What is the Ketogenic Diet?
As modern diets go, the ketogenic or "keto" diet seems to be the most popular. And yet, it may be the most controversial and confusing for consumers.
Like the Atkins or low-carb diet, the keto diet is a high fat, low carb diet that is most commonly used as a temporary means of weight loss. In this diet, fats become the primary fuel.
How the Keto Diet Came to Be
It was originally developed to treat epilepsy in children with difficult-to-control seizures or those who did not respond to drugs. It was designed to create or maintain a state of ketosis in the patient's body, and beneficial effects may be attributed by providing an anticonvulsant effect to a patient. It has also been shown to benefit individuals with cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease.
Despite the popularity of the ketogenic diet, many doctors and dietitians have expressed concern. It drastically changes how the body metabolizes food and has also been linked to several health risks. Please consult your doctor before making any significant dietary changes.
But what exactly is Ketosis?
Ketosis, simply put, takes place when your body's carb-intake is low enough to cause your metabolic system to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. This process increases the ketone levels within your bloodstream, which could result in several health benefits or very dangerous for someone with type one diabetes.
How the Ketogenic Diet Affects Your Body
When we consume carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks them down into sugars that enter the bloodstream. This blood sugar then triggers the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that aids our bodies in turning these sugars into energy.
There are different types of carbohydrates, some of which are healthier and more beneficial than others. They can be broken down into two groups: simple and complex.
Their names are pretty self-explanatory, but... Simple Carbs are well simple, containing just 1 or 2 sugars(monosaccharides or disaccharides). While complex carbs are... you guessed it, made up of more than 2(polysaccharides).
Too much consumption of nutritionally poor carbohydrates can lead to a suite of health problems such as weight gain. It can cause non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases. According to WHO, non-communicable diseases are responsible for almost 70% of all deaths worldwide.
The ketogenic diet drastically limits the intake of all carbohydrates and instead focuses on the consumption of healthy fats. In turn, the amount of glucose available to your body is cut back while the amount of fat increases to the extent that complete combustion of fats can no longer occur.
Do ketogenic diets help lose weight?
Ketogenic diets can certainly help someone lose weight, but only if ketosis is maintained. Because of the high-fat content of foods that are keto-friendly, without dedication, the diet can have the opposite effect.
There are multiple forms of ketogenic diets.
Most involve consuming roughly 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs (this typically means 20-50 grams of net carbs per day, but this varies from person to person depending on their exercise and lifestyle change).
As fat is consumed more frequently, a dietary transition causes the metabolic state known as ketosis to take effect. The body runs out of blood sugar to turn into energy and begins converting proteins and fat instead, leading to subsequent weight loss.
Additionally, MCT Oil has been recommended in place of the usual dietary fats as they can be more effective in inducing ketosis.
So, what the heck is a net carb!?
Not all carbs are equal; your body does not absorb some. Unfortunately, nutrition fact panels can be a little confusing.
How do you know which carbs aren't counted?
On the label, Total Carbs includes starches, dietary fiber, and sugars (including sugar alcohols). But your glucose levels only respond to starches and sugar (not including sugar-alcohols). So, Dietary Fibers and Sugar Alcohol can be subtracted from the Total Carbs.
Note: Starches are not labeled, so you will always need to subtract something from the Total Carbs to get your Net Carbs. Maybe someday Net Carbs will find their way onto the label.
What to Eat and Not Eat on the Keto Diet
To reach a state of ketosis, one must eliminate or reduce foods from their diet high in starch and carbohydrates. Remember, the amount and balance of these foods are highly personalized. You should always consult a doctor or dietary professional before making significant changes. Generally speaking, the table below will give you an idea of dos and don'ts for building a keto meal plan:
|What You Can Eat While Keto||What To Avoid While Keto|
|Red Meat, Chicken, Turkey, Ham or Sausage||Sugary Cakes, Icecream, Candy or Soda|
|Salmon, Tuna or Mackeral||Wheat based products like Rice, Pasta or Cereal|
|Eggs (Preferably Egg Whites)||Beans and Legumes|
|Leafy Green Vegetables||Potatoes, Corn or Carrots|
|Butter, Cream or Cheese||Beer, Wine, and other Sugary Spirits|
|Almonds, Walnuts Strawberries, Blueberries or Raspberries||Sugary fruits like Bananas, Mangoes and Apples|
|Healthy Oils like Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil or MCT Oil||Unhealthy Trans and Saturated Fats|
Looking for a sample 1 day meal plan?
Each keto diet meal plan should vary to suit personal nutritional needs. Generally speaking, low-carb diets should include a variety of protein sources, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits.
The meal plan below is just a simple example. Please keep in mind that this isn't the only way to eat on a low-carb keto diet, but it's an example of what someone might eat while avoiding sugar and reducing their carb intake.
- Egg white omelet 🍳
- Bacon 🥓
- Protein Shake 🥛
- Avocado 🥑
- Tuna Salad 🍣
- Chicken Breast 🐔
- Broccoli 🥦
- Hard-boiled egg 🥚
Looking for recipes?
We're curating a list of the best Keto recipe resources. Sign up to be the first to learn when it goes live.
Innovations in Keto Food Options
The popularity of the ketogenic diet has made its way into the ingredient choices made by many food and beverage brands.
Whether you're looking for something that's naturally keto-friendly or a product designed specifically as a keto alternative for cookies, bread, or pasta, you'll be able to find it on our endless aisle.
Sometimes they're not always available right down the road, but we'll give you an opportunity to show your interest so brands can communicate their demand to your grocery store's buyer.
If you're looking for unique and exciting products, jump over to the endless aisle and search for something you'll love to eat!
How to shop for groceries while following Keto?
As we mentioned before, nutrition fact panels can be a little confusing; we're working on a guide to help. But, when scanning the shelves, the following product claims can help flag down items that might be right for you:
- No Sugar Added
- Low in Saturated Fat
- Low Cholesterol
- Low Sodium
So, are high-fat foods a must in keto diets?
Contrary to popular belief (and a lot of misinformation on the internet), the intake of fats has little to do with inducing or sustaining the state of ketosis in the body.
In fact, it's the restriction of carbohydrates (under a certain level) that induces and sustains ketosis.
So, even though the standard keto diet calls for fats accounting for 70% of your total caloric intake, it's not entirely a necessity.
According to nutrition and diet experts, "What makes a diet ketogenic is not how much fat it contains, but the amount of carbohydrate it contains." So, the proteins and fats a person consumes on this diet may vary according to their goals.
However, it's important to remember that it's the presence or rather absence of carbohydrates that will ultimately determine whether the body burns fat as its primary fuel source or not.
The standard keto diet (also known as therapeutic keto) was originally used to treat diabetes in the 1920s and, later, epilepsy. However, if weight loss or body recomposition is your primary goal, then a higher protein, lower fat version of keto is what most experts recommend.
A gram of fat has 9 calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrate has 4 calories.
So, if a person seeks to lose fat (and weight) on the keto diet, adding a ton of dietary fat will be counterintuitive. It will, in fact, prevent the fat stores in their body from being used for fuel.
This explains why many people experience weight loss "plateaus" or stalls on the standard ketogenic diet.
That said, fats and proteins greatly increase satiety which also prevents cravings, binging, and overall should make life easier sticking to your diet goals. That being said, fat intake on keto should never become a goal, rather a limit to stay under.
And if we're not becoming a broken record yet...
What's most important is to consistently focus on proteins and keep net carbohydrates between 20 and 50 grams per day.
Protein Intake while practicing Keto
Proteins are undoubtedly the most important macronutrient that our bodies need to function effectively. Not only do they form our muscles, tendons, hair, skin, bones, and ligaments, but they also aid the production of antibodies, enzymes, hemoglobin, and other functional molecules. In fact, proteins help to accomplish every step in our metabolism.
Research suggests that "most healthy humans maintain lean body mass and function during a ketogenic diet providing between 1.5 and 1.75 grams of protein per kg of 'reference body weight.' But in no case should dietary protein intake be reduced below 1.2 g/kg in the context of a well-formulated ketogenic diet." (Phinney 1983, Davis 1990)
Counting Calories while Keto?
A ketogenic diet (or any diet for that matter) can never violate the law of thermodynamics, which states that energy can't be created or destroyed - it only transforms from one form to another. So, even on keto, if you consume more calories than you burn, you certainly won't lose weight.
Hence, before embarking on the ketogenic diet, you should first know your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) or maintenance calories. This is a measure of how many calories your body needs (depending on your height, weight, body fat percentage, and lifestyle) to perform your day-to-day functions while maintaining your current weight.
From there, you should determine a deficit percentage by consulting with a medical or dietary professional to calculate your total caloric intake for weight loss.
Why do some people consider the keto diet bad?
The ketogenic diet does not provide all the vitamins and minerals found in a balanced diet, so vitamin and mineral supplements are usually recommended. Starting the keto diet without proper medical guidance to ensure all of your nutritional needs are balanced should not be taken lightly.
The keto diet could be particularly dangerous for individuals with type-1 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, bone ailments, or other medical conditions affecting their liver, pancreas, thyroid, or gallbladder.
For those people who don’t have medical conditions, this diet may develop nutrient deficiencies, poor bone health, and digestive problems. A common unpleasant experience is shared by the keto community online, self-dubbed "keto Flu."
What is the Keto Flu?
The keto flu is a group of symptoms that may appear 2 to 7 days after starting a Ketogenic diet. Headache, foggy brain, fatigue, irritability, and nausea are just some side effects you might experience from this condition which isn't recognized by medical science.
Believe it or not, a search for this term on PubMed yields only results of "Consumer Reports of "Keto Flu" Associated With the Ketogenic Diet" - the report scraped 75 forums for "keto flu," "keto-induction," or "keto-adaptation."
Of 448 posts from 300 people. Seventy-three of those people made more than one post. The most common symptoms were "flu," headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, "brain fog," gastrointestinal discomfort, decreased energy, feeling faint, and heartbeat alterations.
Symptoms seemed to peak in the first week and tapered off after 4 weeks.
What Health Benefits come with the Keto Diet
Of course, if consumers are going through flu-like symptoms to achieve ketosis, the keto diet's health benefits must be worth it. The list of claims around the diet is extensive but not conclusive.
So why is the ketogenic diet so popular?
Keto's popularity is likely driven by its ability to create visible body image changes so quickly. Studies show limiting carb intake almost always results in more short-term weight loss than limiting fat intake. That being said, low-carb diets tend to be at a disadvantage in the long term.
Additional health benefits attributed to following a long-term keto diet include:
- Body Weight Reduction
- Lower Body Mass Index
- Decreased triglycerides
- Decreased LDL cholesterol
- Decreased blood glucose levels
- Increases in HDL cholesterol
Keto Certifications on Packaged Food Products
As the keto diet has become increasingly popular, more brands have sought to label or certify their products as "keto-friendly." Unlike certifications such as organic or gluten-free, the keto diet reduces certain ingredients rather than eliminating them.
The FDA does not recognize or set standards for ketogenic. It is also highly individualized. Products labeled or certified as keto-friendly have come under intense scrutiny due to the arbitrary standards.
Rather than focusing on certifications, the best way to ensure a healthy transition into a keto diet is to first consult with your doctor or dietician about what foods in what quantities will work best for you.
That being said, what are certifications for if not to make life a little easier. If you'd like to learn more about the keto certifications available, click here.
Once you've consulted with a medical doctor or dietary professional, learning how to read through ingredient lists and nutrition labels is an invaluable skill to have in utilizing this diet. To check out our Nutrition Fact Panel guide, click here.