With an increase in obesity, particularly in the western world, there is increasing social and medical pressure to lose weight. There are a wide range of diet plans and products that leverage this pressure on people to gain popularity. Many of these diet plans have limited success and are short lived.
One type of diet that has gained popularity by actually achieving long-term success is the ketogenic (keto) diet, also known as the low carb high fat (LCHF) diet. This diet has been utilized for weight management for nearly a century. It is founded on an understanding nutrition science and physiology. Below is a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about the keto diet.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet that pushes your body into a state where it produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy.
When you consume food that is high in carbohydrates, your body produces glucose and insulin. Glucose is the easiest molecule that your body can convert into energy therefore, it will be selected over other energy sources.
Since glucose is used as a primary energy source, the fats are not needed and therefore stored. By lowering your intake of carbs and increasing your intake of healthy fats, your body is induced into a state called ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process, which the body initiates for survival purposes when food intake is low. During this state, the body produces ketones, which are the product of fat breakdown in the liver.
The main goal of a properly formulated and maintained ketogenic diet is to force your body into such a metabolic state. It achieves this through a starvation of carbohydrates rather than calories. Your body can adapt incredibly to what you put into it.
With an abundance of healthy fats and a drastic reduction of carbohydrates, it will start to burn ketones as the main energy source. Optimal ketone levels provide significant health, weight loss, physical, and mental benefits.
Why It Works
This type of diet is effective for many people since it targets the underlying causes of unwanted weight gain, including hormonal imbalances and the cycle of hunger resulting from restricted diets. Many people struggle with diets since calorie restrictions lead to constant hunger. With the ketogenic diet and the foods recommended herein, this problem is addressed.
The ketogenic diet is not based on calorie counting, limiting portion sizes, or other drastic weight loss methods. It takes a very different approach to weight management. The reason why it works is that it changes the source of fuel that your body utilizes to produce energy.
Keto meals will help your body switch from burning glucose to burning fat. The process of inducing the state of ketosis in your body is rather simple and involves two steps. The first step is cutting back on carbohydrates. The final step is increasing your healthy fat consumption.
With limited glucose in your body, it will be forced to burn fat and produce ketones. You enter ketosis once the ketones in your blood rise to a certain level. During this state, you will lose weight fairly quickly until you achieve a stable and healthy weight.
What to Eat On a Keto Diet
Planning ahead is key to the success of a keto diet. This means having a variable meal plan. What you consume will depend on how fast you need/want to get into a ketogenic state. Your keto diet plan should incorporate high amounts of healthy fats such as olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, nuts, grass-fed butter, animal fats, and seeds.
The healthy fats should ideally account for 80% of your daily calorie intake. Fats are crucial in order to avoid hunger, fatigue, and lethargy. Your Keto meals should also include low-carb/low-starch vegetables. These include broccoli, asparagus, celery, kale, cauliflower, zucchini, cucumber, spinach and other cruciferous vegetables. You may also include in moderate amounts high-protein low-carb foods such as poultry, bone broth, grass-fed meat, fish, cage-free/farm-raised eggs, and dairy.
On the other hand, there are foods that you should avoid. At the top of the list are refined carbohydrates such as wheat (pasta, bread, cereals), starch (potatoes, beans, legumes) and fruits. You should also cut out all processed foods and drinks that are high in sugar. These are often sources of empty calories.
The Keto Diet Food List
- What to Eat Primarily
Most foods with healthy fats contain zero net carbohydrates (grams of carbohydrates minus grams of dietary fiber). These foods also provide other health benefits. You should include them in high amounts at every meal.
Healthy fats are monounsaturated fats, saturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Opt for more saturated fats than polyunsaturated fats. Food sources of this include olive oil, coconut oil, MCT (medium chain triglycerides) oil, palm fruit, flax seeds, avocado, macadamia and other nuts, ghee, butter, lard, and chicken or duck fat.
Animal protein sources have little to no carbohydrates. Consumption can be moderate in case of hunger. The best sources include grass fed beef and other meats including goat, lamb, venison and veal.
Poultry sources include chicken, turkey, duck, goose, quail, pheasant, and eggs (whole eggs, not just the whites). Fish sources include salmon, tuna, trout, flounder, bass, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies.
All leafy green vegetables are recommended. These include collard greens, arugula, kale, chard, dandelion greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, endive, chicory, fennel, sorrel, spinach, escarole, radicchio, and romaine. Another great source is cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
Additional vegetable sources include celery, zucchini, cucumber, leeks, chives, fresh herbs, asparagus, radishes, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and jicama. Pretty much the only fruits that you can eat are avocados and tomatoes.
Snacks, Condiments and Drinks
The best Keto snacks include bone broth, beef or turkey jerky, boiled eggs, veggies with dressing without sweeteners, and lettuce wrapped minced meat. Recommended condiments include spices and herbs, hot sauce without sweeteners, apple cider vinegar, and unsweetened mustards. The allowed drinks are water, coffee or tea without sweeteners, and bone broth.
- What To Eat Occasionally (Moderation)
You should only consume dairy products occasionally since they contain natural sugars. High fat, hard cheeses tend to have fewer carbohydrates than soft cheeses and low-fat milk. Recommended dairy products include full-fat cow and goat milk (organic, from grass fed animals) as well as full-fat cheeses.
Moderately Starchy Vegetables
Vegetables with medium levels of carbohydrates include sweet peas, carrots, beets, okra, artichokes, and parsnips. Tubers, including potatoes (white, sweet and red) and yams are also allowed on occasion.
The best legumes to consume moderately are chickpeas, lentils, hummus, black beans, kidney beans, brown beans, and lima beans. Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame are also a great alternative. It is worth noting that the carbohydrate levels can vary significantly in soy products. Always analyze the labels carefully.
Nuts, Seeds, and Fruits
Nuts with moderate amount of carbs include almonds, cashews, walnuts, chestnuts, and pistachios. Cashews contain the highest amount of carbohydrates and so should be eaten minimally. Seeds in this category include pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds. You may also opt for seed and nut butters. The fruits you may consume include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries which are all low in sugar and high in antioxidants.
Snacks, Condiments, and Drinks
Moderate carb snacks include almond milk protein smoothie, nut butter, and vegetables with melted cheese. The recommended condiments are those without added sugar or artificial sweeteners. These can include sour cream, sugarless ketchup/salsa, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, pickles, and salad dressing.
Consume the following unsweetened drinks occasionally (one or two servings per day). They include fresh fruit and vegetable juices, lemon water, unsweetened almond or coconut milk, and light/bouillon broth (great for electrolyte maintenance).
- What To Avoid
A ketogenic diet is devoid of any type of sugar. This includes sugar from sources such as canes, maple syrup, corn syrup, honey, fruit syrup, caramel syrup, and agave. You should also avoid foods with glucose, fructose, maltose, lactose, and dextrose as ingredients.
Avoid all grains including wheat products, rice (brown, white and jasmine), oats, pilaf, corn products, bread, pasta, muffins, and bagels. Cut out all highly processed foods such as crackers, pretzels, candy, ice cream, cakes, cookies, pancakes, cereals, granola bars, protein bars, canned soups, and foods with artificial sweeteners and flavors.
You should also eliminate all sweetened and caloric beverages. These include soda, sweetened coffee and teas, alcoholic beverages (wine, beer and liquor) as well as dairy replacements.
Stevia can be used as a sweetener as needed.
Ketogenic Diet Indications
Shifting to the ketogenic way of eating comes with some reactions and side effects. These reactions may not be present in everyone adopting the keto diet. However, some people may exhibit some symptoms commonly called the keto flu. The symptoms include headaches, fatigue, muscle weakness (cramps), constipation, nausea, indigestion, poor sleep, brain fog and irritability. These symptoms should not last long and are a sign that our body is ridding itself of built up toxins. This diet is not recommended when you are taking medication for a pre-existing condition without first consulting with your doctor.
Overall, the ketogenic diet is a great and effective strategy for weight management and health improvements. You can also opt for a moderate ketogenic diet if unable to manage the restrictions of the standard keto diet. This diet will still facilitate significant weight loss. As a precaution, always consult your physician in case of any concerns regarding starting a ketogenic diet, especially if you have any existing medical conditions.