Ketogenic diets — or “going keto” — get great results for fat loss and so much more.
When you stick with this way of eating, you can lose weight quickly. You stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Because the foods you eat help balance your hormones, you don’t struggle with hunger, cravings, and other problems that hold your weight and overall health hostage.
Keto diets also generate a lot of confusion. One day a celebrity swears by this plan, and then the next, an expert talks about how dangerous being in ketosis can be.
We’ve cut through the hype and confusion here to see what science says about eating keto. Consider this your ultimate guide to the ketogenic diet. You’ll learn the “ins and outs” of the keto diet and why so many people stay in ketosis to lose extra pounds.
How A Ketogenic Diet Works
To understand why you might burn fat better on a keto diet or being in ketosis, imagine your body as a car. Glucose is your body’s gasoline: Your body breaks down food into glucose for energy.
But what happens when your body doesn’t have enough glucose to use? After all, your car can’t run without gasoline.
Fortunately, that doesn’t happen with your body. You have a backup fuel called ketones, which your liver creates from fat, which puts your body in a state called ketosis.
On a keto diet, you restrict carbohydrates and protein, which means you consume a diet high in fat. Insufficient carbohydrates or protein means you don’t have much glucose for fuel. Your body utilizes that back-up fuel, converting the fat you eat and body fat into ketones.
You’re literally burning fat for fuel!
You’re always making ketones. But when you eat a ketogenic diet, those ketones replace glucose as your body’s dominant fuel, and you go into ketosis.
Shifting from glucose to ketones could take days or weeks, and sustaining it can be equally challenging. Even small amounts of carbohydrates or excess protein can prevent your body from maintaining ketosis.
That makes keto a pretty strict diet. Maintaining that plan requires:
- Keeping your fat intake high. To get and stay in ketosis, you’ll eat a diet that’s about 80 – 90% fat. In other words, most of your diet will consist of dietary fats.
- Monitoring protein intake. Excess protein can convert into glucose, which inhibits ketosis. You’ll limit the amount of protein you eat on a keto diet.
- Keeping carbs low. To maintain ketosis, you need to keep your carb intake to around 20 – 50 grams daily. To put that into perspective: An apple has about 25 grams of carbohydrate.
- Testing whether you’re in ketosis. You don’t have to do this, but you can measure the level of ketones your body produces with blood, urine, or breath tests.
Keto diets can be challenging, at least in the beginning. But some devotees swear by their benefits for weight loss and much more.
Benefits of the Keto Diet
At least in the short term, studies show that keto diets get amazing and quick results for weight loss. They can also improve conditions like type 2 diabetes.
These benefits come from many factors, including:
- Lower insulin levels. When you eat foods with carbohydrates and to a lesser extent protein, you raise your blood sugar levels. Insulin steps in to lower those blood sugar levels, delivering glucose to your cells for energy or to store for backup fuel called glycogen. But high insulin levels — which can happen when you eat too many carbohydrates — can prevent fat loss. On a keto diet, you keep insulin levels lower. Low insulin means that your body can more easily access fat stores for fuel.
- Hormonal balance. Keto diets help balance other hormones besides insulin. Among those hunger-regulating hormones is leptin, a hormone that tells your brain to stop eating. Ghrelin has the opposite effect: This hormone tells you to eat more. When these and other hormones stay in balance on a keto diet, you’re less likely to have hunger and cravings.
- Lower inflammation levels. Chronic inflammation plays a role in obesity but also diseases including diabetes. Sugar, in all its many disguises, is an inflammatory food. On a keto diet, you keep your sugar and overall carbohydrate intake very low. When you combine that approach with whole, unprocessed foods, you lower inflammation levels.
These and other advantages of a keto diet help you lose weight and reduces your risk of disease. People on keto diets also report more energy, focus, and mental clarity.
Keto Diets: Drawbacks and Criticisms
“Going keto” might sound like the ideal diet plan. You literally burn body fat for energy, you have more energy, and you improve your overall health. What’s not to love?
But no diet plan is perfect, including keto. Elevated ketone levels can create bad breath, but critics have other valid concerns about this way of eating. Some of these criticisms and potential solutions:
- The plan feels restrictive. Eggs, avocado, and nuts as part of a fat loss diet? That might sound perfect in the beginning. After a few weeks on a keto diet, though, you might want comfort foods. Keto diets limit or eliminate legumes, many fruits, starches, and other favorite foods.
Solution: Add more variety to your plan. You can fit a wide variety of vegetables into a keto plan. Try fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi as well as keto-friendly starch alternatives, including our Mashed Faux-Potatoes.
- You consume too many calories. High-fat foods — a staple of keto diets — are higher in calories. Too many calories mean your body will utilize dietary fat instead of body fat, which could slow down weight loss.
Solution: Track everything you eat along with how you feel and any symptoms that arise. You’ll stay accountable, and you might be shocked to learn how many calories you’re eating! One study found people who tracked everything they ate lost twice the amount of weight compared with those who didn’t track what they ate.
- Keto flu. This might occur as your body switches from glucose to ketones, Keto flu feels as miserable as it sounds. Symptoms include nausea, constipation, headaches, fatigue, and sugar cravings. Not everyone gets the keto flu. For those who do, these and other symptoms usually go away within a few days or a week.
Solution: Make sure you’re drinking sufficient amounts of clean, filtered water. Many symptoms of keto flu stem from electrolyte imbalances or incorrect amounts of certain minerals. Eat mineral-rich foods such as avocado, nuts, and seeds. “Hard” waters have their minerals intact, so consider sipping on them. Sprinkle Himalayan sea salt, rich in minerals, onto your food. Sip on bone broth regularly, which is also rich in minerals.
- Restricted social interactions. If you eat out, attend family gatherings, or love ice cream socials, staying in keto can feel like an uphill climb. You might feel awkward when you ask for extra grass-fed butter for your steak at a restaurant or ask your host to modify the dinner menu.
Solution: Commit wholeheartedly to your keto plan and don’t waiver. This is not a diet you can do halfway, so take your commitment seriously. When you’re eating out or attending a friend’s dinner party, determine beforehand what you’ll eat. Don’t make a big deal about the foods you can’t eat on keto.
- Other problems. Especially in the beginning, keto diets can create other problems including insomnia, fatigue, and decreased athletic performance.
Solution: Work with your chiropractor or another healthcare practitioner to address individual issues with keto diets.
Over time, many of these problems usually go away. People feel better, look better, get healthier, and finally lose the weight they’ve struggled to lose.
5 Ways to Optimize a Keto Diet
Based on these benefits and drawbacks, does a keto diet sound ideal for you?
Remember that this isn’t a quick-fix diet. You’ll need to stick to this plan for at least 30 days to see real results. Going back to your old way of eating will undo any of keto’s benefits and maybe even make you gain weight.
Want to give keto a try for weight loss or its other benefits? These five strategies provide a solid foundation to do the plan correctly, maintain keto over the long haul and get great results.
- Incorporate healthy fats. Some fats are inflammatory, such as those found in vegetable oils. Other high-fat foods fight the inflammation that contributes to most diseases. You’ll want to minimize or eliminate the former and dial-up anti-inflammatory fats. Smart fats to include in your keto plan include:
- Wild-caught, cold-water seafood
- Grass-fed beef
- Pasture-raised organic eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- Extra-virgin coconut oil and olive oil
- No-sugar-added nut butter
- Eat plenty of nutrient-dense plant foods. Technically, double cheeseburgers (hold the bun) and butter are keto-friendly foods. Buta well-designed keto plan can also include plenty of low-sugar plant foods. Even the strictest plan can incorporate leafy and cruciferous green vegetables as well as berries. Consider using Max Greens if you struggle to meet your vegetable quota. Every serving packs plenty of nutrients and is low in sugar to fit into your keto plan.
- Choose clean food sources. With keto, quality matters. Higher-fat foods from conventionally raised animals can contain hormones, antibiotics, and other contaminants that can sabotage your health. Opt instead for quality sources, even if they cost a bit more. They include grass-fed beef, wild-caught cold-water fish, and pasture-raised organic eggs. And make sure vegetables, fruits, and other plant foods are organic. When organic isn’t available, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ provides the least- and most-contaminated produce.
- Get the nutrients you might not be getting from food. Even the best-designed eating plan might not include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs to thrive. That’s where our Daily Essentials for women or men can help. Every convenient, easy-to-take packet covers your nutrient bases and provides anti-inflammatory benefits to optimize your keto plan.
- Remember that being healthy goes beyond food. Sticking with a keto diet will help you lose weight and get healthier. To get all the benefits of keto and make them last, you’ll want to incorporate the other 5 Essentials™:
- Chiropractic Care. Chiropractors keep the spine and nervous system free of structural interferences that everyday stressors create. Prioritizing spinal alignment helps unlock your body’s natural potential for health and healing.
- Mindset. A mindset shift includes time management, sleep prioritization, and stress reduction.
- Oxygen and exercise. An effective exercise routine should bring more oxygen into the body, to feed both body and mind. It should build lean muscle and improve performance.
- Minimize toxins. When we minimize toxin exposure, the body gets a chance to breathe a bit easier (literally and figuratively), detoxify more efficiently, and perform on a higher level.
- Don’t know where to start with your Keto journey? Try our Keto Bundle. Our electrolytes prevent the common “Keto Flu”, our MCT Oil helps your burn fat faster, our Keto Bars make the perfect snack or mini-meal, and our Keto Meal Guideline provides you with an easy-to-follow eating plan.
Ultimately, no diet plan works for everyone. If keto feels a bit too extreme or unrealistic for your life, our Core Plan is designed to be flexible in everyday life. While not specifically keto, the Advanced Plan can be helpful when you feel sluggish, ill, or inflamed.
Work with your healthcare practitioner to find an eating plan that works for you. Any diet — keto or otherwise — can only be effective when you commit to it for your condition and lifestyle.
If you find eating a high-fat diet difficult in the beginning, chances are in a few months that way of eating will feel even more challenging. But if staying keto helps you lose weight and feel better while you’re enjoying healthy high-fat foods, stick with it.