Yearly, hundreds and thousands of people plan resolutions often tackling old goals with high hopes and enthusiasm. And since obesity has become one of the most significant public health crises (1), losing weight and getting back into shape is a favorite goal.
Aside from the possible health issues that may arise from obesity, social stigma can be as depressing. People who are overweight or obese are often seen as unattractive. This drives much of the motivation to slim down quickly and try different weight-loss programs and products.
Scores of diet plans have been in the spotlight for many years now. While many are supported by science and confer several health benefits, there is no “one-size-fits-all” way of eating. Finding the best diet for you is not that easy.
Let us discuss one of the most popular and widely accepted diets today, the keto diet. How does it work? What are its benefits? Which foods should you eat and avoid? Read on to know more.
What Is A Keto Diet and How Does it Work?
Though being labeled as “fad”, a ketogenic diet can be very effective for weight loss. It works by decreasing insulin levels and using ketones as your main source of energy. You’ll be in a state known as ketosis.
However, unlike other low-carb diets, this does not gradually increase your carbs. Instead, you’ll keep a very low carb intake, approximately 50 grams per day or lower, to maintain ketosis.
Several studies agree that ketogenic diets can also help reduce inflammatory markers and disease risk factors for overweight and obese patients (2).
Results from a controlled two-year study showed that those who followed a ketogenic diet lost an average of 27.5 pounds and 29 inches from their waists. These were significantly more than the low-fat group, even if both diets were calorie-restricted (3).
More so, even when calories are not intentionally restricted, ketogenic dieters have shown less interest in calorie intake. Studies suggest that this may be due to ketones’ ability to suppress appetite (4).
However, because it is high in saturated fat, it is associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol, which is also linked to heart disease. Other side effects aren’t usually serious. You can experience a mild decrease in blood sugar, constipation, or indigestion. Much less often, it can cause acidosis and kidney stones. A “keto flu” is also possible, which may include headache, irritability, weakness, bad breath, and fatigue.
The Benefits of Keto Diet
The most common reason for going on a ketogenic diet, or any other diet for that matter, is solely for weight loss. However, unlike other diets, the ketogenic diet does more for your body than helping you lose weight. Below are five scientifically-proven benefits of going on a ketogenic diet.
1. It Gives You More Energy
When the body gets used to producing and utilizing ketones as the main fuel source, you will most likely have more energy than ever before. This is because ketones are much more efficient at what they do for the amount you produce. Not to mention you’re no longer dependent on carbs, which means you will no longer experience any form of crashing.
There is also this thing where you get a sense of euphoria when the high energy kicks in and eliminates what we call “brain fog.” No brain fog means clearer thought processes (5).
2. You’ll Burn More Fat As Fuel
When you induce ketosis, you’re helping your body get rid of excess fat by letting it directly convert fat to energy. This will tell your body to essentially burn more fat than it stores, making you technically become a human fat furnace.
3. It Helps Preserve More Muscle Mass
One of the common problems with diets is how people often worry about the loss of muscle mass. This is quite the issue especially in men who work out for hours a week and want to go through a cutting phase. They definitely don’t want to lose all their gains. The best way to lose weight is to burn fat and fat alone. Ideally, this happens, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
Sometimes people who try to lose weight end up losing more muscle than fat. There a lot of factors, but this often happens when they only cut out calories without supplying the body with a replacement source of energy. This lack of fuel source could lead to a process called gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is yet another natural process wherein the body turns to non-carbohydrate sources as fuel. If you’re not in a state of ketosis, or you’re not doing a low-carb diet in general, the natural choice would be to burn the protein in your muscle.
Being on a ketogenic diet tells your body to prioritize ketones over glucose when it comes to the energy source, and that’s much better since ketones come from fat stores. This effectively saves your muscles from being cannibalized.
4. It Keeps You Feel Full Longer
As mentioned, the ketogenic diet is best paired when doing a fast, specifically intermittent fasting. Not only will that promote fat burning more, the fact that you’re on a high-fat diet means you will be consuming foods known to keep the stomach from feeling hunger for extended periods.
Fat naturally keeps you from eating too frequently, and the ketogenic diet mainly uses fat as the food source. Put two and two together, and you get weight loss (6).
5. It Decreases Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
When we consume too much sugar, the body stores them as fat with the aid of insulin, a hormone created by the pancreas. Insulin’s main function is to control our blood sugar levels. Suffice to say, if our body is not able to produce enough insulin or if we’re consuming more sugar than the amount of insulin we’re producing, our risk of acquiring diabetes is significantly higher as our blood sugar rises uncontrollably.
In a ketogenic diet, you only consume the right amount of carbs which prevents spikes in blood sugar and insulin resistance, two symptoms that act as prerequisites to Type 2 Diabetes (7).
What Can You Eat on A Ketogenic Diet?
One of the many myths surrounding the ketogenic diet is how restrictive it is when it comes to what you can and can’t eat. However, we like to think that the myth is rather overstated and misunderstood. Here are some of the foods you can eat on a ketogenic diet.
Since the diet revolves around fat as a main source of energy, it goes without saying your daily menu needs to be quite high in fat. However, not all fats are created equal, and when it comes to fat sources, your best bet is to stick to whole foods and not artificial stuff like margarine or hydrogenated cooking oils.
Some of the healthy fats you can include are plant fats. Some of these include avocados, chia seeds, extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and other nuts and seeds. These plants contain healthy oils that are liquid or in a liquid state at room temperature. These fats have been cited for numerous health benefits – improving blood cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and even cancer prevention – with a lot of researchers agreeing on how a plant is only beneficial thanks to its oils (8).
The other type of fat is animal fats, and yes, animal fat can indeed be healthy for you, contrary to what many people say. When people say animal fat, they usually refer to fish oil and its Omega-3 content. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their brain and heart health benefits. It’s also considered essential as the body is unable to produce Omega-3 on its own.
Omega-3 has been cited to have cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also known to reduce the risks of chronic illnesses that affect the heart, the eyes, and even the brain (9).
Other than fish oil, you can also source healthy fats from eggs and lean meat. Other than fat, eggs are also packed with lots of nutrients, essentially making it some sort of complete food. Lean meat on the other hand also offers vitamins like B12, although you have to take care, not to overeat on meat as it is protein. When you have too much protein, the body converts that to glucose which can take you out of ketosis.
Unsweetened Coffee or Tea
Whether you’re into a good cup of Joe or prefer a calm yet soothing beverage, coffee and tea are excellent choices of beverages when you’re on a ketogenic diet. The key is to not add anything to the drinks. Preparing it as pure as possible, especially when omitting the sugar, will not ruin your diet or your ketosis.
More than delicious drinks, coffee, and tea both offer their own health benefits for weight loss (10).
You probably heard you can’t eat fruit on a ketogenic diet. Well, whoever told you that doesn’t know what they’re talking about. While there is a bit of truth to it, generally speaking, the idea is to make sure the carbs you eat don’t exceed the ketogenic limit of around 50 g per day, as any more will kick you out of ketosis.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are also famously low in terms of carbohydrate content. What’s more, berries have high amounts of fiber, which is great for proper digestion. They also contain boatloads of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals.
Dark Chocolate or Cocoa Powder
Admittedly, people on a ketogenic diet don’t have a lot of dessert options outside of fruits. However, dark chocolate might just be enough for most keto dieters.
Cocoa and dark chocolate contain a good amount of antioxidants, just like berries. What’s more, the flavanols in dark chocolate have been shown to have blood pressure benefits which help in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system (11).
However, there’s one thing you need to consider before embracing dark chocolate as part of your keto diet. You should stick to buying only the kinds of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. These contain only around 10 grams of carbohydrates. Not only that, but you also have to mind the amount of dark chocolate you eat, as these can quickly eat up your carb limit for the day.
Look, salads are probably one of the healthiest foods known to modern man. However, if you douse it with a lot of “bad” dressing, you’re likely offsetting the health benefits. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the plain, dry salad.
You can opt to use balsamic vinegar, but adding olive oil instead can make a simple salad healthier. Skip the fancy dressings that contain heaps of sugar and hydrogenated fat and go for olive oil, almond oil, sesame oil, or even coconut oil if you’re okay with the taste.
While fish and shellfish are very keto-friendly foods, the carbs in different types of shellfish vary. For instance, while shrimp and most crabs contain no carbs, other types of shellfish do.
While these shellfish can still be included on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to account for these carbs when you’re trying to stay within a narrow range. The carb counts for 3.5-ounce (100-gram) servings of clams is 5 grams. For mussels, it is 7 grams. Octopus and oysters both have 4 grams. Lastly, squid has 3 grams.
Aim to consume at least two servings of seafood weekly.
Cheese is both nutritious and delicious! There are hundreds of types of cheese. Fortunately, all of them are very low in carbs and high in fat, which makes them a great fit for a ketogenic diet.
Cheese is high in saturated fat, but it hasn’t been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. In fact, some studies suggest that cheese may help protect against heart disease (12).
Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid, which is a fat that has been linked to fat loss and improvements in body composition (13).
In addition, eating cheese regularly may help reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging.
Avocados are incredibly healthy. One hundred grams or about one-half of a medium avocado, contain 9 grams of carbs. However, 7 of these are fiber, so its net carb count is only 2 grams.
Avocados are high in several vitamins and minerals, including potassium, an important mineral many people may not get enough of. What’s more, a higher potassium intake may help make the transition to a ketogenic diet easier (14).
In addition, avocados may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are healthy, high-fat, and low-carb foods. Frequent nut consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression, and other chronic diseases. Furthermore, nuts and seeds are high in fiber, which can help you feel full and absorb fewer calories overall (15).
Although all nuts and seeds are low in net carbs, the amount varies quite a bit among the different types.
Olives provide the same health benefits as olive oil, only in solid form. Oleuropein, the main antioxidant found in olives, has anti-inflammatory properties, and may protect your cells from damage (16).
In addition, studies suggest that consuming olives may help prevent bone loss and decrease blood pressure (17).
Olives vary in carb content due to their size. However, half of their carbs come from fiber, so their digestible carb content is very low. A one-ounce (28-gram) serving of olives contains 2 grams of total carbs and 1 gram of fiber.
Eggs are one of the healthiest and most versatile foods on the planet. One large egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs and fewer than 6 grams of protein, making eggs an ideal food for a ketogenic lifestyle.
In addition, eggs have been shown to trigger hormones that increase feelings of fullness and keep blood sugar levels stable, leading to lower calorie intake for up to 24 hours (18).
It’s important to eat the entire egg, as most of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk. This includes the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect eye health (19).
Although egg yolks are high in cholesterol, consuming them doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels in most people. In fact, eggs appear to modify the shape of LDL in a way that reduces the risk of heart disease (20).
Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbs, but high in many nutrients, including vitamin C and several minerals.
Vegetables and other plants contain fiber, which your body doesn’t digest and absorb like other carbs. Therefore, look at their digestible (or net) carb count, which is total carbs minus fiber.
Most vegetables contain very few net carbs. However, consuming one serving of “starchy” vegetables like potatoes, yams or beets could put you over your entire carb limit for the day.
The net carb count for non-starchy vegetables ranges from less than 1 gram for 1 cup of raw spinach to 8 grams for 1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts.
Vegetables also contain antioxidants that help protect against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause cell damage (21).
What’s more, cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower have been linked to decreased cancer and heart disease risk (22).
Low-carb veggies make great substitutes for higher-carb foods. For instance, cauliflower can be used to mimic rice or mashed potatoes, “zoodles” can be created from zucchini, and spaghetti squash is a natural substitute for spaghetti.
Foods That You Should Not Eat On A Keto Diet
Following a ketogenic diet means avoiding too many carbs, so it is obvious that foods that are high in carbohydrates should ideally be avoided to prevent the body from turning toward glucose for energy again. Unfortunately, not everyone understands which specific foods they should exclude from their diet.
Starchy Foods and Grains
One of the very first food types that should be removed from your diet (23) if you wish to enter ketosis would be starchy foods, along with grains. Bread is one good example, but a lot of people have trouble giving this one up.
Still, it is important to note that bread is a very bad food choice for anyone looking to get their body into a state of ketosis and to enjoy the benefits that a ketogenic diet can offer them. There are some recipes on the internet that allow you to enjoy bread on a ketogenic diet. These pieces of bread are made with special ingredients that do not increase your carb intake as much as standard bread would.
Other starchy foods and grains that should be eliminated from a ketogenic diet include pasta, potatoes, oats, and rice. Food items that are made with flour should also be avoided, as this will add to the carb intake and potentially delay the body’s ability to enter ketosis.
A lot of people do not realize that alcohol is one of the culprits causing them to load up with carbs. This is yet another area that disappoints some people, as liqueurs, ciders, and beers are usually considered not to be keto-friendly and should be removed from your diet if you want your body to enter and remain in ketosis.
Sugar is an obvious factor that should also be removed from a diet if you wish to become ketogenic. Sugar is found in a lot of the food items we buy on a day-to-day basis, from sodas to pastries, cookies, ice cream, and even in fruit juices.
With the keto diet becoming more popular, many people are now practicing it in order to lose weight. The diet has been associated with many benefits, ranging from weight loss to better cholesterol levels.
Understanding how the diet works and how to set up an appropriate meal plan for this type of program is important! Any inappropriate combinations of food choices will make all your efforts meaningless.