The ketogenic diet—also known as "keto"—has become the latest big thing in weight-loss plans, touted recently by celebs like Jenna Jameson, Mama June, and Halle Berry. The diet involves cutting way back on carbohydrates, to 50 grams a day or less, to help the body achieve a state of ketosis, in which it has to burn fat (rather than sugar) for energy.
Julie Hand is a certified holistic health and nutrition counselor (Institute for Integrative Nutrition), personal fitness trainer (National Personal Training Institute), and yoga teacher (Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health). Though she can’t resist trying every science-backed health tip, she also has a penchant for crystals and astrology (don’t judge). You can find her walking the beach (coffee in hand, of course) and practicing the ukulele on weekends.
"My suggestion is to start with changing your mindset first and foremost around three very important facts: this is not just another diet, you don’t have to live in Ketosis forever, and you will not be depriving yourself. Having said that, if you are used to eating highly-processed sugary food and refined carbohydrates you’ll need to ease into it," she explains.
Because some cancer cells are inefficient in processing ketone bodies for energy, the ketogenic diet has also been suggested as a treatment for cancer. A 2018 review looked at the evidence from preclinical and clinical studies of ketogenic diets in cancer therapy. The clinical studies in humans are typically very small, with some providing weak evidence for anti-tumour effect, particularly for glioblastoma, but in other cancers and studies, no anti-tumour effect was seen. Taken together, results from preclinical studies, albeit sometimes contradictory, tend to support an anti-tumor effect rather than a pro-tumor effect of the KD for most solid cancers.
After about two to seven days of following this eating routine, you go into something called ketosis, or the state your body enters when it doesn't have enough carbs for your cells to use for energy. Then it starts making ketones, or organic compounds that your bod then uses in place of those missing carbs—and oh, it also burns fat for more energy, says Beth Warren, R.D., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living A Real Life With Real Food.
The ketogenic diet is calculated by a dietitian for each child. Age, weight, activity levels, culture and food preferences all affect the meal plan. First, the energy requirements are set at 80–90% of the recommended daily amounts (RDA) for the child's age (the high-fat diet requires less energy to process than a typical high-carbohydrate diet). Highly active children or those with muscle spasticity require more calories than this; immobile children require less. The ketogenic ratio of the diet compares the weight of fat to the combined weight of carbohydrate and protein. This is typically 4:1, but children who are younger than 18 months, older than 12 years, or who are obese may be started on a 3:1 ratio. Fat is energy-rich, with 9 kcal/g (38 kJ/g) compared to 4 kcal/g (17 kJ/g) for carbohydrate or protein, so portions on the ketogenic diet are smaller than normal. The quantity of fat in the diet can be calculated from the overall energy requirements and the chosen ketogenic ratio. Next, the protein levels are set to allow for growth and body maintenance, and are around 1 g protein for each kg of body weight. Lastly, the amount of carbohydrate is set according to what allowance is left while maintaining the chosen ratio. Any carbohydrate in medications or supplements must be subtracted from this allowance. The total daily amount of fat, protein and carbohydrate is then evenly divided across the meals.
Eggs are a healthy, nutrient-dense food that has been incorrectly maligned for years. Cholesterol in food doesn’t increase cholesterol in your blood, so eat eggs liberally – they’re packed with protein and lutein, and they fill you up for hours. Make a healthy omelet with some cheddar, crumbled breakfast sausage, and shredded spinach and you’re already looking at over 30g of protein, just for breakfast! Spinach is a great source of magnesium and potassium, too. Add some sea salt and you’ve got a big dose of electrolytes that are so vital to maintaining energy and staving off headaches. Get the recipe and instructions
When you eat tons of carbs, your blood sugar is consistently elevated, and then so is insulin. Insulin is a hormone that keeps your blood sugar in check by shuttling the glucose into cells, but when there’s a consistently high amount of insulin, your cells become resistant. This insulin resistance makes it easier to store fat, and chronically high levels of insulin also cause excessive inflammation in the body, which contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, and potentially type 2 diabetes.
Like those other guys, the keto diet follows strict guidelines on what you can and can’t eat, suggesting you limit your daily carb intake to 20 to 30 net grams while upping your fat like crazy. If all goes well, your body will stop getting all its energy from glucose and insulin produced by grains, sugars, and starches and instead start cranking out ketones to break down and burn up stored fat. Sound good? Of course, it does.
If you haven't heard of biltong, they're those thick, flavorful strips of air-dried meat that put stringy, chewy, and additive-packed beef jerky to shame. These peppery little slabs are made from grass-fed beef, air-dried for 14 days, and spiced with a blend of cayenne and chili powder to add some heat without overwhelming your palate. They’re also sugar-free, full of protein, and super simple to toss in your bag.
Diarrhea can also be due to a lack of fiber in the diet, says Kizer, which can happen when someone cuts way back on carbs (like whole-grain bread and pasta) and doesn’t supplement with other fiber-rich foods, like vegetables. It can also be caused by an intolerance to dairy or artificial sweeteners—things you might be eating more of since switching to a high-fat, low-carb lifestyle.
So, we have a situation where the body has way too much insulin in the blood—yet the insulin is not able to do its job in the cells, either. The cells are resisting it. As a result, the body keeps making more and more insulin. These hormones are on a constant feedback loop, sending and receiving messages of “Sugar is high—release more insulin. . . . Must lower blood sugar for the body to stay alive.”
First reported in 2003, the idea of using a form of the Atkins diet to treat epilepsy came about after parents and patients discovered that the induction phase of the Atkins diet controlled seizures. The ketogenic diet team at Johns Hopkins Hospital modified the Atkins diet by removing the aim of achieving weight loss, extending the induction phase indefinitely, and specifically encouraging fat consumption. Compared with the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet (MAD) places no limit on calories or protein, and the lower overall ketogenic ratio (approximately 1:1) does not need to be consistently maintained by all meals of the day. The MAD does not begin with a fast or with a stay in hospital and requires less dietitian support than the ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates are initially limited to 10 g per day in children or 20 g per day in adults, and are increased to 20–30 g per day after a month or so, depending on the effect on seizure control or tolerance of the restrictions. Like the ketogenic diet, the MAD requires vitamin and mineral supplements and children are carefully and periodically monitored at outpatient clinics.
It can be tricky calculating the precise kind of diet that leads to a long life. Part of the problem is that (thankfully) we don't live our lives in highly controlled laboratory conditions. Until that terrifying day arrives and we all become well-studied lab rats, we have to rely on long-term observational data, usually in the form of surveys, to know more about which diets are the best long-term plans.
While healthy fats are a keto mainstay, they're not the only thing you need: "It's important to make sure you're getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients when observing the keto diet," Sugiuchi explains. Seaweed snacks, she says, are a salty and crunchy way to score some extra nutrients and can satisfy any crunchy/salty/carby cravings.