The keto diet has exploded in popularity over the last few years, eclipsing even the ubiquitous paleo diet. In fact, it's now one of the most-searched-for diets in the world. While many are aware of it, some still don’t know exactly what it entails.
So what should and shouldn't you eat? Since there is a lot of misinformation out there, we're going over what is and isn't on the keto diet menu.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The keto diet minimizes carbohydrates in exchange for large amounts of fat. The standard American diet is filled with carbohydrates, which means initially introducing someone to the concept of keto can be a bit challenging.
Originally developed to help with epileptic seizures, the keto diet can also aid in weight loss, better blood sugar control, and a lowered risk of dementia.
The goal of the keto is to force your body into a fat-burning mode. Carbs provide energy for your body and if you are taking a lot, your body won’t dip into your fat stores for energy.
However, by eliminating most of your carbs, the keto diet forces your body to dip into your fat reserves for the energy it needs. The keto approach also changes what your body is running on, shifting from glycogen stores to ketone bodies -- these are produced in your liver when your carbs are severely restricted.
What Foods Can You Eat on The Keto Diet?
The keto diet is actually quite expansive in terms of how many different foods you can eat. The popular belief is that the keto approach is limiting, but in reality, the opposite is true.
And with the popularity of the keto diet, there are now more keto-friendly foods and recipes available than ever. From bacon and eggs to sugar-free cake, there are a plethora of great options to choose from on the keto menu.
Protein is an essential part of any diet and the keto diet is no different. Protein helps build muscle, supports skin health, and plays a vital role in a myriad of cellular processes.
Sadly, the American diet is typically deficient in protein. Since carbohydrates are cheaper, tastier, and faster, most Americans tend to overload on them, neglecting their bodies' protein needs. This is a grave error, as protein actually staves off appetite, and does not raise your insulin levels like carbohydrates do.
Dairy is a part of the keto diet. What’s important though, is making sure the dairy is of the highest quality -- you don’t want to be consuming low-quality milk, cheese, or whey protein powder.
Dairy is loaded with both whey and casein protein and it also contains high amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Some of the most commonly consumed dairy foods on a keto diet include yogurt, cheese, milk (though this must be in moderation). For the best (and healthiest) results you'll want to go with organic, grass-fed, and/or pasture-raised dairy.
➋ Meat and Eggs
Grass-fed beef, turkey, and chicken are what many keto recipes are centered around. Bacon and eggs are another staple, as well as hamburgers -- although the bread is usually substituted with lettuce.
Comfort food classics like sloppy joes or heavy soups and stews are also commonplace. Turkey chili, in particular, is a keto favorite, as are meatballs along with steak and eggs.
Seafood is one of the healthiest choices for keto as foods like salmon also contain anti-inflammatory compounds, like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which when combined with healthy fats and a low sugar intake, can help to improve brain function.
For many decades, fat was vilified in the United States, largely due to a flawed study popularized by Ancel Keys. Fat is actually an essential part of a healthy diet but not just any fat will due.
Healthy fats, like extra virgin olive oil, are necessary for normal brain function, as well as many other cellular processes. While it's true that some types of fat -- like trans fats -- are bad for you, there are also a litany of beneficial ones.
More specifically, monounsaturated fatty acids like those found in avocados can benefit your health in a number of different ways. Other healthy fat sources include coconut oil, which contains MCT -- a type of medium-chain triglyceride -- and it can have several unique advantages for ketosis.
Because these triglycerides are shorter, they're more easily digested. This also means that they kick you into ketosis faster compared to other foods, which can help give you a quick boost of energy.
This is part of the reason why many recommend putting a little MCT oil in your morning coffee. There are also similar healthy fats found in grass-fed butter, which of course plays an important role in the popular “bulletproof” coffee.
There is actually no such thing as an essential carbohydrate in the human diet. This flies in the face of popular understanding but it's a scientific truth.
Even without any carbs, your body can still manufacture energy from ketone bodies, meaning that that you don't technically need carbs in your diet. With that being said, most people tend to do better with a small number of carbohydrates in their daily diet compared to none at all.
When you consume carbs on a keto diet, make sure you pay special attention to your net carb count, as this will allow you to track if you are going to stay in ketosis.
Some of the best choices for carbohydrates on a keto diet include:
- macadamia nuts
Truthfully though -- barring processed foods and grains -- any carbs will be okay to consume, as long as you are very careful about keeping the total net carb count within the appropriate range for the day.
What’s paramount for the keto diet - and really for any healthy diet - is food quality. This is especially true of carbohydrates on a keto diet, as your limited intake means you need to be getting your carbs from healthy sources.
If you eat low-quality carbs and you’re only eating 25 grams per day, you'll feel more sluggish and because that number is so small, it will prevent you from eating as many nutrient-dense carbs like vegetables in your diet.
What Shouldn't You Eat on the Keto Diet?
While it's true that the keto diet does not allow you to eat every kind of food in the world, what is excluded makes perfect sense -- both in terms of the quality of the food and your health.
The keto diet allows for plenty of protein, lots of healthy fats, vegetables, and many other nutritionally dense foods. But there are some foods that are better left out.
Grains have taken quite a beating over the last decade. Not only has gluten become a pariah in the keto world, but their overall exclusion from many different diets has resulted in a huge shift.
Much like with the paleo diet, grains are also not a part of the keto diet. This is due to the fact that they're very high in carbohydrates and low in other vital nutrients. Grains can also be inflammatory and offer little else that can't be fulfilled by other food groups.
Sugar is certainly the hardest thing to give up when adopting a ketogenic diet; however, it may just be a decision that saves your life. Over-consumption of sugar can have numerous negative impacts on your health.
Conditions like obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome can all stem from too much sugar in your diet. Sugar is also addictive, which helps to explain why your body reacts to sugar much as it does to addictive drugs.
Surprisingly, some vegetables are best not consumed on a keto diet. Limiting carbs means that some foods are best left out or at least consumed only sparingly. This means higher-carb vegetables like potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are usually left out of the keto diet.
While small amounts might be okay in moderation, it’s far easier to just avoid them outright. That way, you can leave more room in your diet for vegetables that are more nutritionally dense.
Unsurprisingly, sugary fruits are not an ideal part of the keto diet. Fruit juice is especially guilty, as it's pure sugar without any of the fiber that is found in whole fruits.
Fruits to avoid on the keto diet:
Soda is one of the biggest reasons why many Americans are now obese -- it's liquid sugar, with no nutritional benefits. And to make matters worse, it is marketed ubiquitously. Just look at the nutritional information listed on the back of a bottle of soda and it becomes clear why it should be avoided.
For instance, a 20oz bottle of soda contains over 60 grams of carbs, which is more than most people can consume in an entire day and stay in ketosis.
Processed foods should not be consumed as a part of any healthy diet. They are lacking in nutrients, are typically loaded with fillers and sugar, and lack the healthy fats found in the best foods.
This also includes processed foods that are marketed as healthy. Even though they may be labeled as such, unfortunately, the processing of these foods is the very reason they're not good for you.
Is The Keto Diet For Everyone?
The keto diet can be beneficial for most individuals but not everyone will find it suitable. If you are an endurance athlete, for example, a keto diet may not be best for you -- this is because aerobic activities rely on deep glycogen stores, which you won't have if you go keto.
For the average person though, a keto diet is a great way to lose weight, get better blood sugar control, and even possibly lessen the odds of experiencing cognitive disease.