Are you looking for a new diet or nutrition program to help you lose weight, have more energy, clear up a diet-related health concern, or simply feel healthier overall? In your search, you may have come across the keto diet.
Short for ketogenic, the keto diet can be an effective way to shed a few pounds, boost energy, and even ease the symptoms of certain health conditions.
That said, some nutrition experts question whether it’s a great diet to be on for the long-term. So, let’s take a closer look at what the keto diet is and whether or not it’s the right dietary strategy for you!
What is the keto diet?
First things first—what is the keto diet?
Basically, it’s a nutrition plan where you eat high amounts of fat and low amounts of carbs. This makes it similar to Atkins and other low carb diets, but with a twist.
With Atkins, you eventually build up your carb intake after the first couple phases of the plan. You can also eat as much protein as you’d like. With the keto diet, however, carb intake remains low the whole time, and protein intake is limited to 20% of your daily calories. (More on the specifics of that below!)
How does the keto diet work for weight loss?
The keto diet works by putting your body into a state called ketosis.
That’s a natural metabolic state where your body breaks down fat and converts it to ketones to use as energy.
Normally, your body would just use the glucose in carbs for energy, but if you aren’t eating many carbs, it uses your body’s stored fat instead. This is how the keto diet leads to weight loss.
Your body doesn’t get into this state of ketosis immediately. It takes about three to four days for your body to run out of its normal fuel, after which you’ll enter ketosis and start burning fat as energy for daily activities.
The basic principles of eating “keto”
To get your body into ketosis, it’s typically recommended to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
This means cutting out high-carb foods like breads, pastas, potatoes, sugary foods and the like. It also means no alcohol—sorry!
For reference, 50 grams of carbs is about a ½ cup of rice or a half bun.
In other words… it doesn’t take a ton of food to reach that carb limit.
So, when eating on the keto diet it’s essential to plan out meals, snacks and daily carbs ahead of time to stay on track.
What can you eat on the keto diet?
When “eating keto,” you’ll mainly want to eat foods that are high in healthy fats (think unsaturated fats like omega-3s). Things like nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, butter, and avocados are all on the list. Foods high in quality protein are also important, including eggs, poultry, fatty fish, and ethically raised meat.
There are a few different methods of eating keto, but the main one involves dividing your food between fat, protein, and carbs:
In general, the keto diet means sticking to a diet of about 70% fat, 20% protein & 10% carbs.
What does the keto diet look like in practice?
So, what does the keto diet actually look like in a day of eating?
For breakfast, you might have two eggs and some sautéed greens cooked with butter.
For lunch, you might have a cheeseburger (without the bun) loaded with avocado, mushrooms, and greens.
For dinner, you might have a pork chop paired with green beans cooked in coconut oil.
Snacks throughout the day might be a handful of nuts, a chunk of cheese, or some jerky.
Though it’s certainly much different than the standard carb-rich diet many of us are used to consuming, following the keto diet has some common health benefits, which we’ll chat through below!
We’ve already talked about how keto is often used for weight loss, but health experts have also found it provides a number of other health benefits as well. Some of the benefits of eating a low-carb diet (like the keto diet) include:
Weight loss: Because it helps the body use stored fat as energy, the keto diet is an effective way to burn fat, improve body composition, and lose weight. (As well as maintain healthy bodyweight.)
Managing blood sugar to treat diabetes & prediabetes: With diabetes (or prediabetes), blood glucose levels are too high because the body has trouble either producing or utilizing insulin. A ketogenic diet can help with this by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing levels of glucose in the blood.
Protects against heart disease: Eating a ketogenic diet has been linked to higher HDL cholesterol levels, which is the good cholesterol that lowers your risk of stroke and heart disease. It can also lower your blood pressure and body fat, both of which impact heart health too.
Improves brain health: There’s a common misconception that your brain needs carbs to survive. This actually isn’t true! Ketones can provide a ton of energy for the brain. (This is one of the health benefits behind intermittent fasting, as well.) Research also shows that a keto diet can help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease.
May help fight cancer: This one is still being researched, but some scientists think eating a keto diet can help fight against cancer. Since cancer cells typically use glucose to reproduce, lowering glucose levels and using ketones as energy instead (via the keto diet) may stop cancer cells from spreading.
Clears acne naturally: Adult acne is often directly linked to your diet. Studies have shown that lowering your carb intake can improve the health of your gut bacteria and help stop those irksome breakouts.
Eases symptoms of PCOS: PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is a hormonal disease in which women experience irregular periods, excess body hair, and unexplained weight gain. Eating a keto diet can help ease these symptoms.
So, that all sounds great, but are there any drawbacks to the keto diet?
Drawbacks of the keto diet
While the keto diet can certainly have some helpful health benefits for short-term use, it may not be the best for a long-term wellness plan.
After several months of being on the keto diet, some people develop kidney stones, extra fat in the liver, or become deficient in certain nutrients. 😰
Of course, the “healthiest” diet for each of us is determined by our bioindividuality, so the keto diet is not always the best fit for everyone. That’s one important possible drawback to keep in mind if you’re interested in trying the keto diet—it doesn’t matter what benefit it is to other people, it matters how well it works for your body.
Another potential drawback of the keto diet is that it’s common to develop the “keto flu” when first starting the diet. This is totally normal as your body adjusts to no longer having the amount of carbs it’s used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun to deal with. No one likes being sick!
Keto flu symptoms include:
nausea or vomiting
being unable to exercise
And, to that last point: the keto diet is not the best choice for athletes or those looking to add muscle. To put on muscle or perform strenuous workouts, you’ll generally need a more protein-heavy nutrition plan.
So, is the keto diet healthy?
With all that said… is the keto diet healthy for you?
Yes, it can be! While there are some more things you’ll need to consider (and talk to your doctor about) if you’re looking to stay on the keto diet long-term, for short-term health or weight loss goals for otherwise healthy individuals, the keto diet can certainly have some notable health benefits.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new nutrition plan, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.
Where to find healthy keto recipes
It’s actually not as challenging as you may think to find great keto recipes!
You can browse your favorite cookbook or cooking blog—a keto recipe doesn’t have to be specifically labeled as “keto” to use it, as long as you’re able to do some quick calculations to see if it fits into your meal allotment.
And, as the ketogenic diet has become quite popular recently as an effective weight loss method, there are many food blogs and cookbooks specifically built around keto recipes. If you’re looking for some of those, we’re linking a few helpful keto cookbooks below, and we also curate low-carb / keto recipes over on Pinterest.
Simple + healthy keto cookbooks
What Is the Keto Diet & Is It Healthy? // Four Wellness Co. is written by Melissa Norton for fourwellness.co