Curious about keto? If you’ve been wondering about how a diet that focuses on eating high-fat food may help you lose weight and maybe even gain some added health benefits, you’re not alone. The ketogenic diet is steadily gaining in popularity, but many are wondering whether this is an eating plan with real staying power or just another food fad. If you’re thinking about ditching the carbs and keeping a close eye on your daily macros, we’ve got your bases covered. Here’s everything you need to know about going keto.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
The term “keto” comes from ketosis, a fat-burning metabolic state that happens when you largely limit your carb intake to 50 grams or less per day. Without the carbs, your body burns through fat for energy instead of glucose. The compounds produced are called ketones and their presence implies that your body is in ketosis (aka a “fat-burning” state).
The History of Keto
Interestingly, the keto diet wasn’t invented for the purpose of weight loss. Instead, it was created in the 1920s by neurologists in an effort to reduce seizures in epilepsy patients. These doctors discovered that patients who fasted had fewer daily seizures. Since fasting wasn’t a sustainable plan, however, the doctors eventually linked the seizure reduction to the presence of ketones and created a long-term diet to produce ketones without fasting.
Different Types of Ketogenic Diets
Similar to Atkins and low-carb diets, the ketogenic diet involves reducing your daily carb intake dramatically and increasing your fat intake. A standard ketogenic diet (SKD) typically breaks down into an intake of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates per day (aka your keto macros), but there are some variations. For example, a cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) might involve one or two higher carb days while sticking to a strict ketogenic diet for the remainder of the week. With a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD), you can increase your carb intake in accordance with your workouts. And with a high-protein ketogenic diet, the ratio increases to 35% protein (with 60% fat and 5% carbs).
Paleo vs. Keto
Since a Paleo diet is relatively low in carbohydrates, it might seem similar to eating keto, but there are some key differences. For instance, a Paleo diet allows for more carbs on a daily basis as the focus is on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods. A keto diet, however, is aimed at increasing your ketone levels by increasing your daily fat intake and drastically reducing your daily carbs.
While healthy eating is encouraged on a keto diet, eating whole, unprocessed foods is not necessarily the focus. In fact, certain Paleo-approved foods are not keto-approved because eating them would raise your blood glucose levels and lower your blood ketone levels. These foods include yams, carrots, bananas, and Paleo-approved sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. Also, most Paleo diets don’t include dairy, while a ketogenic diet may allow certain dairy foods that are low in carbs and high in fat.
Keto Diet Benefits
As with any new diet, getting started can feel a little daunting, and it’s always best to chat with your doctor about health risks before switching things up. Beyond the the weight loss that is often the result of putting your body in a state of ketosis, the ketogenic diet has been linked to a variety of benefits, including the following:
- May support lower blood pressure: A 2013 study in rodents found that a low-carb/high-fat diet was linked to lower blood pressure.
- May support stable blood sugar levels: Low-carb/high-protein diets have been shown to support stable blood sugar levels.
- Improved focus: Studies indicate that the ketogenic diet may be linked to improved mental cognition and memory.
Keto for Beginners
While arming yourself with a list of keto-approved foods and planning your meals as much as possible is always a good idea, here are a few more tips for keto diet success:
You don't have to give up snacks on keto, but snack smart. Here's what health coach Maria Noe had to say: "If you're truly in ketosis, you shouldn't feel hungry throughout the day (unless you're fasting), and snacking has the potential to spike blood sugar levels, which can bring you out of ketosis. But here's the good news: If you're planning and prepping your meals correctly, the urge to snack should disappear. The only time you may need to grab a snack is when you need a bit more energy, like before a workout." Some of our favorite keto options include full-fat yogurt with nut butter, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, or nuts and seeds.
You can still enjoy dining out on a ketogenic diet, just be sure to watch out for hidden carbs. Opt for lean protein with veggies, egg dishes, or burgers without the bun (and sorry, no side of fries).
“Keto Flu” Rx
As your body adapts to going keto, you might experience a dip in your energy level, dizziness, nausea, digestion issues, or muscle soreness often referred to as “keto flu.” While these symptoms typically subside after a couple days, be sure to stay hydrated and increase your intake of electrolytes (try sipping bone broth) during the first few days on keto. If these symptoms don’t subside or become severe, call your doctor immediately.
What Do I Eat On a Keto Diet?
You already know that excess carbs, sugar, and starches are off the menu when you’re eating keto, but here are a few more foods to nix from your list:
- Grains (rice, pasta, quinoa, and wheat)
- Processed food
- Vegetable oils
- High-carb nuts (pistachios and cashews)
You should also try to limit nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers), citrus, and root vegetables.
So what can you eat? Nutrient-dense fats, some protein, dairy, and most leafy greens make the cut. Here’s what to add to your keto-friendly shopping list:
Fats and Oils
Stick to saturated and monounsaturated fats or natural fats whenever possible.
While your protein intake is somewhat limited, you can still enjoy the following in moderation:
- Fatty fish (cod, halibut, mahi mahi, salmon, trout, and tuna)
- Organ meats (liver, kidney, and tongue)
- Poultry (chicken, duck, and wild game)
- Shellfish (clams, oysters, lobster, mussels)
- Unsweetened nut butters (almond and macadamia)
- Whole eggs
Don’t go overboard on the cheese plates, but moderate servings of dairy are A-OK on keto:
- Cottage cheese
- Greek-style yogurt
- Hard cheese (aged cheddar, parmesan, feta)
- Soft cheeses (mozzarella, colby, brie)
Go for the greens and steer clear of starches.
- Bok choy
- Green beans
- Romaine lettuce
- Swiss chard
For a full list, click here.