Your favorite health podcaster is doing it. Your neighbor just started doing it. Now you want to see what the hype is all about. It’s called the keto diet, short for ketosis, and it’s changing the landscape of not only weight loss and management, but also overall long-term health. Yet, before launching into not only a brand-new way of eating but also an entirely different lifestyle, it’s important to understand the underlying methods of the diet. In short, let’s take a deep dive into ketosis.
The Ketogenic Diet in a Nutshell
Now that we understand the metabolic process underlying the ketogenic diet, let’s take a look at how you get there.
Simply put, it’s all about what you eat.
The ketogenic diet relies on three specific dietary elements: extremely low-carb intake, very high-healthy fat intake, and, depending on the type of keto diet, a certain intake of protein. By reducing carbohydrates — such as starches, fruits, and breads that are loaded with glucose — you’ll push your body towards fat burning. By increasing healthy fat intake, your body will become an efficient fat-burning machine! Along with burning fat (revealed as possibly the superior source of energy), ketosis — accomplished via the ketogenic diet — has also been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels leading to a healthy insulin sensitive state.
So, we know what the ketogenic diet is, but how to do we accomplish a state of ketosis? There are actually multiple variations of the ketogenic diet that all work towards similar and yet differing goals.
4-Ingredient Pistachio Nice Cream/One Green Planet
This is the most publicized and popular version of the ketogenic diet. The “standard” version of the keto diet relies on a drastically high intake of healthy fats, an incredibly low intake of carbohydrates, and a moderate intake of protein. Generally, you’ll want your diet to comprise of “75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and only five percent carbs.”
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
While studies on the specific benefits of the cyclical ketogenic diet are still underway, it’s definitely an easier and less rigorous way to begin. Many people use the cyclical ketogenic diet as a starting point, which can lead to a full standard keto diet. As the name foretells, this variation allows for periods of carbohydrate ingesting mixed with periods of strict ketogenic dieting. The typical cycle is generally five days of keto dieting versus two days of carbohydrate ingestion. Yet, depending on your lifestyle, cyclical ketogenic dieting can be interwoven as you see fit!
Targeted Ketogenic Diet
Targeted ketogenic dieting is one the least practiced, yet most convenient for professional athletes for avid exercisers. Basically, targeted ketogenic dieting allows for carbohydrate ingestion around high-intensity workouts, while following a keto diet at all other times.
High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
Take the standard ketogenic diet and change the ratios a bit and you’ve got the high-protein ketogenic diet. This variation allows for “60 percent fat, 35 percent protein, and five percent carbs.” While it follows ketogenic rules by keeping carbohydrates at an all-time low of five percent, it hikes up your protein and decreases fat by fifteen percent each. This is a great form of the ketogenic diet, given the essential properties of protein including muscle repair, the building of bone, cartilage, and skin, as well as creation of enzymes, hormones, and chemicals.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
Ketosis has become an incredibly hot topic within the last decade due to recent studies illuminating the incredible health benefits, physical transformations, and illness defeating properties of a ketogenic diet.
While popular weight loss strategies have primarily relied on a low-fat diet, this type of dieting poses other unforeseen issues. Low-fat diets generally lead to a drastic increase in sugar consumption due to the fact that many low-fat products have copious amounts of added sugar. The ketogenic diet, on the other hand, focuses on sugar reduction, while increasing healthy fat and protein. This combination makes the ketogenic diet incredibly filling, may lead to a reduction in appetite, and lends to obscuring those horrible sugar cravings.
Reducing Risk of the Big Three: Heart Disease, Alzheimer, and Cancer
As our bodies age, we begin to look for ways of avoiding some of the most common ailments. Three of these that are pervasive in modern day medicine are heart disease, Alzheimer’s or dementia, and cancer. Preliminary studies have shown that a ketogenic diet may help decrease the risk of all three of these ailments in three different ways.
When it comes to heart disease, cholesterol is the primary game changer. A ketogenic diet has been shown to improve many of the risk factors involved in heart disease including “body fat, HDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar.” The high-fat content of the ketogenic diet may be the key to reducing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Studies have shown that the ketogenic diet may not only reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s but may also have “beneficial disease-modifying activity.”
Lastly, the keto diet has been shown to be cancer-fighting as well. In particular, studies have shown that a keto diet is effective for those suffering from malignant brain tumors. While current medical treatments fail to target tumors and cause negative brain health effects, ketones are a safe and healthy survival resource for brain cells in particular. Recent studies have shown that the keto diet may have slowed the rate of tumor growth.
For those that have never had a pimple ruin their day, this may not seem like a big deal. Yet, those that suffer from moderate to advanced acne conditions, this may be a huge game changer. One of the leading causes of some acne conditions is diet, in particular inflammation causing products such as sugar, processed foods, and unhealthy vegetable oils. The ketogenic diet naturally reduces the amount of processed foods, which are generally based around carbohydrates.
Plant-Based Ketogenic Dieting
Now we know all about ketosis and the ketogenic diet. Yet, once you begin researching in detail about the food products included, you’ll notice it relies on a lot of meat product. For plant-based eaters, the ketogenic diet can be a challenge. Many plant-based eaters practice either a cyclical ketogenic diet or a high-protein ketogenic diet in order to make up for the lack of animal-based products. Yet, if you are determined to follow a plant-based standard ketogenic diet, here are a few tips to get you started!
Clean Out Your Pantry
It’s surprising how many products have hidden sugars or processed vegetable oils. Your favorite crackers, dried seaweed snack, or nuts? Probably coated in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola, grapeseed, or soy. Your go-to plant-based beverage? Most likely has a lot of added sugar.
Therefore, the first step is to gut your pantry!
Read every ingredient label. If it’s got added sugars or vegetable oils, toss it! I guarantee that you’ll be able to find a similar product that is either unsweetened, such as this Native Forest Simple Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk ($37.92 for 13.5 fluid oz), or vegetable oil-free, such as these Navitas Organics Cashew Whole Nuts ($7.31 for 8oz). Be aware that many foods that may seem healthy are actually packed full of sugars such as juice, fruit, condiments (ketchup and mayonnaise especially), and sugar-free diet foods.
Know What to Avoid
The ketogenic diet may seem simple, yet there are many foods that you may not think about that contain carbohydrates. A simplistic list of what to avoid includes grains, starches, fruit (exclude all fruit except small portions of berries), beans, legumes, root vegetables, tubers, unhealthy fatty products (almost all processed food), and alcohol.
Chia Pudding With Blueberries/One Green Planet
At this point, as a plant-based eater, you may be a bit overwhelmed. Yet, now that we know what to avoid, let’s take a look at what you should be eating on a regular ketogenic diet. A great tip is to focus on whole, single ingredient products, basically avoiding products that require a nutrition label. Some of these foods include meat, fatty fish, eggs, butter, cream, cheese, nuts, seeds, avocado, low-carb veggies, and healthy oils.
While, the first half of this list may not apply to you (meats and dairy), there are still a host of plant-based foods to choose from including staples such as nuts and seeds, avocado, healthy oils (such as olive oil and coconut oil), and those delicious low-carb veggies (such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, and mostly all the green colored veggies). There are many resources for plant-based keto dieters, such as this plant-based low carbohydrate weekly meal plan.
Keep in mind that you may need to change or supplement low-carb recipes to meet a standard keto diet. For example, you should exclude the agave syrup from this Chia Pudding With Blueberries recipe, substitute healthy oil and non-tuber veggies in this Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke With Braised Garlicky Kale recipe, and trade the lime and lemon juices for vinegar in this Avocado Kale Chili Salad. With that said, starting out with a low-carb recipe is a great foundation to build off of. Plus, if you make DIY condiments, you can incorporate nutritious herbs, spices, and fats into almost every meal!
Is the Ketogenic Diet Right for You?
The keto diet is not your run-of-the-mill healthy eating diet. As we’ve learned above, it is a set of rules to live by in order to keep your body in a ketogenic state. Due to the rigorousness of this diet, it isn’t necessarily manageable or healthy for everyone. Keep in mind that this state of dieting ignites and manages a metabolic syndrome and therefore there are a few health risks to keep in mind.
First and foremost, if you are diabetic, you absolutely should speak with your doctor before beginning the keto diet. While ketosis is obtained through diet, it is also a naturally occurring metabolic system of low insulin levels or improperly functioning insulin. This is particular in those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Secondly, as your body burns more fat, it releases more keto acids into the bloodstream. At certain levels, this is perfectly healthy and a great way to burn off unwanted stored fat. Yet, if keto levels continue to climb and build in your blood, their chemical makeup may throw off your entire system. This may lead to a state of ketoacidosis, which is dangerous and can be fatal.
Therefore, it’s incredibly important to understand your body and its specific limitations by consulting a medical professional, dietician, nutritionist or even a combination of these.
While plant-based dieters may experience a different set of challenges when practicing a ketogenic diet, we’re here to help! We highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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