

Parkinson’s disease

Acne

Please keep in mind that these benefits do not apply to everyone, and like with all diet, there are also some negatives to following the Keto diet.

Some potential downsides to following the Keto diet:

Many first-time Keto dieters find that they experience what is known as the “Keto flu.” This is essentially the compilation of symptoms that your body experiences while switching from being a glucose burner to a ketone burner. These symptoms include extreme fatigue, brain fog, bad breath, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, constipation, and cramping.

These symptoms should clear up in a matter of days, but it does put your body through quite a shock when first switching over.

Other potential downsides to the Keto diet include increased risk of heart disease and diabetes if the Keto diet is not done properly, less muscle mass resulting in a decreased metabolism, weight regain, and ketoacidosis, which can be very dangerous for people with diabetes.

As always, you should consult your doctor before beginning any diet, and for some, it may be best to have the doctor and/or dietitian monitor the diet at all times.

What can I eat on the Keto diet? What should I avoid?

When following a Keto diet, it is important to fill your plate with an abundance of low carb produce, lean meats, and of course, fats! Here are some of the main foods you can enjoy while following a Keto diet, as well as ones you should avoid or consume in moderation.

Enjoy:

Meat: lean chicken and turkey, lean red meat

Fatty fish and shellfish: salmon, trout, tuna, shrimp, scallops

Eggs

Butter and cream: source organically and grass fed if possible.

Unprocessed cheese: cheddar, goat, cream, blue or mozzarella

Nuts and seeds

Healthy oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil. With olive oil, make sure to not cook with high heats, as this breaks down the fat.

Avocados

Low-carb veggies: many alkaline vegetables fit this category, but think leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini

Condiments: sea salt, herbs, spices, and pepper

Avoid:

Processed food: these tend to be high in sugar

Grains and starches: bread, pasta, rice, cereal, oatmeal

Fruit: occasionally some enjoy a small portion of berries

Beans or legumes: peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas

Root vegetables and tubers: sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, parsnips

Low-fat/diet products: also very processed and tend to overcompensate with added sugars

Alcohol: many alcoholic beverages contain a lot of sugar

Sugar-free diet foods: these have hidden sugars in them called sugar alcohols. Sometimes, these can throw your body out of ketosis

Where can I find Keto recipes? 

There are many Keto recipes to found throughout the web, especially on dedicated food bloggers sites that specifically cater to diets, such as the Keto diet. Some great recipes can be found on Hey Keto Mama, Gnom-Gnom, and the Keto Queens. Other great resources include Mark Sisson’s guide to Keto and Dr. Axe’s collection of Keto recipes.  

A day in the life of someone following the Keto diet may include meals like these:

Breakfast: cup of black coffee with cream, 3 egg omelet with avocado, spinach, onions, and diced tomatoes

Lunch: chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce with poached shrimp, olive oil, avocado, and nuts

Dinner: bun-less burger (can sub in a lettuce leaf as a bun) with unprocessed cheese, and steamed leafy greens with olive oil

Snack: a handful of nuts or celery sticks with nut butter or mashed avocado

The bottom line

As with all diets, the Keto diet is one that you should always consult your doctor first. It has many benefits, but if not followed properly, can lead to undesirable side effects and issues.

It is not suited for everyone, but can be very effective in the realm of weight loss when followed properly.