What is the keto diet? Rather than relying on counting calories, limiting portion sizes, resorting to extreme exercise or requiring lots of willpower (even in the face of drastically low energy levels), the ketogenic, low-carb diet takes an entirely different approach to weight loss and health improvements. It works because it changes the very “fuel source” that the body uses to stay energized: namely, from burning glucose (or sugar) to dietary fat, courtesy of keto recipes and the ketogenic diet food list items, including high-fat, low-carb diet foods.
Clinical improvement was observed in Alzheimer’s patients fed a ketogenic diet, and this was marked by improved mitochondrial function. (14a) In fact, a European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study pointed to emerging data that suggested the therapeutic use of ketogenic diets for multiple neurological disorders beyond epilepsy and Alzheimer’s, including headaches, neurotrauma, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disorders, brain cancer, autism and multiple sclerosis. (14b)
• Cancer: Early experimental research suggests that the keto diet may have anti-tumor effects, likely because it reduces overall calorie intake (and circulating glucose) for tumor growth. In one 2014 review of animal research, a ketogenic diet was found to be successful at reducing tumor growth, colon cancer, gastric cancer and brain cancer. More research on humans with larger sample sizes is needed, but it's definitely food for thought.
The good news is that snacks are totally allowed (and I're not just talking about carrot sticks.) There are plenty of packaged options out there designed for keto fans. FATBAR is one of them. These snack bars have 200 calories, 16 grams of fat, and four grams of net carbs. They're also plant-based and are made with almond or cashew butter, cocoa butter, coconut, pea protein, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds.
But generally speaking, if you plan to follow a ketogenic diet, you should aim to consume less than 10 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates per day. The remaining calories should come from 20 to 30 percent protein and 60 to 80 percent fat. That means if you follow a daily 2,000-calorie diet, no more than 200 of your calories (or 50 grams) should come from carbs, while 400 to 600 calories should come from protein and 1,200 to 1,600 should come from fat. (There’s a reason this plan is also called a high-fat, low-carb diet!)
At the core of the classic ketogenic diet is severely restricting intake of all or most foods with sugar and starch (carbohydrates). These foods are broken down into sugar (insulin and glucose) in our blood once we eat them, and if these levels become too high, extra calories are much more easily stored as body fat and results in unwanted weight gain. However, when glucose levels are cut off due to low-carb dieting, the body starts to burn fat instead and produces ketones that can be measured in the blood (using urine strips, for example).
For athletes, research on the keto diet highlights potential improvements in athletic performance, especially when it comes to endurance activities. An article suggests ketogenic-type diets may allow endurance athletes to rely mostly on stored fat for energy during exercise rather than having to refuel with simple carbohydrates during endurance training and competition while additionally improving recovery times. (10)
This is an adaptation period, where we’re essentially re-training our muscles and our brain to use fat as the primary fuel source instead of glucose. This adaptation can take a couple of weeks to a couple of months. As a hallmark of being keto-adapted and not just in ketosis, the skeletal muscles are able to burn fat directly for fuel, and the brain relies on the higher volume of ketones in the blood as its main source of energy.
Therefore, when you’re following a ketogenic diet, your body is burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, so in the process most people lose weight and excess body fat rapidly, even when consuming lots of fat and adequate calories through their diet. Another major benefit of the keto diet is that there’s no need to count calories, feel hungry or attempt to burn loads of calories through hours of intense exercise.
Ketogenic diets, like most low carb diets, work through the elimination of glucose. Because most folks live on a high carb diet, our bodies normally run on glucose (or sugar) for energy. We cannot make glucose and only have about 24 hours’ worth stored in our muscle tissue and liver. Once glucose is no longer available from food sources, we begin to burn stored fat instead, or fat from our diets.
The recipes themselves are divided into smoothies and breakfasts, appetizers and snacks, fish and poultry, meats, veggies and sides, desserts, and staples. Each individual recipe gives an overall "keto quotient" (how close it fits the idea balance of fats, carbs, and protein) as well as what each serving contains in calories and the fats, carbs, and protein for those servings. This makes life a lot easier if you are using a phone or tablet app to keep an eating record.
This is one reason why tracking your food intake should be a priority. There are apps like Cronometer, MyFitnessPal, and LoseIt! that allow you to record all your foods for the day, and each has a large database of fresh foods, packaged foods, and restaurant meals, plus you can enter in your own recipes. This way you can know exactly what macro- and micro-nutrients you’re getting, with no guess work.
It also interferes with some of the social aspects of food, considering how limiting it is. No cake on your birthday. No pie on Thanksgiving. No chocolate truffles on Valentine's Day. Boo to that! If you consider yourself someone who loves to eat and takes great joy in the social experience of a good meal, then the restriction of this diet may be emotionally unhealthy.
Sleep enough – for most people at least seven hours per night on average – and keep stress under control. Sleep deprivation and stress hormones raise blood sugar levels, slowing ketosis and weight loss a bit. Plus they make much it harder to stick to a keto diet, and resist temptations. So while handling sleep and stress will not get you into ketosis on it’s own, it’s still worth thinking about.
When you cut back on carbs or just haven't eaten in a while, your body looks for other sources of energy to fill the void. Fat is typically that source. When your blood sugar drops because you're not feeding your body carbs, fat is released from your cells and flood the liver. The liver turns the fat into ketone bodies, which your body uses as its second choice for energy.
You can use the Ketone Test Strips to test your ketone level. These are strips that use urine to measure excreted ketones. These are inexpensive and popular, but unfortunately highly inaccurate. They only measure the level of ketones that are excreted as waste, and not used by the body. They show that you’re producing ketones, but not necessarily using them for energy.
Other experts say the long-term accumulation of ketones could be harmful. “Those ketones are emergency fuel sources, and we’re not meant to run on them long-term,” says Kristen Kizer, a registered dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Ketones are negatively-charged molecules, which means they’re acidic. When you build up ketone bodies in your system, you’re building up acid. One of the ways your body buffers acid is by pulling calcium from your bones.” Kizer also notes that the diet isn't very balanced and involves a very high intake of animal products, which generally do not protect against cancer, diabetes, or other diseases.
Also make sure that you know what foods have mostly carbs, fat, and protein, so you can make the right choices. For instance, it’s not just bread, pasta, chips, cookies, candy, and ice cream that contain carbs. Beans may contain protein, but they’re also very high in carbohydrates. Fruit and veggies also mostly contain carbs. The only foods that don’t contain carbs are meat (protein) and pure fats, like butter and oils (including olive oil and coconut oil).
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