Ok. It's not really called the ‘Bacon Diet', but what's all this hype about the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet has been around for over a century. It was originally developed as a treatment for epilepsy in children, and it proved to be effective, reducing seizures in many patients by 50% or more. It was popular in the 1920s and 30s, but was replaced by anti-seizure drugs as a primary treatment in the 1940s.
It has seen a resurgence in popularity lately (see Bulletproof Diet) because of its other health benefits, including weight loss.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
Basically, the ketogenic diet (often simply called keto) is high in fats, moderate in protein intake, and minimizes carbohydrates. The lack of carbohydrates causes a metabolic shift called ketosis.
In keto, the body switches from using glucose for energy to using ketone bodies as an energy source. The liver makes ketones from fat, so this is considered a fat burning diet.
Is There Any Controversy About Keto?
Absolutely. In 1958, Dr. Richard Mackarness M.D. published Eat Fat and Grow Slim, a book recommending a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, and there was very little dissent from the medical establishment. But by the 1960s, the common medical advice was for a low-fat diet for the prevention of heart disease. When Dr. Atkins, M.D published Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, which recommended a low-carbohydrate diet, controversy ensued.
Since this directly contradicted what most doctors were recommending, it got political quickly. The AMA published several papers disputing Dr. Atkins' recommendations, usually by disputing his methodology, rather than the results of his diet. He had written his book based upon his clinical experience, rather than a carefully-designed formal study.
It became a political dogfight, with many sources such as doctors and government agencies recommending low-fat diets for everybody. I'm sure that it's just a coincidence, but this is when the obesity epidemic really started to take off in the US.
It wasn't until the late 1990's that doctors and researchers started looking at the benefits of low-carbohydrate diets again. Since then, several versions have become popular, such as the Paleo Diet or the Zone Diet. (check out Zone Diet vs. Paleo Diet)
The controversy continues today, with many medical and health organizations insisting that they've been right about a low-fat diet, no matter what new research is showing.
Specifically, What Is The Ketogenic Diet?
There are variations, but in a typical keto diet, 5% of daily calorie intake is derived from carbohydrates, 20% from protein, and 75% from fats. This means avoiding sugars, breads, potatoes, and noodles, and eating meats and vegetables.
Studies show that a fat burning diet like keto is very effective for weight loss without hunger, often without any calorie counting.
Are There Other Medical Benefits to the Ketogenic Diet?
Certainly. Keto diets were used to control diabetes in the 19th century, and they have been effective in treating many other medical conditions. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets discusses the therapeutic potential in a number of medical conditions, including “diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, acne, neurological diseases, cancer and the amelioration of respiratory and cardiovascular disease risk factors”. Other studies indicate that it can be an effective treatment for heart disease, cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and even brain injury. Treatment for these or any serious medical conditions should be supervised by a licensed medical practitioner.
What Foods Can I Eat On a Keto Diet?
- Meat: Red meat, pork, bacon, poultry.
- Fatty Fish: Salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel.
- Butter and Cream: High fat dairy products
- Cheese: Unprocessed, such as cheddar, swiss, and cream. Avoid processed and low-fat varieties.
- Eggs: Omega-3 or pastured are more nutritious.
- Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, chia, etc.
- Avocados: They're high in fat, protein, and dietary fiber.
- Low-carb Vegetables: Onion, tomato, pepper, leafy greens.
- Low-carb Fruits: Olives, raspberries, strawberries, coconut.
- Healthy Oils: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil.
- Condiments: Salt and pepper are fine, as are herbs and spices. You'll want to cut down on ketchup and toppings that have lots of sugar, though.
A quick web search will turn up thousands of pages with menu ideas, recipes, and other food suggestions.
Here's just a few of my favorites:
What Foods Should I Avoid while on the Ketogenic Diet?
- Sugar: Soda pop, candy, most desserts.
- Grains: Bread, noodles, rice, starches
- Root Vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, yams
- Fruits: Apples, pears, etc. Berries are okay in small servings.
- Beans and Legumes: Peas, kidney beans, peanuts
- Low-fat or Diet foods: These are sometimes high in carbohydrates, and sometimes have sugar alcohols, which can reduce keytone levels.
- Beer and Wine: These have a high carbohydrate content. Distilled spirits vary; vodka has no carbohydrates.
Awesome resource/cheat sheet care of Bulletproof 360:
Can I Cheat On the Ketogenic Diet?
Yes, but not for the first couple of months. Once your body has shifted into ketosis, an occasional high-carbohydrate treat won't shift it back, as long as you keep the carbs low for several days afterward.
Are There Variations Of the Keto Diet?
Yes, there are.
High-Protein Keto aims for the same low 5% carbohydrate level in the diet, but it wants proteins to be 35% of caloric intake, with 60% of calories coming from fat.
Standard and High-Protein Keto diets are what have been studied extensively for medical purposes. Some bodybuilders use other variations, but they haven't really been studied. The Cyclical version alternates periods of low-carb and high-carb eating, such as 5 days of low-carb, followed by 2 days of low-fat, then back to low-carb for another 5 days.
Targeted keto tries to time the carbohydrate intake so that the blood sugar is high during workouts.
Are There Problems With Keto?
There can be. A Keto diet cuts most vegetables and fruits out, so getting proper nutrition takes careful attention. You'll still want several daily servings of vegetables and fruits, but they want to be the low-carbohydrate varieties. Guacamole is great, but use a spoon instead of chips.
What Changes Will I See When I Start Keto?
There can be unpleasant effects as your body shifts into fat-burning mode, but they usually only last a few days.
7 Effects You May Experience When Starting with the Ketogenic Diet:
- Sometimes called ‘keto flu', you may experience low energy, mental fogginess, trouble sleeping, food cravings and hunger, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, and/or intestinal discomfort. Keep in mind if any of these symptoms develop that they'll be gone fairly quickly. (I use Ketoprime to get through the ‘keto flu' – see details below)
- Constipation can become a problem, so keep track of your fiber intake to prevent this. Remember, avocados are an excellent source of fiber. Flax and chia seeds are high fiber, as are most leafy greens, especially mustard greens, endive, and chicory.
- Your urine may smell fruity, because the change in diet is changing the byproducts that your body is eliminating.
- Elevated ketone levels can show up as fruitiness on your breath, as well. This is temporary, and not necessarily unpleasant.
- Fast weight loss happens to some people shortly after they begin keto. This isn't fat loss, it's your body using up stored carbohydrates and water to maintain its use of glucose.
- Loss of appetite can happen as your body adapts to your new diet. The mechanism isn't fully understood, but many think that your body signals you to eat less food when it gets used to having a high-energy food source.
- Insomnia may happen, too. Usually this takes the form of waking up after only a few hours of sleep.
After the keto flu has passed, many people on a low-carb regimen report increased mental acuity and increased ability to focus, along with higher energy levels and better sleep than ever. You've just got to tough it out as the body is adapting to a different fuel.
Product Spotlight: Ketoprime is a proprietary product by Bulletproof360 and has been useful for me when I have moments of ‘keto' induced brain fog. Definitely a product to try when you are embarking on a ketogenic protocol.
How Long Will It Take For My Body To Switch To Using Fat? (Ketosis)
If you follow the diet carefully, you should be fully adapted in 7 to 30 days. If you cheat during this time, the following day becomes day #1.
Is There A Way To Be Certain That My Body Has Adapted?
The most accurate way is with a blood meter.
These can be found for around $30 online, but the test strips for subsequent tests can run as high as $6 each. These are usually intended for diabetic patients, who must avoid ketoacidosis. This is not a danger to anyone who doesn't have diabetes.
Almost as accurate is a ketone breath analyzer. (Remember that fruity smell?)
You can also get urine ketone test strips at most pharmacies, but they aren't as accurate as the blood or breath tests are.
According to The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek, PhD, RD & Stephen Phinney, MD, PhD, nutritional ketosis is defined by serum ketones ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 mM.
You can monitor ketone levels if you like, or simply let the results you get in the first month or two speak for themselves.
Is Keto For Everyone?
Of course not, hardly anything is. If your favorite foods are all high-carb, keto isn't going to be much fun for you. Conversely, if you're really fond of the high-fat foods that keto prescribes, then you might find that keto isn't much harder than the diet that you're eating now.
I've got to admit that I do enjoy seeing the envy on the faces of low-fat dieters when I grab whole milk or half and half while they're reaching for the skim milk. I have never liked to avoid fats, and keeping track of my carbohydrates seems a small price for indulging myself.
If you do try keto, do yourself one favor…
People who drop out of low-carb diets usually do so after just a few days, because of the keto flu. This is needless pain for absolutely no benefit at all. So hang in there for the first 2 months and get past the challenging parts, and see how it works for you after you've gotten switched over to burning fat instead of glucose. You may be very glad that you did.
BTW – want more info on the Ketogenic Diet, here's some free resources for you.
Get Your FREE Copies of the “Keto Food Pyramid Infographic” & “The Low-Carb Lifestyle FAQ”