Ketogenic dieting, or the “keto” diet, is a popular choice for those who want to lose weight and become healthier. Going on a keto diet is a way to lose weight now, but also is a lifestyle change that ensures you remain healthier moving forward.
In the most basic sense, a keto diet is one that is low in carbohydrates while being high in protein and fat. This type of diet encourages your body to burn stored fat and use dietary fat for energy, instead of using the carbohydrates from your diet and storing excess carbs and fat as body fat.
This works because the human body is designed, genetically, for two seasons of eating. First, the late spring, summer, and early fall, when the weather is more temperate and high-sugar foods like fruits and plants are easily available. During this time, the body takes in sugars and uses those for energy, storing the excess as body fat for a leaner time. This leaner time is the second “food season,” the colder times of the year. During these times, plant-based food sources become much more difficult to come by. The body must rely on a diet of primarily meat (fat and protein) and make use of stored fat for survival.
The problem is that in the modern world, where temperature-controlled homes and abundant food are the norm, we never move from the first food season. Our bodies continue to crave high-carbohydrate foods and store the excess calories as body fat in preparation for a scarcity that will never come.
That's why a ketogenic diet works. It forces this scarcity on our bodies, causing us to do what we are supposed to do naturally, which is use up stored body fat periodically for energy.
Stages of Keto Dieting
The restriction, or weight-loss, stage of keto dieting is to cut out carbohydrates almost entirely. You will want to create a food plan which results in getting 5-10% of your calories from carbohydrates, 60-70% of your calories from fat, and the remaining 25-35% from protein. Based on a 1,800 calorie diet (a typical weight loss calorie goal), this means you will consume around 25 grams of carbohydrates, 140 grams of fat, and 112 grams of protein.
Yes, that's a lot of fat! Those of us who are used to more traditional dieting programs will be shocked at this. However, it is backed by both clinical and anecdotal evidence.
This strict level of carbohydrate restriction cannot be maintained forever, though. That leads into the re-introduction stage of keto dieting. During this stage, you want to gradually start putting carbohydrates into your diet. Doing this too suddenly is not good for your body, as it will not be prepared to suddenly digest a large amount of carbohydrates again.
There is not as much of a strict regimen for the re-introduction phase. You will simply start to adjust your daily ratios to reduce the amount of fat you eat and increase the amount of carbohydrates. Choose foods that stretch out the carbohydrate release into your system such as starches, however, rather than simple sugars.
The end goal is to reach a diet where you eat about 100 g of carbohydrates per day. This is the maintenance phase. The simplest way to figure out a food plan for the maintenance phase is to use diets written for the diabetic community, as 100 g of carbohydrates is the amount per day recommended by doctors for those with diabetes. You will want to continue your habits of choosing slow-acting starches over simple sugars, as well.
What Can I Eat?
Keto dieting is not for the faint of heart. It does require a major adjustment of food choices for most of us. It can be difficult to go out to eat, for example, or to dine in someone's home. But there are many delicious food choices out there.
The majority of your diet during the restriction stage will be made up of meats and seafood, full-fat dairy, eggs, and nuts, along with smaller servings of high-fiber vegetables. Nearly all animal products, with the exception of some shellfish, are virtually carbohydrate-free. And don't be afraid to enjoy some cheese – despite its high saturated fat content, it has not been shown to have a link with heart disease risk. Eggs for breakfast have been shown to help regulate hunger levels and increase feelings of fullness, so dig in!
For toppings, base them around olive oil. It is a heart-healthy fat source with many health benefits. You can use olive oil in keto-friendly sauces and salad dressings.
Almond flour is another keto staple. It can be used to replace typical flour in many recipes but contains only 3 grams of net carbohydrates per ¼ cup. This will allow you to do some baking without breaking your diet. My favorite keto food has always been almond flour pancakes dusted with cinnamon and Splenda.
If you are eating away from home, it becomes a little trickier. It is generally safest to stick with less processed animal products to ensure you aren't eating too many carbs. For example, at a restaurant you could order a steak and a side salad with oil and vinegar instead of dressing – just watch out for high-sugar veggies like tomatoes and carrots, or high-carb toppings like croutons. When visiting friends or family, talk to them in advance about your dietary requests; ask them to have cheese cubes, high-fiber vegetables, or nuts available for snacking instead of a typical meal where you all might struggle.
There are many websites available with literally thousands of keto diet recipes. Do a little research and a little planning ahead, and you will never struggle to put together an enjoyable low-carb meal.