The ketogenic diet is the latest eating trend that seems to be taking over the internet. It takes low-carbohydrate dieting to a whole new level. Although it might seem a little extreme at first, the ketogenic diet is one of the best proven eating plans for weight loss, increased energy, and better overall health.
By limiting your carbohydrate intake to less than 5% of your total calories, your body will go into a state of ketosis and use fat as fuel. You’ll also help stabilize your blood sugar and hormone levels to ward off prediabetes and brain fog, just to name a few symptoms. Here’s everything you need to know about the ketogenic diet.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The Ketogenic diet is similar to the Paleo or Atkins diet, but with stricter rules about where you get your calories from. It suggests that you severely limit your carbohydrate intake and eat a high-fat diet by dividing your daily calories into the following categories: 75% from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates. The idea behind the ketogenic diet is that by limiting your carb and glucose intake, your body will rely on fat as fuel.
Eating carbohydrates cause your body to secrete insulin. When you eat too many carbs, it creates a buildup of insulin in your bloodstream, which leads to high blood sugar. Your body also stores the carbohydrates that it does not immediately use for fuel as fat. On the other hand, eating a high-fat and low carbohydrate diet reduces the amount of insulin secreted. You stop storing excess carbohydrates as fat, and your body enters a state of ketosis.
Ketosis occurs when the body switches its fuel source from carbohydrates to fats. You may notice that you have entered ketosis when you get the dreaded keto breath! When the body begins to burn fats as fuel, it creates a byproduct of acids known as ketones that build up in the blood. Research shows that your body and brain prefer ketones to glucose as their primary energy source. With carbohydrates out of the way, your body barely releases insulin and does not store excess glucose as fat. For most people, the result is often a smaller waist, better concentration, and improved blood sugar levels.
Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet has a lot of followers and for a good reason- it has a lot of research to prove its benefits! The history of the ketogenic diet dates back to around 500 BC when it was first used to treat epilepsy. It regained popularity in the 1920’s as an obesity treatment and was used all around the world for nearly two decades. People stopped using the ketogenic diet during the modern era of pharmaceutical drug treatment, but over the past 15 years, it has regained popularity again among people who want to return to their roots, so to speak. Here are some of the most impressive health benefits of the ketogenic diet.
1. May Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
According to researchers of a 2005 study, the ketogenic diet can be used to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. Ten obese patients with type 2 diabetes were put on a ketogenic diet and had their blood sugar levels monitored. After just two weeks of being on the diet, their insulin sensitivity improved by 75 percent.
2. Protection Against Heart Disease
You might think that eating a high-fat diet is bad for your heart, but the opposite is true with the ketogenic diet. A 2009 systematic review found that when compared to low-fat diets, low-carbohydrate diets were better for protecting against heart disease after six months. Another meta-analysis of 23 studies with data collected on more than 1,100 test subjects confirmed that the ketogenic diet cut significant risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases.
3. Weight Loss
A study published in the journal Lipids found that a ketogenic diet helps you lose more weight than a low-fat diet- twice as much to be exact. Another study found that test subjects who followed the ketogenic diet lost more weight over the course of a year than low-fat dieters despite eating more calories. A third study tested the low-carb vs. low-fat theory by putting test subjects on either a low-fat or ketogenic diet and then asking them to switch. Results indicated that both groups lost more weight when they were on the ketogenic diet. In fact, the men in the study lost three times the amount of weight off their waist on the ketogenic diet as they did on the low-fat diet.
4. Improve Skin Health
Hormone levels and acne seem to go hand-in-hand. If you’re looking to improve the way your skin looks, start by reducing the number of processed junk foods you eat. According to a 2012 study, the ketogenic diet has therapeutic effects on skin health. Specifically, it balances hormones and reduces the onset of acne.
5. May Prevent Tumor Growth
Nothing is scarier than a cancer diagnosis. One theory behind the development of cancer is that the disease thrives off high carbohydrates diets with lots of refined sugar. According to a 2015 study, there is increasing evidence to show that the ketogenic diet has antitumor properties that may be used to prevent and treat cancer when used in conjunction with proven methods such as chemotherapy and radiation.
6. Treats Epilepsy
The ketogenic diet was founded on the idea that it could be used as an epilepsy treatment and the same theory holds true today. A 2008 study extracted data from 103 children with epilepsy- 54 of them were asked to follow a ketogenic diet, and 49 were put in a control group. After three months, the children in the ketogenic diet group had a 75 percent decrease in seizures.
7. Supports Brain Function
Ever notice how a big lunch or breakfast with starchy foods makes you want to fall asleep right after? If you do manage to stay awake, you’ll probably suffer from brain fog, which will leave you useless at work. Since the brain prefers ketones as its fuel source, the ketogenic diet can help you stay focused and sharp. It can also help you as you age. Research shows that the ketogenic diet has neuroprotective properties that may be useful for the treatment of central nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, hypoxia, glutamate toxicity, ischemia, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury.
8. Reduces Food Cravings
Eating sugary foods seems to have a snowball effect on most people. You eat one potato chip or candy bar and the next thing you know the whole bag or bar is gone. That’s partly because of the effect that carbohydrates have on blood sugar. When you eat high carbohydrate foods, your body releases insulin, which causes a blood sugar spike. But what goes up must come down. When your insulin levels drop (and they will), you’ll be left with another sugary craving to get those blood sugar levels back up.
Fat is the only food group that does not require the release of insulin. When your diet is made up of mostly fat, your insulin levels won’t surge, which means you won’t have a blood sugar crash, and you’ll feel satisfied all day long.
How To Implement The Ketogenic Diet
Although the ketogenic is high in fat, it has strict regulations about what foods you are allowed to eat. The goal is to eat “good” fats sourced from whole foods and limit your intake of carbohydrates to berries and non-starchy vegetables. You’ll also want to keep in mind that high amounts of protein can kick you out of ketosis, so choosing full-fat meats, cheese, and other animal products are key. Here is a list of foods you can eat on the ketogenic diet.
1. Fatty Meats
High-fatty meats are one of the staples of the ketogenic diet. Be sure to pick meats that are organic, antibiotic-free, and wild or pasture-raised, such as turkey, beef, game and organ meats, pork, and chicken. Chicken thighs are preferred over chicken breasts because they tend to be higher in fat. Deli meats and other processed meats are off limits due to their high salt and sugar content.
2. Whole Eggs
Whole eggs are are an excellent source of vitamin D and healthy fats. When picking them out, always go for pasture-raised over cage-free as this will ensure the chickens have had access to sunshine and lots of room to roam.
3. Fatty Fish
Look for fish that is high in omega three fatty acids, which is one of the most beneficial types of fat. Always pick wild-caught fish as farm raised is often treated with antibiotics, food colorings, and other artificial ingredients.
4. Full-Fat Dairy
You can eat full-fat and unprocessed cheese and butter on the ketogenic diet but stay away from milk because it’s high in sugar. Hard cheeses tend to be lower in carbohydrates. Again, look for an organic source that has not been treated with antibiotics or other additives. Be careful when picking out yogurt as most brands contain hidden sugar. Full-fat coconut yogurt or Greek yogurt is a good alternative if you’re lactose intolerant. Ghee or clarified butter is excellent for cooking your vegetables or meats in.
Focus on healthy, anti-inflammatory oils such as coconut, extra-virgin olive, avocado and macadamia oils. Look for cold pressed oils as these have not been heated to high temperatures, which kills off many nutrients.
Seasoning your food is a great way to get more enjoyment out of your meals, but be careful as most condiments contain hidden sugar. You can make your own dressings and other condiments at home using olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and dried herbs.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Avocados are the perfect keto food because they are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. You can eat it raw or as guacamole. Nuts and seeds are best eaten in moderation because they tend to be high in carbohydrates. Macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans tend to have the lowest carb count.
8. Non-Starchy Vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables help promote regularity, which is essential on a diet that includes mostly fat. They also provide you with lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep you healthy. Focus on green leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, kale), cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, radishes, onions, and tomatoes.
Fruits are usually not allowed on the ketogenic diet, but berries are the exception because they are high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. Go for strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
It’s important to drink lots of lemon water on the ketogenic diet to flush toxins and prevent bad breath. Aim for eight to ten glasses a day. Unsweetened tea and coffee are also allowed on the ketogenic diet.
What To Watch Out For
Lots of foods contain hidden sources of sugar and carbohydrates. For this reason, you may want to become a label reader to ensure that you’re not accidentally eating foods that could kick you out of ketosis. You’ll also want to stay away from all types of grains and gluten as these foods are very high in carbohydrates. Processed foods, beans, legumes, soy, and sugary beverages are not allowed on the ketogenic diet.
A good rule of thumb is to fill your shopping cart with foods that don’t come prepackaged, with maybe the exception of meats. Spend most of your time shopping along the outer edge of the grocery store as the inner aisles tend to be full of processed foods. Here is a list of ingredients that contain hidden sugar, grains or gluten:
- Confectioners powdered sugar
- Agave nectar and other fruit nectars
- Dextrin and maltodextrin
- Corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup
- Dextrose or crystal dextrose
- Fruit juice
- Evaporated cane juice
- Pasta, crackers, and bread
- Baked goods
- Carob syrup
- Brown sugar
- Raw sugar
- Rice syrup
- Evaporated corn sweetener