A keto diet really does have the power of fat burning and weight loss – if you know what to eat and what to avoid for weight loss.
But first . . .
A few decades ago, fats were the evil diet nemesis of people who wanted to lose weight. Today, we now know its carbs – or, somewhat, too many of the wrong kinds of carbs.
So we’ve seen a massive surge in the popularity of such low- or restricted-carbohydrate diets as the South Beach Diet, the paleo diet, and the Atkins diet. A correct keto diet is similar to these but still different.
Following a keto diet isn’t just a matter of shoveling in all the steak and bacon you can get your hands while avoiding bread and pasta. Although it is a high-fat diet, there’s a bit more to the keto diet than that – especially when you consider its origins.
The keto diet was initially designed and primarily used to reduce the incidence and frequency of epileptic seizures in children. And it achieved some measure of success in this capacity. Next, the keto diet was then tried for weight loss. It does seem to work to help people burn fat and lose weight. Still, results have been mixed, and there have been no studies on the long-term effects of a keto diet.
So let’s try to cut through some of the confusion many people experience when considering a keto diet.
“A keto or ketogenic diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein, higher-fat diet that can help burn fat more effectively. It has many benefits for weight loss, health, and performance, as shown in over 50 studies.” Similar to other low-carb diets like the Atkins diet and paleo diet, a ketogenic diet is more extreme in restricting carbohydrate intake to achieve “ketosis” – that metabolic state which helps your body burn fat for energy, as well as reducing blood sugar and insulin levels.
Such a diet regimen helps you burn body fat and lose weight without suffering severe hunger pangs. It can also improve (sometimes dramatically) type 2 diabetes. One study, for example, found that a group eating a keto diet lost an average of 24.4 pounds while the group on a higher-carb diet lost only 15.2 pounds.
HOW DOES A KETO DIET WORK FOR FAT LOSS?
So how does this high-fat, medium-to-high-protein, extremely low-carb diet work?
Restricting your carbohydrate intake (and creating a caloric deficit) causes your liver to produce ketones from fat. These ketones are small energy or fuel packets that can serve as your body’s fuel/energy (especially for your brain) instead of the usual glucose (commonly called blood sugar) because the glucose is in such short supply. The short version: your body burns fat for energy, which helps you lose fat and unwanted weight.
When your body begins producing ketones, you’ve entered a metabolic state called ketosis.
The fastest and most direct way to arrive at ketosis is by fasting. But the problem with fasting is that you can do it for only short periods without losing a lot of muscle. Besides, you also get terribly hungry.
With a keto diet, though, you can achieve this metabolic state without fasting and suffering extreme hunger. You can retain your muscle mass, and more muscle means more calories burned every day.
WEIGHT LOSS, HEALTH, AND METABOLIC BENEFITS OF KETO DIET
A ketogenic diet provides several documented benefits, such as . . .
FAT BURNING AND WEIGHT LOSS
Besides encouraging your body to burn fat for fuel, a keto diet also helps reduce appetite and boost your metabolism. You feel fuller quicker because this diet consists of foods that decrease the production of hunger-stimulating hormones, so your appetite is lessened and, you lose weight.
Ketosis and production of ketones may result in certain neuroprotective benefits, with the result that brain cells and nerve cells are strengthened and protected. A keto diet, then, may help people living with Alzheimer’s manage and slow down the progression of the disease.
Research has also shown that a keto diet may be helpful in preventing or even treating certain cancers.
Some recent studies show that it is “a safe and suitable complementary treatment to use alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy in people with certain cancers . . . to achieve “more oxidative stress in cancer cells than in normal cells.” These studies have also found that a keto diet can reduce blood sugar, thus lowering “the risk of insulin complications” that “may have links to some cancers.”
CARDIAC HEALTH PROMOTION
A ketogenic diet does prescribe increased fat consumption, but those fats are the good fats. “[E]vidence shows that eating healthful fats, such as avocados instead of less healthful fats, such as pork rinds, can help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol.”
PCOS SYMPTOM IMPROVEMENT
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a frightening affliction for some women because it can lead to “excess male hormones, ovulatory dysfunction, and polycystic ovaries,” which often mean problems conceiving and unwanted weight gain. But there is some evidence that a keto diet can help manage and even improve these symptoms.
Meat contains no carbs and so is a keto-friendly food. Just be sure to avoid processed meats because they often have added sugars and carbs. Try to eat only organic meats such as grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.
But don’t go overboard with meat. A keto diet is supposed to be “a higher fat diet, not high in protein, so you don’t need huge amounts of meat. Excess protein (over 2.0 grams per kg of reference body weight) can be converted to glucose, which could make it harder for some people to get into ketosis, especially when starting with high levels of insulin resistance.”
Eggs are suitable for this diet, but be sure to eat the yolks because that’s where the fat is. You can eat just about as many eggs as you want. But do try to eat only organic eggs for the additional health benefits.
When it comes to fish and seafood, your best bet is to eat fatty fish like sardines, salmon, and mackerel. If you’re worried about toxins like mercury, stick to smaller fish lower on the food chain like sardines and herring. And don’t put any breading (carbs) on the fish before cooking.
Dairy is certainly allowed on a keto diet – as long as its high-fat dairy and not milk. Avoid milk because it contains sugar, which is a carbohydrate, and stays away from most low-fat yogurt because it has added sugar to enhance the taste. Instead, stick to dairy products like butter, cheese, and heavy cream.
Most nuts, in moderation, are fine too. The amount of nuts you can eat “depends on your weight loss progress and the rest of your carb intake. As a general rule, try to limit nut intake to less than ½ cup per day (around 50 grams).” Just stay away from cashews, which “are relatively high carb,” choosing instead something like pecans or macadamia nuts.
Although a keto diet is a very low carb, you are allowed the right kinds of fibrous vegetables – that is, the ones that grow above ground. (Believe it or not, there’s even a vegan keto diet.) This means potatoes and even sweet potatoes are out. The good news is that you are free to cook your vegetables in butter or slather them with olive oil if you like.
A few berries are okay, too, even with real whipping cream on them. You would to well, though, to avoid other fruits like, say, apples because of the high fructose (a sugar) content.
And you don’t have to choke all your food down dry either. Sauces, as long as they are natural (made from natural ingredients and not commercially processed) and high fat, are perfectly fine. The fat in these sauces helps you feel full and adds flavor. Just don’t go crazy with the sauces and fat.
WHAT TO AVOID
There is, then, a wide variety of tasty foods (unlike some diets) you can and should eat on a keto diet. There are also some things you should absolutely avoid, typically because they are high in carbs, for example . . .
Refined sugar of any kind, especially HFCS, as we all know, is pure evil. For one thing, it has been proven to promote cancer. But the trick is avoiding all the hidden sugar that a lot of us aren’t aware of.
Of course, you’ll want to avoid donuts and candy bars and Pop-Tars, but you’ll have to do more. Here’s what the experts recommend: “Read labels for hidden sugars, especially in sauces, condiments, drinks, dressings and packaged goods. Honey, maple syrup, and agave are also sugars. Ideally, try to avoid or limit artificial sweeteners as well.”
You probably know to stay away from white bread, white rice, pasta, and potatoes, but you should also avoid whole-grain foods as well owing to their high carb content. You should also avoid legumes, beans, and lentils, even though they have been touted as healthy food because they too are very high in carbohydrates.
As we mentioned above, most fruit isn’t allowed on a keto diet. They are typically high in fructose (a sugar that is a form of carbohydrate) and should be highly restricted in your diet.
This will be bad news for some people, but it remains true nevertheless. Beer has been called “liquid bread” because it is chock full of simple carbs that can be rapidly absorbed.
A FINAL CAVEAT
You now know what you should and shouldn’t eat, but you also need to beware of many of the products companies are putting out now to cash in on the keto diet craze. These products may be labeled “low carb” or “keto,” but often, they aren’t.
The worst culprits here are usually “pasta, chocolate bars, energy bars, protein powders, snack foods, cakes, cookies and other ‘low carb’ or ‘ketogenic’ treats. . . . These packaged products generally do not work well for weight loss and for correcting metabolic issues. They may have hidden carbs not declared on the label, or they may keep you attached to cravings and even addictions to the high-carb foods they attempt to replace.”
So you must read all food labels carefully and critically.
Make sure a particular food product is made from natural and low-carb ingredients. And be on the lookout for added carbs that may be buried deep in the list of ingredients, as well as for additives like sweeteners and sugar alcohols.
Just be vigilant and remain aware that many of these are nothing more than junk food with the word “keto” slapped in the packaging.
THE NEXT STEP – TAILORING IT TO YOUR INDIVIDUAL NEEDS
So, yes, a keto diet can definitely help you burn fat and lose weight, in addition to having other health benefits. But be aware that what we’ve provided here are just general guidelines – one size does not fit all.
Each one of us has specific, individual dietary and metabolic needs determined by our weight-loss goals, genetic make-up, and lifestyle demands. And this means that to get the best results in the shortest amount of time, you need to follow a keto-diet regimen custom-tailored to match up with your individual needs and requirements.