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.
The ketogenic diet — a high-fat and very low-carb eating plan — can be tough to start. After all, it’s likely a radical departure from the way you’re eating now (a typical standard American diet is high in carbohydrates and processed foods). But many people are trying the keto diet, which puts your body in a state of ketosis. That's what happens when your body’s carb-burning switch flips to a fat-burning one, a change that can cause weight loss and has even been credited with controlling diabetes. (1)
A low carb diet plan is a way of eating that is high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. There are different variations of low carb, and the keto diet is a special type of low carb with added characteristics. The number of carbohydrates will vary depending on your insulin tolerance and activity level, but on average, these are the common numbers of carbs:
Look at the glycemic index to choose the best foods for your ketogenic meal plan. There are websites that provide the glycemic index (GI) or glycemic load of different foods. The glycemic index tells you how your body's glucose and insulin system will respond to different foods. Foods that are lower on the index (or have a lower glycemic load) are foods that digest more slowly and will help you to feel full for a longer period of time.
When a person goes off the ketogenic diet and regains much of their original weight, it’s often not in the same proportions, says Kizer: Instead of regaining lean muscle, you’re likely to regain fat. “Now you’re back to your starting weight, but you no longer have the muscle mass to burn the calories that you did before,” she says. “That can have lasting effects on your resting metabolic rate, and on your weight long-term.”
When it comes to starting the keto diet (or any diet for that matter), there's one thing all experts agree on. You *must* have a plan. "Never try to wing a keto diet," says Julie Stefanski, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., a dietitian based in York, PA, who specializes in the ketogenic diet. "Set a start date and get prepared by reorganizing your pantry, planning out meal and snack options, and purchasing appropriate foods and dietary supplements," she says. "The biggest reason people have a hard time sticking with keto is that people don't have enough interesting foods to turn to, and high-carb favorites win out over good intention. If you didn't buy foods at the grocery store that fit the guidelines, there won't be an easy option in the fridge when you really need it." (A great place to start is this List of High-Fat Keto Foods Anyone Can Add to Their Diet.)
The popular low-carb diets (such as Atkins or Paleo) modify a true keto diet. But they come with the same risks if you overdo it on fats and proteins and lay off the carbs. So why do people follow the diets? "They're everywhere, and people hear anecdotally that they work," McManus says. Theories about short-term low-carb diet success include lower appetite because fat burns slower than carbs. "But again, we don't know about the long term," she says. "And eating a restrictive diet, no matter what the plan, is difficult to sustain. Once you resume a normal diet, the weight will likely return."
We’ve included a printable shopping list and meal plan for your convenience! Again, use these tools as a reference and not as the be all end all. If you see something else on sale that you enjoy eating, go for that! This can be used as a framework for how to eat on keto. This isn’t the most ideal meal plan for optimal health, but it’s a pretty good one for cheap. I would recommend getting some coconut oil in this plan if possible, but we couldn’t fit it into our all-inclusive approach. If you buy in bulk on amazon coconut oil is cheap!
When you’ve eaten all of the crustless spinach quiche and keto frittata recipes that you can, these keto everything bagels are another great breakfast staple. With their help, you don’t have to cut out your favorite breakfast sandwiches. You can also try a bread-less keto breakfast sandwich with chicken sausage patties as the “buns” when you’re craving a keto-approved breakfast option.
Rethink the heavily-promoted idea that vegetables and whole grains are the healthiest foods to eat. They are not. Animal foods offer greater amounts of more easily-absorbed nutrients and vegetables and grains contain many natural toxins. I'm not saying don't eat vegetables, they do provide some benefit. I am saying give up the grains, the negative effect of these foods outweighs any nutritive value they have.
Advocates for the diet recommend that it be seriously considered after two medications have failed, as the chance of other drugs succeeding is only 10%. The diet can be considered earlier for some epilepsy and genetic syndromes where it has shown particular usefulness. These include Dravet syndrome, infantile spasms, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy and tuberous sclerosis complex.
On the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are restricted and so cannot provide for all the metabolic needs of the body. Instead, fatty acids are used as the major source of fuel. These are used through fatty-acid oxidation in the cell's mitochondria (the energy-producing parts of the cell). Humans can convert some amino acids into glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis, but cannot do this by using fatty acids. Since amino acids are needed to make proteins, which are essential for growth and repair of body tissues, these cannot be used only to produce glucose. This could pose a problem for the brain, since it is normally fuelled solely by glucose, and most fatty acids do not cross the blood–brain barrier. However, the liver can use long-chain fatty acids to synthesise the three ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate and acetone. These ketone bodies enter the brain and partially substitute for blood glucose as a source of energy.
Here's the reality: A high carb diet drives up blood sugar and insulin levels. All that sugar and insulin are inflammatory. The standard American diet offers lots of foods that are high sugar AND high in saturated fat, and in studies, these two factors were lumped together. So although saturated fat is healthy, it got the blame for the inflammation that causes heart disease because it was studied in combination with a high carb diet. A ketogenic diet plan which is high in saturated fat and very low in carbohydrate will REDUCE inflammation. (Reference here.)
This is important because one of the primary triggers of insulin is eating. I am not talking about taking your supplements or drinking tea or even one cup of coffee in the morning but eating five to six times a day—and let’s not forget, snacking will spike insulin even if it’s healthy food. The more frequent the eating, the more there is chronic elevation of insulin, leading to insulin resistance.
Lots of apps and website offer keto diet challenges—basically, a blueprint for the keto diet with a fixed starting and ending point (they typically last for a week to a month, though some may be longer). Speaking of apps, plenty of keto-centric ones are right at your fingertips (a.k.a., your smartphone), like the KetoDiet app, which can help you calculate your macros and track your keto diet effectively.
Fat is the cornerstone of the keto diet, making up the bulk of calories. An individual consuming 2,000 calories per day would need to consume 144 to 177 grams of fat. Fats make up 70-80% of your calories. Since fat is the main source of nutrition on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to source high-quality, healthy fats, which you’ll read about below.
The easiest macro to calculate in the ketogenic diet is fat. Once you've got your carbs and protein set, simply fill the rest of your daily calorie needs with fat sources. If you find yourself wanting to gain a bit of weight, add approximately 500 calories, or 55 grams. If you want to lose weight, cut down on your fat intake by 200-500 calories, or 22-55 grams.
One cup sliced cucumbers and 10 large olives makes for a great keto-friendly snack, with added benefits: “This is a great snack to help people in ketosis supplement their sodium levels." says Desiree Nielsen, R.D., author of Un-Junk Your Diet. When you're in ketosis, your body needs more sodium, and “without adequate sodium, people are at risk for dehydration, constipation, and more dangerous electrolyte imbalances," she adds.
People also see good weight loss results on the keto diet because eating a low carb, high fat diet can help you feel less hungry and not have to count calories or portion sizes to lose weight. Plus, cutting out the refined carbs and sugars normally present in a traditional Western diet helps avoid crazy spikes in blood sugar that can lead to the feeling of being hungry again soon after eating.
Josh Axe, a doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist, estimates that about 25% of people who try a ketogenic diet experience these symptoms, with fatigue being the most common. “That happens because your body runs out of sugar to burn for energy, and it has to start using fat,” he says. “That transition alone is enough to make your body feel tired for a few days.”
The ketogenic diet achieved national media exposure in the US in October 1994, when NBC's Dateline television programme reported the case of Charlie Abrahams, son of Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams. The two-year-old suffered from epilepsy that had remained uncontrolled by mainstream and alternative therapies. Abrahams discovered a reference to the ketogenic diet in an epilepsy guide for parents and brought Charlie to John M. Freeman at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which had continued to offer the therapy. Under the diet, Charlie's epilepsy was rapidly controlled and his developmental progress resumed. This inspired Abrahams to create the Charlie Foundation to promote the diet and fund research. A multicentre prospective study began in 1994, the results were presented to the American Epilepsy Society in 1996 and were published in 1998. There followed an explosion of scientific interest in the diet. In 1997, Abrahams produced a TV movie, ...First Do No Harm, starring Meryl Streep, in which a young boy's intractable epilepsy is successfully treated by the ketogenic diet.
Wondering what fits into a keto diet — and what doesn’t? “It’s so important to know what foods you’ll be eating before you start, and how to incorporate more fats into your diet,” says Kristen Mancinelli, RD, author of The Ketogenic Diet: A Scientifically Proven Approach to Fast, Healthy Weight Loss, who is based in New York City. We asked her for some guidelines.
Avocados are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing your bad cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association. You probably already add slices of avocado to your salads and omelets, but have you tried ‘em solo? Langer suggests taking half of an avocado, drizzling it with olive oil and a bit of lemon juice, and sprinkling sea salt on top. Then dig right in.
In the first week, many people report headaches, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. Most of the time, this is the result of your electrolytes being flushed out, as ketosis has a diuretic effect. Make sure you drink plenty of water and keep your sodium intake up.6One of the fathers of keto, Dr. Phinney, shows that electrolyte levels (especially sodium) can become unbalanced with low carb intake.