People generally go on diets for two reasons:
First, they want to lose weight. Second, they want to be healthier.
The latter reason is typically because they’ve had a health scare: a stroke or heart attack, a diabetes diagnosis, or simply the news that their blood pressure or cholesterol is way too high.
Unfortunately, however, most diets are either depriving, disgusting, or dangerous. The perfect example of all three is the Master Cleanse in which you drink a mixture of water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and maple syrup (plus just a few other simple foods) for 10 days.
Naturally, these diets are painful to undertake, and to add insult to injury, they don’t work.
If you’re looking for a diet that does work, isn’t depriving, and lets you eat delicious foods (like hard cheeses, meats and seafood, avocados, and olive oil), then something called the ketogenic diet is right up your alley.
What Is Keto? A Definition of the Ketogenic Diet
You’ve likely heard of ketogenic diets (or keto diets) if you’ve researched how to lose weight or been interested in the Atkins and Paleo diets, which are similar but not exactly the same.
Like the Atkins and Paleo diets, Keto diets focus on eating more protein and less carbs in order to achieve a state of ketosis. You’ll also be eating more fat. Meal plans that follow these keto stipulations essentially make your body burn fat more easily and more quickly, which provides a slew of fringe benefits as well.
What Is Ketosis and How Is It Reached?
As you learn more about ketogenic diets, you’ll hear the term ketosis a lot. In order to define this word more clearly, we have to go back to what the prefix –keto means.
Keto refers to ketones, which are essentially a chemical substance, produced by the liver, that the body can use for fuel. If you recall from your high school biology class, our bodies instinctively and automatically use glucose in the form of blood sugar (glucose) in order to give us energy and keep us going. But when glucose is limited, the body can start burning fat, and the liver can produce ketones from fat. These ketones provide energy for your hungry brain, which requires lots of fuel to function properly.
The only way to start using these ketones, however, is to reach the metabolic “state” of ketosis. And to do this, you must consume a moderate amount of protein (probably more than you would normally consume), a high amount of healthy fats, and a low amount of carbs (probably less than you would usually consume).
Keep in mind, however, that you can’t eat too much protein on most keto diets or the extra will end up converting to glucose.
The Benefits of Keto Diet
The benefits of following a ketogenic diet and achieving ketosis are widespread. You’ll experience benefits in your health and blood work numbers, but you’ll feel better, look better, and possibly even think better as well.
Most of the long-term benefits of following a ketogenic diet have to do with health outcomes. For many who choose this diet, these are the goals they’re aiming for. In fact, a recent study that looked at the effects of the keto diet on obese patients found the following positive, long-term outcomes.
• A significant reduction in body weight
One of the most important benefits (and one of the main goals) of the ketogenic diet is to help individuals lose weight. From just a few pounds or 10 pounds to 50 or 100 pounds, the keto diet is consistently recommended for all types of weight loss.
• Lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and triglyceride levels and higher good cholesterol levels (HDL)
Blood work performed on individuals who have followed keto diets for several months or longer consistently comes back with positive results. Low cholesterol gets lower, and good cholesterol gets higher. Furthermore, triglyceride levels are reduced. All of these factors can help individuals reduce their likelihood of strokes, heart attacks, and various other health complications.
• Lower blood glucose levels (blood sugar)
Many patients who have type II diabetes find that a ketogenic diet helps them significantly. Not only do blood glucose levels drop overall, but many diabetics may actually be able to lower their dosage of insulin after they are on the diet for several months. Their fasting glucose levels are lowered, and their HA1c readings and cholesterol markers improve. Furthermore, these patients can lose significant amount of body weight, which helps them with their diabetes numbers as well.
(comment: Lauren Geertsen, the author of Empowered Sustenance).
• Reduction in the likelihood of seizures in patients with epilepsy
In patients whose seizures are not controlled by the use of AEDs or anti-epileptic drugs, a ketogenic diet may be an effective treatment option for reducing the number of seizures that the patient experiences and reducing the severity of those they do experience. Patients with epilepsy, including children, have also seen positive effects in their overall behavior and mood.
• Benefits remain even after the diet is discontinued
Even if a user stops following a keto diet after several months, the health benefits have been shown to continue.
• Overall efficacy of the diet and weight loss can continue for years
This isn’t a diet that will only provide benefits for a short period of time before returning your body to its starting position. You can ostensibly continue a ketogenic diet for the rest of your life and continue to see the benefits.”
Of course, there are daily benefits to following a ketogenic diet plan as well.
• Less hunger on a daily basis
One of the best daily benefits of the ketogenic diet is a reduction in hunger. Overall, the body will utilize its higher levels of protein and fat over a longer period of time as opposed to burning up high carb, high glucose foods immediately. This leaves users satiated for a longer period of time.
• More energy and more stable energy
Energy levels have been shown to greatly improve with the use of ketogenic diets as well. Once ketosis is reached, the effects can last for days, and users may find that they have enough energy to last throughout this time period without the need for sugar pick-me-ups or caffeine boosts.
(comment: Chris Nadeau, the author of healthy living blog Eat Greens Every Day).
• Improved brain function
In some situations, cognitive impairment has shown improvement after users have followed a ketogenic diet for several months. Furthermore, keto diet followers remark that they have better memory recall, improved clarity of thought, and an easier time learning in general.
• Starts helping you lose weight right away
After only a few weeks of following this diet, users will see weight loss benefits. As long as the keto diet is followed closely, weight loss should continue for as long as needed. There is no worry that users will lose too much fat either as the weight loss should naturally slow down once a healthy weight is achieved.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
There’s not just one ketogenic diet, but several variations that include similar principles as outlined above. For the most part, these ketogenic diets differ based on what they aim to achieve.
SKD: Standard Ketogenic Diet
This is the most typical ketogenic diet. In it, users consume a moderate amount of protein, a high amount of fat, and a low amount of carbs in order to achieve ketosis.
CKD: Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) and the targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) are diets aimed at those who tend to work out heavily and on a regular basis. The cyclical ketogenic diet is particularly for body builders and those with extremely high muscle masses. This is a specific variation of the standard keto diet in which the user carbs up and increases their supply of glycogen stores on one day of the week while maintaining a typical ketogenic diet for the rest of the week.
TKD: Targeted Ketogenic diet
The targeted ketogenic diet is less intense than the cyclical ketogenic diet. The user will eat the standard ketogenic diet for most of the week, but before working out, they’ll consume a small amount of carbs that digest quickly and are high in glucose.
How to Do the Keto Diet
Beginning a ketogenic diet is fairly simple and straightforward. You’ll simply need to change the way you eat and increase your intake of healthy fats to a high level, increase your intake of proteins to a moderate level, and significantly lower your intake of carbohydrates, including sugar.
What Foods Can You Eat?
Again, the aim here is high fat and moderate protein. Therefore, you should focus your diet on the following foods:
- Healthy fats, such as butter or ghee, olive oil, tallow, bacon fat, hard cheeses, and coconut oil
- Meats, including chicken, turkey, beef, and organ meats
- Leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables
- Certain types of berries
- Seeds and nuts
What Foods Should You Avoid?
You’ll also need to lower the amount of sugars and starches that you consume. This includes avoiding the following foods:
- All types of bread, especially white bread
- Pasta and rice
- Beer, juice, and soda
- Donuts, cakes, and cookies
- Candy and chocolate
- Potatoes and yams (tubers)
- Most types of fruits
- Sugar in most forms (agave, honey, maple syrup)
Earlier on HealthyLeo we published a helpful article for those trying to cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates. Give it a read!
What Should You Drink?
Again, you’ll want to particularly avoid beer, soda, and juice. If you do decide to have the occasional alcoholic drink, red wine is moderately acceptable. Furthermore, a modest amount of cream or milk is alright, but if you can, drink your coffee black, and focus on consuming water in place of juice and soda. In fact, you’ll want to drink as much water as possible every day. Tea is fine as well — especially green tea.
Sample Meal Plans to Get You Started
- Breakfast: Eggs made in olive oil plus sausage or bacon
- Lunch: Chicken salad on a bed of lettuce
- Dinner: A steak with oil-drizzled, oven roasted vegetables (carrots, peppers, and broccoli); berries for dessert
- Breakfast: A three-egg omelet with ham, peppers, and salsa
- Lunch: A bowl of beef vegetable soup
- Dinner: Salmon with a side salad and olive oil vinaigrette dressing; berries for dessert. Scroll down and hit the link to the 14-day keto diet plan for more!
Resources for Beginners
For more ideas on keto meal plans and further information about the keto diet, check out these resources:
• The Epilepsy Society‘s guide to ketogenic diets
• The Diabetes Council‘s guide to ketogenic diets
• WebMD‘s guide to keto diets
Dangers and Side Effects of a Keto Diet
There is one key danger to look out for with the ketogenic diet. It’s called ketoacidosis, and it occurs when the ketone production in your body becomes too high. The good news is that under most circumstances, ketoacidosis will not occur. In fact, what’s most difficult about the ketogenic diet is achieving ketosis in the first place. Achieving even higher ketosis (ketoacidosis) is highly unlikely.
Who Should Not Do a Ketogenic Diet
For most people, ketogenic diets are perfectly safe as this is not actually a particularly extreme diet. Those who have type I diabetes should look out for ketoacidosis in particular as it is most likely to occur in these individuals. As with any diet, everyone — especially including those with diabetes or high blood pressures and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding — should ask their doctor before beginning the diet.
How to Start and When to Start
Are you ready to begin a ketogenic diet? It’s best to plan ahead before you begin and start at a time when you are not too busy or stressed from other areas of your life.
You’ll also want to make sure that you are prepared and that you have all of the meal plans, foods, storage containers, and other tools that you’ll need. Spend about a week planning what you’ll eat on the first two weeks of your keto diet.
Finally, remember that for many, the keto diet plan can be a lifestyle shift, and the benefits as outlined above can be vast and long-lasting. So stick with it. Keep trying. And hit the share button below to give your friends a chance to try it too!