The ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, and low- to no-carb diet. Instead of your body using glucose (sugar), energy derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates, your body uses ketones and burns fat as its energy source. You can embrace the ketogenic diet whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, omnivore, or carnivore.
Ketosis can help manage weight and chronic health conditions, reduce inflammation, and lower insulin levels. It can promote good sleep, cognitive function, and healthy aging. From personal experience, I can say I had heightened mental clarity, lower levels of anxiety, and no bloating like I was used to with carbs. There’s a reason everyone knows about the “post-lunch slump.”
Having gained recent popularity, many don’t know that the ketogenic diet has been used for almost a century to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. It makes sense that the energy source we started using 2.6 million years ago would have a positive impact on our cognitive function, among many other bodily functions. We were made for this.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have regular access to carbohydrate food sources (outside of fruit and tubers in some regions of the world close to the equator). In stark contrast to today’s Standard American Diet that prescribes 45 to 65 percent of daily calorie intake to be carbohydrates, they primarily consumed meat until around 10,000 years ago when agriculture was developed.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY IN KETOSIS
Your body can run off of two types of energy: glucose, energy that comes from breaking down carbohydrates, or ketones, which are released when the body uses fat. When we restrict our bodies from carbohydrates, the body turns to the only alternative energy source. While the body can use fat as its energy source efficiently, the brain does not. This is why our bodies produce ketones in the low-carb scenario.
Ketosis is a process that causes the liver to release ketones into the bloodstream and uses fat as energy. Our bodies will break down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies. Since even the leanest people carry tens of thousands of calories of body fat, our energy stores are much more abundant than we realize.
Ketosis also builds mitochondria, the “power plants of our cells.” Mitochondria transform incoming nutrients into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a chemical that provides energy to drive processes in living cells. “Ketosis places new demands on our mitochondria, which adapt to the new energy environment by increasing in number,” according to Mark Sisson, author of The Keto Reset Diet.
The process of switching from glucose to ketones as your body’s energy source takes approximately two to four days. In order to achieve ketosis, carbohydrate intake cannot exceed 10 to 50 grams per day. Intake depends on several factors and varies from person to person. You may need fewer carbohydrates to get into ketosis. You can test your ketone levels using strips. And, it’s still important to not overeat as your body will start to produce glucose, kicking you out of ketosis.
What to Eat on the Ketogenic Diet
First thing’s first: an essential aspect of any diet is to eat the highest quality foods. Whenever possible, choose organic, pasture-raised, and grass-fed. The reason this is important is they will provide the most nutrients to your body. Otherwise, you would have to consume more calories in order to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals, and that’s not efficient. You will also avoid putting toxic chemicals in the form of synthetic pesticides and hormones in your body.
To get or keep your body in ketosis, you’ll have to keep your net carbs under 10 to 50 grams per day. This is from everything you eat! The ketogenic diet consists of fats, proteins, and above-ground vegetables. Below-ground veggies like potatoes are carbohydrate-dense and, therefore, should be avoided.
To calculate the net carbs, take the number of carbohydrates and subtract the number of grams of fiber. For example, 1 ounce of whole unsalted almonds has 6.1 grams of carbohydrates and 3.5 grams of fiber. The almonds would have 2.6 grams of net carbs.
As Dr. Berg suggests, make healthy fats your priority. They will help you stay full for longer and absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K efficiently. Healthy fat foods include avocados, avocado oil, virgin coconut oil, ghee, macadamia nut oil, MCT oil, olive oil, whole cream, and tallow.
Be sure to choose the full-fat versions of any products. This may seem strange since we have been told only to eat low-fat products for decades. However, low-fat milks and yogurts are essentially sugar water that spike your insulin and cause your body to store the fat instead of using it for energy. They will kick you out of ketosis.
For our friends who have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, you may find that you can consume dairy products while in ketosis because you’re not combining them with carbohydrates. You can test this by getting fully into ketosis then introducing one full-fat dairy product (but always check the label first – dairy products like yogurt can still contain carbohydrates from sugars and additives). Pay close attention to your body’s reaction and make sure your movements stay healthy.
You can consume nuts and seeds on the ketogenic diet, but be sure to monitor the number of net carbs that you consume. Some seeds like cashews are high in carbohydrates and can quickly kick you out of ketosis. Low-carb nuts include pecans, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts.
High-quality meats, fish, and seafood are important for a ketogenic diet as they simultaneously provide protein and fats. Meat on the bone, bone broths, slow-cooked meat, organ meats such as liver (aka “nature’s multivitamin”), and eggs are excellent sources of proteins, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs. However, you’ll want to be cautious of high-carbohydrate proteins such as meat with a sweet sauce, processed deli meats, and dairy products.
Prescribed protein intake will vary based on your age, exercise levels, etc., so be sure to calculate the appropriate amount that is customized to your needs. No matter what it is, don’t overconsume protein as it can have an adverse effect on the body. Excess protein converts to glucose, which can kick you out of ketosis. If you’re a vegan practicing keto, be sure to research alternative protein sources as plant proteins are not complete proteins, meaning they lack certain essential amino acids that animal proteins provide.
Getting creative with above-ground vegetables can make the ketogenic diet super fun. All of these–and more–are free reign: asparagus, broccoli, bok choy, beet greens, cauliflower (and riced cauliflower), chard, chives, fennel, garlic, jicama, kimchi, leafy greens, parsley, onions, shallots, spinach, seaweed, and tomatoes. If you’re in the store wondering if a vegetable is keto-friendly, quickly google the nutritional facts. You’re better off knowing then rather than wasting good food at home.
Most fruits are a no-go on the ketogenic diet. Their sweet taste comes from sugar, and almost by default, it means that you won’t be able to consume them anymore. There are a few exceptions (in moderation, of course) including lemon, limes, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, olives, raspberries, and strawberries. If you’ve got a hankering for some fruit, dish out a serving size that keeps your carb intake low, so you don’t go over your daily net carbs.
Other foods that are not allowed on the ketogenic diet because of their carbohydrate levels include corn, potatoes (all kinds), grains, legumes, and high-starch vegetables. While it will seem restrictive at the beginning, there are so many delicious and nutritious keto-friendly recipes that will still let you feel like you’re indulging.
HERE ARE SOME OTHER QUICK TIPS FOR THE KETOGENIC DIET:
- Make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day as it will boost your metabolism, aid in digestion, and enhance your mental clarity.
- Use spices in your dishes to help create more variety and flavor without adding the carbohydrates.
- Baking is still possible on the ketogenic diet! You can replace common ingredients with low-carb choices such as almond flour, coconut flour, 100% dark chocolate, and more.
Have fun with it! It may be hard for the first few days, but after your body enters ketosis, you’ll start to reap the rewards of your hard work.
The ketogenic diet could also have positive impacts on our environment. If we reduce our consumption of grains, corn, and soy, there would be additional land available for regenerative agriculture, which sequesters more carbon from the atmosphere. Check out our articles on Biodynamics and regenerative agriculture to learn more!