No, this is not another fad diet. This diet is actually proven to work, unlike most other diets out there. First, lets delve into the science of the whole thing.
A 2014 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health states “One of the most studied strategies in the recent years for weight loss is the ketogenic diet. Many studies have shown that this kind of nutritional approach has a solid physiological and biochemical basis and is able to induce effective weight loss along with improvement in several cardiovascular risk parameters.”
New to the ketogenic diet (or ketosis diet) and keto diet food list and wondering how it works? Want to know what the pros and cons of eating “very low carb” are? Here are some of the the benefits of the ketogenic diet at a glance:
- Weight loss is a huge benefit of ketogenic diets due to lowered insulin levels and the body’s ability to burn stored fat. I’ve personally found that the classic ketogenic diet is quite possibly the best diet for weight loss, especially considering how quickly it usually works.
- Following a ketogenic diet may also help prevent and even kill cancer cells. There are several medical studies — such as two conducted by the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center for the University of Iowa, and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, for example— that show the ketogenic diet is an effective treatment for cancer and other serious health problems.
- A modified ketogenic diet (what most people think of as a moderately low-carb diet) can be beneficial for most relatively healthy adults who are at an increased risk for metabolic syndrome, including those struggling with losing weight or controlling levels of blood sugar (glucose). Studies show that high-fat diets like the ketogenic diet also do not typically raise cholesterol and may actually reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially in those who are obese.
- Additionally ketogenic diets have been used to treat and even help reverse cognitive impairments, including Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Common Questions About the Ketogenic Diet
1. What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
The Ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet plan that was originally designed in the 1920s for patients with epilepsy by researchers working at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Researchers found that fasting — avoiding consumption of all foods for a brief period of time, including those that provide carbohydrates — helped reduce the amount of seizures patients suffered, in addition to having other positive effects on body fat, blood sugar, cholesterol and hunger levels.
Unfortunately, long-term fasting is not a feasible option for more than a few days, therefore the ketogenic diet was developed to mimic the same beneficial effects of fasting. Essentially the keto diet works by “tricking” the body into thinking it is fasting, through a strict elimination of glucose that is found in carbohydrate foods. Today the ketogenic diet goes by several different names, including the “no-carb diet” or “very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet” (LCKD or VLCKD for short).
What does “keto” stand for exactly? Keto is short for ketosis. Following a ketogenic diet puts your body into a state of “ketosis,” which is a metabolic state that occurs when most of the body’s energy comes from ketone bodies in the blood, rather than from glucose. This is in contrast to a glycolytic state, where blood glucose (sugar) provides most of the body’s fuel (or energy).
Once ketone levels in the blood rise to a certain point, you officially enter into a state of ketosis. This state results in fairly rapid and consistent weight loss until you reach a healthier (and stable) body weight. Overall, people enter into ketosis at different rates, usually after 3–4 days of fasting or following a very low-carbohydrate diet (20 grams of net carbs or less) that forces the need for an alternative energy source.
When you’re following a ketogenic diet, your body is burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, so in the process most people lose excess body fat rapidly, even when consuming lots of fat and adequate calories through their diet.
2. What Are the Stages of Ketosis?
Ketosis occurs when the liver breaks down fat into fatty acids and glycerol — a process called beta-oxidation. In particular, three primary types of ketone bodies that are water-soluble molecules are produced: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetone.
Rather than drawing energy from glucose, a person in ketosis stays fueled off of these circulating ketones or ketone bodies — essentially, burning fat for fuel. This is the principal goal of the ketogenic diet, which can be achieved by adhering to a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet with only moderate amounts of protein.
3. What Is a Ketogenic Diet Plan Like?
Wondering how many carb foods you can eat and still be “in ketosis”? The traditional ketogenic diet created for those with epilepsy consisted of getting about 75 percent of calories from sources of fat (such as oils or fattier cuts of meat), 5 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from protein. For most people a less strict ketogenic diet (what I call a “modified keto diet”) can still help promote weight loss in a safe, and often very fast, way.
Reducing calories coming from carbohydrates to just 5 percent may not be appropriate for many people, but this shouldn’t mean that the keto diet is completely ruled out.
Keep in mind that if a strict ketogenic diet is being followed, experts recommend that children following the diet be closely monitored, in addition to those who have who are taking medications or existing conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
For adults who are relatively healthy, it’s usually safe to follow a very low carb diet while not being monitored as closely, as long as they’re watching out for any unusual warning signs of a negative reaction (such as lots of fatigue or brain fog that lasts for more than about a week).
In some ways, it’s similar to the Atkins diet, which similarly boosts the body’s fat-burning abilities through eating only low-carb foods, along with getting rid of foods high in carbs and sugar. Removing glucose from carbohydrate foods will cause the body to burn fat for energy instead. The major differences between the classic keto diet and the Atkins diet is ketogenic emphasizes healthier fats, less overall protein and no processed meat (such as bacon) while having more research to back up its efficacy.
4. How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
Ketogenic diets, like most low carb diets, work through the elimination of glucose. Because most folks live on a high carb diet, our bodies normally run on glucose (or sugar) for energy. We cannot make glucose and only have about 24 hours’ worth stored in our muscle tissue and liver. Once glucose is no longer available from food sources, we begin to burn stored fat instead, or fat from our diets. The ketogenic diet, therefore, eliminates glucose and causes the body to burn its own fat quickly.
This process of burning fat provides more benefits than simply helping us to shed extra weight — it also helps control the release of hormones like insulin, which plays a role in development of diabetes and other health problems. When we eat carbohydrates, insulin is released as a reaction to elevated blood glucose (an increase in sugar circulating in our blood). Insulin is a “storage hormone” that signals cells to store as much available energy as possible, initially as glycogen (aka stored carbohydrates in our muscles) and then as body fat.
The ketogenic diet works by eliminating carbohydrates from the diet and keeping the body’s carbohydrate stores almost empty, therefore preventing too much insulin from being released following food consumption. This can help reverse “insulin resistance,” which is the underlying problem contributing to diabetes. Optimal ketosis is reached when they body stays in ketosis for at least a few weeks, when both any side effects diminish greatly while the benefits are more pronounced with the body becoming a fat burner.
5. Will I Get the “Keto Flu”? Or Am I Simply Going Into “Ketosis”?
Remember, the ketogenic diet will actually change your metabolism, put you into ketosis and turn you from a sugar burner to a fat burner. Those are significant changes for your body, and you’re bound to notice some symptoms of the so-called keto flu.
Keto flu symptoms can include feeling tired, having difficulty sleeping, digestive issues like constipation, weakness during workouts, being moody, losing libido and having bad breath. Fortunately, these side effects don’t affect everyone and often only last for 1–2 weeks. Overall, symptoms go away as your body adjusts to being in ketosis.
Like any diet, the ketogenic diet is not about a specific food; it’s about your entire body of work. Now, if you know anything about going keto (and the typical keto foods), you know it’s a very-low-carbohydrate, high-fat, moderate-protein diet.
Given the constraints, I’ll give you three guesses as to what types of foods are BEST. If you guessed fat, fat, and more fat, then you’d be right on point. And while protein-rich foods are also a staple, it’s not a high-protein diet. In fact, too much protein can keep you from getting into or staying in ketosis.
While there’s really no such thing as a “ketogenic” food, here are the top 5 you’re most likely to find if you decide to go keto!
The Top 5 Keto Foods
One of the best keto foods is coconut oil (along with shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut flour and other coconut-based foods). See, about 70% of the fat found in coconut oil is a very special type called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs for short).
MCTs are pretty awesome. They’re easily absorbed, metabolized, burned for energy and the body has a hard time storing them as fat. But that’s not all—MCTs are readily converted into ketone bodies. Perhaps that’s why they’ve been shown to suppress appetite, boost metabolism, lower body weight, reduce belly fat, improve insulin sensitivity and improve markers of metabolic health. AWESOME!
With right around 80% of calories from fat, avocados are another one of the near-perfect keto foods. Plus, they’re incredibly versatile and downright tasty!
Avocados are also nutrient-dense, containing 6 grams of fiber and upwards of 20 essential nutrients. They’re a great source of potassium, which is an important mineral to consume on the ketogenic diet.
In fact, active people should take in about 2 – 3 grams of potassium per day. One-half an avocado gets you almost 25% of the way there, providing just under 500 mg.
Butter, Ghee, Heavy Cream, Sour Cream and Full-Fat Cheese
Full-fat dairy is high in fat and low in carbs, making it keto-friendly.
You may be thinking, “What about the saturated fat?”
Give me your hand, so I can pull you out of that deep, archaic rut. It’s now well-established and widely accepted that saturated fat is not associated with heart-related issues and other adverse health outcomes.
Want to know something even more interesting? More and more studies are showing full-fat dairy is related to less belly fat and better blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and glycemic control. And these better health outcomes are actually thought to be brought on by the saturated fats found in dairy.
Also, dairy fat is a natural source of MCTs. Even cooler, butter is the best dietary source of butyric acid (aka butyrate), which fuels our immune cells, stimulates the release of appetite-suppressing hormones and even helps protect the brain.
So, go ahead: add that cream to your coffee. Slather some butter onto your veggies. Just make sure you choose butter and cream from organic, pasture-raised cows, which contains significantly more healthy fats (i.e., omega-3s and CLA) compared to conventional dairy.
Cold-water fatty fish are the best dietary sources of the all-important omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, well-known for supporting:
• Heart health
• Brain health, cognitive function and mood
• Eye health and vision
• Skin health
• Metabolic function and body composition
• A healthy inflammatory response
Recent research has shown DHA and EPA may also have anti-aging properties. Pretty cool stuff, right? According to health organizations like the American Heart Association, it’s a good idea to eat fatty fish at least twice a week.
Here are some of the best cold-water fatty fish, which are high in omega-3s, low in mercury, and sustainably sourced: Anchovies, Sardines, Herring, Salmon & Mackerel.
Eggs have been touted as “nature’s perfect food,” “one of the healthiest foods on the planet,” and “nature’s multivitamin.” You can add to that list “one of a ketogenic dieter’s best friends” since eggs contain virtually zero carbs. What they do contain are healthy fats and a good source of high-quality protein.
Eggs also contain “bonus” nutrients like choline, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been referred to as “natural sunglasses” due to their ability to shield the eyes from potentially damaging UV rays. These nutrients boost brain health and cognitive function, eye health and vision, and heart health.
They have also been shown to boost the body’s production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an important growth factor for the brain and central nervous system that plays a key role in cognitive function, mood and mental health. All of this makes eggs a necessary addition to any list of the top keto foods.
Just like dairy, it’s best to choose eggs from pasture-raised hens, shown to have 2 ½ times more omega-3 fats compared to conventional eggs.
Regarding specific foods to include on a ketogenic or very low-carb diet, plus those to eliminate, here is an outline of what you might choose to grocery shop for:
- Eat lots of different vegetables, especially: leafy greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, sea veggies, peppers, etc.
- Healthy food choices that are high in protein but low-carb or no-carb include: grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, cage-free eggs, bone broth protein, wild-caught fish, organ meats and raw dairy products, such as raw goat cheese.
- Healthy fats, which are also low-carb or no-carb, include: olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, palm oil, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid processed and ultra-processed foods high in calories and bankrupt in terms of nutrients: those made with white flour or wheat flour products, added table sugar, conventional dairy, bread and other processed grains like pasta, sweetened snacks like cookies and cakes, most boxed cereals, sweetened drinks, ice cream and pizza.
- When adding more carbs to your meals choose those that are complex and unprocessed, such as: sweet potatoes; ancient grains (ideally sprouted) like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and brown rice; whole fruits; beans and legumes; and natural sweeteners in small amounts like raw honey.
Have you tried the keto diet? If so, has it worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Yours in Health & Happiness,
P.S. If you are going to try the keto diet, be sure to run it by your doctor first and add Oolong tea to your list of keto-friendly foods! Oolong tea provides antioxidants that can help prevent any adverse side effects and boost weight loss while on the keto diet!