You might roll your eyes at a diet that includes bacon, butter, and steak – but the keto diet manages to include all these guilty pleasures while being one of the most effective diets for weight loss. In fact, a keto diet is scientifically proven to burn fat and improve insulin levels.
In this article, we'll explore everything there you need to know about the keto diet! We’ll cover the different varieties of keto, we’ll outline the potential health benefits of the program, and we’ll show you what kinds of food you can and can’t eat. We'll also share a few handy tips that will make your keto journey super simple and hassle-free!
Going on a ketogenic diet means restricting yourself to 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day, while increasing the proportions of protein and fat you eat. Generally, you should be aiming for a diet consisting of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs. This ratio is designed to help you put your body in the state of ketosis, which makes it burn more fat and lose weight quickly.
What Is Ketosis?
Normally, our bodies run on energy from carbs like bread, sugar, and rice. However, limiting your carb intake will force your body to burn fat for fuel. It typically takes 3 to 4 days to reach this state.
What Happens During Ketosis?
Ketosis drives your body to release fatty acids and process them in your liver; there, they're turned into ketones, which provide energy for your cells.
Some people have reservations about going on a ketogenic diet because they believe that it limits brain function. Still, research shows that ketones can supply energy for the cerebrum. Aside from getting energy from ketones, your body can also get its glucose supply from noncarbohydrate sources, such as proteins. This process is known as gluconeogenesis.
Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis
Ketosis should not be confused with ketoacidosis, a complication associated with diabetes that happens when your body has very low insulin levels. Without insulin, the body begins to break down fat into ketones for fuel.
Symptoms include vomiting, high blood sugar levels, and high ketone levels. This is a serious condition that requires medical attention.
The Different Types Of Keto Diets
There are a few different types of ketogenic diets – here are some of the most common approaches:
- Strict Keto: People on this diet will strictly monitor their calories and food intake using tracking apps. They only eat clean, whole foods and get all of their carbs from vegetables.
- Lazy Keto: People on this program will only track net carbs. They mostly eat whole foods, but will also occasionally indulge in processed meals.
- Cyclical Keto: People on this diet follow the strict, standard keto diet but only for five to six days a week. They replenish on carbs (about 150 grams) in the last two days.
- Targeted Keto: This is more appropriate for those who lead active lifestyles. They eat extra carbs before a high-intensity workout to boost performance but return to ketosis afterward.
- Dirty Keto: People on this diet strictly monitor their carb intake. They don't mind eating processed, artificial, or sugary food, as long as they don't go over their daily macronutrient limits.
How Is Keto Different From Other Low-Carb Diets?
Low-carb diets restrict carbohydrates from bread, sugar, and grains. Since these types of food are typically high in calories, eliminating them from your diet potentially leads to weight loss. Here are the types of popular low-carb diets:
- Atkins Diet: Atkins is a low-carb diet conceptualized in the 1960s by Robert C. Atkins. It restricts carb intake and introduces more protein and fats. This diet is designed to be a long-term approach to healthy eating.
- Low-Carb Paleo Diet: The paleo diet focuses on consuming unprocessed food, like meat, vegetables, and fruits. People can do a low-carb version of it by focusing on eating low-carb vegetables instead of legumes, grains, and bread.
- Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet: This diet is based on the eating habits of people in Italy and Greece. Some examples of the food included in this diet are fatty fish, avocado, nuts, and seeds. On this diet, people are advised to eat less than 50% of their daily calories from carbs.
Compared to low-carb diets, keto is a very low carb, high fat diet. You'll experience an increase in the blood levels of ketones, a change you won’t often see when you're on other types of low-carb diet.
The keto diet also differs from other low-carb diets when it comes to the amounts of macronutrients you’re allowed to consume. Here are the key differences:
Carbs: You can consume up to 50 grams or less for the ketogenic diet, but only up to 25 grams per day for a low-carb diet.
Protein: You can consume as much protein as you want for a low-carb diet, but you’ll have to limit your protein intake on a keto diet. That’s because protein can prevent ketosis.
Fat: Fat consumption is where the main difference lies. On a keto diet, 75% of what you’ll consume should be fat, since it’s supposed to replace your carb and protein intake.
Generally, keto is more restrictive than low-carb diets. While keto is ideal for fast weight loss in the short term, a low-carb diet may be more sustainable in the long term.
Is The Keto Diet Really That Effective For Fat Loss?
Yes! It helps you lose weight more effectively than other diets because the state of ketosis forces your body to use its fat stores for energy.
But that's not all: the keto diet regulates your appetite by reducing hunger-stimulating hormones. It's also shown to improve health parameters associated with having excess weight, such as insulin resistance, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides.
Finally, keto diets recommend foods that are high in unsaturated and saturated fats. If you love butter and fatty cuts of meat, this is likely the type of diet plan you can stick with.
The Potential Health Benefits Of A Ketosis Diet
Putting your body in the state of ketosis can affect different people in different ways. Here are some of its potential health benefits:
Brain And Nerve Function
Patients with drug-resistant epilepsy may experience a reduction in seizures from going on the keto diet since it reduces the excitability of neurons. This treatment option is most helpful for people with the following types of epilepsy:
- Doose syndrome
- Dravet syndrome
- Glucose transporter type 1 or GLUT-1 deficiency
- Rett syndrome
- Infantile spasms
- Tuber sclerosis complex
Still, it's important to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional if you wish to make the keto diet a part of your treatment.
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Building muscle while trimming down is definitely possible with the keto diet. You can combine the ketogenic diet together with resistance training in order to improve your body composition, performance, and hormonal balance.
For this to be effective, you'll need to consume more calories while on keto. Aside from that, you'll need to watch your protein consumption carefully. Here's how much protein you'll need, depending on your lifestyle:
- Sedentary: 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass
- Light Exercise: 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Moderate Exercise: 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Heavy Exercise: 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight
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Cancer Prevention And Treatment
Cancer cells use glucose to maintain growth. When on the ketogenic diet, you limit your blood sugar and prevent cancer cells from getting the energy needed to grow.
Studies also show that combining the ketogenic diet together with standard chemotherapeutic and radiotherapeutic options help tumor response, though there's limited research in this area.
Acne Control And Management
A lot of people report seeing clearer skin after following a keto diet. A 2012 study showed that having lower insulin levels as a result of going on a keto diet keeps the body from producing too much skin cells, sebum, and androgens, which cause acne. The ketogenic diet also has anti-inflammatory effects, which prevents acne progression.
While these benefits are promising, a 2013 review stated that randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are still needed to confirm these benefits.
Studies show that the ketogenic diet may be effective in improving blood sugar levels in patients with type-2 diabetes. The keto diet may also reduce the need to take medications – however, the final decision should come from your doctor.
A separate study conducted in 2017 showed that a ketogenic diet and lifestyle is more effective in improving glycemic control and aiding weight loss in patients with type-2 diabetes, compared to a conventional low-fat diabetes diet.
While there are only a few studies involving the effects of the ketogenic diet for people with type-1 diabetes, a study found that it may improve the patients' hemoglobin A1c levels.
Note that the ketogenic diet can put diabetics at risk of having very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Consult your doctor for help in monitoring your blood glucose levels.
A keto diet may be anti-inflammatory, which prevents injuries in the arteries. However, it depends on the type of food you eat while on a low-carb diet. It's important to opt for high-fat foods like avocado and nuts.
A 2017 study also showed that total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels might drop when a person is on a ketogenic diet. The keto diet's ability to aid in fat loss also helps manage obesity, which is a big cardiovascular risk factor.
For people with high blood pressure or with heart disease, it's important to stick to a restrictive diet like keto. Dieting on-and-off can put stress on the heart.
Relieving Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a common disorder that causes menstrual problems, infertility, and obesity in women. It's mainly caused by hormonal imbalances due to inflammation and insulin resistance.
A small study involving women with PCOS saw a steady improvement in weight and hormone levels after going on a ketogenic diet for six months. Two of them also got pregnant despite having fertility problems in the past.
A separate study published in 2020 showed that women with PCOS saw a significant reduction in body weight, body-mass index (BMI), and fat body mass (FBM). They also experienced a significant decrease in total cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
In the long term, it's recommended that women with PCOS reintroduce carbohydrates in their diet once they've reversed insulin resistance. This is because carbohydrates are essential for ovulation and fertility.
A ketogenic diet may help prevent a flu virus infection. A study conducted on lab mice shows that the diet expands protective T-cells and enhances antiviral resistance. The anti-inflammatory properties of keto may also reduce body damage due to infections.
Keto Diet Side Effects And Risk Factors
Here are some of the side effects and risk factors that can occur on a ketogenic diet.
- Liver Issues: Since you'll need to metabolize a lot of fat, your liver will need to work harder than usual.
- Keto Breath: A common effect of keto is having a distinct acetone-like taste and odor in your mouth.
- Keto Flu: Before your body gets accustomed to the ketogenic diet, you may experience headaches and nausea. Your “keto flu” will improve once your body adjusts to burning fat for fuel instead of glucose.
- Constipation: Keto diets can be low in food that fulfills your need for dietary fiber.
- Nutrient Deficiency: Some dieters might not be eating enough different types of foods to provide them with essential nutrients, like vitamins B, C, selenium, and magnesium.
Is Keto Safe For You?
As with all diets, keto is not for everyone. Keto is particularly helpful for short-term weight loss, epilepsy treatment, and diabetes management. But due to its side effects, it's not ideal for people who have issues involving their liver, thyroid, pancreas, or gallbladder.
How To Start Keto
Going on the keto diet requires a lot of preparation – you’ll need to take note of which types of food you can eat, come up with meal plans, and track your daily food intake. Read on to learn how to get started.
Identifying The Different Types Of Fat
Most of the food you'll eat while on the ketogenic diet will be rich in fat and oil. So, it's essential to learn which types of fat are healthy for you and what other options you should avoid.
- Saturated Fat: Saturated fats are called as such because they're saturated with hydrogen molecules. They naturally occur in fatty beef, lamb, pork, and poultry with skin. You should consume these in moderation.
- Monounsaturated Fat: Monounsaturated fat comes with plenty of health benefits. They aid in weight loss and reduce inflammation. Common sources of monounsaturated fat are olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Polyunsaturated Fat: You'll find polyunsaturated fat in animal protein and fatty fish. It's a type of healthy fat that can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Trans Fat: These are fats that are chemically processed to improve shelf-life. This is the type of fat that's most often linked to heart disease. You should avoid these as much as possible.
Even though keto is one of the most restrictive diet options, it's also one of the few diets that allow you to eat greasy and fatty food. If you don’t want to give up bacon or cheese, this is the diet for you. Here are some foods that are keto-approved:
Most types of meat are great options, especially steak and bacon. They're great sources of protein, B vitamins, and minerals.
When shopping for red meat, look for grass-fed organic beef. Organic meat has a different fat composition, making them easier to absorb into your body. As much as possible, stick with fattier cuts, as well.
You should also be careful when shopping for processed meat like bacon and sausage. Check labels to see if the meat has been cured in sugar.
If you're a fan of offal (heart, liver, kidney, and tongue), you'll be glad to know that they're great sources of vitamins and nutrients, and 100% keto-approved.
With all that said, one thing you should be careful about when consuming meat is the amount of protein you consume. Excess protein can stifle ketone production and raise levels of glucose.
Eating fish that's rich in omega-6 fatty acids is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease. Aim for 2 to 4 servings per week, which may reduce the risk of total cardiovascular disease by about 15%.
Different types of fish and shellfish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are especially recommended.
For vegetables, you should focus on eating ones that are low in carbs but high in fiber. Eating starchy vegetables like potatoes or beets is likely to put you over your limit of carbs per day.
Non-starchy vegetables include the following:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
Avocados are super beneficial for those on keto because they're high in healthy monounsaturated fat and potassium. Compared to eating plenty of animal fat, consuming fat from plant sources like avocado may help improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Nuts And Seeds
If you're following the ketogenic diet, nuts and seeds are your best friends! They have tons of protein, which helps you feel fuller after eating, they also contain plenty of healthy fat.
Here are some examples of nuts and seeds you should be eating:
- Sesame Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Chia seeds
You should avoid nuts with high carbs, like pistachios and cashews. Check labels as well, and make sure no sugar or flavorings were added to your bag of nuts.
Berries are perfect sources of fiber for those on low-carb diets, like keto. They're also rich in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation.
Be sure to track how much carbs are in the berries you're eating per day. Here are the carb counts for half a cup of berries:
- Strawberries: 3 grams of net carbs (6 grams of total carbs)
- Blueberries: 9 grams of net carbs (11 grams of total carbs)
- Raspberries: 3 grams of net carbs (7 grams of total carbs)
- Blackberries: 3 grams of net carbs (7 grams of total carbs)
Olives (and olive oil) are definitely keto-friendly! They contain plenty of antioxidants, they have low net carbs, and they contain anti-inflammatory compounds that protect your arteries.
Eggs, cooked in any way you prefer, are perfect for those on a keto diet. They're an excellent source of animal protein, B-vitamins, and minerals. The yolk also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect your eyes.
Cheese And Full-Fat Dairy
Most types of cheese have no carbohydrates and are high in saturated fat. Don't limit yourself to cheddar or cottage cheese – you can also go for plain Greek yogurt, and cream.
Butter And Lard
Butter is a staple of the keto diet. Butter and lard are going to be some of your main sources of energy.
Cooking your food in olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil should be something you should get used to when you're on keto. They're great sources of healthy fat, plus they each lend a unique flavor to your meals. Oil-based salad dressings are also good for you, but check the label to make sure that there's no added sugar.
You'll be happy to know that you can still add garlic, onions, and leeks to your meals to add flavor. They tend to be high in net carbs, but you won't need too much of them to season your meals.
These packaged treats are great if you're feeling hunger pangs, but can't be bothered to cook a full meal. Examples include:
- Dried seaweed
- Keto-friendly parmesan crisps
- Sugar-free jerky
- Low-carb crackers
Coffee & Tea
Thankfully, you can still get your caffeine fix when you're on this diet. Just be sure to skip the sugar.
Dark Chocolate And Cocoa Powder
Chocolate shouldn't be an issue for your keto diet, as long as you choose the right brand and product. Pick those that are at least 70% cacao and have no sugar added.
Food To Avoid
All types of foods that are high in carbs and sugar should be avoided when you're on a keto diet. Here are some examples:
- Pasta (including whole-wheat and bean-based pasta)
- High-sugar fruits (bananas, mangoes, pears, raisins, dates)
- Sweetened yogurt
- Honey, syrup, or sugar in any form
- Tortillas and chips
- French fries
- Root vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, onions)
How To Create A Keto Meal Plan
When you're a beginner who's trying the ketogenic diet for the first time, it's easier to go with meal plans you find online and just make a few minor modifications.
But, if you want to maintain this lifestyle, you'll need to learn how to make your own meal plans. This gives you the freedom to eat more of the things you like.
To make this process easier, here's a short guide to what you need to create a personalized keto meal plan.
Track Your Food Intake
Tracking your food intake is easier than it looks. You can use a digital food tracker like MyFitnessPal or Carb Manager to make calculations easy and simple. There are also keto calculators online.
You should be careful not to go below your target amount of protein each day. Protein is still an essential nutrient that your body needs to sustain itself.
Finally, make sure you're consuming enough fat, depending on your goals. You can increase the fat amount of fat you eat if you're always hungry or decrease it if your goal is to lose a lot of weight.
Calculate Your Net Carbs
When you’re on the keto diet, you need to calculate the net carbs of everything you eat. This refers to the number of digestible carbs, including simple and complex carbohydrates.
You can calculate your net carbs by taking your total carbs minus fiber and non-digestible sugar alcohols. You subtract these to your total because they're not absorbed or metabolized by your body.
A common mishap is counting your total carbs instead of your net carbs. Total carbs are usually higher than your net carbs, so they’ll easily put you at the limit of how many carbs you can eat. For example, you consume 11.6 grams of total carbs in one avocado, but you can subtract 9.1 grams due to its fiber content. Thus, one avocado only adds 2.5 grams of net carbs to your daily total.
Since 2.5 grams of leaves room for more carbs in your diet, you can continue to add more carbs to your diet without going over your daily carb limit of 50 grams.
Prepare A Food List
To make sure you’ll stay within your carb and protein limits for the day, create a meal plan. Write down three meals you’ll eat, including the grams of carbs you'll be consuming.
Note that due to the fat content of keto-friendly food, you might feel full longer than usual. Some people might also opt to just eat two meals per day while on the keto diet, and some like to incorporate intermittent fasting.
Try Keto-Friendly Recipes
When you’re on the keto diet, it’s better to prepare your own food, so you can easily track how much carbs, fat, and protein you’re consuming. Make sure to weigh ingredients and make adjustments depending on your daily goals.
To make each meal more exciting, try lots of different keto-friendly recipes. These are low-carb meals designed to fill you up with healthy fat without adding a ton of carbs to your diet. Examples include taco shells made out of kale, fried rice made out of cauliflower, and lasagna made out of zucchini.
Tips On Maintaining A Keto Diet
If you want to see good results from the keto diet, then consistency is the key. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a strict ketogenic diet in the long term.
TIP#1: Work With Your Physician
Any drastic lifestyle changes, like going on a low-carb diet, should require advice from a medical professional. Consult with a doctor and give them updates on your condition.
TIP#2: Take Dietary Supplements
The keto diet will require you to give up several types of food. To help make sure that you are still getting enough nutrients, consider taking supplements for the following:
- Keto Fit Pro: This supplement is specifically formulated to help you maximize the effects of ketosis. It contains actual ketones that will complement the ones you'll produce naturally.
- Dietary Fiber: The keto diet will require you to cut out fiber-rich fruits and vegetables from your daily meals. While you can still get your fiber fix from flax seeds and chia seeds, it's helpful to take fiber supplements. According to USDA guidelines, you need to be taking 25 to 31 grams of fiber per day.
- Magnesium: Plenty of magnesium-rich food like beans and fruits are not compatible with the ketogenic diet. To help make sure you're getting enough of this mineral, take a supplement daily. This mineral boosts energy and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
- MCT Oil: Adding medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) may help you stay in ketosis for longer periods. MCT oil also allows you to take in more carbs and protein than usual.
- Digestive Enzymes: Switching to a high-fat ketogenic diet is all of a sudden can be tough on your digestive system, but digestive enzymes help your body break down fats and proteins.
- Electrolyte Drops: Losing water weight as a result of the keto diet is common. To help offset the loss of electrolytes, it's advisable to take electrolyte drops. These contain magnesium and chloride, plus potassium and sodium.
TIP#2: Test Ketone Levels
Finding out if your body is in the state of ketosis can help you find out if you need to adjust your diet accordingly. You can buy tests that measure ketones in urine or breath.
Tip#3: Talk To Other Keto Dieters
Joining a support group with fellow keto-enthusiasts can help you with your questions and concerns. They'll also be able to give you plenty of helpful advice.
Tip#4: Buy A Food Scale
Tracking your meals means weighing the things you eat. You should look for those with the following:
- Easy-to-clean plate: Weighing food items can get a little messy. Look for a scale that has a removable plate, so you can clean it easily.
- Easy conversion: Calorie tracking apps and sites use different units of measurements. Your scale should be able to help you convert these measurements easily at the touch of a button.
- Tare function: This is an option that allows you to subtract the weight of bowls and plates from the weight of the food you're measuring.
Tip#5: Increase Your Water Intake
A lot of the food you'll consume while on the keto diet can cause a diuretic effect. Make sure you're consuming at least eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.
Tip#6: Make Smart Choices When Dining Out
One of the main issues people have with keto is that it's hard to eat out at restaurants. Check the menu ahead of time and see if you can pick a restaurant with keto-friendly meat and vegetable options.
Tip #7: Cook In Batches
Cook big batches of food during the weekend and freeze them for the weekday. Make sure to rotate the types of food you eat to keep every meal interesting.
Tip#8: Stock Up On Keto-Friendly Snacks
Having convenient, keto-friendly snacks on hand will prevent you from backsliding and ordering pizza.
Tip#9: Use Keto Sweeteners
Sugar and carbs should be avoided if your goal is to lose weight with the keto diet. Here are some sweeteners you can try, instead:
Start Your Keto Diet Now
The keto diet is very beneficial for those who are aiming to lose weight, manage blood glucose levels, and lower blood pressure. It's also a fun diet option that allows you to enjoy a wide range of delicious food. Now that you know all the benefits of the keto diet, what are you waiting for? It's time to cut carbs, burn fat, and feel healthy!