Have you heard of the ketogenic diet, or ‘keto’ diet? This high-fat, low-carb trend has become one of the latest health crazes thanks to a string of celebrity followers like Kim Kardashian, Halle Berry and Gwyneth Paltrow singing its praises.
But what does it actually involve? What are the health benefits of a keto diet? What can I eat on the keto diet? We have all the answers to your top keto diet questions.
We spoke to clinical nutritionist and founder of Health With Bec blog, Rebecca Miller for her expert tips on the keto diet for beginners – including keto meals and keto snacks to help you stay on track.
What can you eat on a keto diet?
The keto diet basically involves reducing or completely cutting out high carbohydrate foods from your diet - like wheat (bread, pasta, cereal), potatoes and rice. Instead, you should be eating foods that are high in fat and protein.
If you’re also wondering ‘what can I drink on a keto diet?’, well, it’s recommended you choose drinks that are low in carbs so you can use your daily carb allotment for foods (good to know: energy drinks and even a glass of orange juice is high in carbs). While sugary drinks and alcohol should generally be avoided (an occasional glass of wine is okay, but stay away from carb-loaded beers and sugary cocktails), there are many good keto drink options available. Drinks like coffee and tea (just don’t add sugar!) are great options, and, of course, you should drink plenty of water (both flat and sparkling water have no carbs). Unsweetened almond milk is also a suitable alternative for milk, as it is low in carbohydrates.
How does the keto diet work?
According to Miller, a keto diet is a way of eating that causes a physiological response in the body called ketosis. “It involves eating a low carbohydrate diet, with total net carbs falling below approximately 20-30g per day,” she says.
“When your body only receives this minimal amount of carbohydrates (which all break down into glucose), it can begin to burn its fat stores for energy instead of glucose, which is the fuel our bodies commonly use. When fats are metabolised in this way in the body to produce energy, their by-product is ketones. When these are built up in the blood, you are said to be in a state of ketosis. Being in this physiological state helps dieters lose weight whilst maintaining muscle mass and keeping hunger at bay.”
Apart from weight loss, the keto diet has been shown to help improve cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
How do I know if the keto diet is working?
While the most accurate way to tell if the keto diet is working is to have a blood test, keto strips (they’re basically urine strips that you can get at your local pharmacy or supermarket) are also a cheap and convenient way to figure out whether or not you’re in ketosis.
Are there any side effects?
“Many people can follow this type of diet, if done correctly and safely under the guidance of a healthcare professional,” says Miller. However, it’s not uncommon for some people to experience flu-like symptoms after switching to the keto diet (such as headaches, fatigue, nausea), and this is usually because your body is adjusting to your new diet. If you feel like something isn’t right, we recommend seeing your doctor.
What foods should I include in my keto diet?
So, what can you eat on a ketogenic diet to get the best results? While switching over to a keto diet may seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The sole focus should be on reducing carbs while increasing the fat and protein content of your daily meals and snacks.
On a keto diet you’ll generally want to have a balance of 70-80 per cent fats (healthy fats that is!), 10-15 per cent protein, and up to five per cent carbohydrates. Depending on your goals, sticking to this low-carb intake (around 20-30g of carbs per day) will make it easier to stay in ketosis and burn fat.
If you need a bit of help with meeting you daily goals, a keto calculator or diet calculator can help you figure out the exact amount of carbs, fat and protein you need to reach your goal weight, A keto calculator usually uses your lean weight (total weight minus body fat) to calculate the macronutrients you need on a daily basis. You can find lots of free diet calculators online (just Google ‘keto calculator’) or in the app store.
If you want to give the keto diet a go, here are some of the main types of foods you should add to your shopping list.
Miller says a nutrient-dense keto diet consists of plenty of healthy fats. While you’ll likely get some of it from meat, fish and eggs, Miller says you can also opt for natural high-fat foods such as olive, coconut, MCT, avocado, flaxseed and hemp oils, coconut butter, organic grass-fed ghee or butter, avocado and nuts.
This is one of the staples you need to add to your keto food list, people. Miller says that a keto diet should include a moderate amount of protein from sources such as red and white meat. Pork, chicken and beef are all recommended, as they contain low carbs and are full of vitamins and minerals.
Not a fan of red and white meat? Fish and seafood are other alternatives to up your protein intake – they’re nutritious and rich in fatty acids like omega-3. Eggs are another great option – not only are they low in carbs, but an egg is super versatile and can go with almost any dish.
Miller says low-carb, organic and good quality protein powders are also an option, as well as “full-fat, organic, dairy products such as cheese and Greek yogurt”.
Get into those greens! The rest of your keto diet plan should consist of non-starchy, low-carb vegetables because they are low in calories and high in nutrients. Plus, they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer!
Miller recommends leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts), zucchini, eggplant, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, fennel, snow peas, sprouts, string beans, celery, leeks, pumpkin (in moderate amounts), herbs and chives.
In addition to these three main foods groups above, Miller says, “Great pantry staples are almond butter, almond meal, chia seeds, coconut cream, almond or coconut milk, herbs, and spices.”
For snacks, Miller suggests opting for things like nuts, boiled eggs, avocado with feta, cheese, coconut yoghurt with berries, and vegetable sticks and cauliflower hummus (you can find the recipe for this on Miller’s Health With Bec blog).
What are some easy keto diet recipes?
Thanks to the popularity of keto, there is no shortage of quick and easy-to-make keto recipes floating around the web. Try something as simple as eggs and greens pan-fried in coconut oil, or throw together a simple chicken salad. You could also grill, roast, bake or sauté meat in a healthy oil with low-carb vegetables, or try simple substitutions such as a curry with cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles and a meat-based, homemade and sugar-free sauce.
If you want an easy-to-follow keto meal plan, you can also head to healthwithbec.com for some simple low-carb, calorie-controlled recipes.
What foods do you need to avoid?
“As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid foods that contain more than approximately five to six grams net carbs per serve. You also want to avoid added sugars - following a whole foods diet minimal in processed foods makes this simple to do anyway!” says Miller.
The obvious, high-carb foods to stay away from include bread, rice, pasta, crackers, wraps, chocolate (unless over 85 per cent cacao), biscuits, baked goods, oats, flours and most grains.
Also, higher carbohydrate vegetables need to be excluded, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, beetroots, corn and baby peas. “Carrots and pumpkin can be eaten in moderation in moderately low-carb diets (like in my eBooks),” says Miller.
“Legumes and beans are excluded too, as are most fruits except for lemons, limes, olives and small amounts of berries.”
How long can you stay on the keto diet?
According to Miller, a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, low-carb diet that sits at approx. 40-50g net carbs per day can safely be maintained for life. Then, dropping lower to be in ketosis should only be done for short periods of time. “After reviewing many scientific articles, I believe that a keto diet, if done correctly, is very healthy for up to three to six months for people that have a lot of weight to lose,” she says.
Miller’s top keto diet tips? “I really don’t like seeing people follow keto diets in an unhealthy way – and it’s happening a lot. It’s really important to use a whole foods approach and avoid going down the path of eating processed meats, unhealthy fats and minimal vegetables like I see all the time when people are ‘pro Googlers’.”
“If you want to do a keto diet safely and correctly, I highly recommend doing it under the guidance of a qualified health professional who is experienced in the area. Otherwise you could easily be doing yourself more harm than good.”
Looking for more tips to lose weight? Check out these five expert tips for losing body fat.
What do you think of the keto diet? Have you tried it before? Let us know in the comment section below.
Main image credit: Getty
Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.