You’ve likely heard of the increasingly popular ketogenic (keto) diet and are possibly wondering if it’s the right choice for you. It’s best to consult with your doctor and/or registered dietitian before starting a new diet. But this article will explain the keto diet and can help you make the decision whether to adopt this eating pattern, based on your lifestyle and individual nutrition needs.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as the “keto diet,” is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, moderate protein diet that has been touted for several health benefits including protection against cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. The keto diet has also been shown to be a powerful tool for weight loss, but there is some controversy over whether this is actually true. The diet involves extreme restriction of carbohydrates, while drastically increasing dietary fat. The significant reduction in carbohydrate intake has an impact on your body’s metabolism and puts you into a state of “ketosis.” When this happens, your body becomes efficient at burning fat and uses ketones for energy in place of glucose from sugar or carbohydrates.
When our bodies run glucose, we are constantly on a roller coaster ride. Every time we eat sugar or something high in carbohydrates, our blood sugar surges and then insulin kicks in, plummeting our blood sugar. The more frequently we eat, the more our blood sugar fluctuates, which is hard on our bodies — even if we’re insulin sensitive and even with high energy demands. On the flip side, fat doesn’t spike blood sugar, and actually helps us keep it balanced. It should be noted that new research is coming out that indicates that certain types of fats may in fact have an impact on blood sugar, both positively and negatively.
Still, some experts believe that the ketogenic diet’s extreme carbohydrate restriction may lead to overeating carbohydrates as a result of cravings and may not actually be the most effective diet for weight loss. Therefore, if you’re thinking about trying the keto diet for weight loss, you might want to consider working with a health professional to closely monitor your progress and challenges on your keto journey.
Carbohydrates include breads, pastas, sugar, as well as some starchy vegetables and fruits, alcohol, and legumes. Foods such as avocado, oil, full-fat dairy, nuts, and organic pasture raised butter are healthy sources of fat that are key to a keto diet.
There are several versions of the keto diet, since one size does not fit all. The standard ketogenic diet requires a macronutrient ratio of 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbohydrates. This is the most popular version. Other versions include the targeted keto diet which allows for carbohydrates based on exercise and the cyclical keto diet which involves periods of carbohydrate refeeds (a short-term, planned period of overfeeding—usually focusing on particular macronutrients—that surpasses current caloric intake, often incorporated during a fat-loss phase). Finally, there’s the high-protein keto diet which requires a ratio of 60 percent fat, 35 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates. For comparison’s sake, the acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges include a macronutrient ratio as follows: 10-35 percent protein, 20-35 percent fat, and 45-65 percent carbohydrate.
It’s important to note that the popular keto diet is not a high-protein diet, as some mistake it to be. The Atkins diet is high in protein whereas the ketogenic diet is high in fat. Consuming more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is considered excessive intake of protein. Following the high-protein Atkins diet could result in this imbalance. Too much protein can have some nasty impacts including kidney disease, weight gain, digestion issues, increased risk of cancer, mineral loss, and even bad breath.
“The ketogenic diet is beneficial for many reasons,” said Dani Conway, owner and certified practitioner of Nutrition the Natural Way, “I’ve found that having a little bit of flexibility, depending on your lifestyle, will really contribute to long term success.”
Conway explains that the cyclical keto diet is great for those who would like to take advantage of both sources of energy: ketones and glucose. An endurance athlete, for example, might benefit from this slightly more flexible version of the keto diet. Conway says, “Or more simply, [the cyclical keto diet is good] for a healthy person who just wants to enjoy a sweet potato or two once in a while!”
Conway also explains:
A higher protein keto diet is great for an individual who would like to improve their mood, or is trying to lose fat by increasing muscle mass, as muscle is the most metabolically active tissue we have, and increasing dietary protein is a great way to support both fat loss, overall weight loss, and improved well being. Muscle mass also decreases with age, so anti-aging would be another reason to incorporate higher amounts of protein.
Is The Keto Diet For Everyone?
There are several populations who should avoid a ketogenic diet, including children, teenagers, and people with Type I Diabetes. It’s also not appropriate for people with any stage of kidney disease or any conditions related to the liver, pancreas, or kidneys. When ketones are potent in your blood, the blood becomes more acidic and can overburden certain organs. In fact, Medical News Today reports that this change in blood composition could cause kidney stones in some cases, which is why people with kidney disease should avoid the keto diet.
Pregnant or nursing women, or for anyone with a history of eating disorders, should also avoid any diets that involve extreme restriction of macronutrients. Finally, if you are already following a restrictive diet, like a vegan diet, the keto diet is likely not right for you. If you are considering the keto diet, it is important to consult with a registered dietitian or doctor in advance. But if you are overweight, obese, or if you’re living with Type II Diabetes, the keto diet could be beneficial.
5 Keto-Friendly Foods – High-Fat, Low-Carb
If you’ve made the decision to go keto, here are some tips for incorporating fewer carbs and more healthy fat into your daily diet.
1. High Fat: Avocado is one of the best foods you can eat whether you are following a keto diet or not. It’s rich in healthy fats, and promotes heart, skin, and brain health. One-third of a medium avocado has 80 calories, 10 grams of fat, and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. The vitamins and minerals are key when you’re following a keto diet, because you’re restricting some fruits and vegetables. This is truly one of the most perfect keto foods. HoneyColony advocates for organic foods, but it’s good to know that avocados are on the Clean 15.
2. Low Carb: Swerve Sweetener is taking the keto-world by storm and for good reason! Swerve is a sugar replacement made from a blend of erythritol and prebiotic fibers called “oligosaccharides.” It has no impact on blood sugar levels, has zero calories, but tastes and measures just like sugar. Research suggests that erythritol, the sugar alcohol used in Swerve, is digested in the upper part of the small intestine, meaning it does not reach the taste receptors in your gut. As such, the sweet flavor of the sugar replacement won’t impact the parts of your brain associated with those receptors which may play a role in sweet cravings.
Wellness-celebs like Jimmy Moore and Steve Gundry, MD are buzzing about Swerve and its ability to allow keto-dieters to have their sweets and eat them too. But it’s not just for keto-dieters. Swerve is an excellent way to cut back on added sugar, which is a smart choice for anyone! I highly recommend stocking up on Swerve; and keep an eye out this summer for their new products which were just launched on Amazon!
3. High Fat: Bulletproof is another brand that is hugely popular with the keto crowd; especially their coffee. If you’ve heard of “butter coffee” then you’ve heard of Bulletproof. Incidentally HoneyColony’s Hydra was featured in Dave Asprey’s biohacked box, and HoneyColony founder, Maryam Henein, has appeared on the program. One serving of their original cold brew (11.1oz bottle) contains 2 teaspoons grass-fed butter and 2 teaspoons of Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil for a total of 160 calories and 13 grams of fat. When you’re following a diet that requires 75 percent of your calories come from fat, this product is helpful in reaching your fat intake goals. Many people also opt to brew their own Bulletproof coffee and spruce it up with coconut oil, rather than butter.
4. Low Carb: Cruciferous vegetables are a must-eat for everyone, but especially the keto-crowd. Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and a few others. Research links this group of veggies to protection against cancer, so it’s important for everyone to eat them. But when you’re following a keto diet and you are restricting some vegetables and fruits, it’s important that you eat foods with high nutrient-density. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals such as folate and vitamin K. Dark green cruciferous veggies are rich in phytonutrients and are an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
5. RECIPE: Macadamia Butter Cups
If you’ve been on Instagram lately, you’ve likely seen mouth-watering pictures of “fat-bombs”: delicious high-fat, low-carb treats that help keto-dieters satisfy cravings while also incorporating more fat into their diet. This recipe was shared by Swerve Sweetener.
-¾ cup roasted, unsalted macadamia nuts
-1 to 2 tsp coconut oil (or avocado oil or some other liquid oil)
-¼ cup Swerve, Confectioners
-½ tsp vanilla extract
-¼ tsp salt
-3 ounces sugar-free dark chocolate, chopped
-½ tbsp coconut oil (can also use ¼ ounce cocoa butter)
-Grind the macadamia nuts in a high powered blender or food processor until they are starting to liquify. -Add oil as necessary to keep them grinding up until it becomes a smooth butter.
-Add the sweetener, vanilla and salt and process until well combined. Set aside.
-In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, combine the chocolate and coconut oil. -Stir until melted and smooth.
Macadamia Butter Cups
-Line a mini muffin pan with 12 mini parchment or silicone liners (don’t use paper liners, they will stick!). -Use a small spoon to coat the bottom and sides of the liners with about ½ to ⅔ of the chocolate mixture. Freeze 10 minutes.
-Divide the macadamia butter among the frozen cups and freeze again for about 30 minutes, then top each cup with the remainder of the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate until set.
Makes 12 cups.
Stephanie Ferrari, MS, RDN is a Boston-based registered dietitian nutritionist. Stephanie has been featured in numerous media outlets including Prevention, Cooking Light, INSIDER, Elite Daily, POPSUGAR and more. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Master of Science degree in Dietetics. When she’s not working, you’ll usually find her knee-deep in toys and leading sing-a-longs with her husband and daughters.
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