There are several myths about the keto diet. One is that it’s hard to maintain. Another is that you can eat anything you want as long as it’s not a carb. Both claims are false.
Keto is much less a diet and more like a lifestyle, depending on how you approach it. It’s also not zero-carb. In this article, we’re going to share evidence-based info that supports the keto diet as a healthy, safe, and easy way to eat for health and satiety.
What The Keto Diet Is & How It Works
The ketogenic diet is known for its high-fat content and low-carb allowance. The traditional keto diet also involves caloric restriction and fluids to mimic a fasting state. Consuming fewer carbs and more fat shifts the body’s metabolism into using fat as a primary fuel source. That fat mobilization creates molecules called ketone bodies that power the body’s cells. The higher concentration of them in your blood, the closer you are to achieving a state of ketosis (1).
Weight loss is a primary reason the keto diet is so popular, but there are so many more benefits to keto. It can improve cholesterol and blood pressure levels, may help treat acne, and prevent chronic inflammation––a suspected cause of nearly every human disease. Because it’s high in fat, the keto diet can boost cognitive function and alleviate brain fog too.
Did you know that epilepsy was the primary driver in the development of the keto diet? Back in the 1920s researchers discovered that its high-fat content and low-carb parameters could reduce inflammation and free radical production to help treat epilepsy and glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor (2, 3).
Doing the keto diet doesn’t mean you have to kick carbs out of your meals, but knowing what function carbs serve can help you understand why a keto diet minimizes them.
Let’s dig into what carbs are about to get a better idea of what a satisfying and healthy keto diet looks like.
Why Do We Love Carbs?
One of the reasons we love carbs so much is that they’re highly satiating. It’s common to feel "stuffed" after a plate of pasta, a stack of pancakes, or a sub sandwich. But they have a bad rap in modern diet culture. Low-carb diets are posed as a quick and easy solution to weight loss, but the truth is that there are good carbs and not-so-good carbs.
What Is A Carbohydrate?
What is a carb exactly? Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients the body needs for optimal functioning (proteins and fats are the other two). They are the sugars, starches, and fiber contained in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. We need carbs for brain and muscle energy, liver glycogen stores, and to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
Carbs are classified as either simple or complex. Simple carbs have only one or two sugars. They metabolize faster resulting in spikes in blood sugar and quick bursts of energy. Complex carbs have three or more sugars, and they give the body a more sustained energy. For this reason, you want to aim for more complex carbs like lentils, beans, and sweet potatoes over simple sugars.
What about fruit? This is where the keto diet advice gets a bit fuzzy. Fruits are simple carbs, but like vegetables, they’re rich in vitamins and minerals, and the fiber content alters how your body processes them. Your body can’t digest fiber so it doesn’t affect glucose or insulin levels. Consuming fruit doesn’t result in the same blood sugar spike that other simple carbs do, which makes them a more complex simple carb and a better choice for the keto diet. To get an accurate measure of your actual carb consumption, subtract the fiber content.
One reason why you don’t want to overdo it on the fruit is because, like all sugars, it has an addictive quality. The sweet taste of sugar sends clear signals to our brain––give me more. Sugar of any kind makes us crave more sugar of any kind.
Berries are a blessing. They’re lower in sugar and higher in fiber. They’re the best fruit to consume on any low-carb or keto diet.
What Can I Eat On The Keto Diet?
Want to lose fat? Eat fat. Seems counterintuitive, right? But the basic goal of the keto diet is to achieve a fat-adapted metabolic state, where your body uses fat for energy either from food or your body’s energy stores.
That’s the ultimate goal. It’s possible to achieve ketosis without going the full mile. While you want your diet to consist of only 5% carbs to be fat-adapted, it’s not required for ketosis (that would be a mere half slice of bread!). The keto diet requires that you get ketones circulating in your blood, which is possible with a carb consumption of about 20-25% of your daily caloric intake if you’re an active person.
Measuring your carb consumption in grams may be inaccurate because every individual body has different nutritional requirements. Here’s an example from the Mayo Clinic for an average person:
"The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories" (4).
That translates to a maximum of about 325 grams of carbs daily for a 2000-calorie diet. That same person on a keto diet would need to reduce their daily carb allowance to about 15 grams to eventually reach a fat-adapted state but about 30-50 to achieve ketosis.
Consider that a cup of pasta is 43 grams and a bagel is 29 and we begin to see that a low-carb keto diet is more about moderation than restriction.
Some of the best keto-friendly foods are ones that are high in good fats and low in sugars:
Best Keto Diet Foods
Meat & Poultry
Coconut Oil (MCT oil)
What if you're vegetarian or vegan on a keto diet?
High-quality oils like olive oil and coconut oil, nuts and seeds including nut milks and nut butters, berries, shirataki noodles, olives, cacao powder, low-carb vegetables, avocados, and ghee are excellent inclusions.
How Do You Know You're In Ketosis?
You may experience some uncomfortable side-effects as your body adapts to more ketones so it’s best to ease into the required dietary changes. Short-term fatigue, skin issues, bad breath, and “induction flu” are common symptoms. But as you adapt, you’ll find that your energy becomes more consistent, you won’t crave or require as many carbs for energy, and you’ll feel less "hangry" between meals. You may also notice a more balanced mood, some weight loss, and brighter skin as your sugar addiction wanes.
The most accurate way to determine if you’re in ketosis is to measure your ketone levels with a blood meter. Urine strips and breath testing, though less reliable, are more common.
Want to know more about healthy and low-carb substitutions for your favorite foods? Check out this informative resource: Super Stand-ins: Healthy Alternatives To Your Favorite Foods.
Stay tuned for next week’s post––we’re going to share some great keto recipes for the carb lover.
From our kitchen to yours, happy carb-crushing and keto-loving!
William Li, MD (2019). Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.