By now, I’m sure almost everyone has heard of the keto diet. It’s been gaining quite a lot of momentum in the last few years. Chances are you even know a few people who have tried it. I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about keto until some close friends raved about their experiences. I’m a sucker for a good thing, so I figured why not? It’s been about a month since diving into the lifestyle, and I’d love to share what I’ve learned.
What is the Keto Diet?
Low-carb diets are nothing new. They typically have you swapping out bread and other high-carb items for protein-rich foods, aka tons of meat. With keto, short for ketogenic, you’re swapping out carbs for fat.
Yeah, I thought it sounded crazy, too. Here’s the thing: once your body runs out of glucose, which comes from carbs and excess protein, it enters a state called ketosis. While in ketosis, your liver produces an alternative fuel source called ketones. Ketones are made from fat, including those excess stores that we struggle with on other diet and exercise regimens.
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Naturally, tapping into and burning up those unwanted fat reserves for energy are the major selling point. One study indicated that people doing keto lost 2.2 times as much weight as those on your typical low-calorie regimen.
Another massive benefit is a steadier supply of energy, both physical and mental. This is related to keto’s effect on your blood sugar. When you stop playing around with glucose, you opt out of the dreaded sugar crash and the snack cravings it brings. (Which is another reason why the keto diet can help you lose weight.)
The ketogenic diet is often recommended to folks with diabetes, which again relates to ketosis and blood-sugar levels. Insulin sensitivity has been shown to increase by up to 75% while in ketosis. There are some caveats here, which I’ll discuss below.
There’s a ton of research being done right now on the ketogenic diet’s effects on a variety of specific ailments. The results are promising, to say the least. Studies have shown keto can help with acne, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, polycystic ovary syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease. The keto diet is even being used now to treat certain forms of cancer. Many experts believe this may be just the tip of the iceberg; more benefits are being discovered all the time.
Is Keto Right for You?
I almost called this section “What’s the Catch?” I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture of the ketogenic diet, so you might be expecting some horrific downside. The phrase “too good to be true” comes to mind.
Honestly, the biggest consideration for most people is going to be your own level of commitment. Many people consider keto be more of a lifestyle change than just a diet.
The ketogenic diet is considerably more restrictive than your typical low-calorie diet. If you’ve struggled with Atkins or something similar, keto is not going to be a cakewalk. In order to stay in ketosis, you need to keep your glucose levels extremely low. Take in just a few too many carbs and your body goes back into sugar-burning mode, taking with it the benefits I’ve described. It takes a couple days of mild flu-like symptoms (the “keto flu”) to adjust to ketosis, making yo-yo dieting particularly uncomfortable with keto.
I mentioned that the keto diet is often recommended for those with diabetes. It’s important to note that certain medications for diabetes, including insulin, don’t play nice with ketosis. The same can be said about certain high blood pressure medications. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any new health regimen. This is especially true if you’re getting into keto to help with medical conditions.
Pregnant women should not try keto, as there is a high risk to the baby’s development if she’s in ketosis. Similarly, there’s just not enough research to indicate it’s safe to breastfeed while on this diet.
What to Eat on the Keto Diet
Keeping your carb consumption low is the main key to stay in ketosis. I’m talking super low here; while 100-150 grams per day is considered a “moderate” amount for weight loss, the keto diet requires you to keep it in the 25-50 gram range. It depends a lot on your own body, too. 50 grams is really the high end and won’t work for most people. I’ve seen suggestions as low as 15 per day.
Protein should be limited a bit as well, since your body turns the excess into blood sugar. A good rule of thumb is to aim for around 5% of your energy in carbs, another 15% in protein, and then a whopping 80% in fat.
Want some specific examples of keto-friendly foods? I’ve got you covered.
- Fatty meats – Keto-heads are crazy about bacon, for obvious reasons. You can keep all the grease and cook with that, too. Fatty fish like tuna and salmon are also great options.
- Butter and heavy cream – These two ingredients have been making the rounds in my kitchen more than ever before. They’re a great way to boost the fat content of your dishes.
- Avocados – Because they’re delicious and full of healthy fats, naturally.
- Low-carb veggies – The green ones will usually do you right.
- Eggs – These pack a great ratio of fats-to-protein.
- Cheese – Stick to the unprocessed stuff for maximum benefits; mozzarella and cheddar are solid picks.
What Not to Eat on the Keto Diet
Carbs! Avoid them. The usual suspects are breads, pastas, potatoes, and sweets, but here are a few surprises I found while researching keto.
- Beans – Sure, they’re healthy in general. They’re also jam-packed full of carbs.
- “Low-fat” diet products – They usually contain plenty of carbs, and we want that fat they’re omitting. It’s a bad trade in our case.
- Fruit – You know what makes them sweet? Carbs. (Small portions of berries are alright.)
- Alcohol – Beer is generally a no-go, as are a variety of wines. Diet and vodka for me, please. (On a related note, ketosis seems to dramatically reduce a person’s tolerance for alcohol. Tread lightly and be safe!)
Summing Things Up
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the how’s and why’s of the keto diet. Check out the links I’ve included below to dive a little deeper. It’s a great option for people who have struggled to make other weight-loss regimens work. If you’d like to share your own experience with the keto diet, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!