The ketogenic or keto diet is arguably the most popular and effective nutritional approach to hit the mainstream in recent history. At the top of diet search terms for the last ten years, the keto diet has been adopted by millions of people around the world, including high profile actors, athletes, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
The most surprising aspect of the ketogenic diet is that it’s actually incredibly effective. The diet program industry is saturated with thousands of different approaches to weight loss, from tea detoxes to banana diets, of which very few are based in clinical science.
The ketogenic diet, however, leverages a powerful but little-known metabolic function of the body that induces the rapid breakdown of fat for energy, and is supported by a vast amount of clinical evidence.
Followers of the ketogenic diet experience extremely fast, healthy weight loss, higher energy levels, improved strength, lean muscle mass, and endurance, reduced risk of disease, and a broad spectrum of other health benefits.
Scientific investigation into the benefits of ketosis, the metabolic state that the keto diet induces, have shown that it can reverse diabetes, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and even potentially assist the body in eliminating cancer cells.
Getting started with the keto diet, however, can be somewhat complicated. The extreme popularity of keto has led to a large amount of misinformation and unnecessarily complex practices becoming commonplace in following the ketogenic diet.
In this article, we’ll dispel the most common myths that surround keto, and present a clear, understandable, and easy-to-follow guide on how to transform your body into a fat-burning machine with the ketogenic diet.
What Is The Ketogenic Diet?
Contrary to common belief, the ketogenic diet is not a recent innovation. The origins of the original concept for the ketogenic diet can be found in early 1920’s nutritious methodology, where it was used to treat individuals with epilepsy.
Keto remained a relatively unknown niche nutritional approach until the Atkin’s diet, written by Dr. Robert Atkins, was released in the 1970’s.
The Atkin’s diet, while not named as such, was more or less a soft approach to the ketogenic diet, and borrowed heavily from ketogenic nutritional approaches.
It wasn’t until South African nutritionist Timothy Noakes released his ketogenic nutrition guide “The Noakes Diet” in 2013 that the ketogenic diet hit mainstream success and began to transform lives around the world.
While the ketogenic diet may sound complicated, it is, in reality, extremely simple. The ketogenic diet aims to induce a metabolic state called ketosis, and does so by almost completely eliminating carbohydrates from the body. The body requires three different macronutrients- fats, protein, and carbohydrates.
Most of us use carbohydrates to power our bodies, which the metabolism converts into blood sugar for immediate use, and glucosamine for energy storage.
Carbohydrates are a potent source of energy, but they offer a disadvantage in that they are fast-burning, resulting in energy peaks and troughs, and are easy to overindulge in, resulting in excess energy storage in the form of fat.
By eliminating carbohydrates as an energy source, the ketogenic diet forces the body to “switch metabolic gears”, and begin using fat as energy. Fat from the diet, as well as fat from the body, is converted directly into energy, resulting in slow-burning, long lasting energy that literally melts the fat deposits of the body away.
What this ultimately means for the average ketogenic dieter is a macronutrient balance that consists of only 5% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and a massive 75% fat.
While this may shock some readers- for many years fat has been seen as the enemy by the weight loss community- the fats consumed on the ketogenic diet are “healthy fats”, and deliver a wide range of benefits in addition to providing the body with the raw materials it needs to create “ketones”, the glucose alternative created by the liver in ketosis.
The Different Types Of Ketogenic Diets
The basics of the ketogenic diet are simple- cut out carbs and increase fats to achieve ketosis, but there are a number of different ways to achieve this goal. There are three primary approaches to following the keto diet, the first of which is the SDK, or standard keto diet.
Following the standard keto diet is relatively simple, and requires dieters limit their carbohydrate intake to roughly 5% of their total daily consumption, which is around 40 grams.
The second ketogenic approach is the cyclical keto diet, which is mainly adopted by athletes that require high-intensity performance days in their week supported by carbohydrate energy.
The cyclical ketogenic diet consists of five days of carbohydrate restriction in a week, supported by two “refeed” days in which athletes restore the glycogen levels in their muscle tissue with carbohydrate-rich food.
The cyclical keto diet is ideal for dieters that have been following a standard keto diet for some time and have already achieved the weight loss levels they desire, but it isn’t ideal for rapid weight loss, as it limits dieters to the first stage of ketosis and prevents long-term keto adaptation.
If followed for an extended period of time, the standard keto diet induces far more efficient weight loss, as the metabolism adapts to ketosis permanently.
The third most popular approach to the ketogenic diet is the high protein keto diet. This approach is followed by bodybuilders and strength trainers that seek to increase lean muscle mass while still burning body fat. While following the high protein keto diet, however, it’s important to calculate protein intake macros to a precise level.
The body has the ability to synthesize carbohydrates from the amino acids that make up protein through a process called gluconeogenesis, which can throw the body out of ketosis.
As a general rule, high protein keto dieters daily macros look something like 35% protein, 60% fat, and 5% carbohydrates. These figures vary for each individual, however, as the ideal protein intake while on the high protein keto diet is around 0.7 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.
If you’re new to the ketogenic diet and are interested in getting started, the easiest and most effective approach is the standard ketogenic diet.
Ketogenesis And The Body
Following the ketogenic diet causes a number of metabolic changes in the body that ultimately deliver a range of health benefits. When confronted with a carbohydrate scarcity, the body begins to shuttle fat to the liver, where it is converted into energy packets called ketone bodies.
These ketone bodies are used in lieu of glucose to power the muscles and organs, and have been demonstrated to provide a number of advantages.
Within the first week of ketosis, ketogenic dieters will immediately lose a significant amount of water weight, which is stored in muscle and fat tissue. For most dieters, this can amount to more than 8 pounds of immediate rapid weight loss, which is extremely motivating for first-time keto dieters.
During ketosis, the body is supplied with a constant stream of energy from the fat deposits, which in most dieters amounts to more than 40,000 calories in total. A major benefit offered by this metabolic conversion is the almost complete elimination of high appetite response- keto dieters experience higher energy levels, but actually eat less.
The biggest advantage offered by the keto diet, however, is the dietary freedom it offers. While eliminating carbohydrates can cause occasional cravings for foods like bread, chocolate, and sugary treats, the keto diet balances these cravings out by allowing dieters to eat a virtually unlimited amount of cheese, meats, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.
As a result, charcuterie is a popular and delicious snack choice for individuals following a ketogenic nutritional approach.
Diabetes And The Ketogenic Diet
The health benefits of keto aren’t limited to weight loss, however. As the keto diet requires followers completely eliminate sugar- both natural and processed- from their diet, it’s ideal for individuals that suffer from diabetes, or pre-diabetes.
Individuals that have been diagnosed with a diabetic condition invariably suffer from reduced sensitivity to insulin, a hormone the body produces to lower blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the condition, is caused by long-term excessive sugar consumption, which induces constant insulin spikes that eventually result in significantly decreased insulin sensitivity.
An individual that sufferers from diabetes is therefore unable to regulate their blood sugar, which leads to hyperglycemia, a condition in which extremely high blood sugar concentrations cause cellular damage to the organs, severely impact circulatory health, and even induce blindness.
The ketogenic diet, however, has been clinically demonstrated to improve the insulin sensitivity of the body by up to 75%, as well as cause blood sugar levels to plummet. One clinical trial conducted in 2005 found that diabetic participants that followed keto nutritional approaches for an extended period of time were even able to stop taking diabetes medication altogether.
The Health Benefits Of The Ketogenic Diet
Following a ketogenic diet, aside from providing rapid weight loss and improving the health of diabetic individuals, also optimizes a broad spectrum of other body functions. The keto diet has been proven to be twice as effective as normal low-fat diets in lowering body fat percentage, but has also been observed to lower levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.
A clinical review of more than 109 different scientific trials published by the University of Connecticut in 2005 found that the ketogenic diet is able to decrease the levels of LDL cholesterol while at the same time increase the levels of HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol.
The same investigation found that ketosis actually inhibits lipogenesis, slowing down the rate at which the body creates new fat deposits.
The keto diet has also been demonstrated to improve brain function. A Swedish study performed in 2014 found that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat standard ketogenic diet delivers increased mental alertness and better cognitive functioning, which explains why the keto diet is so popular in the entrepreneurial demographic.
Another study has demonstrated that the ketogenic diet improves working memory function, task switching capacity, and visual attention in elderly dieters, and even prevents the onset of neurodegenerative and neuromuscular disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease, and dementia.
Most interestingly, however, the ketogenic diet has been demonstrated to have a powerful effect on cancer cells.
A 2014 investigation performed by the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa found that the ketogenic diet starves cancer cells of glucose, forcing them to use mitochondrial oxidative metabolic functions that induce oxidative stress.
The study suggests that following a ketogenic diet selectively sensitizes cancer cells to radiation therapy, improving the effectiveness of these treatments. While clinical investigations involving the use of the keto diet as adjuvant cancer therapy are ongoing, the data that has been collected thus far is extremely promising,
Foods To Avoid While Following The Ketogenic Diet
The primary goal of the ketogenic diet is to drastically reduce your total carbohydrate intake, which means eliminating a wide range of foods from your diet.
Depending on your body, your macronutrient intake for the day, and the types of foods you eat, it’s possible to include some carbohydrates in your diet, but there are a number of foods that should be completely avoided:
Virtually any food that contains sugar is a no-no on the ketogenic diet. This means no ice cream, no chocolate, sweets, candy, soda, or cakes and baked goods. Fruit is also out of the question- all fruits contain high levels of fructose, a natural form of sugar.
It’s important to observe the labels of the foods you buy carefully to ensure they contain minimal sugar content.
Starchy foods such as corn and wheat are extremely high in carbohydrates, and should be avoided. Bread, pasta, potato chips, fries, cereal, noodles, corn chips, tacos, and muesli should be avoided on the keto diet.
Virtually any vegetable that grows beneath the ground contains a high carbohydrate content. Avoid potato, carrots, pumpkin, and other root vegetables. As a general rule, as long as it grows above the ground and has green leaves, it’s fine to eat while following the keto diet.
While it’s possible to use some dietary supplements while following the keto diet, such as garcinia cambogia or green tea extract, it’s essential to avoid products like energy bars, power bars, and appetite suppressant fiber supplements, as these are usually packed with excess carbohydrates and sugars.
Alcohol is extremely calorie-dense and, in many cases, contains high levels of carbohydrates. Beer is one of the worst offenders, at 13 grams per glass, as well as mixed drinks that use sugary sodas and mixers. If you feel the need to make merry while on the keto diet, stick to wine, pure spirits mixed with sugar-free tonic water, or pure vodka shots.
Keep in mind that most ketogenic dieters have between 40 grams and 50 grams of carbohydrate allowance daily, so if a food you want to eat fits into your macros, feel free to eat it.
It’s also important to remember that total carbohydrate content is different to net carbohydrate content- if a product contains 10 total grams of carbohydrates of which 3 grams consist of dietary fiber, the product contains only 7 net grams toward your macros.
What To Eat While Following The Ketogenic Diet
While the above dietary restrictions may appear limiting, the ketogenic diet actually allows a large amount of freedom when it comes to food choices outside of carbohydrates. Many first-time keto dieters are surprised by the kinds of foods that are recommended by the ketogenic approach, which contradict traditional dietary advice.
The keto diet promotes the consumption of large amounts of healthy fats, which makes it possible to indulge in many of the dietary vices that would be avoided in a contemporary fat loss diet, such as cheese, meats, and other high fat foods.
It’s important to ensure you’re providing your body with a balanced micronutrient intake, which can be achieved by adding a combination of the following foods to your meal plan:
The keto diet promotes the consumption of a large amount of meat, and is thus suitable primarily for omnivorous eaters. Fish is the best source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids you’ll find on the keto diet, with delicious options such as salmon and tuna on the menu.
It’s also advisable to consume large amounts of red meat, cured meats, chicken, turkey, and sausage, all of which are rich in ketone-fuelling fats.
Unlimited cheese is by far the best feature of the ketogenic dietary approach. Brie, camembert, blue cheese, chèvre, mozzarella, cheddar, and cream cheese are all great sources of fat and calcium while on the keto diet. However, avoid processed cheeses, as they are often packed with artificial flavors and colors.
Not only are nuts a great source of fat and protein, they also contain high levels of essential electrolytes, which are in high demand during the ketogenic metabolic state.
Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are delicious and healthy replacements for trans-fat rich vegetable oils while on the ketogenic diet. Many keto dieters even add coconut MCT oil to their coffee in the morning to create “bulletproof coffee”, a great way to start the day with a fat burning ketone and a caffeine energy boost.
There are many different herbs and spices that can be added to the keto diet to improve the flavor of your meal plans. Feel free to stack on as much mayonnaise as you like, as it’s extremely rich in healthy fats, but avoid sugar-rich condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce.
Note that low-carbohydrate eating doesn’t have to be boring. There are thousands of different keto recipes available on the internet, such as fat head pizza, which replaces the traditional pizza base with a crunchy baked cheese and almond flour combination that is arguably more delicious than the wheat-based alternative.
If you have an incurable sweet tooth, consider adding a natural sugar-free sweetener to your diet such as stevia, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar with none of the caloric content.
The Basic Ketogenic Meal Plan
Getting started with the ketogenic diet is as simple as throwing your carb-rich foods and hitting the grocery store for some high-fat, high-protein alternatives, but it’s important to draw up your daily macros first.
Establish a baseline for your daily macro consumption, such as 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates, and use a nutrition tracker such as MyFitnessPal to determine the macro content of the foods you purchase.
We’ll proceed to break down a few ideas for a daily ketogenic meal plan to get you started:
Breakfast on the keto diet should provide your body with a massive hit of healthy fats to give your metabolism the raw ingredients it needs to manufacture the ketones that will power you through the day.
As milk contains lactose, which the body can convert into carbohydrates, consider swapping the dairy milk in your coffee out for almond milk or coconut MCT oil. Here are a few keto-friendly breakfast options to try out:
- A dairy-free almond milk shake with added whey protein, peanut butter, and a shot of espresso mixed with coconut MCT oil.
- Combine plain sugar-free yogurt with stevia, sugar-free cacao powder and maca root powder to create a delicious keto-friendly chocolate pudding mix.
- A full English breakfast of eggs, sausage, tomato, sauteed mushrooms and bacon with a side of fresh green spinach.
- A double cheese omelette with added tomato, homemade sugar-free salsa, avocado, onion, and mushroom.
Lunch is a great time to add extra protein to your daily macros, as the body requires several hours to absorb the protein in each meal. A lunchtime keto meal is a good time to include your daily carbohydrate allowance, especially if you’re planning on hitting the gym later in the day. Following are some delicious keto-friendly lunch ideas:
- Swap out the flatbread in a BLT wrap with large lettuce leaves to create a protein-rich bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise wrap with added grilled chicken and cheese.
- Stir fry lean beef with your favourite vegetables for a quick, tasty, and filling meal.
- Swap out the burger buns for avocado halves to create a delicious- if somewhat messy- avocado bacon double cheeseburger.
- Combine fresh spinach with grilled chicken, peppers, tomato, feta cheese, and olive oil to create a fat-rich super salad.
While following the keto diet, dinner is the best time to stack on the fat and protein with a massive meal. Here are some quick and easy keto dinners you can put together fast to hit your macro requirements for the day:
- Replace the traditional flour base of a pizza with a fathead pizza base recipe, which combines almond flour and baked cheese. Add bell peppers, salami, ham, bacon, sugar-free passata, and a generous ounce of mozzarella on top to create a delicious keto pizza.
- Wrap a hefty salmon filet in a pocket of aluminum foil along with some dill, lemon juice, white wine and onion and bake for 20 minutes. Serve with pan-fried asparagus with melted butter.
- Create a keto-friendly batch of meatballs with melted cheddar cheese on top and a healthy serving of steamed green vegetables on the side.
Although the keto diet has the ability to gently suppress appetite, snacking is highly encouraged. Keep these snack foods in the house to much on to keep your energy levels up throughout the day:
- Nuts: Salted cashews, peanuts, and macadamias, almonds, or walnuts all make great crunchy snacks on the keto diet.
- Full Fat Sugar-Free Yogurt: If you can find sugar-free flavored yogurt, feel free to indulge. Otherwise, add some natural stevia and a small amount of chopped strawberry- as long as it fits your macros- to create a tasty calcium-rich keto snack.
- Guacamole: Avocado is extremely rich in healthy fats and omega three. Dip in some fibre-rich celery or simply eat it by the spoonful.
- Beef Jerky: Make sure you’re choosing jerky brands that don’t use sugar in their flavoring.
- Charcuterie: A platter of cheeses, cured meats, and smallgoods is the ultimate indulgence while following the ketogenic diet.
While the ketogenic diet does allow for a significant amount of leeway in your caloric consumption, always ensure that you’re keeping your caloric intake to a minimum if you want to burn a large amount of fat fast while on keto.
Eating Out While Following The Ketogenic Diet
Many ketogenic dieters find it difficult to eat out while adhering to the ketogenic nutritional approach, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re at a high-end restaurant or at your local fast food place, following keto while dining out is as simple as eliminating the carb factor from your meal.
If given the choice between fries or a salad, keto dining means choosing the latter option. It’s still possible to indulge in the occasional burger- just remove the buns and place them to the side. Try to avoid menu choices such as pizza, pasta, and noodles in favor of salads, meats, and cheeses.
Alternatively, plan your dining experience in advance and set the entire day aside for a carbohydrate refeed. Providing your body with a large serving of carbohydrates on an intermittent basis is important for long-term health on the keto diet, so feel free to put a day aside to indulge in a carbohydrate feast on occasion.
Keto Flu: What It Is And How To Avoid It
The dreaded “keto flu” is one of the most poorly-understood elements of following the ketogenic diet. Once understood, however, the keto flu is extremely easy to avoid. The early stages of ketosis cause the body to eliminate a large amount of water content through sweating and urination, which depletes the electrolyte levels of the body.
If you’ve ever experienced a particularly bad hangover, you’re already familiar with the sensation of electrolyte depletion. Low electrolyte levels cause fatigue, low energy levels, headaches, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, nausea, and even heart arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat.
Avoiding the keto flu is as simple as adding extra electrolytes into your diet. Some keto dieters choose to incorporate potassium, magnesium, and sodium supplements into their diet to avoid the keto flu. A far simpler method is to head to any pharmacy and ask after sugar-free electrolyte drink mixes, which are readily available and extremely inexpensive.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of the keto flu and don’t have an electrolyte supplement to hand, simply add a few pinches of salt to a glass of water and drink. You’ll find that the symptoms disappear rapidly.
Avoid electrolyte sports drinks such as Powerade, however, as these beverages contain large amounts of added sugar or artificial sweeteners that have a negative health effect.
Ketogenic Diet Supplements
There are many supplements that can be used in combination with the ketogenic diet to boost the benefits it offers. We’ll proceed to break down the most popular keto supplements and what they offer:
Garcinia Cambogia Extract is one of the most popular fat burning supplements on the market, and is able to inhibit lipogenesis, or the creation of new fat cells. Combined with a ketogenic diet, garcinia cambogia can accelerate weight loss and dramatically boost energy levels.
Creatine is a standby in the fitness and strength industry, and is able to improve endurance, strength output, and muscle growth rates. Some bodybuilders and athletes find that the early stages of keto causes their performance to drop. Adding creatine to a supplement regime while on keto can mitigate this drop in performance.
MCT Oil is an extremely calorie-dense source of healthy fats the body can convert into ketones. Add to a smoothie or a morning coffee to boost energy and productivity levels.
Whey Protein Isolate is the most cost effective protein source in the world, and comes in a variety of sugar-free flavors. Be sure to track your protein macros when using whey protein isolate on keto to avoid glucogenesis.
Amino Acids & BCAAs both deliver significant performance increases with no risk of throwing the body out of ketosis. Adding a shot of espresso and a dose of L-arginine, BCAAs, and Beta Alanine to a preworkout shake can significantly improve performance, strength, and endurance.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids deliver a powerful cardioprotective effect and boost cognitive function, magnifying the mental benefits offered by the ketogenic diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
The ketogenic diet, at first glance, can be somewhat confusing. We’ve broken down the most frequently asked questions and their answers to help you get started with keto:
Q: Will following a ketogenic diet cause muscle loss?
A: The ketogenic diet causes a surprising muscle-sparing effect that prevents the breakdown of muscle mass for energy. Normal weight loss diets provide the body with a caloric deficit, which it must compensate for by harvesting energy from fat deposits.
This effect also causes a process called catabolism, which breaks down muscle mass along with fat mass for energy.
As the ketogenic diet causes the body to convert fat tissue directly into ketones for energy, it prevents catabolism, making it possible to gain a significant amount of lean muscle mass while burning fat at the same time.
Q: How long must I eliminate carbohydrates?
A: Avoiding carbohydrates is critical in the early stages of ketosis, in which the metabolic change can be disrupted from even a small amount of carb intake. Over time, however, the body adapts to the ketogenic process, allowing dieters to consume larger amounts of carbohydrates.
Many ketogenic dieters, after achieving their weight loss goals, switch over to a carb-restricted diet such as the paleo diet that offers the same benefits as the keto diet while still allowing for more carbohydrate consumption.
Q: Why do I feel so fatigued?
A: If you’re following a ketogenic diet and are experiencing fatigue and tiredness in the early stages, it’s likely that you need to increase your electrolyte intake. If adding electrolytes to your diet doesn’t help, completely eliminate carbohydrates, ensure you’re getting enough sleep, and add more fat to your diet.
Q: Is the ketogenic diet safe?
A: The ketogenic diet is commonly confused with ketoacidosis, which is a medical condition that occurs in individuals with uncontrolled diabetic conditions. The ketogenic diet is a scientifically proven, reliable, and safe nutritional approach that is supported by a massive amount of clinical evidence.
Q: How do I know if I’m in ketosis?
A: Determining whether your body is in a state of ketosis can be tricky, but you’ll know you’ve gotten it right if your sweat and urine has an acetone-like or fruity odor. If you’d like a concrete measurement of whether you’re in ketosis or not, there are several testing products available online, such as Ketostix, which are urine dip color strip on-use tests.
Q: Should I follow the ketogenic diet?
A: The ketogenic diet is suitable for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. While the ketogenic diet offers a diverse range of benefits to individuals that suffer from diabetes or excess body weight, it also offers many benefits that can improve the lives of even the fittest individuals.
Ketogenic Diet Health Benefits Final Tips
Kicking carbs and eliminating sugar may appear to be a difficult task, and you may suffer through a few days of sugar cravings once beginning the keto diet, but the results are definitely worth it. If you’re intent on success with the keto diet, be sure to track your macronutrient intake and check the food you eat carefully for carbohydrate content.
Overall, the ketogenic diet is one of the most powerful nutritional approached ever devised and is extremely efficient in burning fat. If you want to improve your energy levels, melt away unwanted body fat, or improve your overall health, get started with the ketogenic diet today.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2903931/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325029/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826507/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4112040/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27568199 ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4101992/ ↑
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215472/ ↑