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What Is a Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diets.

It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain.

Ketogenic diets can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, has numerous health benefits.

Different Types of Keto Diets

There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including:

  • Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs.
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.

However, only the standard and high-protein ketogenic diets have been studied extensively. Cyclical or targeted ketogenic diets are more advanced methods and primarily used by bodybuilders or athletes.

Ketogenic Diets Can Help You Lose Weight

A ketogenic diet is an effective way to lose weight and lower risk factors for disease.In fact, research shows that the ketogenic diet is far superior to the often recommended. What's more, the diet is so filling that you can lose weight without counting calories or tracking your food intake.

One study found that people on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than those on a calorie-restricted low-fat diet. Triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels also improved. Another study found that people on the ketogenic diet lost 3 times more weight than those on the diet recommended by Diabetes UK.

There are several reasons why a ketogenic diet is superior to a low-fat diet, including the increased protein intake, which provides numerous benefits.

The increased ketones, lower blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity may also play a key role.

Other Health Benefits of Keto

The ketogenic diet actually originated as a tool for treating neurological diseases such as epilepsy.

Studies have now shown that the diet can have benefits for a wide variety of different health conditions:

  • Heart disease: The ketogenic diet can improve risk factors like body fat, HDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar.
  • Cancer: The diet is currently being used to treat several types of cancer and slow tumor growth.
  • Alzheimer's disease: The keto diet may reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and slow its progression.
  • Epilepsy: Research has shown that the ketogenic diet can cause massive reductions in seizures in epileptic children.
  • Parkinson's disease: One study found that the diet helped improve symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: The ketogenic diet can help reduce insulin levels, which may play a key role in polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Brain injuries: One animal study found that the diet can reduce concussions and aid recovery after brain injury.
  • Acne: Lower insulin levels and eating less sugar or processed foods may help improve acne.

However, keep in mind that research into many of these areas is far from conclusive.

Foods to Avoid

Any food that is high in carbs should be limited.

Here is a list of foods that need to be reduced or eliminated on a ketogenic diet:

  • Sugary foods: Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc.
  • Grains or starches: Wheat-based products, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
  • Fruit: All fruit, except small portions of berries like strawberries.
  • Beans or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  • Root vegetables and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
  • Low-fat or diet products: These are highly processed and often high in carbs.
  • Some condiments or sauces: These often contain sugar and unhealthy fat.
  • Unhealthy fats: Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Alcohol: Due to their carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis.
  • Sugar-free diet foods: These are often high in sugar alcohols, which can affect ketone levels in some cases. These foods also tend to be highly processed. 

Foods to Eat

You should base the majority of your meals around these foods:

  • Meat: Red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken and turkey.
  • Fatty fish: Such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel.
  • Eggs: Look for pastured or omega-3 whole eggs.
  • Butter and cream: Look for grass-fed when possible.
  • Cheese: Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, goat, cream, blue or mozzarella).
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
  • Healthy oils: Primarily extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil.
  • Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.
  • Low-carb veggies: Most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
  • Condiments: You can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices.

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