The Ketogenic Diet: A Complete Guide, Foods, and Meal Plan

foods for the ketogenic diet

The newest buzzword to hit the diet world seems to be keto, which refers to a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet.

With claims that you can eat all the fats you want, never feel hungry again, lower your blood sugar if you have type 2 diabetes, and even increase your athletic performance, the diet promises something for everyone.

But what exactly is a ketogenic diet, and is a weight loss program right for you? Let's take a closer look before you try to make over your eating habits and lifestyle.

What is a ketogenic diet exactly?

The ketogenic diet is based on the principle that by eliminating carbohydrates from the body, which are its main source of energy, you can force the body to burn fat for fuel, thereby maximizing weight loss.

When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates, the body converts those carbohydrates into glucose, or blood sugar, which it then uses for energy.

Since glucose is the easiest form of energy for the body to use, it is always used for energy before your body turns into stored fat for fuel.

On a ketogenic diet, the goal is to limit carbohydrate intake so that the body must break down fat for energy.

When this happens, fat is broken down in the liver, thereby producing ketones, which are by-products of your metabolism. These ketones are then used to fuel the body in the absence of glucose.

Ketogenic diet: how to follow a keto diet?

There are several types of keto diets, but in essence, in order to achieve a state of ketosis, you must greatly reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat. (You can use this ketogenic calculator to create a custom meal plan).

The data shows that the average American man over the age of 20 consumes 47. 4 percent of his daily calories from carbohydrates, and the average American woman over the age of 20 consumes 49. 6 percent of her daily calories from carbohydrates.

But in the classic fat-burning diet, which was originally used to treat epileptic disorders, 80 to 90 percent of calories come from fat, 5 to 15 percent from protein, and 5 to 10 percent from carbohydrates.

A modified version of the ketogenic diet, which allows you to eat protein more liberally - 20-30 percent of your total calories - with the same carb restriction, is the most commonly used version of the diet today.

Some of the goals of the latest version of the ketogenic diet are weight loss, weight management, and improved athletic performance.

An In-Depth Look at Ketosis: The Fat-Burning Mechanism That Makes the Keto Diet Work

The ketogenic diet for weight loss is based on the idea that getting the body into ketosis will maximize fat loss. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose stores for energy.

When these reserves are depleted, the body resorts to burning stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. This process produces acids called ketones, which accumulate in the body and can be used for energy.

How do you know if you are in ketosis?

To find out if you're in ketosis, test your urine for ketones. You can purchase ketone strips online or at a retail pharmacy. A line that tests positive for ketones indicates that you have reached a state of ketosis.

Many people associate elevated ketones with the diabetic emergency known as ketoacidosis, but the nutritional ketosis associated with the ketogenic diet and diabetic ketoacidosis is very different.

What is the difference between ketosis and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)?

For people with diabetes, a rapid rise in ketone levels can signal a health crisis that requires immediate medical attention.

In the absence or deficiency of the hormone insulin (or the body is too resistant to insulin to allow it to inject glucose into cells for energy), the body cannot use glucose for fuel.

Insulin helps transport glucose into our cells and muscles for energy. Instead, in this case, the body resorts to burning stored fat for energy through the process of ketosis, which leads to the accumulation of ketones in the body.

As ketones accumulate in the bloodstream of a person with diabetes, they cause the blood to become more acidic, which can lead to a condition known as ketoacidosis. This condition can be potentially fatal and should be treated immediately.

The Keto Diet: Potential Health Risks and Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet?

If you search the internet for the term "keto diet", you will see that the health claims associated with the ketogenic diet are numerous.

But before you give this dietary approach a try, it's important to know what the science has to offer on how it might affect your health. Namely, you'll want to be aware of the potential dangers of the keto diet.

Risk of the ketogenic diet: You may suffer from fatigue and other symptoms as a result of the keto flu

One of the most common side effects of starting a ketogenic diet is the "keto flu. "The term describes the often unpleasant, fatigue-inducing symptoms that occur as the body adjusts from a high-carb diet to a low-carb diet.

During the keto flu, the body's stored glucose begins to deplete and the body begins to adapt to producing and using ketones for energy.

Symptoms of the keto flu include headache, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems, palpitations, cramps, and diarrhea. These side effects usually lessen and finally resolve in about 2 weeks.

But to lessen the effects of any discomfort, just consider slowly transitioning to a ketogenic diet rather than rushing to change your eating habits.

By slowly reducing your carb intake, gradually increasing your dietary fat intake over time, you can transition with less negative impact and potentially prevent the keto flu.

Keto Diet Risk: You May Experience Constipation If You Don't Eat Enough Fruits and Vegetables

Removing many grains and fruits with such a heavy focus on fat can bring its own set of gastrointestinal side effects. Keto constipation and diarrhea are not uncommon.

"If you don’t do it properly — with most of your carbohydrates coming from fiber-rich vegetables — you may not be getting enough fiber, which can lead to constipation, " says Chris Mohr, Ph. D. , RD, sports nutritionist based in Louisville. , Kentucky.

Ketogenic Diet Risk: You Could Develop a Potentially Dangerous Nutritional Deficiency

Also, eliminating food groups can be problematic.

"Ketogenic diets are often low in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, and folic acid, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies over time if the diet is not planned carefully, " adds Marie Spano, RD, CSCS, who is based in Atlanta.

The Risks of the Keto Diet: You Can Harm Your Heart Due to the Diet Focusing on Animal Fat and Protein

Dependence on a diet rich in animal fats and proteins can also negatively affect heart health, studies show.

"This diet is not intended for those who are at risk for developing cardiovascular disease or who have already been diagnosed, " Spano warns.

This means that if you have risk factors for heart disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), or a strong family history of the disease — you should be careful when following this diet.

A diet heavily reliant on fats, especially saturated fats, can raise your cholesterol levels, further increasing your chances of developing heart disease in the future.

Risk of a ketogenic diet: You may experience potentially dangerous low blood sugar if you have diabetes

For anyone with diabetes, discussing dietary changes - especially dramatic ones like those required by the ketogenic diet - with your doctor is essential.

Because carbohydrates are broken down into blood glucose, cutting carbohydrates from your diet can cause your levels to drop quickly, depending on your current medication regimen.

Such a change may require significant adjustments in medications and insulin to prevent dangerous side effects such as low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia.

Keto Diet Risk: You May Experience Weight Loss Affecting Your Metabolism

Beyond physical health changes, one of the biggest concerns of a ketogenic diet may lie in long-term adherence.

"This is a very difficult diet to follow and maintain. Compliance is a problem because it's so restrictive, " Mohr explains.

Following a strict weight loss diet and then quickly reverting to old habits when dietary changes are too restrictive can lead to what is known as weight cycling or the yo-yo diet.

Gaining and losing the same weight over and over again can start to have a negative impact on your self-image and motivation, as well as potentially your health.

Benefit of the Ketogenic Diet: You May See Improvements in Your Athletic Performance

For athletes, research on the keto diet highlights potential improvements in athletic performance, especially when it comes to endurance activities.

The article suggests that ketogenic-type diets may allow endurance athletes to rely primarily on stored fat for energy during exercise rather than fueling on simple carbohydrates during endurance training and competition, further improving recovery time.

Benefits of the Keto Diet: You Can Lose Weight Fast — But Not Necessarily More Than You'll See From Other Diets

If you're looking to lose weight, one of the benefits of a ketogenic diet may offer the ability to suppress your appetite. A review of this form of eating suggests that it may help reduce appetite, but how this actually happens needs to be explored further.

When it comes to weight loss—the plan's biggest possible draw for many people—the benefits of a ketogenic diet may not be much different than any other diet plan.

"There is no magic weight loss benefit that can be achieved from this diet, " says Spano. "The ketogenic diet can help you lose weight just like other diets — by limiting food choices so you eat fewer calories. "

Mor agrees. "Reducing that much carbs is a big calorie reduction, " he says, adding that this effect will reduce water weight up front, "which is why people like the immediate weight loss response that comes from this type of diet. "

Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet: You May See Better Blood Glucose Control If You Have Type 2 Diabetes

For people with diabetes, adapting a very low-carbohydrate diet, such as the ketogenic diet, can offer some benefits when it comes to glucose management.

For example, a review found that dietary carbohydrate restriction may reduce or eliminate the need for medications in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

How can the ketogenic diet help people with type 2 diabetes?

Because the main tenet of the keto diet is counting and reducing carbs—a widely used way of controlling blood sugar levels—this eating approach is becoming increasingly popular among people with type 2 diabetes who want to lower their A1C, which is an average measurement of blood sugar levels. blood from two to three months.

Indeed, studies show that this diet can lead to rapid weight loss and potentially lower blood sugar levels for people with this condition.

But nutritionists warn that the keto diet is also associated with risks that are common to people managing diabetes, including possible drug interactions and potentially dangerous low blood sugar if you're on medication, as well as kidney damage in people with dysfunctional kidneys due tofor elevated levels of ketones in the blood.

Also, because the keto diet hasn't been studied for a long time, researchers don't know if the diet can also lead to nutrient deficiencies whether or not you have diabetes.

If you're considering trying the keto diet for diabetes, it's important to check with your diabetes care physician before doing so to make sure it's a safe and effective nutritional approach for you.

The Ketogenic Diet: How to Get Started on a Fat Burning Diet

Here are some other things to know before trying this restrictive eating plan.

Can you stick to carb restriction?

Following a diet that drastically restricts carbohydrates requires careful monitoring of your food choices to make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs.

By working with an experienced nutritionist, you can ensure that you follow this diet in a healthy way without increasing your risk of complications or negative side effects.

It's important to remember that the goal of any diet change is to promote a healthy lifestyle, so be sure to choose a meal plan that you can imagine long term.

If you know that you won't be able to maintain such strict carb restrictions for many years, then the ketogenic diet is most likely not the right choice for you.

The Ketogenic Diet: What Are the Types of Keto Diets?

There are various modifications of the ketogenic diet. Most people on a ketogenic diet follow what is known as the standard ketogenic diet plan, which provides about 10 percent of total calories from carbohydrates.

Other forms of ketogenic diets include cyclical ketogenic diets, also known as the carb cycle, and targeted ketogenic diets, which allow for adjustments for carbohydrate intake around exercise.

These changes are typically implemented by athletes looking to use the ketogenic diet for performance and endurance gains, rather than by individuals specifically focused on weight loss.

But generally speaking, if you're planning to follow a ketogenic diet, you should aim to consume less than 10 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates per day.

The rest of the calories should be 20-30% protein and 60-80% fat. This means that if you are following a 2, 000 calorie daily diet, no more than 200 of your calories (or 50 grams) should come from carbohydrates.

Whereas 400-600 calories should come from protein and 1, 200-1, 600 should come from fat. (There's a reason this plan is also called a high-fat, low-carb diet! )

Is exercise included in the standard ketogenic diet?

While the ketogenic diet doesn't specifically call for fitness to be included in your daily routine, increasing physical activity is always important when you want to help reduce and certainly maintain a healthy body weight.

For endurance athletes, switching to a ketogenic diet can shorten post-workout recovery time, but for casual athletes, switching to a ketogenic diet can make sticking with your fitness regimen a problem in the first place.

If you feel like your energy levels are dropping too much when starting a ketogenic diet, slow down your carb reduction, making sure it happens over time and not all at once.

Ketogenic Diet: What Side Effects Should You Expect?

To prevent side effects like the keto flu, start transitioning to your meal plan gradually. Start by understanding how many carbs you take on most days.

Then start slowly reducing your carb intake over several weeks, gradually increasing your dietary fat intake to keep your calories the same.

You should also make sure to seek the advice of a professional to make sure this plan works best for you and your health goals. "See a nutritionist and tailor the diet to your long-term needs, " Spano recommends.

The Ketogenic Diet: Foods You Can Eat

The ketogenic diet is not a commercial eating plan, so there are no costs or membership fees associated with starting this diet. But, depending on your current eating habits, this approach to eating can increase your food bill.

Because many processed foods won't be considered ketogenic-diet-friendly, switching to buying more whole, unprocessed foods can seem expensive at the time, especially with the reliance on high-fat, protein-rich foods.

But buying fresh produce in season, along with frozen vegetables that can be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts, can help keep costs down. While nuts, seeds, and animal proteins like beef can add to the cost of your grocery bill, buying in bulk can also help lower their cost.

The ketogenic diet relies heavily on dietary fats. Since high levels of animal fats in the diet have been associated with elevated cholesterol levels, aiming to include a good variety of vegetable fats can be beneficial.

Vegetable oils such as olive oil and avocado oil provide healthy fat for cooking and dressing.

Adding fat-rich foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds can lead to healthy options that provide you with unsaturated fats along with healthy fiber.

Most fruits are limited in this regard - there are exceptions, including avocados - but non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens should be a staple in your diet.

Lean proteins such as fish, poultry, and grass-fed beef can also be included as a source of protein in this diet.

List of Acceptable Foods for the Standard Keto Diet

  • Vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
  • Dairy products, including eggs and cheese.
  • Protein likes beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, and soy.
  • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Fats such as vegetable oils and butter.
  • Fruits such as avocados, berries (in moderation), coconut (in moderation), and rhubarb.

The Ketogenic Diet: Foods You Should Avoid or Limit on a Fat-Containing Diet

  • Processed foods such as crackers, corn chips, and potato chips.
  • Sweets, including candies, cookies, cakes and cake.
  • Grains of all kinds, including bread, pasta, rice and quinoa.
  • High carbohydrate fruits such as melons and tropical fruits.
  • Artificial sweeteners such as Equal, Splenda, Sukrazit.

Ketogenic diet: sample 3-day menu of a standard keto diet

Day 1

  • Breakfast: scrambled eggs with chopped avocado.
  • Snack: almond butter on celery.
  • Lunch: spinach salad with canned tuna, olive oil and vinegar.
  • Snack: 1 ounce (oz) string cheese and 1 ounce pistachios.
  • Dinner: Loin steak paired with stewed mushrooms, onions and cauliflower rice.

Day 2

  • Breakfast: omelet with mushrooms and cheese with chopped bacon.
  • Snack: ½ avocado.
  • Lunch: Chicken stir fry with peppers, onions and peanuts, fried in peanut butter.
  • Snack: 1 oz Brie with 1 oz walnuts.
  • Dinner: Salmon fillet with roasted Brussels sprouts.

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Keto smoothie with avocado, whole coconut milk, chia seeds, and nut butter.
  • Snack: hard boiled egg.
  • Lunch: Cheeseburger (no bun) over a bed of lettuce paired with green beans.
  • Snack: 1 ounce almonds.
  • Dinner: Chicken breast paired with stewed broccoli.

What to Expect When You Try the Keto Diet

While the keto diet can lead to rapid weight loss through ketosis, the plan carries some health risks, including nutritional deficiencies, heart damage, gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, and more.

Because of the associated health risks, experts recommend that some people, such as those with heart disease or people who are at higher risk for it, not try the keto diet.

People with type 2 diabetes should check with their doctor before trying the keto (or any new) diet.

Due to severe restrictions on carbohydrate intake and the exclusion of food groups such as grains, this plan can also be difficult to achieve in the long term.

Trying a diet, giving up on it, and then trying it again can lead to weight cycling, or yo-yo diets, in turn, making it harder to lose weight overall.

If you're considering trying the keto diet, be sure to check with your doctor and, if possible, a professional dietitian to make sure you're meeting your nutritional needs with the plan.

Working with a professional can help you determine if you need to make adjustments or if you're better off avoiding the diet entirely.