Are you looking for a way to lose weight and also reduce inflammation in your body? Then you may want to consider trying the keto diet, also known as the ketogenic diet.
Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, explains what the keto diet is all about: “It’s basically having really low carbohydrates, high fat and moderate protein,” she says.
The keto diet was first developed in 1924 by doctors at the Mayo Clinic who were trying to treat patients with epilepsy. They found that when patients fasted, they had fewer seizures. So they came up with this diet that was very low in carbs to trick the body into thinking it was fasting.
The whole idea is this: The body typically uses glucose as its fuel source, and glucose comes from carbs. But when the body doesn’t have enough carbs, it will then start getting energy from ketones, which are derived from fat. By cutting the number of carbs you eat to a very low amount, you will send your body into ketosis, meaning that it will start burning fat instead of carbs for fuel, and you will start seeing dramatic weight loss.
Typically on a keto diet, you want to get about 75 percent of your calories from fat, 20 percent of your calories from protein and only 5 percent of your calories from carbs (although ratios may be different for each person based on their age, gender and other factors). That means you’ll be eating lots of eggs, meat (the fattier the better), leafy greens, and good fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and butter, but you’ll be cutting out all forms of grains, sugar, legumes, potatoes and even some types of vegetables (like carrots that contain a lot of carbs).
It’s similar to the Atkins diet, except in the Atkins diet, people only cut carbs for a short amount of time and then gradually added them back in. Also, when the Atkins was popular back in the early 2000s, people were famous for avoiding carbs, but eating a lot of unhealthy foods, which Bogaard doesn’t recommend.
“People would go to McDonald’s and eat cheeseburgers without the bun, which isn’t healthy at all,” Bogaard explains. “The keto diet, too, can be either healthy or unhealthy depending on how people use it. People can be on a keto diet and use aspartame and heavy whipping cream in their coffee and eat at fast food restaurants. This will cause weight loss, but it won’t address inflammation.”
Instead, Bogaard recommends eating foods that would be on a paleo diet but altering the ratios to push you into ketosis — generally meaning no dairy, artificial sugars, or fast food and instead eating lots of vegetables, grass-fed meats and pasture-raised eggs, which are more anti-inflammatory.
How Can the Keto Diet Help Me?
Of course, losing weight isn’t the only benefit of going on the keto diet. Another major benefit of cutting carbs out of your diet is that it also reduces your risk for inflammation. When we eat too many carbs, our insulin levels spike, and over a long period of time, this creates an insulin resistance, which then causes inflammation, a source of a multitude of diseases including heart disease, cancer, arthritis and more.
And that’s not all. The keto diet is said to also improve mental focus, increase your energy levels, improve your cholesterol levels and even help reduce acne.
“There is also research out there showing the keto diet can help reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and can help kids who have behavior issues,” Bogaard says.
Side Effects of the Keto Diet
Embarking on the keto diet isn’t easy, especially if you’re used to a standard American diet that’s filled with carbs, sugars and processed foods. In fact, doctors warn that you should expect to get the “keto flu” in the first week or two that you try this diet. Some of the signs include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, irritability, muscle cramps, constipation, fogginess, sugar cravings and more. Here are more tips on how to deal with sugar withdrawl.
One of the best things you can do to reduce these flu-like symptoms is to be vigilant about drinking TONS of water. That’s because carbs bind to water when they are stored in your body, so when you use up your stored carbs, you run the risk of being dehydrated.
Also, make sure you’re eating lots of fats to give your body the new fuel it needs. One popular method is to add MTC oil (short for medium-chain triglycerides) to your coffee to get more fats into your system, or snacking on pork rinds or guacamole to up your fat intake.
What You Can Eat
So what exactly can you eat on a keto diet? If you decide to give it a try, here are the foods you’ll be stocking up on:
- Fish and seafood
- Poultry (try fattier cuts like chicken thighs vs. chicken breasts and duck vs. chicken)
- Good fats, such as butter or ghee, coconut oil, and MTC oil
- Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and lettuce
- Non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, and green beans
- Hard, high-fat cheeses
- TomatoesOther foods that you can eat occasionally include starchy vegetables; sweet potatoes; hummus; full-fat milk, cream and cheese; nuts and seeds; almond or coconut milk.
What You Can’t Eat
- Grains (wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn, etc.)
- Sweeteners (sugar, honey, molasses, agave, etc.)
- Fruits (except some berries)
How to figure out your keto ratio
Bogaard what makes the keto diet effective is that it’s all about determining what ratio of fats, proteins and carbs will work for you, rather than just saying you can eat whatever you want of a certain type of food.
That’s why if you’re interested in trying the keto diet, Bogaard recommends women read Leeann Vogel’s book, The Keto Diet, and men read Dave Asprey’s book, The Bulletproof Diet, to figure out their own fat-protein-carb ratio that will work for them.
“I help give people resources and ways to be able to figure it out for themselves,” Bogaard says.
Once you know how to calculate your ratios, you can use online tools such as My Fitness Pal to look up different foods to determine how many grams of carbs and fats they have.
For example, if you currently eat a 2,500 calorie diet, you would want to eat about 30 grams of carbs a day. Here’s how that might look:
Sample Keto Menu
- Breakfast: Omelet made with 3 eggs (3g carbs), 1 cup spinach (1g carbs), and 1 sausage link (2g carbs)
- Lunch: Salad made with 1 cup romaine lettuce (1.5g carbs) with ¼ cup diced ham (2g carbs), 1/4 cup sliced cucumber (1g carbs), ¼ of a green pepper (2g carbs) and ½ avocado (1g carbs), plus a salad dressing made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (3g carbs).
- Snack: 10 raw almonds (2.5g carbs), ¼ cup of sunflower seeds (5g carbs)
- Dinner: Salmon (0 carbs), roasted asparagus (5g carbs)
TOTAL CARBS: 27 grams
“The keto diet may not be for everyone, but if you are willing to make the change, you can see enormous benefits for your health,” Bogaard says.